I had one of those public experiences tonight that always catches me off guard, perhaps because I spend more time with people who share my perspective about learning than those who don't.
I was at the bookstore, looking for some field guides for the boys, when a mother and her two daughters came up behind me.
"Mommy, can I have this clock?" said the younger girl, who was around age 6. She was holding a children's book with a built in analog clock for learning to tell time.
"No, that's too old for you," answered her mother.
I don't know if the woman noticed my jaw drop and my brow furrow in confusion as I glanced at the little girl, but she may have.
"You don't learn time-telling until the end of first grade," the older girl informed her sister.
"But I'll be in first grade!"
"No, you're getting a workbook," said the mother.
"Do I have to have a workbook?" asked the little girl.
"Yes!" answered her sister, obviously well-indoctrinated in school learning theory. "Otherwise you'll forget everything over the summer."
I wish that I were not always so dumbfounded in these situations. I wish I were better able to grasp the opportunity to speak up and provide a different perspective. I'm sure the mother was simply thinking about her budget, and about how she just wanted to get home quickly and put the kids to bed.
She probably was not fully conscious of the message she was sending her daughter: that she was incapable of learning what it was she wanted to learn. That what the school said she should learn was more important than what she was interested in.
It's easy to forget, sometimes, that my perspective on learning as a homeschooler is not the norm. That school is normal in our culture. Most -- not all -- parents do rely on the school to tell them what their child needs when it comes to education.
And so, I'm rarely prepared to say anything helpful. I wish that I'd been able to say something like, "I've found that children learn very efficiently when they're interested in a subject, whatever the level." Or, "My son learned to tell time quite early, and it was so helpful!" Or maybe, "Summer's a great time to learn things that aren't taught in the classroom!"
But instead, I slink away, aghast and dismayed that a parent would not want to help her child learn what she's interested in learning. And I don't help either.