Thinking Outside the Box
By John D. Turner
4 June 2001

Much as I enjoy discussing voting and political activism, the truth of the matter is that it will be awhile yet before we get into the start of the 2002 election season. Therefore, I am going to take a short break from that topic to climb onto my soapbox concerning other issues. There's a lot going on in the world today, and I have an opinion on most of it. In fact, I have an opinion on just about everything! Rest assured however, I am not finished with my discussion of voting, and have quite a bit more I wish to share on that topic. Meanwhile...

We recently had a Stake youth fireside which I attended. For those of you unfamiliar with this terminology, and how the LDS church works, suffice it to say that this was a meeting for youngsters, ages 12-17 from all the church congregations within a fixed geographical boundary. These are held periodically with talks given on various topics specifically geared toward the youth. This fireside was a bit different, as it was intended for not only the youth, but their parents as well. Each group met separately to discuss the upcoming youth conference and issues related to that including the standards expected for the event.

The main focus in our group was on the parents, and their responsibilities with regard to their children. Particularly about the importance of spending time with them, becoming involved in their activities, and being aware of what they are doing. The importance of the Church's Family Home Evening program was reiterated. One gentleman from the Stake High Council, who happens to be in law enforcement, brought in a stack of studies which he has received over the past year and gave us some interesting background. The purpose was again to reinforce why we have standards, and what can happen if standards are not enforced.

As part of this the parents were invited to discuss or comment on various problems they had encountered, or saw as stumbling blocks their children faced. Peer pressure emerged as the number one problem, and numerous examples of this and other difficulties were given. And before too long, it became evident that there was a common thread running through the entire subject. That thread was the public school system.

Our kids stand out. They stand out because they are different. They look different and have different standards; standards which are, to be frank, becoming alien to the majority of their classmates, who don't understand why they should refrain from smoking, consuming alcohol tea or coffee, tattooing, body piercing, having sex, wearing certain types of clothing, watching R rated movies, or any of a number of other things that society seemingly accepts from school-age children today but which the Church says they are not do. The pressure is wearing on our kids. And not all of them can bear up under it.

One parent told of when he was in high school, how the 30-40 LDS kids in his school stuck together and formed a "mutual support group" to help keep them cope with the pressure. He also said that he received help from the non-LDS students, who were quick to point out when they were about to do something that went against their standards. I have had such "help" from adults since I joined the Church myself. It usually consists of someone gleefully pointing out some supposed infraction and my hypocrisy in doing something my church says I shouldn't. Things like reminding me that I'm not supposed to drink coffee, despite the fact that my "coffee cup" contains soup, not coffee. More of a "gotcha" kind of "help" rather than a conscious attempt to help me adhere to standards. With the state the schools are in today, I would expect such "help" from most non-LDS students to be along a similar vein, if not more so.

The thing that got me was the consistency of it all. There was no disagreement that their kids were in a toxic environment. The discussion centered around how they could help their kids overcome the toxicity. What could they do to strengthen them? How could they make them better become examples for good. Never once was there any suggestion that instead of trying to armor them against the environment, that maybe what they might want to consider is removing them from the environment. If the public school system is the major problem, then perhaps the solution is to remove your kids from the public school system. After all, the public schools and the kids in them aren't going to change. They aren't magically going to get better simply because a hand full of kids are attempting to maintain church standards. It is more likely that your kids will be sucked down into the morass. So why keep them there and hope everything works out ok? If your kid fell into a vat of toxic chemicals, would you throw him or her a protective suit? Or would you remove them from the vat.

These parents are trapped in the box, seemingly unable to realize that the problem is the school system itself, which is becoming increasingly intolerant of anything having to do with Christian religion, or morals, or standards of any kind. They want what is best for their kids, but only within the confines of that which they know or are comfortable with. And they are frustrated because things continue to get worse no matter how they try to make them better.

There are ways out of the box. The one that probably first comes to mind is to enlarge the box somewhat, and consider a private school. There are many good private schools around, and the cost isn't necessarily as bad as one might think, depending on which one you choose. Of course, many being religious schools, not all are receptive to LDS children (unless of course, they think they can convert you). And there is the additional cost. Public school is "free" after all. Still, it can be done. It depends on your priorities. It may entail a "lifestyle change" or some sacrifice on your part, but many families have forgone the new car or the latest fashions, or lived in a house of lesser stature so that they could send their kids to private school rather than public. It's not an elitist thing, rather an attempt to determine what is in the best interests of your children.

Or you can throw away the box entirely. You can do what my wife and millions like her have done, and teach your children at home.

The home schooling movement has grown dramatically in the United States, and continues to do so. The reasons people elect to teach their children at home are many. The advantages are obvious: you set and enforce the standards. You determine what will be taught and how it will be taught. Class size is small, and you get to spend lots of time with your kids. You can tailor their education to more closely fit their interests and current capability to learn. You can take vacation whenever you want, and those vacations can themselves become part of the home schooling experience; more like extended field trips. As for curriculum, there are many options. You can make up your own, or you can buy pretty much whatever you want. A quick search on the Internet under "Home School" reveals a plethora of sources, from Abeka, one of the mainstays of the home school movement, to Bob Jones University (Mormons and Catholics need not apply). It is good to review the material if possible before purchase. Many people have begun home schooling because they object to the public schools expulsion of God, and so religious curricula abounds. This is a good thing, however you may find doctrinal differences that might lead you to not selecting a particular vendor.

Not everyone can do this; single parent households for example. After all, someone has to earn the money to keep the family alive. Then there is the money issue, as with private school. Except here, the issue is more in terms of opportunity costs than tuition. Home schooling costs can be much less than private (or even the "free" public school), but someone has to stay home and do the teaching. That someone, obviously, cannot also be holding down a full-time job in the workplace. I would submit however, that the same lifestyle choices that come into play with private school also apply here. That many families, if they wanted to and were willing to make sacrifices, would be able to home school their kids if they so desired. And that even in the single-parent family, it is possible that a way could be found.

They just have to find a way to get outside that doggone box.