As a general rule, homeschoolers are good kids.
(I say this with trepidation, waiting for the comments telling me I’m wrong because their brother’s best friend’s cousin’s homeschooled neighbor became a serial killer.)
But as a general rule, homeschoolers don’t leave a path of destruction in their wake. They’re more prone to correcting your Silmarillion name pronunciations than hanging out in back alleys doing drugs. Swear words are swapped with Studio C quotes. Old ladies usually adore them.
Being a homeschool graduate, I spent most of my childhood and teenage years with others of my kind. I never encountered the infamous “troubled kids” of the public school world; the worst I had to deal with was that one guy who didn’t want to censor the Hamilton lyrics in our co-op choir. I didn’t meet many public school kids, and the ones I did cross paths with were usually pretty nice. The kids at church were nice. All my friends were nice.
In general, everyone I knew was nice.
Yes, I’m admitting to a sheltered childhood. You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this.
I work at a small-town library. Which happens to be within walking distance of both the high-school and the middle-school. Because of this (and because our town is approximately three square feet and Nothing™ is ever Going On™), the local pack of teenagers have designated the library as their official after-school hangout.
There are plenty of nice teenagers in my town. But you must understand: This particular pack is not made up of friendly country bumpkins sporting overalls and manners. The internet has made them aware that country manners are not how Other People live (read: famous people) and when you pair this growing cultural awareness with family issues, school problems, and zero moral training (not to mention a decent helping of human nature), you have the chemical explosion that makes up this group of kids.
In other words, they’re the local reprobates.
With them around, I no longer need a clock. I know it’s 4 P.M. on the dot when the library doors crash open and a swarm of wild youths descend upon us, spilling their drinks and swearing loud enough to put megaphones to shame. They congregate in the children’s section (which is fitting, really), and brainstorm new and creative ways to demonstrate their immaturity. Like smoking.
Meanwhile, I’m in culture shock. I was hired to shelve books and sometimes teach old ladies how to use cell phones. No one told me I was going to spend most of my time as a bouncer for twelve-year-olds.
One evening after the 4 o’clock stampede, the library director poked his head into my office. “Sarah—” he paused, waiting for the shouting in the foyer to subside— “do you ever listen to the herd of animals out there and feel grateful your parents spared you from that kind of childhood?”
I emphatically said I did.
He nodded sagely. “Yeah. I keep trying to picture you as one of them and it’s honestly ruining my day.”
Thank you, sir. It’s ruining my day too.
The librarians have various ways of handling the 4 o’clock chaos. For instance, one believes that “kids will be kids,” and only intervenes when bookshelves are in danger of falling on someone’s head. Another librarian doesn’t intervene at all. (She doesn’t get paid enough for that.) Meanwhile, the third librarian is a huge proponent of “spare the rod, spoil the child,” and takes every opportunity to yell at the mob. They usually don’t listen to her. But she feels better for trying.
I’ve opted for a new and much more effective approach; manipulating them using the unconquerable force of peer-pressure. I can do this because I’m college-age and therefore a god. At least, in their opinion.
A group of boys pushed all the tables in the study hall into a semi-circle to make a miniature wrestling ring. The girls perched coquettishly on the tables and cheered for their vanquishing heroes, who wriggled in the center like worms on the sidewalk. It was a glorious display of many brains working together to create zero brain cells. I was impressed.
I stood quietly in the doorway, watching the scene unfold. They didn’t really know how to wrestle. One of them looked mildly queasy. For a split-second, I felt sorry for them – in a few years they’ll look back on this and cringe themselves into an early grave.
It was at this moment, as I looked on with amusement and pity, that they finally noticed me.
The room went instantly silent. The mighty wrestlers paused, mid-headlock.
“Just so you know, there’s a toddler playground outside,” I said. “Though I realize you might be a bit too young for it.” And promptly left.
(Only to scurry to the office so I could watch them on our security cameras. I’ve never seen a group of fifteen-year-olds gain self-awareness so fast. They looked positively embarrassed. I didn’t know that was possible.)
They cleared out after that. Even put the tables back. I felt satisfied.
The problem with security cameras is they have blind spots. Somehow the little savages discovered these blind spots, and now congregate in them. It’s freaky. You can hear them, but not see them. I’ve taken to hiding behind shelves and around corners for the sole purpose of eavesdropping. (And making sure they aren’t trashing the place.)
The depth of their intellectual prowess is on full display during these conversations. A lot of swearing happens. A lot of relationship drama is discussed. (John dumped Jessica three times in one day, folks.) Sometimes they break out the marijuana and I seize my chance to pounce from my hiding spot, scaring the everloving daylights out of them.
But sometimes, in the midst of these discussions of hormonal intrigue, you overhear some worthy material. For instance, one time they were discussing which of the seven deadly sins they were, and a girl primly stated, “I’m not any of them.”
A long moment of silence transpired, followed by her friend piping up with, “So pride, then.”
Another time, I heard a group of boys discussing their taste in women. A ludicrous subject, considering they were twelve, but they tossed around opinions with such authority, Tony Stark himself would’ve been proud. (Jacob is into girls who clean his room for him, just so you know. The only girl he’ll ever find like that is his mom.)
“You know what really turns me off?” one of them said. “Girls who can’t spell.”
You know what, buddy? Same.
As a pair of guys were walking out the door one day, I overheard one, in great distress, pose the dramatic question: “Bro, what have we become?”
The answer was immediate. “Disappointments.”
They’re becoming self-aware.
Meanwhile, my crusade of shaming with peer-pressure continued. Some lunkhead brought a boombox (a literal boombox) into the library to play music. He was in the furthest corner of the building, so I guess he thought we wouldn’t be able to hear him, but needless to say, the walls shook. As soon as they saw me coming, he and his friends froze like deer in the headlights.
The offending boombox loomed, big and black. I sighed. “I’m really curious why you thought this was a good idea.”
“I told him not to!” quavered a girl who had most definitely not told him anything of the sort, but was trying to save face. I looked at her. She fled.
(Later, when telling a friend about this encounter, he scoffed at my confusion over her hasty getaway. “Honestly, Sarah,” he said. “You’re terrifying.”)
(I was pleased with that response.)
Since then, (after a few more altercations) I’ve had growing luck with the herd of animals. When they stand in the foyer making enough noise to raise Father Time, all it takes is a bit of eye contact for them to instantly shut up. In fact, the other day, I heard them shushing each other.
“What’s this?” a fellow librarian wondered. “Maturity or fear?”
We reflected on this for a half-second.
And do you know something? In a strange, utterly abhorrent way, I’m becoming fond of them.
They’re a disaster, yes. But they’re kids. And when you pay attention, looking beneath the boomboxes and loud voices and vulgar jokes, you start to see the tragedy of them. Like the twelve-year-old girl whose voice broke when she asked me for a book that would help her know if she was gay. Or the pink-haired boy with dead eyes. Or the time a group of them were discussing loudly why they didn’t want to go to a certain boy’s house, and he finally yelled, “It’s not my fault my parents drink too much!”
I was driving through town last week when I saw a group of no-gooders skulking in an alley, and upon closer inspection, realized I knew every single one of them by name. Nothing shakes your grasp on reality quite as much as when you personally know the local troublemakers, but at the same time, I was left with more compassion than I ever thought possible during my days as a squeaky-clean, self-righteous homeschooler.
They’re no longer the faceless “bad kids” I was warned about when little. They’re individuals with names and personalities. I know them. They’re children.
So in closing, I have one last thought: Pray for your local pack of reprobates. They might do drugs in the mop closet when you’re not looking, but they need Christ just as much as the rest of us.
And you know what?
We need Christ just as much as them.