All this talk about high school is going around the blogosphere like a case of the chicken-pox, and has me thoroughly appreciating our choice to homeschool. I could share some horrible stories of what I endured from Kindergarten through high school. I could give all the aching detail of the teasing for every stupid little reason in the book. I could explain how my very big home issues impacted that school experience. But instead, I'm going to tell you about my sophomore year.
The summer before my sophomore year, the home issues I just spoke of led me to two "temporary home placements," both about 200 miles away from "home", and attending two new schools. The first school was relatively the same as my old school. Cliques and bullshit. Nothing notable. I tried to fit in, to no avail since the uncool kids must put out some kind of Dork Pheromones and nothing I tried worked for me. In the second school, I abandoned any efforts to fit in and steeled myself to finishing sophomore year with no friends at all. Not much of a problem, really. I decided at that point that if they didn't like me, I didn't have to like them either. I did my homework and went from class to class like a robot, and other people barely noticed I was there.
The door to my science classroom said Mr. Harvey*, and while there was a man always in the room sitting at a desk near the front, the class itself was taught by Mrs. Brown*. The first few weeks, I thought Mrs. Brown must be a student teacher or something and it didn't seem weird at all. After a while though, I started to notice that Mr. Harvey never addressed the class at all, not even for a few minutes. Not even to say "hello," or "sit down," or "go to the Principal's office." Finally I asked another student just what the deal was. Apparently, Mr. Harvey, at the age of fifty-something, had lived his whole life in his mother's house, and she had recently died. Mrs. Brown was brought in as a substitute while Mr. Harvey was on leave, then stayed on to help out in the classroom since he was dealing with so much grief. According to the student in the next desk, he hadn't taught a class or spoken at all for at least a month before I transferred to the school. Sad. And weird too.
A week or so after learning the scoop on Mr. Harvey, he resumed teaching classes. That first week, we learned about Hitler, Kennedy, and aliens. This was a biology class. It started to become obvious that Mr. Harvey was not just grief-stricken. He was crazy. Soon Mrs. Brown, who'd stayed in the classroom during Mr. Harvey's lectures, took over again. This time, Mr. Harvey was not silent in class. He shouted at people who moved from their seats. He sang Camptown Races. He threw paper airplanes around the room. Crazy.
After a couple of weeks of this weirdness, Mr. Harvey befriended a few boys in his various classes. You knew which boys they were because they all carried around The Anarchist's Cookbook, just like the copy on Mr. Harvey's desk. After school and between classes, Mr. Harvey gave demonstrations of various soda-bottle bombs; the smaller bombs inside the explosion box in the classroom, the larger bombs in the football field outside. The boys all thought this was very cool, of course, since most of the ingredients were household products, and wasn't Mr. Harvey just the awesomest teacher ever? The rest of us were growing concerned, including Mrs. Brown and a lot of the faculty.
I began to wonder why Mr. Harvey wasn't fired. Clearly he was not fit to be a teacher and was in no kind of mental state to be around kids. I finally asked Mrs. Brown. She told me it was because the school would be closing its doors for good after this year due to a district restructure. A lot of the teachers would be losing their jobs, Mr. Harvey included, and since we were nearing the end of the school year, the administrators didn't have the heart to fire the guy. In other words, it's only another month, and a little exposure to a man in the process of losing his mind won't hurt the kids too badly.
One Monday right before class started, a girl a few rows over snagged a pen from the boy behind her. They wrestled for the pen in the way flirtatious teenagers do, with lots of giggling and gag-me stuff. Mr. Harvey jumped to his feet and ran to them, screaming at the top of his lungs for the boy to, "LET HER GO!!" The horseplay immediately stopped and the boy reached out to the girl to retrieve his pen. "SIT DOWN!" Mr. Harvey shouted. The boy started to explain, "..but Mr. Harvey, I just--" Mr. Harvey reached across to the lab table, grabbed a scalpel, held it in the boy's face and said, "I SAID SIT DOWN NOW!!" The boy sat. Mr. Harvey returned to his desk, scalpel in hand. Nobody called the police or escorted Mr. Harvey from the room. Instead, we all sat silently for 45 minutes until the class let out. Mrs. Brown didn't even move from her desk. That was probably the most terrifying 45 minutes of my life. Mr. Brown wasn't just crazy, he was dangerously insane.
Mr. Harvey was not in class on Tuesday, and Mrs. Brown informed us he'd been let go. We had a test that day and nobody even complained because the relief was so great that Mr. Harvey was gone. We were supposed to get the test results the following day, but Mrs. Brown said she'd "misplaced" the tests and would get back to us after she'd found and graded them.
On Thursday, I walked into the science classroom to see Mr. Harvey once again, arguing quietly with Mrs. Brown. I joined the group of huddling students in the corner, all of us wondering if we should slip out before something awful happened. I heard snippets of the argument, mostly from Mrs. Brown like, "you should get some help," and "you can't be here." It seems Mr. Harvey had returned to the school late on Tuesday night, stolen the "misplaced" tests, graded them all, and walked into the school Thursday morning with graded tests in hand as if he had never been fired. Soon the Principal showed up and quietly escorted Mr. Harvey to his car. There was quite a scene in the parking lot when Mr. Harvey was asked to relinquish his keys to the building (why didn't they do that when they fired him?), that ended with Mr. Harvey shouting, "I'll get you! You'll Pay!" Again, no police were called.
Mr. Harvey was arrested two days later while attempting to buy very large amounts of the same chemicals (in higher, purer concentrations) found in the household products he was teaching the boys at school to make bombs with. Only then did the school faculty report Mr. Harvey's behavior in the previous months. When my sophomore year ended and I left my "home placement" for my real home once again, Mr. Harvey was living in a secured mental institution, where he should have been months before.
There are many reasons that I homeschool my children. Bullies, cliques and other self-esteem crushing factors come into play. At first though, I thought they were things we could deal with. In fact, by the time I enrolled my son in public school for kindergarten, I'd completely brushed off this horrifying incident as a "you won't even fucking believe this" experience that was rare and would never happen again. But when my son started having problems and the Principal, teachers and even the bus drivers did as they chose regardless of my concerns, I realized that my experience was worth more than a good story to tell to people at parties. It was a lesson. I, along with the rest of my 20 or so classmates that year, watched a teacher literally lose his mind, and were helpless to stop it. We were at the mercy of school administrators making decisions based on their personal feelings instead of our safety and well being. Someone could have been killed. Hell, everyone could have been killed. I realized that my kid was spending 8 hours each day at the complete and total control of school administrators and faculty just like those at my old school. Just like everywhere. People with personal feelings, weaknesses and agendas. Some people with hidden demons like addictions, pedophilia and mental disorders. Human beings that can make mistakes. And I'd be damned if one of those mistakes put my child at risk.
A lot of my friends and family members think I'm overprotective and have said things like, "You can't protect your kids from everything," but I say that protecting my kids is my JOB. And this comes down to the heart of the matter in why homeschooling is best for my family. As long as they are both living and learning in my home, I know every decision that effects them is made in their best interest.
*Names changed partly to protect anonymity, and partly because I no longer remember them. Blocked it out maybe. It was that bad.