Homeschooling… The Dark Side
Episode I: No One Home on Stanford Day, or The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back
Our inaugural tale has its beginnings in the first two years of our family’s venture into homeschooling. We started in 2004, a full ten years before it was legal to homeschool in Alabama without a covering. What we didn’t know then is that we had entered the homeschool world during a time of change in our local community.
Our son Mike completed fourth grade in private school. We knew long before that year was over, however, that he would not return the following fall. There was time to get our ducks in a row. I shared the possibility of homeschooling him with school staff.
Mike’s second-grade teacher, Mrs. C., suggested a covering that we might use. We didn’t know a single homeschooler, but Mrs. C. did. She had friends and acquaintances who attended a large Protestant church in our neighborhood with an active covering for its members.
As it just so happened, that covering was opening its doors to non church members for the first time ever. We’d be the guinea pigs. The newness of the situation should have raised a red flag, but it didn’t because I didn’t know any better.
For decades, it was not uncommon for Alabama coverings to be open only to their church members. As the homeschooling movement grew, those coverings that would take anybody were bursting at the seams, especially in metropolitan areas. As the story goes, the administrator of one of the biggest coverings in our county called a few of the other covering admins and persuaded them to open their doors to non church members as well.
Armed with our yearly tuition and ready to learn more about what we’d gotten ourselves into, we attended the first covering meeting at the big church around the corner. The meeting took up a large fellowship hall. Lots of moms, dads, and kids were in attendance.
I filled out the forms, signed the obligatory statement of faith, and my husband and I enrolled our kids. I was optimistic that we would make friends and build relationships. I had underestimated how hard it can be for people to change their ways.
I seem to recall our family being one of only two or three at most who were not already church members. And even numbers two and three had friends in the church. As I was to shortly learn, information was passed around that covering primarily through word of mouth.
Details of new activities or changes in plans made the rounds on a Sunday or Wednesday when folks saw one another in person. Social media was a term as yet unheard of. Email was still the primary source of information for most coverings.
Mandatory covering meetings and business correspondence made their way to my inbox. Field trips that were scheduled far in advance would as well. But the moms in that group did some spur-of-the-moment stuff that was arranged only a few weeks ahead of time. Those events were the ones best-suited for the moms to bond while kids played. It was those events that I needed the most but always seemed to miss.
One church member in the covering (I’ll call her Ann) made an honest effort to be friendly. Ann would go out of her way to speak to me at meetings and turn-in-grades/gym days. I appreciated her efforts.
Ann and I met by accident at the public library one morning. She invited us to attend a play day set up just for our covering at Grand Slam, a local venue that has since closed. Kids could hit baseballs in batting cages, shoot hoops, play laser tag, etc., while moms chatted.
Ann was reasonably sure she remembered the correct date of the event. Those were the days before cell phones. There was no calendar to pull up with the swipe of an index finger. Ann promised to email or call me after she got home if she discovered she’d given me the wrong info. I wondered why my family hadn’t received an email about this event but counted my blessings that I’d run into Ann.
No follow up call or email correction ever came. So on the day of the Grand Slam play date reserved just for our covering, we donned our dark green covering t-shirts and headed out. We were going to have some fun!
The thoughts that crossed my mind when we walked in the door:
“Why are we the only people in green?”
“Those navy blue shirts sure are pretty.”
“I must’ve missed new t-shirt order day.”
“I wonder if they have any extras in our sizes?”
I let Mike and his little sister Kat walk about and decide what they would like to do before paying close attention to the moms. I had not made real friends with anybody in particular in the covering, but I did know the names and faces of all the board members.
Grand Slam was quite crowded. Maybe if I looked hard enough I could find Ann. No luck. I recognized no one.
I decided to go to the check-in desk and see if the nice lady behind the counter could help me. Maybe I could just pay her our money. That was when I got close enough to the other moms in their navy blue shirts to read the logo…
I don’t remember the full title after all these years, but I’ve never forgotten the feeling of my heart sinking as I realized we were crashing homeschool day for a local Catholic covering. Oh, dear….
I explained to the lady at the counter what happened. One of the Catholic moms standing next to me heard the story and encouraged us to stay. I paid our fees and we hung around until Mike and Kat were bored.
At the next meeting of my own covering, I inquired as to what happened. Ann looked mortified. The director was exasperated. I remember wondering if the director was aggravated with Ann for giving me the wrong day or for inviting me in the first place. The director’s complete lack of empathy for either me or Ann convinced me of the latter. For Ann’s sake, I laughed it off and sat down.
We survived the remainder of the spring semester, including the obligatory end-of-year swimming party. I submitted grades and whatever else was required. We had a choice to make about next year, though.
Mostly because of the covering’s convenient location, we decided to enroll again that fall. I know… I know… The thought of starting over with a brand new group was intimidating. Sad thing is that after a full year there, we still didn’t know a single soul outside that church who homeschooled. Besides, I wanted to give the church the benefit of the doubt. Surely they learned something from having non members in their ranks that first year. Like maybe send an email or call when you plan something in between required quarterly meetings.
As it would turn out, I couldn’t go on mommy dates or most field trips any longer. I took a part time job outside of our home that kept me busy until lunchtime. My husband Sam supervised the homeschool in the morning.
To understand the straw that broke the camel’s back, you need to know something about our first covering. The Stanford Achievement Test was required every other year. At least the covering arranged for the test to be given on campus. All we had to do was pay and show up. I wrote the date on the calendar and made sure Sam knew to get Mike to the church in plenty of time.
I would receive a phone call at work mid morning from my husband on test day. He was very confused. No one was at the church. The building where testing was to take place was locked tight. Not a soul in sight.
In fact, every door Sam and the kids tried all around the campus was locked. They finally attracted the attention of a maintenance man doing outdoor work. He unlocked the door and called the church secretary on her off day. She called the covering administrator.
Oh… didn’t we hear? The dates of the Stanford had been changed. Come back next week.
And that, dear friends, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
It was already spring by then. Mike took the Stanford the following week. We finished out the second year, but we did not enroll with that covering for a third year.
Ann saw me out in public again not long after that and said the former covering director was being replaced. But it was too late as far as we were concerned. Our impressions of the covering, the people, and even the church were already set. The opportunity to make connections was lost.
It might be easy to shrug this story off as something that couldn’t possibly happen in this day and age. Facebook and smart phones keep us a little too connected to one another’s business, right? I’d tend to agree with you one hundred percent except…
Technology can and does still fail us. NGCHE is run through an open website/blog and has an open facebook page. Information is easily accessible. Yet followers still tell me they miss things. Social media is not foolproof.
What our first covering experienced was growing pains coupled with a heart problem. The growth they were faced with was inevitable. As more people joined the homeschool community, churches had little choice but to adapt to the growing numbers.
Their failure was not an unwillingness to grow. Their failure was in not preparing their hearts to love strangers as much as they loved themselves. That is a necessary component of any ministry no matter where or how you volunteer.
Today we can laugh and shake our heads about no one being home on testing day, and about crashing the Catholic covering’s party. Though we chuckle, we don’t want anyone to experience the same isolation or lack of friendship as we did those first two years homeschooling.
A list of some of the coverings in Mobile County that are open to the public can be found on our Resources page. If you are new to homeschooling, or find yourself in a covering where you do not seem to fit in, don’t suffer in silence! Contact us!
While there is no such thing as the perfect group of people or the perfect church, we know several pastors and administrators who truly have a heart for families and homeschooling. We are happy to share our recommendations with any who ask.
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