Homeschool support groups are a pretty common thing today -- I bet homeschoolers from 20 or so years ago marvel at the profusion of support that exists today, when so many of them labored in isolation, without specialized curricula or resources (let alone the sisterhood of blogs!) to guide them, and often even in fear of the law.
Maybe we've begun to take their sacrifices a little for granted.
I’m feeling a bit on the depressed side today. The Catholic homeschooling group to which I currently (very tenuously as of this writing) belong is … well, to paraphrase Tevvye in Fiddler on the Roof, “Either they’re crazy, or they’re out of their minds!”
I haven’t really been much of an "active" member, if you define that by the number of field trips in which you participate. Because of this group, though, my daughter had a truly wonderful First Communion experience two years ago, and I was looking forward to my younger children having the same opportunity. As for the rest of the activities of the group, my boys are either too little (read: active) to make it a worthwhile experience, or the activity is too far away (the closest activities are more than an hour’s drive away) making participation a major disruption of our usual schedule. I was truly grateful to belong to a group of Catholic Homeschoolers just the same – if I ever needed support from like-minded people in this homeschooling journey of ours, where better a place to find it?
The group is overseen by a Service Board. These are the people (moms, usually) that make policy decisions for the group and are primarily charged with protecting the group’s mission as a Catholic support group faithful to the Magesterium. They have a mostly thankless job, of course; but the group is pretty much of one mind on things, so they rarely need to venture into controversial territory.
Until now. And because of the controversy, it has become increasingly clear to me that this board should never have existed in its current form in the first place.
The members of the board – homeschooling moms who greatly care about the group, of course, and approach their role with good will and a prayerful heart -- are hand-selected by current Service Board members. There are no elections, ever. I don’t know if they serve an agreed-to term, or if they stay on for as long as they can manage it (or both). Their meetings are secret; they never, ever disclose minutes. And their decisions are final.
All well and good, I guess, if you think their decisions are right.
But what if you don’t? Then what?
There is no process in place for redressing concerns of those who disagree with a decision of the board – other than to leave the group (which current dissenters are being encouraged by past and present board members to do; and to my amazement, I think they think they are being loving about it, too). Disagreement on its face -- especially public disagreement on the group's message board -- is seen as a personal attack, and open discussion of the issues eschewed. Some members are annoyed that they are being bothered by a controversy when they don’t even care about the issue at hand; others are deeply offended at what they see as an attack on the good name of individual board members. Many seem to think that disagreement is in and of itself wrong and unnecessarily divisive, leading many to offer what they intend as “calming” statements, admonishing others to “trust” the Service Board unconditionally lest “Satan” disrupt the group. The Service Board has responded in a fashion that strikes me as erratic, and borne of a complete lack of understanding of the heart of the concerns of those who have dared to raise them; and they refuse a meeting of the membership on the grounds that it could get ugly.
It hasn’t occurred to anyone that maybe the dissenters … are right.
Apparently, God only speaks through the Service Board. And this small, unelected group’s dictates are seen as binding on me and my family, even if I see them as conflicting with my parental authority and autonomy as conferred upon me by God Himself, through His Church.
Why doesn’t this scare anyone?
I suppose you might ask why I would be dissing my support group like this on my blog. Well: There’s no place else to talk about this, and I think the issues are important; and after all, this is my house. And no one is listening. They’re too busy having their feelings hurt, being annoyed, or fearing Satan’s destruction of the group.
But I honestly think this group is seriously misguided – and dangerously so.
Of course, I won’t be staying. As my very wise sister Theresa has said, we didn’t leave the constraints of public and parochial school boards, only to come under the rule of some homeschool board – particularly one with whose newest policies we disagree, and who is not interested in understanding why!
The actual issue that led to the controversy is less important than the questions I am raising here, I think; but the issue is not irrelevant. (It's a hot-button issue all by itself, and that is confounding things.) I’ll address that in a subsequent post.
Oh, and while I’m thinking of it: Where is my copy of A Haystack Full of Needles? I think I’m gonna be needing it …