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Homeschool Horror 

Divinely ordained education, taught by martyrs

You know how there are terrorist cells embedded throughout the world? Well, in my neighborhood we have numerous "homeschool" cells humming in the cul-de-sacs. They're almost as scary as the terrorist ones in some ways -- and they definitely have some traits in common with them.

When we first moved to Charlotte, the houses next to us, behind us, and diagonally across the street all contained children who mysteriously never seemed to leave home, and mothers with glazed expressions on their faces. The whole set-up of moms stuck with their school-age kids 24/7 gave me the willies, and that was before I even had one of my own.

Middle class areas seem to be magnets for little suburban schoolhouses. Even though there must be homeschooling pockets all over Charlotte, somehow I don't picture your basic Ballantyne babe risking breaking a nail on a chalkboard in the bonus room, or skipping a tennis set for an educational excursion to the sewage plant. Likewise, I doubt many Belmont moms miss a beat packing those kids off to public school. It's the middle class that gets suckered into the myth that mothers and older children can survive being together all day without somebody being strangled. The true "haves" and "have-nots" know better.

What's scary is that a lot of the homeschooling faithful are as fueled by a fanatical, religion-based belief in their mission as Islamist terrorists, and seem to be just about as brainwashed. Sometimes I even wonder if they're a manufactured race along the lines of the Stepford wives in Ira Levin's book, but assembled in fundamentalist Christian churches instead of family basements. Like the Stepford robots, they're programmed to fulfill their husbands' fantasies, only in this case it's their role as the Ultimate Selfless Mothers.

Other times I feel like the heroine in another famous horror story by Levin, Rosemary's Baby, at that chilling moment when she puts together the anagram "All of Them Witches" and realizes it refers to her seemingly harmless neighbors. Some of the homeschooling moms (HMs) are kind of witch-y, with the uncut hair and the long skirts because pants on females are unholy, but the description that really applies to this coven is "All of Them Zealots."

They're not only terrorist-like in their conviction that their calling is divinely ordained, homeschoolers also often have a broad martyr streak. Rather than suicide bombings, though, they commit "suicide book-learning," sacrificing their own lives to teach their kids. I've known one or two to get pregnant as an excuse to get out of homeschooling hell, but the true martyrs keep right on instructing, with the newest little pupil glued to their breast.

Beyond a certain age, children and mothers are just not meant to be isolated together. It's unnatural. Keeping the kids at home might have worked back in the Stone Age, but cave women would've at least had each other for company, and I bet they made damn sure the youngsters stayed off in a group together while they grunted gossip and drank their Cro-Magnon coffee.

Kids need their teachers to be adults, separate from their mothers. That way they can idolize or despise them apart from a parent figure, and don't have to depend on one person for everything they require. Did a parent of yours try to teach you to drive? How'd that go? 'Nuff said.

All young animals must be immersed in a mass of their peers so they can figure out what it means to function as a member of the larger group. Believe me, I'm aware that homeschooling families get their children together, since occasionally there'll be a flood of them from next door scrambling over the fence to play uninvited in our yard, but being with maybe a dozen other kids once in a while doesn't do the trick. It takes serious numbers for developing humans to catch on to the nuances of accepted behavior and to have a chance to make enough friends. I just can't see homeschooling providing adequate socialization.

One of my neighboring HMs taught her two kids through eighth grade, then threw them to the wolves in public high school. The boy ended up dropping out and doing jail time, and the girl got pregnant.

Yes, I know that homeschooled kids have won high-profile academic contests, but for every homeschooler who aces a spelling bee, there's some poor child being "instructed" by a parent who's barely literate herself. Teachers in the public school system are required to have certification and college degrees, yet any yahoo can force their kids to stay home as long as they pass an annual test.

What's really scary about homeschooling is what it can do to the sanity of a mother deluded into thinking it's her Christian duty. No woman was ever meant to be trapped in a house all day with children old enough to spell "homicide."

So if new neighbors move in next door and you notice that the kids never leave for school and mom wears her hair in two braids, be afraid. Be very afraid.

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