Monday, August 20, 2007

Freedom to celebrate difference -- shouldn't homeschoolers have it, too?

I'm not sure what woke me and the baby up at 5:30 this morning. (Probably his tummy wanting more milk.) But I do know that the noisy motors of buses filled with children headed back to school kept us from getting back to sleep. Our house is in walking distance of three elementary schools and a high school, and the buses use our wide residential street as a thoroughfare.

My neighbor, a fellow homeschooling mom, stopped by in her robe around 8 to see if we were planning to go to the library this morning, like we often do on Mondays. "Happy Not Back to School Day!" she said. "Aren't you glad you're not sending your kids off to prison?"

"Be careful," warned my mother from her spot on my couch when I expressed the same sentiment 20 minutes later. She was waiting for the boys to put their shoes on so we could go out to breakfast and celebrate her birthday.

My mom doesn't like me getting too excited about the fact that we're not sending our kids to school. At least not around people who do send their kids to school, like she did. I understand her concern for offending people, especially people I know and love. My friends are not all making the same choice as I am, and I respect their reasons and their decision as their own.

But it is nice to be around those who share my perspective and aren't afraid to celebrate our choice to buck the mainstream. We are happy about keeping our kids home with us. Why can't we celebrate that and joke a little? Why does it seem like homeschoolers are the ones who have to protect the feelings of schooling moms, when we're the minority surrounded by a culture that doubts our validity?

I don't normally experience that doubt directly. Somehow I've avoided the kind of conversation my neighbor has with people in line at the grocery store on a weekday morning, her three children in tow. I'm just not as friendly and talkative.

So I hadn't thought much about the conspicuousness of taking two school-age children into a restaurant at 9 a.m. on Back to School Monday. (Instead I'd been remembering how my parents always took my sisters and me out to breakfast on the first day of school, giving us new wristwatches when we each started kindergarten to commemorate the moment.)

Otherwise, I might not have been as caught off guard by all the questioning stares as we entered a cafe full of adults, many of whom had undoubtedly dropped their own kids off at school at hour earlier. Fortunately we didn't get any rude comments. Although it might have been a nice opportunity to educate people, as my neighbor so often does.

If it hadn't been my mother's birthday, we might have been at a Not Back to School Party with our fellow homeschoolers -- eating pancakes and ice cream sundaes, swimming, and celebrating our freedom to do so any day we like.

There's nothing wrong with that.

I know there are moms who miss their kindergarteners terribly after sending them away for the first time. I know this because I know homeschool moms who began as schooling moms, and hated it. But most moms get used to it, even breathing a sigh of relief when summer vacation ends and they have a few hours a day to themselves again.

I admit the possibility occasionally appeals to me, too. Think of all the blogging I could get done!

But then I think about how that would change our family life. How much I would miss them. The struggles and boredom they might face in school unnecessarily. The moments we would miss out on because we simply weren't together to experience them.

And I celebrate our choice to do so. I know I'm lucky to have a husband who feels the same way I do -- even as he headed back to school himself.


Melissa Garrett said...

Hi Amanda ~ I wanted to thank you for stopping by my blog today and to express hope that you will come back again.

It seems crazy (to me) that society would frown upon moms who choose to homeschool their children. I live in Ithaca, NY, where MANY children are homeschooled, so it's nothing to see scores of children out during normal school hours. In fact, I have contemplated it for my own children. However, I think it takes a special person to be able to homeschool and a child who is willing. I am no such woman and my children would never submit to learning from their mother ;-) So far, we have had wonderful experiences with the elementary school and have never once felt it was a prison. In fact, my daughter cried when school was closed for snow this past year! I am sending my son to kindergarten this year (daughter is in the 3rd grade). To be honest, I am REALLY looking forward to getting them back into a formally structured environment that I just can't give them. I work from home, too, so I don't know how I would be able to juggle an increasing workload and school studies (more than the homework they bring home). I still have a toddler at home, and she is WORK. Whew! Didn't mean to be so long-winded. Brevity is not my forte ;-)

Amanda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amanda said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Melissa! I'm glad you and your kids have had such good school experiences. What makes me sad is when people (parents or children) are miserable doing school and still won't give homeschooling a chance.

Because honestly, my kids are no more interested in having their mother tell them what and when to learn than any other normal kid. ;) Understanding natural learning really helps with that. It also allows me to dream big -- I am considering a new "work from home" focus, and I do hope I can balance meeting my kids' needs and my own goals. I know it won't be easy, but I have to believe it's possible!

jewlsntexas said...

Hi Amanda -
I saw your comment at The Joyful Mom blog and came here - and found this post much on the lines of what we are somewhat debating over there. I don't understand why it is wrong for homeschool moms to celebrate what we do - or say things are wrong with the public school. Why ARE we forced to support something we don't believe in or asked to spare the feelings of moms who send their kids off to school? Typically when someone gets offended - I think that we hit a raw, guilty nerve.
I have been homeschooling my kids for 11 years now - and I am thrilled. I wouldn't have it any other way. Let's celebrate!

Amanda said...

Hi Jewls! How funny -- I read that comment thread on Laura's site right before I saw that you'd commented here!

I think sometimes it comes down to a matter of values. None of us has exactly the same set. If you believe conformity is important to maintaining a functioning society, then the methods schools impose to ensure that are worth the risk to the individual child. It's very European, actually. Unschoolers are pioneers, revolutionaries, progressives. Not everyone identifies with those ideals.

Being married to a teacher also gives me a slightly different perspective on this issue -- he has a lot of kids whom the system will undoubtedly fail, but who would be in even worse condition without it. This really is a difficult topic.

I just feel so fortunate to have been exposed to unschooling while my kids were little, and to have the support, faith and confidence in myself to follow the road where it leads. I know we're freaks, and it never bothers me when we're at home or with friends. I'm not so keen on standing out in public. Guess I have to work on that one. :)

Jen said...

I'm really glad to have stumbled across your blog -- I'm struggling with schooling options for my 2 year old, and considering homeschooling. I've been a high school teacher myself in the public schools, and know just how good and bad it can be. It's a difficult choice, and such an important one. Right now I'm reading all I can about all the alternatives, from private Waldorf schools to public kindergardens, to homeschooling. Quite overwhelming, but fascinating too. It's nice to read of somebody so happy with the decision they've made, particularly when it's a decision outside the mainstream norm.

bliss said...

i love it that we live in a country that allows us the freedom to home school our precious babies. i don't like it that some people are soooo afraid of what they don't understand and won't take time out to do so, but they will take time to interject their feelings about the subject. ;-&

on a very positive note, i dropped baby bliss off at the child care center at our county courthouse last week. (her dad and i were at court-ordered mediation orientation because he filed a custody suit against me and interestingly, the only allegation is that baby bliss is receiving an "inadequate education".) when i returned to pick her up, the attendants were all gushing over her. one of them said, "she told us she's home schooled. you're doing a good job mom. she's SO smart!" :-)

oh, before i forget Amanda, i'm working on a post now about back to school. i'm mentioning you so come on over and have a read when you get the chance. "-)

jewlsntexas said...

This post of yours and the conversation at The Joyful Mom had me thinking so much I blogged about it this morning! Stop by and tell me your thoughts!

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