Teacher Revised, Revisited

by Deborah Markus, an online-exclusive bonus article accompanying Secular Homeschooling, Issue #7, July/August 2009

Remember that time a couple of months back when homeschoolers were basking in the glow of worldwide total acceptance? When everybody loved us, nobody took our decision to homeschool as an insult, and after decades of legal and social battles we could finally relax, take a well-earned deep breath, and focus on enjoying and educating our children?

Me, either. Instead, in the past few months, France has tightened up its already uncomfortably snug homeschooling laws; the U.K. government announced that in the aftermath of several particularly horrible child abuse cases (none linked to home education, all on the children's protective services radar long before the worst happened), what was needed were stiffer legal requirements for home educators; and Sweden decided that there were so few homeschoolers in their country, they'd just go ahead and move toward legally abolishing the group altogether.

Socially, things are as lovely as ever. A recent Op Ed piece in the Orlando Sentinal by Amy Platon explained what a precious bunch of quitters we homeschoolers are, and if we really loved our kids and the world, we'd send our children to school and focus our energies on improving the public education system. (Because there's nothing about said system — crowded classrooms, teaching to the test, forcing individuals to learn the same materials at the same pace regardless of inclination or ability — that can't be fixed by the efforts of a parent or two more per school district. Apparently the parents whose children are already in the system just haven't been trying.)

So, in the midst of all the joy and love, a teacher named Jesse Scaccia decided that, darn it, homeschoolers have too easy a ride. Scaccia compares his writing to Mark Twain's; presumably, he's referring to the fact that they're both willing to take on the really big issues, and neither of them minds being in the philosophical minority. Twain tackled organized religion (he preferred his disorganized), racism, and the heroification of various literary figures. Scaccia decided to break new ground by trashing homeschooling after studiously not learning anything about it. So he posted his top ten reasons for detesting what we do.

I know. I got a chill, just thinking about the courage that took. Forget Twain — we're talking Martin Luther, here.

If you check the site — http://teacherrevised.org/2009/05/30/the-case-against-homeschooling — there's now an introductory paragraph to the piece, letting the world know that Teacher, Revised "supports" people who choose to homeschool. Which is deeply touching, coming as it does bare seconds before the author presents his reasons "why homeschooling parents are doing the wrong thing."

Many homeschoolers posted comments on the site, venting their outrage about particular items on the list. I was impressed that anyone had managed to read the whole thing, let alone analyze it intelligently. I kept bursting into flames at the first line — "Homeschooling: great for self-aggrandizing, society-phobic mother......but not quite so good for the kid." (Ellipses in original.)

I love that more than birthday cake. Consider all the anti-homeschooling legislation we're dealing with on a global scale. And then show me a homeschooler whose friends, family, and neighbors all think that homeschooling is just fantabulous — who has never personally encountered one item on the Bitter Homeschooler's Wish List — and I'll show you a homeschooler whose friends, family, and all other surrounding humans were wiped out in an extremely localized natural disaster just before this parent was going to tell them that she'd decided to homeschool; and this parent, having heard the horror stories from the homeschooling community, wisely decided not to order a replacement set of abusive civilians.

So my question is: who exactly does Scaccia think we're successfully "aggrandizing" ourselves to? And how? Everyone knows we can never manage to come out on top in an argument with a homeschool hater. If our kids are doing wonderfully academically, it's because we never let them outside to have fun and make friends; if our kids spend plenty of time out and about with their buddies, it's because they're neglecting their studies. And if (heaven forfend) we're child-led learners — hey, kids! Who knows how to spell "all-around slackers"?

The "society-phobic" bit hit home, though. Because I am society-phobic, and I really resent the constant social interactions forced upon me by homeschooling. If I'd sent my son to school, I'd almost never have to leave the house or see another soul. I could sit blissfully at home all day, just me and my books and an unringing phone. Instead, we're out at park days, beach days, field trips, friends' houses... You know what? Those homeschool phobes are right. This socialization thing bites. If our kids went to school, we'd never have to deal with their social needs until their therapy bills started rolling in.

One really nice thing about having this job is that, provided I do my screaming in some sort of print, I can call it work. So, since I'm a workaholic, I went ahead and belted out an email to Scaccia:

You mentioned on your site that you're looking for writers from the homeschooling community. Here's a link to a sample of my writing — "The Bitter Homeschooler's Wish List," probably my best-known piece:

http://www.secular-homeschooling.com/001/bitter_homeschooler.html

And here's a link to why this particular talented, passionate, and smoking-hot writer/editor won't be able to do any work for your site:

http://teacherrevised.org/2009/05/30/the-case-against-homeschooling/

Sincerely,
Deborah Markus
Editor,
Secular Homeschooling Magazine

(who has to go check on her son in the basement where she keeps him carefully locked away from sunshine, friends, and any shot at an education)

I copied it to my local loop, and we all thought this was just hy-larious. We also all assumed that I was writing to a woman. (A gender-neutrally named person who's employed as a teacher — the odds were on our side.) So "smoking-hot," in this context, was understood by us to mean "about to burst into flames like a character from a Stephen King novel, if King ever wrote about infuriated homeschoolers."

However, Scaccia, who happens to pack a Y-chromosome, was overcome by the fact that an allegedly "smoking-hot" female of the species had initiated contact with him.

Let me jump ahead just a bit by saying that although I signed myself as the editor of this magazine in pretty much every email I sent him, and repeatedly mentioned the writing I've done and the fact that I hate him — in spite of all this, he was shocked when I turned out to be a magazine editor who'd be writing an article about how much I hate him. And he didn't like the idea of my reprinting his emails. I'd want my own words to speak for themselves rather than letting someone who has made no secret of her loathing paraphrase them. But Scaccia is apparently under the impression that nothing could look worse than his own writing. He may have a point.

So I'm paraphrasing when I say that his reply didn't address my anger or my profession. He simply wrote that he was "giddy" at my describing myself as smoking hot, and wow, did he hope it was true.

He just never quite seemed to be able to get past that in our future emails. As I read his, I could almost hear him shouting up the basement stairs, "Mom! Guess what! A girl wrote to me — and she says she's cute!"

It was deeply tempting to ask him concerned questions about his own socialization process. But I had work to do; and though an email like that might lead to some kind of article, it wasn't the one I wanted.

So I wrote back:

Why? Do you enjoy ticking off attractive people more than ordinary ones?

Your writing was infuriating. Why does that make you happy?

Scaccia insisted that infuriating people didn't make him happy, and he was in fact surprised by the "ire" that his work provoked.

Okay: the guy repeatedly brings up how many degrees in English he has. So, which university gave him a degree in not knowing that publicly insulting a group tends to provoke an angry response from that group?

Scaccia didn't want to stray too far from the real subject of our exchange, of course, which to him was the fact that he is a boy and I'm not. He quickly added that what made him happy was me, and my mentioning how hot I am was "just so absurd and brilliant."

I'm a straightforward person, as you probably noticed. So I mean this quite literally: I don't understand when you say you can't relate to the ire. Do you mean that you didn't expect the strength of the reaction you got, or that you don't understand feeling that deeply angry?

Yes, I am absurd (starting a magazine called Secular Homeschooling) and brilliant (making a go of it). The word "duh" also comes to mind.

Scaccia finally figured out that I wasn't interested in dating him. He replied that he didn't understand feeling so deeply angry. He also said that he couldn't imagine writing that many words to a blog, which puzzled me. Did he think that there was just one big homeschooler who'd written those hundreds of replies to his posting? No single person had written "that many words." He'd provoked a response from a community.

He went on to say that his lack of understanding probably stems in part from the fact that he doesn't have children. He then referred to his post as "callous," and added that he'd learned his lesson.

Which almost sounds sweet, until you read not only the original posting, but a lot of Scaccia's responses to homeschoolers who posted replies.

So, since this was still counting as work on my clock, I wrote back again:

The reason I asked, and why I'm a little surprised by your answer, is that I thought one of the things you mentioned was that homeschooling specifically pissed you off?

I think that was one of the things that startled me the most about your piece. (Hard to choose, admittedly.) I mean, I'm running around fairly frantically as often as not, trying to make it all work: having lame arguments with my son as to whether we have oatmeal for breakfast "too often;" going over regrouping and commutative and associative again and then almost fainting when he refers to a dime as a nickel (cute when they're three; Child Protective Services territory once they pass the decade mark); fantasizing about committing high acts of sabotage to every leaf blower in the neighborhood, and reminding myself that we could afford to live in a quieter neighborhood (maybe even in a house instead of an apartment) if I made more money, which I always thought I would because I didn't expect to homeschool; and now, to top it all off, I'm honking off total strangers just by getting up in the morning?

How I feel reading what you wrote goes beyond ire. Read the list I sent you a link to. I feel as if I didn't even write it. I just happened to be the first homeschooler to jot it all down. Every item on it is something I've either heard myself or heard someone else complain about hearing. We hear this kind of nonsense all the time. We're really tired of it.

No answer. Too many big words and ideas; not enough speculation as to my potential hottitude.

So, just to make sure that he was alive and knew I was, I dashed off one more email, with the subject heading, "Any last words?":

I'm pulling together the article I'm writing about your posting and the response to it. Anything you'd like to add?

Scaccia replied to that in about a second and a half, demanding to know who I work for.

As I mentioned several times, I'm the editor of (and frequent contributor to) Secular Homeschooling magazine.

Though I often write humor pieces (you saw the bitter wish list), at least two people have already written incredibly witty point-by-point responses to your posting. I won't bother trying to compete on an already crowded field; instead, I'm writing about the community's response to your posting. Naturally I'm thrilled to be able to offer some insight into the personality of the blogger.

Scaccia replied that I could quote from his list all I wanted, but our personal conversations were, you know, personal. He then generously offered to answer any questions I wanted to ask him, by phone or by email.

I hastened to assure him that I had all the information from him I needed, and if he didn't want to be directly quoted, I'd be happy to paraphrase his side of the correspondence.

Scaccia squawked a bit about how it wasn't fair, I hadn't told him in exactly so many words exactly what I'd be writing. He then added that my subject heading was what people said right before they assassinated someone. I was unethical, immoral, mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

Okay. Let's see. The guy decided to write a piece about homeschoolers without doing any research other than consulting his own feelings on the subject.

On receiving an email from a reasonably successful writer in the homeschooling field, he ignored the point she attempted to make and the links she sent to sites with information on the subject, preferring to make an email pass at said editor instead.

This editor's track record, in terms of just how much she keeps things to herself when it comes to people who try to make things even more difficult for homeschoolers than they already are, is easily researched. Five minutes with a decent search engine will tell anyone more than they need to know about the subject.

Moving back to first person: I haven't minded telling potential advertisers — you know, people who actually want to pay me money — just what I think of them if they fail to meet my standards. But I should go easy on this guy, because...why?

Mr. Scaccia:

I'll bow to your authority on the finer points of assassination, either physical or character. You hadn't replied to my last email, and though I already posted on your blog that I would in fact be writing an article [absolutely true], I wanted to confirm with you that you'd said all you wanted to on the subject.

As I said, don't worry. If you don't want to be quoted, I'll be happy to paraphrase.

Except this one sentence, for the simple reason that there's no way of paraphrasing it without just plain saying exactly what he said:

Paraphrasing is still quoting, just not directly.

I didn't bother answering that one. There really wasn't anything to say.

And there really isn't anything more to say now.

Oh, wait — one thing. If anyone has a dictionary they're not using anymore, I know an English teacher who's badly in need of one.

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