Friday, April 21, 2006

Supporting Other Homeschoolers and Homeschooling Through a Crisis

Homeschoolers Shouldn’t Go Out of Their Way to Make Other Homeschoolers Feel Bad

I wrote this rant four months ago and just polished it up to share with you today.

It would seem to me to go without saying that no one should ever intentionally do something to make another person feel bad. Remember ‘The Golden Rule’? If we all lived by it then the world would be a great place. This goes for the homeschooling community as well.

I saw something happen on a chat list and my heart went out to one mother. This mother wrote in saying she is homeschooling two children, the youngest is in Kindergarten. The older child is getting ready to have some medical procedures and there are serious health issues. I bet you can imagine it is on the mother’s mind that homeschooling through the medical treatment will be harder than usual. The mother asked a very specific question. She asked for book suggestions in a certain subject area which are heavy in graphics so the Kindergartener could read the books to herself. The child is reading at a third/fourth grade reading level, so the books were requested to be of that range. This automatically makes the information that the child will be reading above grade level when compared to public school.

I replied with book suggestions that are heavy in graphics because that is what the mother asked for. I also gave a comparison to what other children are doing in that grade in American public schools, as a way to compare that despite the family’s difficult situation; any science she gets at that grade level will be fine and well.

Others responded and boy, did I get annoyed! Why don’t people answer the question that was asked? A few people wrote in that they don’t use many books, that they prefer to do hands on activities such as experiments, etc. One mother wrote about how they do large projects such as learning about constellations by going outside and looking at the stars, etc. A snobbish attitude began to come out as more replies filtered in, that non-book learning was superior to book learning.

Why didn’t those people PAY ATTENTION? This mother is dealing with a child with medical problems. Family life is difficult enough and to be homeschooling while a child is seeking medical treatments such as this child has is very stressful. The mother asked for books the child could read to herself during this special time. Telling this mother that their family doesn’t think book learning is good enough is not helping things! Telling her she should be doing giant projects like learning all the constellations (and that the mother should be learning them as well, to have a full experience of the whole family learning together) is actually pretty harsh. Answering with replies such as those not only is not helpful, as the question that was asked was not answered, but they might actually make the mother feel badly.

I believe that when a person asks a question of us, we should answer the question. If we want to probe deeper and verify that the question being asked is really the question, that is \ alright (but usually is hard to go back and forth to verify what is being asked via email, it can be done much easier in person or if talking on the phone).

I can’t stand the snobbery that sometimes goes on in the homeschooling community. “My way is superior” thinking is wrong and it goes against logic. Every person is unique and learns in different ways. Not every learner wants to learn in YOUR favorite way or in your CHILD’S favorite way.

What matters is that each family and each child within a homeschooling family is treated like an individual who matters. This is not a game which homeschooling parent is ‘right’.

The mother asked for some book suggestions, sheesh! Why did she receive an onslaught from people basically trying to convince her to change their homeschooling method and style to something that, by the way, is NOT possible due to the unique, temporary situation in the family: a major medical problem?!

One thing that homeschooling parents should know right up front is that no two families homeschool in the same way. The family’s experience depends on not only the individual child’s personality but also on the parent’s personality. The dynamic is further affected by the presence of other siblings, if there are any. The experience will be very different if a family has a child who is a baby, a toddler or a preschooler and one or more who are in elementary grades (or older). Once there are two children “in school” then everything changes again. I am struggling with accepting the new family dynamic I have with two children in elementary grades this year. Add on top of all of that, the personalities of all of the people, competitiveness or non-competitiveness of each child and different learning preferences and learning styles, you can see how different each family’s experience is.

Add into the mix, a problem such as illness or a serious medical condition in a child, the homeschooling parent or spouse, or even a grandparent, and all heck can break loose. This goes the same for situations such as unemployment or financial problems of any kind. Families going through this need some tender loving care, not snobbery from others that the way they have to homeschool through that time is ‘not good enough’. I give the families living ‘in crisis’ credit for sticking it out rather than sticking the child in school to alleviate the work load of the parent.

With regard to what method a family uses to homeschool, that can also get more complicated. For example if a child thrives on worksheets but the mother detests them and refuses to use them then that is one situation that may not be ideal for the child. Some of the families I mentioned earlier clearly have parents who love spontaneous, project-driven, hands-on type learning, and their children do also. That is great for them. But I wish they wouldn’t snub their noses at a family who wants to use books (especially during a time of crisis). There is also nothing worse than a parent who wants to teach one way and the child wants to do another. I am glad the parents who love the big hands on projects are having fun with their children, they are lucky. I love hands on projects but so far my children have resisted them, so this is not only personally disappointing for me but it can (and sometimes has) resulted in power struggles and negativity as a result. Another example would be if a parent pushes a child to use a textbook based homeschooling program and the child is bored to tears, but the parent keeps forcing it on them.

Homeschooling parents get enough grief from others just for the choice to homeschool. Why can’t, at least, other homeschooling parents try to be as gentle and kind as possible to other homeschoolers?

If someone asks for a suggestion and you want to answer, do so. If they ask a question, answer that question. Period. I think it really stinks when other homeschoolers have superiority complexes and then try to push THEIR way onto others. It really, really stinks when a homeschooling family going through a crisis gets grief for how they homeschool during the time of crisis. Those parents deserve more credit for staying on the more difficult path. (The easier path being to just put the children in school so as to relieve the homeschooling parent of one less thing on the ‘to do’ list and to lighten their responsibility load to make the parent better able to cope through that difficult time.)

I think that perseverance is one thing that many parents who homeschool possess. We find a way to work around various situations and problems. Whether we diligently search out a book or program that is best for a certain learning style, are able to ditch one thing that isn’t working well or is not as good as we thought it would be to find something better, we persevere. We work through stressful times, most of us don’t quit at the first hurdle.

So let’s rally together and support each other rather than playing games and being arrogant.

(Clarification added 4/26/06: I was annoyed with the chat on the chat list but didn't give my reaction/rant on the chat list to what the others were saying. After I made my book suggestion I stopped taking part in the discussion. Instead I ranted privately about it on my own PC to get it out of my system. And now I am sharing it with my blog readers. I am not a big fan of ranting on chat lists. It can be more trouble than it is worth. That chat list in particular tends to have 'fights' from time to time that I stay out of. I didn't want to be the person who started a 'fight'! Perhaps I should go back into the email archives and figure out who the mother was that asked the question and email her my blog entry? I don't think that I have the time to do that.)

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Meg - Bad Homeschool Mom said...

AMEN! Well said!

Karen said...

Rant on, Sister! Hey, when you're right, you're right.

I joined and then un-joined quite a few e-lists when I first started to homeschool before I found the ones that fit me best by being the most supportive and the most helpful. Sometimes, you have to cut loose from the negativity.

Melissa O. Markham said...

Another great post! You really are The Thinking Mother! I wish people would remember and practice the Golden Rule more!

Spunky said...

Great thoughts.

I have to say, in my earlier days I could have been one of those moms you described. Simply put, I needed the affirmation from others. I was inwardly insecure so I need the personae of confidence to convince ME. As God has "grown me up" I realize that I can look to HIM for my affirmation. My confidence is that His calling is sure. He will guide me and lead me. When I rest in that, I have learned to become a better listener to others as well.

FatcatPaulanne said...

I've been persisting at homeschooling for a couple of weeks with my Dad in the hospital off and on and we've just done the best we can, with more worksheets and less hands on learning and that is just the way it has to be. The kids have learned that when somebody really needs you, you go and you be there for that person. Period.