We were at a swim meet last weekend, and a little boy, maybe five or six, was playing in the sandbox. His t-shirt said, "Homeschool Rocks!"
Cool, I thought. There are only a few homeschooling families in our swim league, and in the midst of an activity permeated by school culture, I was excited to find another family.
So I asked, "Hey, are you homeschooled?"
And he looked at me like I had five heads and said, "Nope."
"Ummm, okay. I just thought maybe since your t-shirt says something about homeschooling..."
"It's just a shirt." And he walked very quickly away from the crazy lady who reads t-shirts and actually, I dunno, believes they say something about the people wearing them.
Of course, he could have been homeschooled and just messing with my head. Which, if true, obviously worked because I'm still thinking about it days later. Or, maybe he doesn't realize he's homeschooled because maybe his parents don't talk about homeschooling because maybe he's so immersed in living that schooling, or the lack of it, is not something he connects with himself or with learning.
When Langston was five, people started asking him about school. "Are you in school yet?" (No.) "Are you going into kindergarten?" (No.) "What school do you go to?" (I don't.) Three years later, his answers haven't changed much. The difference is that three years later if his answer isn't followed by a mumbled, "I'm homeschooled," I don't rush to volunteer it.
When we first pulled Adria out after third grade, people often asked her why she wasn't in school during the day. Her standard response? "I'm an elementary school drop-out."
Eventually I stopped cringing.
During the school year, I start to forget that homeschooling is that unusual. Even when everyone (meaning Sterling) is healthy and we're able to do something with a group, it's generally with other homeschoolers. When we're at home, even though our neighbors don't homeschool, they know we do, and we had the mandatory philosophical discussions about our educational choices so long ago that it's now a non-issue.
Then swim team starts. The team is huge and the first year I was able to stay largely under the radar. Now, several years later, people recognize me and come up to talk and, inevitably, the conversation turns to school. Which means the questions begin. The why and the how...and I've figured out how to read people a little better so that when the questions start about curriculum, I can usually tell if I need to be a little vague about the concept of "relaxed eclectic". If I mention the area's museums and parks and I see something click in their eyes and they start nodding a little, I go into it a little more. If their eyes still look a little fuzzy and unsure and they respond with a "Yes, but which curriculum do you prefer?", I give a non-answer and change the direction of the conversation. Because, generally, I just don't feel like justifying how we do things. If the question comes up about socialization, I just point to my kids. Who tend to be in the middle of a group.
I forget that homeschooling confuses people. I forget that the idea is intimidating to some. I forget that we have become programmed into believing the tests and trusting this assembly line education that even teachers acknowledge doesn't work.
Which is something else I've noticed. The parents who are most confused about unschooling or more relaxed homeschooling aren't educators. Most teachers get it, particularly if they've been in the school system long enough to watch the tests take hold of the curriculum. My husband is going into administration now after more fifteen years in education and sometimes his co-workers question why his own children are homeschooled, but the questions don't last long because then they really think about it and it's pretty obvious.
It's weird in the summer to be immersed again among adults who introduce themselves as "Mr. or Mrs. Lastname" because I stopped being "Mrs. Lastname" a long time ago. It's weird to watch the middle school drama unfold and to watch the girls decide who they'll exclude this week and to watch my daughter recognize it happening and quickly include the girl in her own group of friends and so then watch the lines between groups blur a little.
It's interesting to watch the structure created in the public school blend with the lack of structure in our homeschooling life, and to watch others absorb it while we watch our own children respond appropriately to the social mores and expectations that we've been told they wouldn't learn. (Because, you know--they're sheltered. Undisciplined. Hell, they can go to the bathroom whenever they want--how are they ever going to survive in the "real" world?)
But then, maybe I think about it too much.
Maybe sometimes a t-shirt is just a t-shirt.
Missy's homeschooling journey began when she realized that the walls surrounding her daughter's classroom were too narrow; there was no room for exploration, no space for stretching. Now, she and her three children stretch and explore the world together. My blog: caffeinatedjive.