This is the roundabout story of how my daughter got to drop out of school in the seventh grade, with official approval, maintain her personal integrity, get an excellent education, and live happily ever after at home with mean ol’ Mom.
My daughter had always done well in public school, making friends and excellent grades, was even a “teacher’s pet” one year. Then, something happened...the dreaded adolescence! Sometime during sixth grade — her first year of middle school — Tami decided to be a “Goth.” That’s exactly what it was too, a conscious decision. She dyed her hair black and shaved the sides, began wearing black clothes all the time, talking about wanting to pierce her navel. She could never quite bring herself to listen to Siouxsie or Bauhaus though — too much a metalhead at heart. It was a fashion statement. When she gothed up full-bore, with white-powdered face, black lipstick, and more eyeliner than Chuckles the Clown, she looked kinda like Brandon Lee in The Crow. Sans paint, she was actually very cute!
Because I’m a modern kinda mom, Tam had a harder time than most kids rebelling. She knew I’ve always detested goths, considering them wannabe-vampire poseurs with nothing better to do than spend Mommy and Daddy’s hard-earned bucks in bars and coffeehouses, looking like centuries-old corpses, listening to music I’m not particularly fond of. So of course, she had to become one....
I drew the line at “gothing it up” for school, but a black-tressed former honey-blond was enough to get the other kids — and teachers — talking. More trouble arrived during the comparative-religions discussions in sixth grade social studies class. When they got to the Hinduism section, Tam brought a few things in from home to share with the class — got extra credit for her effort, too. Benign and beautiful things, such as a few sacred texts written in Sanskrit, a puja bell, an incense burner in the shape of a lotus, and a bronze statue of Siva Natarajah.
One of her classmates pointed to Siva and declared loudly, “That guy is a demon!” Et voilà— suddenly my daughter was a “devil-worshipper” in the eyes of her classmates. Probably didn’t help that she was the only kid at Whitebread Central who listened to Danzig, or that she was still having trouble adjusting to her middle-classmates after attending schools far from the Burbz, before we moved to the Land of Lemons.
I had to jet down to school one day to bring her another shirt because she’d worn a Danzig T, and the school has “No occult symbolism” written into the dress code. Being the crusader mom I am, I expressed surprise at the idea of school-supported religious discrimination, since other kids frequently and openly wear crucifixes and six-pointed stars to school without being called to account. Frankly, I didn’t get the fuss over a black shirt with the group’s “demon skull” logo on the front; it looks like a standard Halloween skull with horns. Personally, I find the medallion that a devout Catholic classmate wore every day — depicting St. Lucy the Martyr holding a dish on which her torn-out eyes stare sightlessly — much scarier.
Tam started hating school, and her grades slipped. Over the summer, things smoothed out between us, as they have a tendency to do when warring generations who really love each other also want to run away/strangle-you-in-your-sleep/go-live- with - my-dad/put - you -in-cold-storage-till-you-turn-18.
Suburban kids and their teachers apparently have long memories, though, and while the bizarro makeup was abandoned, Tam’s hair was still shiny, glossy black, and she still listened to Danzig.
She also still stubbornly refused to back down in any way to “fit in.” Proponents of prayer in schools may not realize it, but public school kids love to talk about God and religion. They discuss politics too, although it tends more along the lines of “Clinton SUCKS! And his wife’s a BITCH!” Tam told anyone who asked that she was a) a polytheist; b) a feminist; and c) either an anarchist or a Libertarian, depending upon her political mood of the day. “Are you a devil-worshipper?” replaced “Hi, howya doin’?” as the standard lunchtime greeting. She got sick of denying it after a while and began responding, “So what if I was?” while informing her inquisitors that Satanism is a religion afforded as much protection under the United States Constitution as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. (Told you she was smart!)
Grunge replaced Goth as the year’s passing fashion fad, and soon she was wearing ripped jeans and flannel shirts to school, apparently no more acceptable to the peer groupies than black velvet and wan looks. The teachers started talking about her, too. In culmination, a concerned individual called CPS, anonymously reporting that we were Satanists, my daughter a victim of ritual abuse, and that I was pimping her out to my Satanic coven. If it weren’t so disgusting, it would be plain ludicrous.
Nevertheless, two CPS caseworkers were duly dispatched to pull my daughter out of class and question her, the school’s social worker, and several of her teachers. After terrifying Tami, albeit unintentionally, she was left with the social worker, while the caseworkers paid me a visit at home.
They were very professional and both extremely nice. They looked around, asked questions, and actually listened to my replies. There was definitely a problem, they said, but it did not lie with me or my daughter per se. One of the caseworkers told me a teacher at the school had opined that the anonymous report “might be true” because my daughter was “obviously a very troubled girl — she has black hair and wears these awful clothes, you know!”
The caseworker said she’d been expecting some ghoulish apparition to respond to the summons and was shocked when my beautiful, vibrant daughter walked in. “I have a daughter not much older,” the caseworker confided, “attending the School of Creative and Performing Arts. Your daughter looks a bit like my own daughter. She’d fit right in at SCPA. Why, I’ve seen kids there with blue hair, nose rings, tattoos — she wouldn’t stand out at all.”
“Tam used to go to SCPA,” I said. The caseworker figured Tam’s grade drop was likely a direct result of the “socialization” troubles at school and suggested I request an interdistrict transfer back to SCPA. “The anonymous reporter also said they’d heard you were a poor housekeeper,” the other caseworker informed me. I had to admit this was true, being a fairly undomesticated beast. Only later was I able to laugh at the imagined telephone report: “The mother is a Satanist. She abuses her child in horrible ways. She forces a 12-year-old to have sex with adult male Satanists. And she has a messy house!”
The case was marked “Unfounded,” and sympathy and reassurance were offered by the caseworkers. The school’s social worker drove my sobbing daughter home as soon as he got the all-clear signal that the workers had left and weren’t going to charge me with anything. He agreed with their assessment — at 12, it’s bad to be different; much worse to be different by one’s own choice, rather than some physical misfortune such as zits, thick glasses, over- or underabundance of body fat. He was angered that one of the teachers had badmouthed my daughter but, he said, “not really surprised.” The community, he said, is rather intolerant when it comes to young females who look like a combination of a less-buffed-out (but taller!) Glenn Danzig and Kurt Cobain before Mr. I-Swear-I-Don’t-Have-A-Gun blew his brains all over the wall.
The social worker was the one who brought up the idea of home study, to my surprise. He gave the standard disclaimer: “In the long run, it’s best to face up to your problems, take the heat, and be a stronger person,” only to immediately add, “There are a lot of kids who request home study. Tami is one of the few that I’m absolutely confident is both intelligent and mature enough to do extremely well with it.”
I’d heard of home study before, in a vague sort of way, mostly in connection with newspaper reports about parents protesting public school science classes teaching the theory of evolution. I figured anyone who had their kids on home study was probably a religious fundamentalist. I also worried about the kids being isolated, their lack of exposure to different people with different lifestyles and ideas. So I wasn’t exactly an avid proponent.
The social worker left me the phone number of the district’s Home Study Program supervisor, Kathi Perry, advised us to talk it over and let him know our decision over the next couple days. Tam’s response was instant: “I wanna go for it!” I hemmed and hawed a bit, but deep down I was excited. I remembered my own public school days, in the dark ages before there were programs for gifted children, and how utterly bored I was with school. Even though things have gotten better, the way the classes are structured are restrictive for bright students. And, of course, I could give her all the personal attention we could handle, whereas professional teachers must divide their time among a bunch of kids, with varying levels of brains, self-discipline, and creativity.
I called the home study lady to make an appointment to discuss the possibilities, and before we left, Tam and I had both signed contracts agreeing to uphold our parts of the home school bargain.
The setup was impressive. Standard textbooks, some of them the same she’d been studying in her abortive stay in the public school’s seventh grade, were provided free of charge — a set for her, and a set for me, with the answers written inside. We have to return them at the end of the year in non-thrashed condition, of course. Folders with various assignments, maps, and tests were also provided. It’s my responsibility to administer a “chapter test” whenever we finish a chapter in science and social studies, and there are enormous final exams included for all subjects.
Home schooling families seem to be given as much, or as little, assistance from the home study supervisor as they need or want. We have plenty of school supplies — paper, pens and pencils, compasses, scissors — at home, but at the Home School Program trailer, filing cabinets overflow with supplies for low-income families who otherwise might not be able to afford to keep their kids in stock.
There’s a computer lab available with computers for kids to practice on — unfortunately, incompatible with our equipment at home. It’s got to be the only educational setup I’ve ever seen that doesn’t use Macintoshes! Since Tami already types over 60 wpm accurately, the supervisor pronounced her far too advanced for anything they have available, but she’s getting credit for computer class as an elective based on the typewritten manuscripts she turns in. Yes, turns in — there is supervision.
Approximately every four weeks, another of my responsibilities is to phone for an appointment to bring the month’s work over to be checked by the supervisor. Kathi reads through all of it, although it’s my “job” to check, correct, and grade Tam’s work, and according to district rules, she saves assignment samples from each subject, then notes that the rest of the work was turned in and verified by her. She isn’t slack about it either — she read all the text carefully and spot-checked some of the math equations.
At our first meeting, I also received a sheaf of “Independent Study Program Q Monthly Logs,” with blocks for math, science, social studies, English language, writing, and physical education, and extra space at the bottom for writing in “elective” subjects home-schooled kids take. I scribble down the date, then write in what we worked on that day in all her subjects. The supervisor also saves my completed monthly logs for verification.
We were given a “Suggested Daily Schedule,” with subjects and times blocked off from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., but it’s suggestive only — our time is our own. The schedule begins with creative writing, followed by math, science, a ten-minute break, social studies, literature, half-hour lunch, physical education, and finally, “Create your own elective.” The way we usually work it is, I let Tami figure out what order she wants to work on her subjects. As long as the work is completed and she understands what she’s doing, I don’t care if we exercise first and then do math, start with social studies, and then work on a book report, or any other combo that appeals that day. We figured out after our first meeting that we were actually doing more work and moving quicker than if we’d stuck to the schedule, which did not please Tam (she called me a slave driver), but it definitely pleased the supervisor.
She got her first report card at the initial monthly meeting and is performing “at grade level” in her worst subject (math) and “above grade level” in everything else. Being her teacher, I get to fill in the marks for her “Attitudes and Work Habits,” and when she bitches about assignments, I threaten to flunk her in “Courteous and Cooperative.” When she drank the last Pepsi in the house, I threatened to put a black mark in “Respects Others’ Rights and Property.” It’s fun being the teacher sometimes.
Wouldn’t be school without field trips, and some of them are organized by the district. In December, we went to the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater to investigate its science center and see the film Discoverers, which covered everybody from Magellan to the Magellan spacecraft with its photos of the surface of Venus. In January there was a visit to the Julian Gold Mine planned. It wasn’t free, but we were able to attend at reduced rates.
It was interesting visiting the Space Theater — it was a “home school day,” so everyone in attendance was part of a home study program. There were two huge groups of Christian home study parents/kids from North County and smaller groups from all over. Many of the parents are teaching their children at home for religious reasons, but by no means all. Some simply feel they can provide time and attention to their kids that’s unavailable in a formal classroom setting. There were even a couple old hippies there, anti-establishment, whole-wheat kinda folks who want to teach their children in a ’60s kinda way. A few parent/child teams seem to have stumbled into home study, as we did.
Tami and I keep changing and readjusting our respective schedules. At the beginning of our educational experiment, she was keeping vampires’ hours — getting up around 2:00 p.m. and crashing at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m., when I was rolling out of bed. While she slept, I’d have my nose in the books, listing instructions on what chapter to read in each book, assigning questions for her to answer, suggesting writing projects, then going on to my own morning routine. After pulling a couple of all-nighters, she’s now readjusted to a daytime schedule, and I seem to be crashing way early and then waking up around 4:00 a.m. The important thing is, it’s working.
When she gets up, we go over the list together, then she works independently in her room, blasting tunes and chugging Mountain Dew, until she has a question or doesn’t grok something, whereupon we “meet” to go over the confusing stuff. We usually do “P.E” together, walking a favorite course that clocks in at just over a mile, maybe practicing Hatha Yoga together. Sometimes she pops an aerobics video in the VCR and “works out” with Kathy Smith or Tami Lee Webb. Neither of us is traditionally sports-minded, but for students and parents who are, playing softball, football, or other organized sports counts toward the P.E. requirement.
We usually work straight from the textbooks till it gets boring, then she or I or both of us figure out something that fits what we’re studying but is more interesting than the tasks in the book. Borrowing an idea from her former school, we recently turned in a math assignment with the theme that the student had $3000 to spend on a vacation anywhere in the world and had to figure out where to go, how much to allot for travel expenses, why s/he picked that mode of travel, where to stay while visiting, meals and entertainment expenses. It involved phoning travel agencies, airlines, train ticket offices, local hotels/motels, and people we knew who had traveled in certain areas and knew how much things cost. The supervisor saved that one, not only as a “work sample,” but to post on the wall of the home study office as an example of truly bitchin’ work.
My name is Tami Bradford and I’m a 12-year-old girl on home study.
Many people have asked me why I’m not in school, and when I explain that I am on home study, they want to know why. Well, to be blunt, I hated school. I have a different style from the rest of the kids there, who normally dressed in overalls and crop tops. I preferred to dye my hair black, wear leggings and T-shirts. For such, I was considered a Satanist or “devil-worshipper.” I put up with that all through the sixth grade and through part of seventh and decided not to put up with it anymore. It was flat-out discrimination. If someone was making fun of me because of my race, they’d probably get a referral. But the only thing that happened to anyone teasing me was being told not to say such things. And guess what? They didn’t listen.
Kids were always asking me in class, “Are you a devil-worshipper?” and when I answered no, and more questions came, I tried to ignore them, but I still wasted precious time answering their idiotic questions when I could have been getting honor roll grades. To say it short, they were distracting me from my work way too often. And they enjoyed it.
Then, my acquaintances want to know what we do, how our schedule is figured. Well, my mother assigns me things, like your teachers do at school, only we go on cool field trips and do more interesting projects. Whenever I get stuck on a math problem, my mother explains it in words I understand.
I think home study is great for kids who get too much crap to handle at regular school (“Are you a devil-worshipper?” 20 times a day). I was ditching and absent from school a lot. I had no friends to call to ask for assignments I had missed, so my grades went down the garbage disposal.
Sure, I miss school sometimes. I miss the good people. Some of the adults liked me, and a few of the kids did, too. I miss most of my teachers, except for...we’ll call her Mrs. Grey Hair. Mrs. Grey Hair was always on me: even in the sixth grade, when I dyed my hair, she told me that it would all fall out. Mrs. Grey Hair, if you are reading this, go to heaven! The social workers were always really nice to me, especially...we’ll call him Mr. Coolness. He was the one who introduced me to this wonderful program, and the person who runs it in our district, and I’ll never forget him. Thank you so much, Mr. Coolness.
Now, let’s take a look at how some of the “typical days” usually went at all the different schools I’ve attended.
Typical Day at Valencia Park Elementary School (Skyline Drive, Southeast Encanto):
Wake up at a god-awful hour. School didn’t start till 8:00 a.m., but I liked to meet Elizabeth and walk with her, and I liked to spend a lot of time on my hair. It was blonde in those days, and you know how blondes are about their hair!
Go by Elizabeth’s house and try to ditch her little brother, who wanted to walk with us. Walk hundreds of miles through the snow — oh wait, that’s Mom’s story. Walk TWO miles in the hot sun, sometimes in the rain.
Go to class.
Get into big trouble for putting my name on the right side of the paper instead of the left (it was a pretty strict school). Go to lunch.
Be told I would always get caught talking in class, chewing gum, not paying attention, etc., because I was the only white girl in the class and my blonde hair would stand out.
Get sent home for wearing neon pink shoelaces (no colored shoelaces rule in the dress code, as part of the gang abatement rules. If I wasn’t totally AGAINST gay-bashing I could make a joke about homo homeboyz with pink laces, but I am, so I won’t!).
Go back to class, study, bring back TONS of homework, walk home with Elizabeth, make the honor roll.
Typical Day at SCPA (School of Creative and Performing Arts, Dusk Drive, Paradise Hills. The school’s first year at a brand-new campus, and my first year. It starts in fourth grade):
Wake up at the crack of friggin’ dawn, this time because I HAD to!
Walk to the bus stop at 6:00 a.m.
Sit in the back of the bus. Talk about the girl who got shot in a drive-by at this bus stop the other day.
Walk into class and get there late, 7:31 a.m.
Study. Then dance. Then study. Then drama. Then study. Then vocal music.
Have a lunch of cheese fries and hamburgers, two of the zillion choices at SCPA. (I love their lunch choices!)
Ride the bus home, with tons more homework AND dance steps and musical scales and play scripts to memorize. Do my homework and drop from sheer exhaustion. No honor roll — this school is a LOT tougher — but my grades are still good.
Typical Day at Golden Avenue Elementary School (School Lane, Lemon Grove):
Wake at 6:00 a.m.
Mess with my permed blonde hair.
Put on pretty little printed outfit.
Drink a cup of coffee.
Go to school.
Get straight As.
Go home smiling.
Typical day at LGMS (Lemon Grove Middle School, Golden Avenue, Lemon Grove):
My name is being called...LOUDLY.
Something is pushing at my side.
Mom shoves me out of bed and onto the floor. It’s 7:30! School starts in half an hour!
Mom shoves a cup of coffee in my hand.
I tell Mom I feel sick.
I tell Mom I’m going to puke and hate school.
Mom drags me into the bathroom.
I brush my matted black hair.
I slip on jeans ripped beyond recognition and a Guns-N-Roses T-shirt.
Mom drives me to school, which is very close, but she does it to make sure I don’t ditch.
People gather around me, while I’m reading — Cujo — sleepily.
People ask me if I am a devil-worshipper.
Bell rings, I go to class.
Work till lunchtime. Every time I get called on, people snicker.
Go to lunch. Get asked more and more questions.
Go to other classes with more and more hassles.
Walk home with the only two people in this whole town who don’t think I’m a devil-worshipper, a witch, a druggie, or a Democrat.
Tell Mom I hate school. Skip my homework. Go in my room and listen to Danzig. Get horrible grades.
Typical Day on home study:
Wake up at 4:00 a.m.
Do the work that Mom assigns me.
Drink ALL the coffee before Mom wakes up.
Go on my favorite D&D-type computer BBS game board and gossip about who hasn’t done the easiest quests, who’s falling in love with someone they’ve never met except over the computer, and who will next become a wizard.
Mom wakes and grumbles about the coffee, makes more, and starts checking over my work.
I tell Mom to stay off the phone, because I’m waiting for my boyfriend to call.
Mom grumbles, we go over my work together, I ask questions about the stuff I didn’t understand, we think of fun assignments to do. My boyfriend calls. Mom does yoga while I go in my room to talk to him and listen to...Skid Row! Ha, bet you thought I was gonna say Danzig...well aye, I still listen to Glenn sometimes too. But I wasn’t that impressed with DANZIG 4, or 4p, or “ng” or whatever it’s called, so I alternate.
Have lunch. No more free lunch card! Oh well. Study with Mom, yawn, take a break, play Uno with Mom, study some more, hit the rack about dinnertime and crash, ready to get up and do it all again the next day.
And that, my friends, is the life of a typical seventh grader on home study.
When I find an interesting article in the newspaper, I save it as a possible assignment. For instance, the local paper had a story recently about some archaeologists’ discovery of a Mayan cave, assumed to be a burial chamber, as it was filled with skulls. Some quirk of minerals in the cave’s walls combined with a steady trickle of water caused the skulls to glow phosphorescently: Cave of the Glowing Skulls. Tami wrote an interesting report on the discovery (she wants to be an archaeologist eventually).
Another assignment, inspired by the irony of every archaeological find being attributed to religious rituals of long-dead civilizations, speculated about archaeologists of the future digging up the ruins of Lemon Grove and discovering the infamous “Lemon.” Tami created an entire “Cult of the Lemon God,” with the Lemon as an altar on which the high priest stood at sunrise to greet the Great Lemon in the Sky who gives Life and Prosperity to His Lemonic followers. The supervisor was impressed by Tam’s creativity; I was rolling on the floor laughing my ass off, and for days afterward every yellow object we saw was attributed into the Great Lemon Cult’s schema — Lemon Drop candy was the cult’s form of Holy Communion, lemonade their ceremonial drink, the musical group the Lemonheads the choir.
While studying mythos from various cultures for English lit, Tami used our modern to read and post on the Internet’s “alt.mythology” Newsgroup, getting feedback from college students taking mythology courses, neo-pagans wanting to research the roots of pre-Christian religions, and everyday dudes ’n’ dudettes with an interest and a copy of The Golden Bough.
When comparative religions got dull per our textbook, Tam wrote an essay comparing and contrasting the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments with the Buddhist Eightfold Path. Another “excellent example of creativity” marked down in the home study log. It was creative; she thought of things that had never occurred to me and got to use her mind and think for herself, rather than parroting back dates, places, and prophets of import.
Tam plays electric bass and gets credit for her lessons as a “music” elective. She’s learned to be more self-reliant, knowing that if her assignments aren’t completed satisfactorily, she’ll get booted back into middle school, and she doesn’t want that, so she comes through like the winner she is.
Since our time can be scheduled as we choose, we take our own “field trips.” She’s not stuck in a classroom on Tuesday, free day at the museums, so we’ve visited Balboa Park’s Museum of Man, trekked to the library for research projects, even had “band practice” with a group of her buds who also play musical instruments and have kewler taste in tunes than the Z-90 crowd at her old school.
We work really well together, and the lingering traces of addle-scent hassles are lessening all the time. It’s made both of us more aware of the potential to get “school credit” for everything: programs on the Discovery Channel, homemade science experiments, a trip to the doctor’s office (great opportunity to ask questions about physiology), time spent on-line with computer bulletin boards (talking to people from different countries, taking informal “polls” to gather statistics, computer practice) — even this article. I have no doubt whatsoever that Tami will get a good grade for the portion she writes herself.
We can start work whenever we both feel energized and enthused, whether that happens to be at 7:00 a.m. or 10:00 p.m., and work until we’re done. We can spend breaks talking and giggling, and since she seems to study most efficiently while listening to Danzig and Soundgarten at ear-shattering levels, she can slap on the ’phones and headbang away while discoursing eloquently on lined paper with a No. 2 pencil about the Crusades, Saladin, or the Knights Templar.
At the moment, we’re taking things as they go. The “plan” is probably to continue home study through middle school, then “re-mainstream” her at high school level. Nothing’s set in stone, though. We may decide to return to formal school for eighth grade; we may even decide to work this way all through high school.
My sister was concerned about Tam’s social life, but that hasn’t suffered at all — she didn’t really hang with many of the dweebs from her class anyway, and those she did like still come over. She has other friends — from the neighborhood, from afterschool activities, from places we like to hang at together.
And of course, I wouldn’t think of confiscating her Danzig T-shirt — unless I wanna wear it myself!