Friday, September 6, 2013

Why I Joined The Outliers (No, that doesn't say "Outlaws." Yet.)

I know people homeschool for a variety of reasons.  Some homeschool because their children are wildly gifted, and require far more academic stimulation than what a normal public school can provide.  Some homeschool because their children have special health needs, and they flourish better under the watchful eye of someone who can serve simultaneously as caregiver and teacher. Some families don't want their belief system sullied by the "Theory of Evolution" being taught in the schools, and as you can imagine (since I trained with a wonderful evolutionary biologist, Michael Akam, during my two years as a masters student in England) I don't quite fit into that category. In any case, homeschoolers have a reputation for being outliers, and not particularly a group with which I readily identify.  In my efforts to conduct a stately and dignified walk through life,* I didn't really consider it an option. From my safe vantage point, it seemed messy. Harried. And, in some cases, as with the anti-evolution homeschoolers, liable to veer off in startlingly dangerous and completely uncontrolled directions.    (* I am facing a wholesale failure on the 'stately and dignified' part of this statement as well, but that is a story for another day.).

I would most accurately describe my reasons for homeschooling as, "Harmless and Misunderstood Mom Left with No Other Choice." Here is the story, for those who have asked, of how I was misunderstood and therefore left with no other choice. (For the record, I have, unfortunately for me, always been harmless.)

First off, the Berkeley rental market is what you might call a tad competitive.  It turns out that the world wants to live in Berkeley, and Berkeley is ready and willing to welcome the world ... for a price.  That price merely includes a significant portion of your salary, your first born child, and perhaps even the donation of a kidney or two, but it decidedly does NOT include your cat.  Your cat, you see, can scratch unwitting landlords, landlords who may not necessarily even be in the vicinity of said cat. They might get scratched by your cat while on sabbatical themselves, in France. Somehow. Please don't ask me to sully this assertion with an explanation of the necessary physics involved, you understand that a landlord of Berkeley is speaking, do you not? It can also pee on hardwood floors, leaving a stain that requires the replacement of floor boards not only in that Offensive Spot, but of the entire home's hardwood contents so that every board still matches every other board, leading to thousands of dollars of loss. The cat's mere presence in the home also creates an environment in which no other person who is allergic to cats can live. Ever. No matter how well you clean the place, no matter how large the pet deposit.  You see, Berkeley is AFRAID OF CATS.  And it can afford to be, because the whole world wants to live there. All you have to do is say, "By the way, I have a ca ..." and before you utter the consonant sound, the owner is on the phone calling the next person in line for an appointment and your own Application to Rent has gone up in smoke.

 Here is a picture of our feline offender looking, well, downright offensive.

So my results for getting us a home: FAIL.  Results for school? Also FAIL.  While in Berkeley, I visited all the schools in the Albany School District. I visited three in the El Cerrito School District. And I visited, or rather, attempted to visit, six in the Berkeley District.  At the majority of these schools' doors, I was turned away.  Why? Because I was not a card-carrying member of the Harmless Population.  I would ask a secretary at each of these schools why I couldn't meet the principal, why I couldn't see a sample of some third graders' academic work, why I couldn't stroll the halls and visit a classroom. And each time I was given the same answer: Ever since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, no one without affiliation to the district (read: proof of residence) could enter the halls. I was limited to talking to receptionists about their places of employment because, well, I was Dangerous until proven Harmless. And I wasn't about to get a proof of residence and be anointed Harmless any time soon, because I had: A Cat.

At countless places I was told to never-mind about being Dangerous until proven Harmless, because, well, they were full for kindergarten and third grade anyway. Or maybe they were full for one of the grades I was interested in, but not the other, so I could face scurrying around in my car every morning shuttling one child to one school, and the other child to another.  As I visited schools' front offices and attempted to shrink in size from my fully threatening stature of 5'3" to something a little less Dangerous-seeming, I learned that Berkeley, in an effort to equalize opportunity regardless of wealth or geographic boundaries throughout the district, employs a complicated and inscrutable method of school assignment. This method, which nearly brought another father in the district office to tears as I waited in line behind him trying to look as Harmless and Cheerful as possible, involves taking into account results from Parent Preference Forms filled out by the Harmless Residents in March, coupled with a "random lottery" assignment system. Which, by the way, can be completely rescinded and changed up to ten days past the start of school.

"You mean, I am moving my kids from a school and friends they love in Salt Lake, to potentially two new schools in Berkeley at opposite ends of the district, and I'm asking them to get used to that, and then you can change it all ten days in?" I asked the district incredulously, all the while wishing I'd had the word "Harmless" printed on my business cards.  "Yes," they answered. "And we can't tell you which school your children will be assigned to until you move here in August, and even then, it could change."

I left Berkeley feeling defeated.  Feeling as though I could happily preserve my sanity by staying in Salt Lake. Did I choose the reasonable, stately, dignified choice?  Sadly, dear reader, you know I did not. I chose to buck the system. To veer into the the Dangerous and Unknown. I chose to be an Outlier, made all the more batty for that.


  1. That is so unfortunate about not being able to walk the halls. I understand the schools have a reason to be paranoid, but its difficult to understand the inability to make laws to reduce this paranoia.

    1. Laws can't reduce paranoia :). If that were so, every child would be vaccinated.