The Oxymoron of Homeschooling “Groups” or Why We are Getting a Ball Python Snake

My daughter wearing my handiwork

We travel about a half an hour once a week to a homeschool cooperative. The concept is that families gather together so that the parents can offer classes and workshops to the kids. This particular cooperative has been around for over 25 years. It is very organized. Parents must create “offerings” that then get scheduled. Families select the courses that they want to sign their children up for and in theory, everyone is served.

We are having a problem appreciating our group at this time. There are wonderful things about it; some developmentally delayed kids who are thriving in the supportive non-judgemental environment of the cooperative, and I had a great time teaching an Intro to Life Drawing Class to three 13 year old boys including my son (who never did the homework). So what’s the problem? The problem is that I answered a questionnaire about 6 months ago that got a young documentary film-maker interested in including our family in her documentary on homeschooling. I was quite forthright about our “unschooling” and she didn’t have any other such candidates. So, after some discussion, disagreement, etc, I persuaded my family that we would do this. One son liked the idea from the get-go. One son still doesn’t know about it (He gets home from college 2 days before the film-makers will be with us!)  The other two children had reservations as did my husband. But eventually, they realized that it meant something to me. It has after all, been a fairly huge creative project of mine for the last 18 years or so. So then, we even got permission from the community college where I teach, and my daughter’s horse barn for the film makers to film us there. Additionally, the indoor soccer field where my sons play pick-up has agreed that filming can occur. The supermarket where I shop said “no”.

And so did the homeschoolers.

I have been walking around thinking about their refusal. It is based on the refusal of 3 families to allow the documentary film makers to film at our cooperative, even though we were assured by the film maker that she would only include willing subjects and could easily leave people out or even remove them from footage later. But the 3 families said “No” so that was a “No”.

I wrote a “thank-you” to the group for carefully considering the idea. But my message went on to detail my inability to understand why they would not want an inspired young documentarian working on a film about a subject close to her heart (She was homeschooled!) and her camera woman. Wouldn’t this be about the best thing that their children would be exposed to all semester? I reflected on how the rejection reminded me of how diverse a group we are.

My family attends the cooperative group in order to broaden our range of experience, to widen the range of possibilities, to expose ourselves to more than we might come up with on our own. I am realizing that this may not be why all the others are  there. Are  they homeschooling to keep themselves safe? snug in their own reality? The cooperative suddenly feels cloying and stifling. I want to get in the car and drive with my kids to New York City to be bombarded with smells and noise and crazy  people. I want to hear Salsa and rap at the same time. I want to be bumped into  rudely while being asked politely if I have the time.

I have given this group my heart, teaching what I love to teach more than anything…Drawing. In addition to the 13 year old boys, I taught 2 talented teen girls Advanced Drawing all semester. We were drawing landscapes with pastels by parking my car at a nearby park, when the semester ended.  There wasn’t much on offer from the other parents for my 3 kids who were attending. The 13 year old didn’t care as he was just there for the social experience. He loved everything and nothing. The 16 year old was bored out of his mind, and my daughter went home every coop day with a splitting headache. I think it was the strain of trying not to tell the girls at the coop a little older than her how stupid they were acting when they were together.

So I am left wondering why we are attending. And, in an inspired moment, I asked the 13 year old if he would be willing to give up going to the cooperative if I finally let him buy a ball python snake that he saw on sale at Petco. He said, “Sure!” So I have my chance to be free. We can get in the car next Spring and drive to New York for noise and stimulation, instead of to the cooperative. And all I have to do is keep dead mice in the freezer.

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