Dear readers, I need to beg your indulgence right out here in front. Normally, I try very hard to make these posts thoughtful, considerate, even-handed, and philosophical. If you'd like to read any of that, please go to my page. This post, despite my best efforts to the contrary, is nothing more than a rant.
Rowan is five. He's sociable, talkative, outgoing, and if I do say so, quite well-spoken.
Adults in this (broken, backwards, stunted, twisted) culture have nothing better to say to a child who dares interact with them than "How old are you?" Because perish forfend they simply interact with the child. No no. One must carefully bucket said child.
"I'm five!" Rowan says proudly.
I start gritting my teeth the moment the number "five" escapes his lips. I can't help it. I'm new enough to homeschooling and unschooling that I simply don't have the calm and confident grace that most of the other contributors to this blog do. I tense up, because I know what's going to happen next.
"Oh! So you're about to go to kindergarten!" In a tone of joy. Like it's just the coolest darned thing, like going to Disneyland every day, or riding to the moon on the Space Shuttle, or going on a cattle drive. I mean, just so cool. Oooh, kindergarten. Be still, my (cynically) beating heart.
I know it's not their fault. I know that adults in this culture aren't taught to interact with children as if they were human beings to be respected. I know that the very idea of behaving with manners towards a child is almost laughable in a culture where corporal punishment is still condoned and forcible medicating is accepted.
Then the look to me, with eyebrows slightly raised, questioning. "Oh, so you're.... homeschooling?" with the questioning uplilt at the end, and the pause, like they're having to search for the word.
I usually smile sweetly and say "no, he said he's five. School doesn't start until six. He's still busy playing and exploring and doing kid things."
The light of understanding dawns. Or, I think it does. "Oh! So he's in preschool!" they say, happy to have bucketed him at last.
Rowan often looks at them at this point, and in a sweet attempt to allay their confusion, says "No, I'm at home." Apparently that's unheard-of, because then I get the raised-eyebrow thing again. And honestly, dear readers, I don't know at this point if I'm more peeved that they're not taking Rowan's word for his description of his status, or if I'm just wholly miserable that in this culture, the idea of a child kept at home is so unusual that it requires verification.
Rather than explode, I usually flee.
Back home safe, cup of tea in hand, I am afforded the space to muse a while, on the desperate need of people to put other people in buckets. And you know, I think a lot of us have allowed ourselves to be unnecessarily bucketed, through sheer exhaustion. I am on the verge of being totally overwhelmed at the depth of unspoken assumptions involved in trying to shove Rowan into the bucket he's supposed to be put in at this stage of his life. I don't know where to start, or how to respond, or how to speak to people in such a way that they understand what they've said, when I am sure their intentions are totally benign, yet uninformed.
We assume school. We assume preschool. We assume parental need to be elsewhere. We assume parental choice to be elsewhere. We assume a spectrum of experience the same as ours. We assume that people will not step outside those assumptions, and we assume that those who do will knuckle under to to social pressure brought to bear on those who do step out. We assume they've done it by accident, we assume we can force them back, and we assume that there are authorities to appeal to if social pressure won't cut it. Bucket after bucket after bucket.
I may not teach him the same material he'd cover in a classroom, as our educational journey unfolds. But if I do nothing else, I will teach my child to sidestep the buckets that people will try to put him in.
Laureen is a writer, a professional editor, a scuba instructor, a beginning sailor, a traveler, and an obsessive researcher who's chiefly focused on, and delighted with, her husband Jason and her sons Rowan and Kestrel. She's a lifelong Californian, which lends a very distinctive spin to both her ideas and her politics, and she's discovered, in her peregrinations, that the world is far smaller yet far more fascinating than anyone gives it credit for being. She holds forth her opinions on that in her blog, The ElementalMom.