I go to my local homeschooling group gatherings so I can talk about something other than homeschooling.
I mean, yes, sure, we talk about homeschooling. I’m often hit up for tips on teaching various subjects, not because I’m an expert but because my kid is one of the oldest in the group so I’ve racked up some experience points. And I’m fine with that. It’s actually hard to shut me up about this one particular Latin book.
And often there are new people at the park days, and they want to hear about how the heck do we do this, already. Is it legal? Am I going to die? Will my kids be able to go to college? Or even learn to read?
The thing is, though, these are people who already have homeschooling as a basic premise, even if they haven’t started yet. They’re figuring out details, is all.
Which means, oddly enough, that when we all get together as a group, we have the luxury of not talking about homeschooling. We talk about books. Movies. Our careers. (Yes, many of us have outside-the-home jobs, or inside-the-home careers that actually pay money.) We can talk about all of these things knowing that if homeschooling comes up as a topic, it won’t be a big deal. We all get it. Moving on now.
I have plenty of friends who don’t homeschool, and we talk about stuff that isn’t homeschooling, too. Talking to civilian parents about homeschooling is always a wonderful experience, if the new definition of “wonderful” includes things like “awkward” and “guilt-inducing.” Because every single last one of them seems to feel the need to explain why they’re not homeschooling.
Dear Civilians: WE DON’T CARE. And if we do, WE’RE BAD.
The only homeschoolers I know who might take a civilian to task for not homeschooling are the homeschoolers who run around talking about how schools are prisons. These are the ones who bring up the statistics about how public schools were started by big-business owners in order to teach people how to be stupid so they’ll be happy to work in mindless, soul-killing jobs.
If you’re a civilian and you’ve run into one of these party-people — guess what? I don’t enjoy talking to them, either. We’re on different planets. My fantasy is locking them all in a big room with the “Homeschoolers just want to indoctrinate their children” types and starting a reality TV show from hell. No, we wouldn’t let them starve to death. But slapping would be allowed.
I wandered into a room like that the other day. Accidentally. It was a conversation among a mixed group. And by mixed, I mean it included representatives from the following major food groups:
Parents who insist they would do actual damage to their children if they homeschooled;
Parents who think that you’re doing actual damage to any child just by letting him walk by a school, let alone into one;
Parents who call themselves homeschoolers because they teach their kids stuff after school and on weekends;
Parents who were desperately looking for the nearest exit and/or a stiff drink.
Maybe that last one was just me. But the other three were out in force.
Slaps all around.
In order –
Dear People Who Feel They Have Explain How Bloodily They’d Kill Their Children If They Homeschooled For Even Half An Hour: You scare me. Are you saying that if you had to go into hiding, your kids would remain illiterate because otherwise you’d kill them before the Nazis did? Or are you just saying that temperamentally, you don’t see yourself as a homeschooler?
If it’s the last one — look, I’m not trying to convert you. You’ve convinced me that the last thing I want is your attendance at this particular party. But just for the record: Lots of us didn’t see ourselves as the homeschooling type. Lots of us still don’t. We’re not even sure what “the type” is. We just frickin’ homeschool.
That aside: Could you please tone it down a bit? I know that you’re actually trying to tell me that you don’t disapprove of my choice even though you’d never emulate it. But how would you feel if you met someone who was childless by choice and, as soon as she found out that you have children, she told you that she could never have kids because it just wouldn’t be safe. Seriously. Best-case scenario, severe emotional scarring. Possibly actual blood.
You’d be ready to call the cops, right? Especially if she ever got near your kid? Well, that’s how I feel when you assure me that your kids might not survive the experience if you homeschooled. If you had to homeschool, you’d homeschool. You don’t, so you don’t. ‘Nuff said.
Next up –
Dear Scary Radicals: Enough. Okay? Just — enough. Yes, there are problems with the public school system. Yes, some of those problems might be argued to be inherent in said system. Yes, you’re purer than everybody else. But I’m declaring Markus’ Homeschooling Corollary to Godwin’s Law, which reads as follows: As soon as you use the word “prison” or the phrase “conformity mill” when describing public schools, you’ve officially lost the argument. If this forces you to work a little harder and be a little more creative when discussing homeschooling, that’s good for everybody.
And now, just in case there’s anyone I haven’t yet offended:
Dear People Who Say They Homeschool When They Don’t Actually Homeschool: I’m the moderator for my local homeschooling support group. Occasionally, we’ll get a membership request from someone who intends to send her child to school, but wants to “homeschool preschool.” I always let them in, and I always roll my eyes. Because taking care of a three-year-old isn’t homeschooling. It’s parenting.
When I was a nanny, I lived with two children. I spent more time with them than their parents did. I saw to their physical needs, including preparing most of their food and seeing that it got eaten. I washed their clothes and cleaned their home. I read to them, tickled them, nagged them, worried about them, took them to the park, bathed them, soothed them when they had bad dreams, and loved them.
I really thought all this made me pretty much a parent. I was offended when parents who didn’t understand my special status said that you never knew what being a parent was like until you became one. “Well, I do,” I always thought.
Well, I didn’t, it turns out. My work with those children was important, fulfilling, and worthwhile. It just wasn’t parenting.
A lot of the same activities and emotions are involved in full-time nannying and parenting. They’re great preparation for parenting. They taught me a lot more about parenting than some parents knew. But they’re not the same thing as parenting.
I was arrogant to think that I knew what it was like to be a mother when I was still a teenager and still getting paid for the work I did with “my” kids. And saying that isn’t denigrating to childless nannies. Saying that something is different from something else doesn’t mean that one of those things is automatically better or worse than the other — it’s just saying they’re different.
I can say from experience that the goals, focus, and pressures of parenting are comPLETEly different from those of nannying. They’re not less. But they’re different.
Helping your child with his homework, taking your child on terrific field trips and vacations, reading together, answering his questions, and helping him pursue his interests are significant, laudable, needful things. But in and of itself — by which I mean, “If your kid also spends six to eight hours a day on a campus” — THAT’S NOT HOMESCHOOLING. That’s parenting.
If what you do is a significant educational supplement to your child’s schooling, that’s great. Your child is very lucky. You’re still not homeschooling.
Homeschooling parents and schooling parents have a lot of the same panic attacks. But we have different ones, too. We all worry about whether or not our children are getting everything they need to have a good education. You’re not worried that your educational choice may become illegal, or may be perceived by the neighbors or the local educational authorities as illegal. We all worry about what and how much our children are learning. You’re not worried about whether and how you’ll be able to prove to the local authorities that what your child spends all day doing constitutes learning.
This is not a case of “I’m a better parent because I homeschool.” If I act like it is, I’m a dick and you should kick me out of your life. Because homeschooling does not impart superiority. I know we’re not supposed to think along those lines, but I can’t help it. I know some school parents who spend just as much time and work on the parenting front as I do, and they do a better job at it. And I know some homeschooling parents whose kids would be better off if they wandered away and were adopted by a nice pack of wolves.
But saying that you know what it’s like to homeschool because you take parenting seriously and have taught your child a great many things puts you right up there with people who say they have children who are less than a year apart in age, so they know what it’s like to have twins. There are people who actually say that. I learned about them a couple of months ago, from a mother of multiples. I practically fell over.
I work hard parenting my child. I homeschool without much income or much in the way of modern conveniences (no dishwasher, no washing machine or dryer of my own, no house, no yard, and for several years no car). So if I work hard, and parenting twins is hard work…I guess I know what it’s like to have twins?
Last but by no means least –
Dear Everybody Else: So, how about that drink? I’ve got white wine, red wine, Long Island Iced Tea…