Google The Unplanned Homeschooler: An open letter to neighbors of homeschoolers in the wake of tragedy

Sunday, July 26, 2015

An open letter to neighbors of homeschoolers in the wake of tragedy

This summer, in a quiet neighborhood populated mainly by older residents, the unthinkable happened. Two teenage brothers, Robert and Michael Bever, allegedly murdered their parents and three siblings, ages 12, 7 and 5, and critically injured their 13-year-old sister fleeing the family home. The police found the youngest member of the family, a two-year-old girl, unharmed.

This happened in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa less than an hour from my home town. News of the tragedy jarred the community, the state, and thanks to extensive media coverage, the world. But one of the groups of people who were most shaken - excluding the family and friends of the victims, of course - were homeschoolers. 

What did homeschooling have to do with it?


The fact that the Bever family homeschooled their kids was featured prominently in every report, some including quotes from neighbors who blamed homeschooling for isolating the kids. Comments from every corner of the internet vilified the parents and cast suspicions about abuse and neglect, largely because they chose to homeschool their children.

But no one can know for sure why the Bevers' oldest sons committed this heinous crime. Millions of students in America are currently homeschooling without incident. It's not right to blame homeschooling for an isolated crime among millions of successful students, any more than it would be right to blame public schooling every time a public schooled teen commits a violent act.

What really shook me up the most, though, was the thought that my own neighbors might not answer any differently than the folks in the Broken Arrow neighborhood if, God forbid, anything awful ever happened in our home. So I wanted to address some of their potential concerns, and those of other neighbors of homeschooling families, right now.

Just because you don't see us, doesn't mean we're not out


A while back, my elderly next door neighbor caught my dad and asked if we had moved, "Because I never see them." Part of me wanted to laugh, but I was also upset because the kids spent time outdoors almost every day, and that conversation seemed accusatory and threatening to me.


I wanted to tell her that most of the time when the kids go out in the yard during the summer, they usually stick to the back yard, not the front, and often wait until the evening when it is cooler and they don't have to put on sunscreen. During the day, when the neighbors occasionally come outside, we are usually inside where it is cool or out at the pool with friends or splashing in the creek at Grandma and Grandpa's. 

Our schedule doesn't match public school


When my neighbors happen to notice my kids out playing in our yard during the day, they probably think we should be doing school. But if we're spending a weekday afternoon at play, it's because we take advantage of pretty days when it is not too hot or too cold, to just enjoy the weather. 

And that's okay, because we homeschool year round, on our own schedule, and we complete more than the 180 days required of public school kids. Sometimes we're doing school on Saturday, or in the evening, or even on the 4th of July. Maintaining our own schedule is totally legal and very common among homeschoolers.

My kids have lots of friends


My neighbors probably haven't seen other kids hanging around our house, so they might naturally think my kids don't have any friends. But the real reason they seldom see other kids hanging around is because we have so many friends it's much easier to meet at the park, or at the library, or to rent a space big enough to hold us all. 

More than 90 people showed up at our last Halloween party, and our normal park day averages more than 20 kids. I wonder if the neighbors would really want all our friends parked up and down the street every week, because that's how often we meet on average.

We're not crazy, but we are weird


Yes, we are Christian and we are homeschoolers, but we're not crazy fanatics hiding in a bunker downstairs waiting for the end of the world. We chose to homeschool, like many families regardless of faith, because we feel that it is the best educational option for our children.

Our kids, like most homeschoolers according to recent standardized test data, are working at or above grade level. They're learning all the same subjects that kids in public school study, although with lots more hands on learning opportunities and field trips.

We are different, though, and some may even say weird. We're okay with that. My kids are a little old-fashioned in their values, a little out of touch with the hottest fashion trends, a little uncomfortable with typical junior high social behaviors like bullying, and a little behind the times in their musical preferences. But they're masters of kindness and the ability to get along with people of all ages.

Don't judge homeschooling by its worst examples


Please don't look at a tragedy like the one that happened in Broken Arrow and judge all homeschoolers just because that family happened to be homeschooling. No one knows that homeschooling had anything at all to do with the motives of those young men, and even if it did, that doesn't mean that all homeschooling is bad.

If you have homeschooling neighbors, and you are really concerned about how often you see the kids playing outdoors, why not take the step to introduce yourself and get to know the family. Chances are, the mom or dad who stays home with the kids would welcome a friendly chat, especially if you come bearing a plate of brownies, and you might discover that the family is a lot more socially active than they first appear.

Please remember the millions of homeschoolers, like my family, who are happily educating their kids the best way they know how, and who are perfectly content with their friends and activities, even if you don't notice them hanging out in their front yards and playing with the neighbors.