Monday, February 3, 2014

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Homeschool Vs. Public School: an 8-year argument (Part II)


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After that first argument, we argued a lot more about how our children would be educated. Who would educate them, and where they would be educated. We argued about it on car rides between the store and our house. We argued about it before bedtime, as we lay next to each other, gazing up at a dark ceiling. We argued about it while making dinner, washing the dishes, and folding laundry. Thinking back, it seemed like we argued about it more than most subjects. Slowly I started to listen to her arguments, which thinking back was a huge step in our ability to communicate.  However, I thought her arguments were completely ridiculous and unfounded. She had three main talking points.
1) Drugs in schools: Ha! No shit, I thought. There were drugs when I went to school. I tried some of them and I turned out just fine.
2) Violence in schools: When discussing this argument she always brought up a traumatizing experience where some longhaired smelly boys in tattered jeans and offensive t-shirts (boys that probably looked a lot like I did in high school) placed Mel in a garbage can. Every time she told this story I always laughed, and then had to immediately apologize.
Once again, this was an invalid argument. Violence has always been in schools. Learning how to deal with confrontation is a good life skill. But whenever I mentioned this retort, Mel always brought up guns. “Were there guns in your high school?” she asked. “I don’t want my kids to get shot.”
I didn’t have a good answer for that.
3) Inadequate teachers and overcrowded classrooms due to low funding: This was, hands down, her largest concern. My answer to this problem was that we needed to work with our kids outside the classroom. However, my answer never seemed to be quite good enough.
Education was an irritating itch in our marriage that wouldn’t go away, and I couldn’t decide if the problem was communication, or the fact that we were incompatible. 

Mel and I were married for two years before we had Tristan, and I assumed that once we were actually staring a child in the face, we would be forced to resolve the homeschool/traditional school argument. But we didn’t. We just kept bringing up the same old discussion points.
Around age 25 I was in college and decided I needed data to back up my argument. I assumed that once Mel saw the hard facts I collected from reliable academic sources on how detrimental homeschooling would be on our son, she would have to relent and allow Tristan to attend a traditional school. In my English 1010 composition class I was assigned to write an argumentative paper. I titled it “Destroying The Lives Of American Children One Household At A Time: Why home schooled kids are not successful in contemporary America or other western nations.” It was a long-winded title that I felt got my point across perfectly.
I spent hours on that paper. And once the research was done, once the professor had read through the argument, marked it up with a red pen, and given me a B+ with the option to revise for an A-, I felt confident that my argument was ready. Perhaps even publishable in an academic journal put out by a major university. I even thought to myself, Brace yourself, Mel! Because I am going to settle this shit right now!
I didn’t want to start a fight. I wanted the topic to come up organically. I even imagined how it would take place. Mel would bring up education over dinner. Probably while I was feeding Tristan some chopped up noodles. She would talk about her fears of violence. How she wanted more for our son than some second rate teacher milking out his or her tenure in a classroom of 60 students struggling to learn. And once she’d said her piece, during the pause that she often gave me that was followed by a long sorrowful exhale, I would slap my argumentative paper on the table.
“A little reading material,” I’d say. “It might make you sleep better.”
And Mel would eagerly read through the paper, having all of her questions answered. And once done, she’d embrace me. She’d say, “I was wrong! I was wrong! Now let’s make love!”
And we would.
I kept the paper handy so that I’d be ready to share my new information. But the conversation didn’t come up next at the dinner table, but in the car. We were driving to Salt Lake City to meet my older brother for dinner, a 45-minute drive from Provo. I was driving our green Mazda on I-15 at 70 miles per hour when Mel mentioned a friend that was part of a homeschool group. One-year-old Tristan was asleep in the car seat. She talked about how the group met up weekly at different homes.
“It’s really a great idea,” she said. “They go on field trips together. The parents take turns teachings. I think it’d be a great way to learn. I also think it would help Tristan gain more social skills. That’s what you want…right? For Tristan to have more social skills?”
She always talked like this was what we were going to do. Not like she was asking for my approval. 
Baby Tristan (Don't you just want to pinch those cheeks!!)

Obviously she’d been doing some research, too. She’d been looking around to find a compromise, but I didn’t see it that way. I thought that she was being difficult because in my mind the only answer was for Tristan to attend a normal public school. End of story. Mel paused for a moment, so I reached into the back seat for my backpack.
“What are you doing?” Mel asked.
I didn’t answer. I didn’t want to ruin my moment. I wanted to savor it. I wanted to shove the paper in her face. Show her what was up. But I couldn’t reach the bag without making the car swerve. Mel started to get angry, telling me that we were going to die if I didn’t keep my eyes on the road.
“Do you want me to grab something?” she asked.
I gave up reaching for the bag, and decided to go off memory.
“I’ve been doing some research about the dangers of homeschool,” I said, smugly.
“Oh really?” Mel said.
“Yes, really.”
I told her some of the facts. Well… as best I could recall. I will be honest here, I couldn’t recall the exact numbers, so I made most of them up, which means I probably inflated them.
“Did you know that one in one hundred homeschooled kids have little concept of time management and therefore cannot meet deadlines?” I went on.  I mentioned how homeschooled kids often test higher in certain subjects, but test rock bottom when it comes to soft skills: interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, leadership ability, and so on.
My argument was not as nicely laid out as in my composition paper, but I felt that I made my point adequately.  Mel was silent the whole time, and I felt confident that I’d hit a chord. Once we exited the freeway, I gave her a long hard look, one that said, what do you think of them apples?
“Yeah,” Mel said. “I know all that. I read about it online before we had Tristan. And I don’t care.”
“You don’t care? How could you not care about all that? Studies show that if we homeschool Tristan he will turn out to be a smelly troll that never leaves our basement.”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen if we work with other homeschool families,” she said.
She looked at me for a long time, her face unwavering, and I knew that all my research had gotten me nowhere. There would be no glory. There would be no sex. 

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.