What’s Quaker about our homeschooling? Part 1: The role, or lack thereof, that our Meeting takes in it, a painful story.

Well, first, we are. I was raised in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which my husband joined when we married and into which our children were born. We’ve never moved our membership even though we live outside PYM boundaries now, because we haven’t found a meeting community that feels enough like home. It’s probably a wild goose chase kind of thing, hoping to find one, but my heart can’t seem to abandon the idea. We’d live closer to home but the homeschooling laws are difficult in PA and my husband’s job is here. We’d be hard pressed to afford to live there too.

We have attended three of the meetings here, and did find one that we thought was a good fit until we asked them to be the supervisory organization for our homeschooling effort. In our state you can homeschool under the supervision of the public school district with almost no support, under the care of your religions organization, or an approved correspondence program. We now use the Calvert-Jemicy pilot program for kids with LLD (language learning disability), a state approved correspondence curriculum for Dana, and a combination of Oak Meadow 7, Live Education!, and elements of Dana’s curriculum for Berit under the auspices of the public school district. This means we have an apt with a rep of the district twice a school year who assesses whether or not we are meeting minimum requirements.

We wanted a more corporately discerned supervision – yes, more guidance and supervision for our homeschooling than is available from the state, and we wanted it in the form of a committee from the meeting. The meeting we were attending has an unusual number of educators in it and an unusual number of life-long Friends – not to say “Birthright,” who grew up as I did in PYM. We’d asked for, and received, the support and critique of a committee for clearness about going the homeschool route to meet our daughters’ learning needs, and had their approval to ask the meeting to extend beyond making that decision into oversight of the project. I made a proposal to the meeting and in the discussion held in the meeting for business, a member of the meeting said “I oppose Kristin, her vision, and everything she stands for.”

I was stunned. The meeting was silent. No one responded, and I said, somewhat choked, that such a response made me want to take my children and never come back. I was in tears – not a frequent thing for me – when I slipped out the door and headed for home. One member came outside to say she was sorry that I was upset and gave me a hug. I appreciated it! I had never in my 44 years seen such behavior in a meeting for business. The man who spoke did not know me, we had exchanged “good mornings” but had no other contact. I don’t know what he meant by my “vision” or what I stand for, as he would have had no knowledge of either. I guess he thought he did, though. Several of the members of this meeting had known me for almost 15 years, and knew my background in PYM because they had grown up there too.

A few days passed by and I received a letter – very formal – written by one of the people I had known for many years both professionally (we both taught at the Friends school here at the same time) and in the meeting context. She was writing on the behalf of the Worship and Oversight committee and said that I had prevented dialog by leaving meeting so quickly. I responded informally – hand written – and addressed to her by name, saying that everyone there had my contact information and no one had phoned, emailed, dropped by, or written other than she. That sending me a formal letter which had the feel of a letter from the authority, was at least off the mark. I wrote that I had left the meeting when I did in shock and hurt, not in possession of myself nor in a fit state to continue participation in the Light. What troubled me most was that someone would say such a thing as the man had at all, never mind in a meeting for worship with a concern for business, and that the rest of the group would sit there doing nothing in response. I should say that from the time he spoke to the time I left was at least 15 mins. Nothing moves very fast in a Friends Meeting, and it was the deepening shock over his remark and the lack of response that moved me outside.

The clerk has known me for many years, grew up herself in a monthly meeting adjacent to the one in which I grew up, and had taught with me at another school in this area. She’d been on the clearness committee, and we have been friends (small f) for a loooooong time. In fact, when she had given up attending meeting some years back, because the one we’d both attended in town, connected to the Friends School, was so much UNLIKE home for us that we’d both quit, I invited and encouraged her to come to the meeting out in the country where – much later – this MFB was taking place. She had come with me and then on her own and was now clerk! She is a wise and gentle soul, one I respect and for whom I have considerable affection. I still don’t know what she was thinking when this man spoke. She did say later, that she wanted me to come back and educate the meeting about homeschooling in general and ours in particular. My response was that the hurt and dismay I felt had eclipsed that topic altogether. What I wanted to know about was how this group conceived of the Quaker process? (for more on that see http://www.nyym.org/quakerism/uqp.html#mfb) It sure wasn’t anything I recognized. I told her that I was struggling with my own emotional responses, including anger, and that I was not ready to return to the meeting, wouldn’t be until I had settled down and could approach the subject and the assembled from a position of greater openness.

I’ve gone to meeting since then – 5 years now – but not to meeting for business. I have declined the invitation to be a crusader for home schooling, that was not my errand and I think to take it up would mask the deeper concern. I resigned from the First Day School committee and have been silent in Meeting for Worship when I go. There’s a woman who makes it a priority to greet me each time I go with exaggerated sweetness – not a person I know, but she was there that day. My effort is to meet the gesture with openness. I’d give myself a C- on that. All I have been able to manage is a weak “thank you.” There are a few who have spoken privately to me about their disquiet on the matter, and their wish that I would confront it, and one or two who “get” that in refusing to confront it, I am leaving it open. Only one, the clerk I mentioned, who gets that I am still struggling with my own reaction, and have to deal with myself, hold myself in the light, before I can reach out to engage the group again, that’s if I ever feel led to do so.

Berit and Dana are disinclined to attend because the rest of the children are significantly younger than they and the FDS is naturally aimed at the age group most represented, so they tend to sit in meeting with me for the duration. My husband will only attend if I beg him. His anger has been harder to soften because he was not there that day, and feels some agitation about what his role or gallantry might have been. When he does go, he departs the second MFW has risen.

All this has altered the notion I had of how Quaker Homeschooling would go in our household. Part 2 will focus on how it actually does go!

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3 Comments

  1. Shirin said,

    February 3, 2009 at 6:13 am

    I am sorry this happened how it did. Anyone devoted to the education of their children in my opinion should be welcomed and affirmed even if the meeting itself is not committed to the homeschool.

    I am an unprogrammed Quaker in NC. I have not been considering home schooling, but I wish I could work with my son’s teacher on alternate homework that would suit him. I’m glad I ran across your blog. Peace be with you and your family.

  2. Clare said,

    December 7, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    Hi
    My heart goes out to you! I am a mother too and a few days ago had a similar reaction in a committee meeting of a community potting group of which I am a member – I know you see this as a ‘Friends’ issue but perhaps it is not.
    The members of my committee are either fellow ceramic art students (like me) or older members – who I used to think of like parents to me or grandparents to my children. I wont go into my ‘request’ except to say it was similar in nature to yours – I was looking for support.

    Like your case it was an (older) male “who cut me down”. I have had many thoughts since this meeting. One is this: due to a lack of living in extended family networks these days – do we rely too much on our spiritual (or otherwise) communities to be ‘family’ for us? You see the great thing about family is they love you warts and all (usually) but no so with communities. Plus families (living in extended networks) often have been reared with similar values – again not so with communities – and sometimes those values can be even strongly opposing (as you and I have found out!). Could this be the reason that we were so hurt and shocked – our own attachments? When for some members it is not at all emotional, more a business/planning decision?

    Which leads me to another point – interesting it was ‘men’ (and no-one defended/supported me either – one of my friends(female) came out when I left and gave me a hug too). Maybe the Venus / Mars thing comes into play also. Men do speak / think in a different way to women, I believe, sometimes. Also maybe they find it hard to ‘get’ the deep, deep devotion and emotion that women have for their children/families.

    What a hard start to your homeschooling journey!

    Regards Clare

    • kristinsk said,

      December 8, 2011 at 7:12 pm

      Hi Clare,
      Thank you for your note. I am sorry that you have had that experience! I think the gender issue is important in some way, but it isn’t clear cut. I also think there is something that baffles an organization about the difference between disagreement and interpersonal aggression. It seems to me that Quakers ought to be better at distinguishing the two, and influencing the latter so that it can be diffused. I find that there is especially trouble when people THINK they know what they’re talking about but actually have a number of things to clarify before everyone is operating from the same base of knowledge. What “homeschooling” means from one person to another, is a good example of a real disparity in take-off point for a discussion.


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