Wednesday, August 01, 2012

But I Can Still Read What You're Thinking

Ursula asked:

What is your best short form response to folks who are puzzled/horrified/curious/judge-y and ask you, "Why are you homeschooling?"  In other words, what's the funny/truthful/self-confident yet non-preachy thing you say when the checkout grocery store checkout lady asks if your daughter is sick (and, hence, with you at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday)... or when your second cousin (president of the PTA) corners you at Thanksgiving, etc.?

 and Nancy Piccione asked:

How do you manage to discuss home education with family members who are confused or have a hard time understanding your decision?

Let's hereafter call this the "PTA president/Cousin" issue because, honestly, the checkout lady isn't going to cause you to lose sleep. If the checkout lady thinks I'm breaking my child, I won't be ecstatic to hear it, but for social interaction that's less troublesome than if she coughes in her hand and then touches my broccoli.

(This actually happened to me. I almost demanded another head of broccoli but decided I was being fussy and that people around the world would be GRATEFUL for coughed-on vegetables. I scrubbed that broccoli, peeled and steamed it, but still got a coughing cold which lasted nearly a month.)

Strangers and acquaintances are going to have ALL sorts of opinions about homeschooling. I don't feel obliged to take any of them more seriously than the woman we saw in the subway in New York who was yelling at us to stop stealing her hair. For the socialization question, I'm tempted to print up 4x6 cards explaining exactly what Alice does every day so a person I will never see again doesn't worry about her welfare. But the fact is, the strangers and acquaintances don't actually CARE care. This is small talk, only one micron above asking if it's hot enough for you outside.  I've found that 90% of checkout lady-level questions can be answered with:

1) She does a bunch of stuff in the afternoons.
2) She has tons of friends.
3) I couldn't teach math, either. Her father teaches her math.

The PTA President/Cousin dynamic is different. Maybe you love your cousin. Maybe you don't love your cousin but have to see her at Thanksgiving and for a week at the lake every summer and would prefer not to have it be weird. Maybe you would secretly LOVE to have it out with your cousin but it would break your mother's heart. The PTAP/C must be treated with respect. I have a variation of that. I have more than the average number of people in my life -- people I genuinely like and admire -- who teach in elementary or secondary school. These people chose to teach; most of them love to teach; and I understand if it appears as if I'm coughing on their broccoli.

Homeschooling in Los Angeles, we have an advantage in that we belong to the Los Angeles Unified School District, an institution only an 8th-generation bureaucrat could love. Fun fact: there are more students in the LAUSD than there are people living in Austin, Texas.  I can say with complete honesty that I love many teachers and respect what they do but I hate having to work within a system that large. No teacher in the LAUSD would begrudge me that. Then I mention how little evidence there is to support the benefits of standardized testing. Another fun fact: one recent study showed that people who do well on standardized tests have a propensity for shallow thinking. Most teachers I know are heartily sick of spending an entire school year preparing for a single, state-mandated test. I end by harkening back to a time when a classroom didn't have 36 students and 35 chairs, when teachers could set their own educational schedule based on, oh I don't know, maybe the people in that classroom, and when everyone involved wasn't stretched, exhausted and prohibited from doing what they were trained to do. I think everyone would agree that such a classroom would bring some homeschoolers back.

People who are dedicated to teaching -- or as with a PTAP/C, devoted to volunteering for the schools -- may think we're sneering at them. I'm not. And even if you are, it's just easier to blame your decision on The System rather than The Teacher. Any person who has worked for any length of time with any public school knows how many hardworking, highly skilled, well-meaning people are bogged down by rules, ordinances, and "this-is-the-way-we've-always-done it" attitudes within these systems. Dinner with your cousin is easier if you praise her to the skies for fighting torpor and bureaucracy and for making the effort to improve the school experience for her children. Hey, for everyone's children. It's important that you understand how what she's doing is worthwhile. And if she continues to want to discuss how you're hurting your children by not having them in a classroom six hours a day, ask about her latest fundraising goals. If I know PTA presidents, that will take you all the way through pumpkin pie.

This is a sweeping generalization but I find most people who have a truly hard time accepting your decision to homeschool have some sort of skin in the game. This choice you made for your family has somehow become about them. If you want some degree of peace, figure out where that anxiety lies and neutralize it. I've had some luck by freely admitting I have no idea if this is a good idea or not, but that since my child appears to be happy, has friends, becomes interested in new things and knows more chemistry than her mother, we're going to continue until the situation warrants otherwise.

And then I excuse myself to get a cup of tea.


Blogger ursula said...

Wow! Thanks so much for using my question, Quinn! And, I agree. I spend a lot of time raving about my daughter's teachers and her administrators (because they really were totally amazing and understanding) but just saying my daughter is doing better this way. I just end up stammering through it because it's such a multifaceted decision.

Any way you would consider linking my name to the fledgling site my husband and I have?

Much obliged.

Thanks again,

Ursula Hennessey

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Robin Raven said...

That was so interesting to read. I think I've horrified you with my experiences as a substitute teacher in the LA school system before so I'll spare you, but I just wanted to reiterate how I so agree regarding it. :) Awesome response and way of dealing with those busybodies.

I think your next book should be on how you deal with all sorts of social situations. My favorite observation was, "Strangers and acquaintances are going to have ALL sorts of opinions about homeschooling. I don't feel obliged to take any of them more seriously than the woman we saw in the subway in New York who was yelling at us to stop stealing her hair." I think that is a good way of dealing with life, inserting any other thing for "homeschooling" depending on the situation. :)

7:15 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

It's funny because the number one concern that people seem to have is, "But what about socialization?!?" And this is usually said with nothing less than rising panic.

BUT the number one complaint that most parents have is, "My kid never bit anyone/said that bad word/even knew what that WAS before she went to (pre)school."

Pointing that out is usually a concern-ending move (in a positive way).

10:09 AM  

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