My youngest child walked over to my oldest a few minutes ago.
"Hey, Adria. Look!" he pointed at his knee, "I pulled the scab off!"
"Oh," said Adria, "that's...nice, Sterling."
"Yeah. I have it here, in my pocket! Wanna see it?"
And no, the exchange has nothing to do with homeschooling. Except that at the time it happened we were home and not in school. So that conversation, along with a thousand other little moments, would never have happened if we didn't homeschool. Not that we wouldn't have some of those moments, there just wouldn't be nearly as many.
Recently my next-door neighbor pulled me aside to warn me about a conversation she had with another neighbor. A few days before, the other neighbor had watched me arrive home and go into the house with the kids, and then turned to the other woman and said, nodding toward my house, "You could report her to the authorities, you know."
Because the kids aren't in school and we don't follow a structure that this woman identifies with learning.
We don't sit down with textbooks and worksheets for seven hours a day and so it follows that we're neglecting their educational needs.
For a few days, I panicked. Not like the running-in-aimless-circles-pulling-my-hair-out sort of panic, just a festering sort of worry that I got over. Because my kids are clothed and well-fed and reading above grade level and capable of engaging most adults in a political discussion. Math is hard for Adria, but getting better. And, you can currently see the floors in every room except the boys' bedroom, which is carpeted with Legos, and, yes, a few pairs of dirty sweats.
Interestingly, the woman who made the comment depends on my daughter for pet-sitting. Because we're home. She depends on us to occasionally run lunch to her daughters, in school. Or to drive her daughters to school when they oversleep. Or to grab some wet laundry out of their house to put in our dryer in the middle of the day because their dryer broke and her girls need something specific that evening.
We can do all that because, conveniently for her, we're home and our schedule is relaxed. And it never bothered me until now and now I want to tell her exactly where she can shove this whole neighborly facade except that doing so would drag the other neighbor into it and, dammitall, I'm 40, not 14.
But it's just another reminder of how programmed we are. Learning has to be at once familiar and tangible, something we can touch that is a part of our own school experience, like worksheets or a textbooks. There has to be a structure that we can identify that includes a desk and a schedule and tests. For some people, anything else is so far outside of their experience that they can't even recognize it as learning.
That becomes dangerous when a person's views are so restricted by their own lens that they can't see beyond it, and then they evaluate and judge others bases solely on that perspective. True community depends on respect; it depends on being able to step outside of yourself a little, to listen to others and to understand that there is a reality outside of your own. It means lowering your defenses enough to hear what others are saying without taking it personally because the beliefs and lifestyles of others are not a direct statement against you.
In my childhood development classes, I think the inability to see beyond yourself was referred to as egocentric and I think in some ways the increasing use of the internet to develop communities has contributed to that. It's hard to have a good discussion, a healthy exchange of conflicting views, when you remove the personal element and it feels like you're talking to a computer screen. The conflicting view is a flat argument instead of someone else's reality and it lacks the emotional depth that real-life discussions used to have. That impersonal climate sometimes seems to overlap into our real life exchanges and I've wondered if, in a world of condensed communication via the internet and texting, our children will ever develop real discussion skills.
(Yes, see, this is coming back to homeschooling in a round about sort of way...)
My boys, ages 9 and 6, aren't making me feel much better. Yet.
Langston: Let's play Monopoly.
Sterling: No, let's play Life.
Langston: I don't want to play Life. Let's play Sorry.
Sterling: FINE! I go first.
Langston: No, I go first.
Sterling: No, I'm the youngest; I go first!
Langston: FINE! But, you're stupid!
Sterling: AW! That means you're stupid!
Langston: OKAY, FINE! I take it back.
Sterling: You can't take it back.
Langston: FINE! It's your turn.
I'm starting to feel better about Adria though. At 13 years old, she's learning how to have a discussion involving conflicting views with another teen and still walk away from it as friends. She's learning how to listen and to use thoughtful counterpoints that don't rely on comments about the other person's personal hygeine or mental abilities.
After the boys are in bed, she usually stays up with me. It's a presidential election year, which means we are living and breathing politics and government. We've watched both conventions, all the debates, and Saturday Night Live. Often, while I'm on one computer writing, she's on another, either working on her blog or participating on a mom-approved message board.
Unfortunately, it was on this mom-approved message board that she got drenched in the racism that is currently circulating.
It took her a few minutes to regroup.
She'd wanted to talk a little about the issues, and this other child was talking about Obama painting the White House black and how he was going to make all the white people slaves. It went on and on and on, and she wasn't sure how to respond to that degree of hate and ignorance.
She tried countering false claims with facts and got, "Well, you just like him 'cuz he's black!" She tried redirecting it back to the issues, and got, "Oh yeah??? Well, you're just stupid." At which point she decided it wasn't worth her time; the other person wasn't interested in a discussion. She walked away shaken and angry, but a little wiser. Because the arguments and insults spouted at the other end of that connection were the same arguments and insults spouted by adults across the country and were very probably the same arguments and insults the other girl heard at home.
Arguing with the other girl wasn't going to be any more productive or satisfying than my arguments with adults who say the same thing this child was saying. Adria learned something that I know I still struggle with: sometimes you just have to walk away.
The other girl wasn't homeschooled and I'd love to say, "Ha! See? There ya' go!" But most of the girls Adria's engaged in discussions in real life aren't homeschooled, either, and those exchanges are extremely thoughtful and focused, while some of the nastiest arguments I've seen have been between homeschoolers.
It's more about what kids see, what they absorb. If they see adults engaged in thoughtful discussions, they learn. If they're exposed to a range of ideas and perspectives, it opens their minds and their world. Part of it means moving beyond the scripted communication of texting and stepping away from the computer. Those aren't things that are limited to homeschooling, but we have a definite advantage.
We have time, time to engage our kids in conversations, time to explore resources together and to step outside of our comfort zone and challenge our world view with the views of others. We share a space with our children and, in that space, we can listen and observe and know how our kids are interpreting their experiences. We can provide opportunities that allow them to think and to analyze and weigh decisions. And then, sometimes, we learn from how they react.
Right now Sterling is lying on the floor, pretending to be a rock. Which means he's quiet. But it won't last. Eventually, he'll start talking again, and eventually something he says will get on Langston's nerves and they'll argue again, but, maybe, eventually, someday, they'll start hearing each other.
I've thought about approaching my other neighbor with information about the spectrum that is homeschooling, but I've known her for several years; I thought of her as a friend and I thought she was listening when we talked about homeschooling. Apparently, though, her world view stopped mentally at, "Oh, yeah?? Well, your way is stupid!"
So, I'm walking away now, into my own universe.
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.