When it comes to settling the doubts, fears, and concerns of extended family members regarding the choice to homeschool one’s children the biggest hurdle is often overcoming their stereotyped and ignorant notions of what homeschooling is like and who it is for, combined with their almost mindless acceptance of the necessity of institutionalized learning in the life of a child.
If you are like our family, then you are fortunate to have an eldest child who is so naturally attracted to the “academic” subjects, and so self-motivated, that the naysayers soon run out of arguments. Nobody in our family can deny that Daughter is well ahead of her peers when it comes to language skills, scientific knowledge, and mathematical ability.
My son, on the other hand, does not share all his sister’s interests. He is a physically-active child who possesses more coordination at age four than his six-year old sister. And while he enjoys being read to, he has rarely picked up a book to read it on his own. He shows no more interest in science and the natural world than most 4 year olds, and these days his favorite activities are video and computer games.
Underneath this boyish countenance, however, lurk skills and knowledge in the language arts that are reminiscent of his sister. He learned the alphabet at a very early age, a fact that was revealed to me largely by accident as he was, at that time, quite speech delayed and did not speak a single word (he showed me by pointing unerringly to letters I called out at random). The other day while I was reading him a story, his father by his side, he astonished both of us by reading the story to us. While it was apparent that he’d memorized some of the lines, it was equally apparent that he was actually reading many other lines as well.
I suspect that he is not far off from his sister when it comes to ability in the “three R’s”, but he simply isn’t as interested and driven by those subjects as she is and so it’s not as apparent. As an unschooling parent, I really could care less. And in fact I’m very much looking forward to seeing how he develops, where his passions will lie, and what subjects he will lead me to that I perhaps would not have explored on my own. Will he become fascinated with knights and medieval culture? Or perhaps Egyptology? Will he wish to master electronics, robotics, or mechanics? Will he be a poet, or will he find spiritual fulfillment in the study of a martial art? Will I finally have a child who wants to skate and ski with me? I am excited for both myself and for him, for all the fun and learning that lies ahead for us.
Well, in the last couple of weeks I have received comments from both grandmothers exhibiting surprise at the idea that my son is going to join the same homeschooling program as his sister next year. Perhaps when I enrolled him in preschool this year they thought homeschooling was off the table (more like wishful thinking). The mother-in-law asked me if I was going to send Son to kindergarten next year and when I responded in an “of course not” tone that he would be joining the same program as his sister (which starts in the kindergarten year) she seemed quite surprised. Then last night my mother, having been told about the classroom consultant, just came right out and said “Well, it has to be dealt with since he’s going to be in grade one in a couple of years” and when I looked surprised and said “no, he’ll be homeschooling with his sister” she expressed shock and concern. I was torn between anger that she’d assume I would put him in school (do you hear nothing I talk about? do you get nothing about who I am?) and frustration that she would assume that Son’s hitting issues would be best dealt with in the precise environment that fuels the problem (as if he’s better off being sent away from us).
My anger stems from the implicit assumption in the attitudes of these family members that homeschooling is okay for “smart kids” but that anybody else should be in school. My anger is also a defensive reaction on behalf of my son, who is apparently already being judged, labelled, and pigeonholed as not worthy of the unschooled life. The idea that my son should miss out on all the benefits, joys, freedoms, and pure wonder of Natural Learning because he doesn’t find word puzzles and classifying mushrooms to be all that interesting at the moment is simply sad and tragic.
It also infuriates me that I have to tiptoe around my deeply held belief that school is a highly suboptimal environment for learning and socialization, lest I offend the myriad people around me whose children are either in school or were sent to school, and yet nobody hesitates to share with me their blatantly ignorant assumptions about homeschooling. While I get that some children are of a temperament and skill set that allows them to navigate school without any ill effect, that doesn’t make it the best of all choices. It may be the best for children whose home environments are unstable and/or unhealthy. It may be the best choice for families who, for whatever reason, cannot assign a parent to facilitate the child’s learning journey. But for a mother who has already committed to homeschooling one child, the idea that I would send my other child to a mass-production, institutionalized, learning factory is ludicrous.
I know I shouldn’t let this stuff get to me, but I am not one who finds it easy to control my tongue. I want too badly to share some of the joy of unschooling with family members who just don’t get it, but I know I’m wasting my breath. In the meantime, thank goodness I have a spouse who is willing to defer to me on these matters. If I had to settle for anything less than the freedom to unschool my kids, I think I would settle into despair. With that last comment, this post goes out to all the homeschooling-at-heart parents who have had to settle for less for their children because of family members who have blocked their way out of ignorance and fear.