Isn’t this why we don’t send our kids to public school?

I was four years old.

We were visiting my dad’s childhood home in New York, and we went to the house of an elderly lady who used to be his neighbor. She had a caretaker, a single mom homeschooling her son, who was around my age.

My favorite TV show was Barney the Dinosaur, my only 30 minutes of live television once a week. I also played my Barney’s Favorites cassette tape every day and I knew all of the songs by heart.

The little boy and I started chattering and playing on the floor, and I sang “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” for him and his mom, very enthusiastically, with all of the hand motions and marching.

“Do your ears hang low?
Do they wobble to and fro?
Can you tie ’em in a knot?
Can you tie ’em in a bow?
Can you throw ’em o’er your shoulder
Like a continental soldier
Do your ears hang low?”

His mother turned to my mom and said, “Isn’t this why we don’t send them to public school, so they won’t be exposed to garbage like this?”

I remember this deep sense of shame and wanting to crawl under the carpet. I felt like I’d humiliated my mom and I wondered what was so terrible about my song. I think the little boy’s mom called him to come sit on the couch next to her, away from me, and we weren’t allowed to play together the rest of the visit.

This was the first time that I was that child, the bad influence.

Usually it was my parents keeping me away from other children that could lead me astray. This time, they hid their children from me. My mom didn’t understand at all why the other mother objected to the song.

The fear would follow me for years.

Later on in my teens, we ended up in a church with mostly other homeschooling families, some of them Quiverfull. All the other churches we’d gone to before were mainline denominations, and their children went to public school. But homeschooling was becoming more common by 2004.

I’d hear stories from the other families, pick up things in snatches of conversation.

My sister got a craft book for her 8th birthday party, the only party she ever invited friends to since we stayed to ourselves. The other children said, “Oh, look there’s a witch on this page! We’ll have to cover that up.” Their mom glanced over and said, “Oh yeah, you can just cut out black construction paper and glue it over those pages like we do at our house.”

I called my Bible Buddies partner during the week, we got into a theological discussion, and I asked, “Well, have you ever read Narnia?” “No,” she answered. “My parents don’t like that they talk about magic, and they think it’s too confusing for children to read about Jesus as a lion.” I explained that magic is like a substitute for divine power both in creation and redemption, and I read her some dialogue between Aslan and the Pevensie children. She said she thinks it’s probably safer not to read it and seemed uncomfortable, and I dropped the subject.

A homeschool mom traded some used A Beka textbooks with our family. The pages of the only Greek myth in the 8th grade literature book were stapled together.

“Why should they learn about pagan literature when they could be reading the Bible?”

My dad bought clearance books and films from the Focus on the Family bookstore. He sent the kids Ten Commandments VHS series to a Quiverfull family we knew with 13 kids. My mom explained to their parents that the only time there is music with a beat in the series is the scene where the characters worship false idols.

I was always watchful around the other families, struggling to balance being honest about the books and movies I enjoyed but with the fear of not being allowed to talk to the other teens if I’m considered a “bad influence.” In this patriarchal world, if one of the parents decided I’m not spiritual enough or too worldly, I might not be given space to defend myself.

I know because it happened to others. Teens and young adults were called into the pastor’s office and questioned about their music preferences, asked to stop hanging out with their children.

Because, you know. This is why we don’t send our kids to public school.

public school pearls

Check out the new page a friend and I just launched, Messages from the Box, where we post more quote memes like this from leaders in the homeschool movement and other fundamentalists.

10 thoughts on “Isn’t this why we don’t send our kids to public school?

    1. And Jesus certainly didn’t hang out with only ‘appropriate’ Real True Jews(tm). He wandered around, hanging out with tax collectors, lepers and all sorts of folks.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is maddening, frustrating, and just plain sad to read. All of these lines, this inability to do nearly anything. Growing up so insanely sheltered to the point that when you escape you don’t know what to do or where to go… And then to top it off, how did you form deeper relationships with other kids? Did you just not? I mean, when every relationship was constantly hanging by an easily ripped up thread, did you bother to try to get really close to anyone?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I ended up getting this as well. Narnia (the full series) was my favorite book. Never really total it to anyone after trying to loan it to a fellow home school friend and had her move or less like the book was going to have something come out of it.
    I was never very good with following the book rules as I thought of them I am a dork and a bookworm first and foremost.
    Being someone who went to public school for a time period I was held at arms length. That was finalized when I was caught reading about a girl, and later woman who dressed a man to become a stagecoach driver.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My parents were like this for a long time, though when I was around 15 we moved across the US and joined a missionary group. Which meant I was exposed to much more and allowed to be with more people to try and “convert” them.
    When reading this I was struck by the fact that you were four. Not many people remember things fron that age. Which means this obviously affected you so much. Just…wow… The shame and guilt that we carry from such young ages is unacceptable. I know my parents meant well…But I’m not raising my kids like they did.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m unusual because I have weridly early memories. The first one is from 15 months old. I’m struggling to balance on my feet, gripping onto a doorjamb with both hands, while my mom is giving my grandfather medicine while he’s laying in his hospital bed. I have other specific memories from being two and three like Dad holding me up to feed dolphins at Sea World in San Diego, CA.

      It can’t be explained away by family photographs because I remember whole chunks of dialogue, how the sun felt on my face, the dolphin’s cold, rubbery wet nose.

      I felt very strange about this until I found these articles recently:

      Liked by 2 people

  4. You poor dear. Weren’t people complete idiots when it came to children back then? I feel like the pendulum has swung the other way, but geez… it’s like our parents and their friends forget that kids ARE NEW TO STUFF.

    Like… everything. Kids are new to having arms, or dealing with gravity. Or feeding themselves. It’s all WAY new. I promise it’s not rebellion, especially at age 4. Yikes.

    Would our parents do to a puppy what they did to us? Of course not—they’d be in jail the instant a neighbor had a suspicion.

    I really hate that you, Elle, and so many of us have been denied childhood almost completely. Part of my own “self therapy” has been building a few Lego sets—kinda like those adult coloring books, it just HELPS and I’m not sure why. (And did anyone know how pricey Legos are now??)

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s