Not long before my face-smashing wrestling match with my brother, my parents informed us that instead of going to school like everybody else, we were going to be home schooled.
I was still pretty young — probably between 3 and 4 years old — so I didn’t really understand what that meant. I had figured out the correlation between school attendance and marriage (you obviously can’t get married if you don’t ever leave home!), so one day, I asked my mom how I was supposed to get married if I was home schooled.
She told me that we were going to trust God.
I went about playing like any good preschooler would do.
The smashed face ER visit occurred after this discussion with my mom, so you can imagine how messed up I was after that. First I have to trust God to get a husband, and now my face is mutilated and no one is ever going to love me or want me. (Keep in mind, I’m speaking as a 3-year old who doesn’t completely understand what’s going on. My face turned out just fine — I only have a small scar — but I didn’t know it was going to turn out that way. I was going on what the doctor was speculating and I felt like a hopeless case.)
My parents began homeschooling in ~1985, about 4 years BEFORE it became legal in my state.
I honestly don’t know if I knew about the legality of home schooling at that point. The only thing I understood about the situation was that we weren’t allowed outside of the house before 3:00 pm when all the school kids were coming home. The reason for this was because if the police saw a school-aged child running around, the parents would immediately be charged with having a truant child. So, to avoid this little problem, we had to stay in the house during school hours. Once public school was out for the day, we could play outside, but we had to stay in the yard unless one of our parents was with us. These days, that rule makes sense. But back then Jacob Wetterling was still at home with his family and the part of the world I lived in felt pretty safe.
We were part of an “underground” home school group. Well, I guess it wasn’t underground — it was held across the river in Minnesota at the time, and since home schooling was legal in Minnesota, they could do whatever they pleased. But those of us who lived in North Dakota kept our involvement a secret.
My parents have been asked why they didn’t just move across the river so we wouldn’t be participating in illegal activity. In Minnesota, if you home schooled a child, you were required to have some government person monitor your curriculum, your schedule, your record keeping and your child’s grades. My parents saw this as interference in their “right” to raise their child however they wished, so rather than jumping through a few hoops, they chose to stay put and risk losing their children (this did happen from time to time!) for the sake of their “freedom.”
Basically, they risked everything over a technicality.
I knew the risks they were taking. I knew I could be seized from my home and family if anyone found out. I knew that if the wrong person became privy to the wrong information, I could lose everything that mattered to me. I knew that if my family had been found out, it was possible that I might have to testify in court either for or against my parents. But, I didn’t understand it in terms of “we’re doing something illegal” — my understanding was that the government was against us because we were doing what God wanted. We were doing it because God is righteous and holy and He wants us to be separate from the heathen of the world, so of course, we can’t go to school with heathen kids and be taught by heathen teachers.
What an awful situation to put a kid in! Even the fear of the possibility of any of that happening is enough to scar a kid for life.
We were found out.
My mom received a phone call from the school superintendent asking why her child wasn’t in school.
She did what every good, home school mom did in that situation at that time. She referred them to her attorney.
Our legal counsel was a representative from the Home School Legal Defense Association. I believe it was Mike Farris, though I’m not sure if he directly worked with the case or not. Whoever it was, he told my parents to take all of us and leave the state until he told us to come back.
So we did.
I don’t think any of us under the age of 30 knew what was going on. To us, it was just a visit to Grandma’s. After a few days, the attorney called us at Grandma’s and told us we could go home, it had all blown over and we were going to be ok. When my mom asked what they had told the school people in order to get them off our backs, he said, “Oh, I just told them that your kids were uneducable and they didn’t want to have to deal with them anyway, so they just dropped it.”
Uneducable? Really? I really don’t understand how anyone would buy that argument — not without doing testing of some kind or something!
At some point, late in the battle for the right to home school in North Dakota, a small girl was forced to testify against her parents in a child abuse/neglect/truancy case somewhere in the state. This was a terrifying time for small home schooled children in North Dakota because we all knew what was going on and we all knew that it could be us next.
Fortunately, that “could be” never happened for me or my family.
In the spring of 1989, roughly 2 months before I was scheduled to start first grade (the first mandatory grade at that time), home schooling became legal in North Dakota.
Of course, we still had to jump through some hoops in order to be legal, but IF you did it right, you didn’t have to be monitored. It involved one parent passing the NTE (National Teacher’s Exam) and every child passing a standardized test in certain grades. If both requirements were met, you didn’t have to be monitored by the state.