Sunday, November 26, 2006

My Thoughts About What Homeschooling Parents Do, Opinions of Others, Finding Support and Friendships

The original title for this blog entry was "What My Relatives and Friends Know And Don’t Know About Our Family’s Homeschooling Experience". By the time I was finished writing it I knew I needed a more descriptive title. I am not sure this title is great but it does tell what I am writing about today.

I have been thinking lately about what people think about homeschooling, those who don’t homeschool. I have been thinking about how they form their opinions.

I then realized that first they know what they observe. If a person doesn’t know anyone who homeschools they have no basis at all to start the foundation of their opinions.

Then if they know someone who homeschools, they may base their entire opinion on what they know of that family, which can be good or bad. No one family represents all homeschooling families. And even with my own situation, what my relatives and real-life friends (not my cyber friends or blog readers) know of what we do is minimal.

I realized that of our non-homeschooling friends and relatives really don’t know much about our homeschooling, such as why we are doing it, how we do it, how much we are at home vs. out in the community, what my kids actually learn from other adults in classes, how much my children are around other children, and the heavier subjects such as our academic (and other) long-term goals.

As to what I know as a homeschooling mother, they know even less. Most of our relatives don’t know how much time I have spent educating myself on topics such as:

Childhood development

Brain development

Developmental stages of children

Learning styles

History of institutional education in America

History of institutional education in other countries

Alternative education methods, pedagogy, private school types and methods, and why they do it that way

What American public education consists of

Problems in American education

American education reform issues

“Scope and sequences”, what is typically taught in American Schools? Do we want to match that exactly or do something different, something more rigorous, perhaps?

Different ways to homeschool, different methods

What homeschooling curriculums are available

What ‘regular’ children’s books are available on the market to use in homeschooling

What out of print and/or antique books are wonderful for children

Book hunting: time spent finding and locating these wonderful books

Attending homeschooling conferences to listen to lectures

Listening to recordings of conference lectures which I didn’t personally attend

Attending lectures in my local area on topics of how to teach, how to educate, how to homeschool

Attending adult support group meetings to network; form a community of homeschoolers; find social connections for my children, finding academic classes for my children and other homeschooling information from fellow homeschooling parents

Researching outside classes and events that my children may or do end up participating in

Participation in homeschooling co-op’s

Me and/or my husband running free classes for our kids and other homeschooling children to do as a group class

Reading online discussion groups about homeschooling topics, spending time answering questions that other have (not just lurking)

Online networking with other homeschoolers to discuss issues and questions (local and national and sometimes, worldwide)

My role as a homeschool support group leader, volunteering my time, working on running the group, hosting meetings, leading meetings. Providing email and phone help and support for those curious about homeschooling or for homeschoolers

Helping other local homeschool groups

Preparing speeches and giving free lectures about homeschooling at state homeschool conferences

Staying on top of state legislation issues regarding homeschooling. This includes reading local email discussion groups in a timeley manner.

If state homeschooling bills are proposed, spending lots of time researching the issue. Then spending time spreading the word within the homeschooling network. Lastly, voicing my concerns to state legislators. Attending and speaking at public hearings at the Legislature. Attending homeschooling rallies.

Attending social events with other homeschoolers, playdates, park days with large groups of kids

Attending social events with non-homeschooled children

Spending time with (schooled) friends in the neighborhood

Attendance at non-homeschooler summer camps

Cub Scout activities attended, learning there, social connections made there

Taking sports lessons, classes, teams played on

Other pursuits (chess classes, etc.)

Academic goals and achievements of my children (yes, we have goals, deadlines, etc.)

The bottom line is that even very close relatives and friends of mine don’t discuss these things with me. We live around extended family on both sides of the family. I have two grandparents still alive, and both my husband and my parents are both still alive (and happily married). We have brothers and their wives, our nieces and nephews. My husband has a large family all living around here, over 150 extended family members, some of which we see on a regular basis, first cousins once removed, second cousins, and all types of different distant relatives.

We just don’t discuss homeschooling much with our friends and relatives. I can only take their non-communication of these topics as lack of interest. It would not be polite for me to sit and list out all these things every time that I see various relatives. It would be in poor taste for me to just start talking, which to me would seem like bragging, to say things like, “Oh our older son is advancing quite well in Cub Scouts, and he has earned four awards toward his Webelos rank and seems to have a natural talent for topics about nature.” I know some relatives would bristle to hear things like “Our Kindergarten aged child tested at reading at a fifth grade reading level.” So we just don’t say things like that. (Meanwhile some don’t even know the Kindergartener is reading already let alone fluent and many grade levels above.)

I attend conferences out of state, overnight trips, and some relatives and friends don’t even know this. I go away for trips and some close relatives assume I am home twiddling my thumbs. For all I know they imagine me sitting at home in front of the TV set like a zombie when in reality I am sitting here researching how a child’s brain learns to spell, at what age should spelling lessons begin (or should spelling not be taught at all?) and I am analyzing and evaluating different spelling curriculums, trying to match them with my children’s learning style test results to make a good match. Hey I actually think that process is fun, it is entertaining and interesting for me to do things like that. This is part of how I use my brain in an intellectually stimulating way since I am no longer climbing the corporate ladder in the paid workforce.

Some of the most outspoken non-homeschoolers, on the topic of homeschooling are my teacher friends and relatives. Yet they are the ones who least want to discuss anything having to do with teaching my children, homeschooling, etc. They don’t find it interesting to talk about what is taught in X grade in math and how the new policies are dumbing down the old standards. I hear that same information by way of their praise for making what they have to teach easier, such as the relative who proclaimed the seventh graders were now using calculators for all math and were no longer doing long division by hand, nor multiplication by two digit decimals (“it is no longer used in our modern day society”, she said). I then had to listen to a bunch of bragging of the in-services she had to take to learn to use the new math curriculum. The attitudes are a combination of “I am so informed now, so educated in how to teach math with this curriculum” and “This is such a bore, to have to do this stuff.” It is hard to explain, but the teaching for them is more of a job to make money not a passion and a pure interest in mathematics or actually teaching children. Those teacher-relatives don’t care or ask how I teach math to my children and why I chose that approach, why that curriculum, what the method is, etc. They do talk behind my back to slam homeschooling and my ability to homeschool my child with success, though, from what I am told by others.

The reality is that the most outspoken critics and judges of homeschooling know little about it. I guess this should not surprise me as it seems in general that the more ignorant a person is on a subject the more likely they are to judge it or to try to put that person or thing as “inferior” to what they are doing, or “stupid”, or “worthless”. Closed minded people or those who don’t care about a topic don’t want to know more about it and they don’t want to be more informed about it---but that doesn’t stop some people from doing things to verbally judge or talk negatively about the same subject. In reality they are speaking from a place of ignorance. And this is why we homeschoolers should not care so much what others think about what we are doing, in the big picture.

On the one hand dispelling myths and seeking to enlighten others, we think, will benefit us in the long run, so all homeschooling parents, on some level, are always trying to promote it or to enlighten others about it, even if it is a small way, or a very short conversation about it (15 seconds, for example). For example, if some realize how well homeschooling works perhaps they’d stop trying to over-legislate the monitoring of homeschooling—that is what we think.

Again, my own family and friends hardly know a thing that goes on in our lives about what we do, why we do it, how we spend our time on homeschooling pursuits, and all I do to educate myself about how to teach children and what to teach children. I still cannot think of a way to keep everyone informed of what we do without it coming off as sounding like bragging. I wait for people to ask me questions then I answer them. However most don’t ask the questions, so I don’t talk about it much with them.

My blog readers know much more about our homeschooling lifestyle than our own friends and relatives do. Think about that for a minute, pure strangers to me that live in other places and don’t even know my true identity may know more about me and my family, and may respect me while my own friends and relatives may not hold me in as high regard.

Friends for Homeschooling Moms
The friends I am closest to in my life right now are my homeschooling mother friends. There are certain topics that can only be understood by someone else who is walking in the same shoes as I am. I have learned that the hard way. My non-homeschooling mom friends still “don’t get it” and they probably never will.

I have heard some male (religious) conference lecturers say that the homeschooling community should support the homeschooling part of one’s life but to not look to the homeschooling community to make it the source of the social connections/friendships for mom or the children, nor to find within the homeschooling community, the source of spiritual/religious connections. Okay, I understand the religious part. But one problem with that recommendation for friendship for the mother is often like-minded-ness and kinship is hard to find in a non-homeschooling friend. To constantly work against judgment and negativity or even simple doubts in a close friend just prevents the friendship bond from being as close as it could be. More importantly, the homeschooling mother lacks validation for her (sometimes difficult) choice to homeschool. Even worse is if the homeschooling mother feels judged or is the recipient of negative statements about her choices---one does not need that hardship and challenge in a friendship.

Perhaps this entire notion is a ‘woman to woman thing’ that men can never understand so won’t recommend. Men and women treat friendships very differently. The friendship component and necessity in a woman’s life for other female companionship is one of those things that make women different than men (and perhaps some men don’t understand that, as they don’t feel the same drive for connections with others).

I highly recommend that all homeschooling mothers make at least one close friend within the local homeschooling community.

Note: Some people would perceive a homeschooling mother’s role to do some or all of the things on my list (above) as a homeschooling con, a downside to homeschooling. It is true that homeschooling can be a lot of work. Homeschooling is a big responsibility. A homeschooling parent can choose to off-load some of the duties I listed above, such as to pay for a ‘school in a box’ curriculum and just use that instead of researching other options. A homeschooling parent can choose to never learn about other educational methods, or about problems with public schooling, or issues in education reform. The homeschooling parent just may not ever feel the need to attend homeschool support group meetings or homeschooling conferences. Each person is different.

I am listing this blog entry under the category of ‘homeschooling con’s’ because I think that some people would perceive all the work that I do as a ‘con’, an undesirable or a too-difficult or an uninteresting thing to do.

To deal with the criticism of homeschooling from the public, from the media (i.e. the Dr. Phil show), from friends and from relatives can also be considered a ‘homeschooling con’.

A homeschooling mother will be happiest if she is living not in a defense mode. Life will be happier if the homeschooling family surrounds themselves with others who are like-minded and who are supportive of this weighty, responsibility-loaded lifestyle choice. A homeschooling mother who feels validated or feels kinship with others who have made the same choice will feel better about herself and her choices. While I believe that we should first seek the approval of God, I think that to only have God on our side could be a problem (and that does not apply to non-religious people). I highly recommend that homeschooling families work to find friendship and acquaintances within their local homeschooling community as it is helpful that at least sometimes in our lives we are not outsiders. When in a room of other homeschoolers a person could perceive themselves as mainstream and normal, right?

If you are having trouble making a meaningful connection with other homeschoolers in your area I urge you to try other support groups, spread out and travel a bit to see if you can find a group of friends or at least one friend. If you didn’t make connections at one group’s meeting, try another of that same group, as the people who attend can be different from month to month. Try not to judge others on first impressions, sometimes after being around a person for a little while I have realized we have more in common than I originally thought.

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Shauna said...

Thanks for this post! As a new homeschooler, I can relate to much of what you've said here, particularly regarding the extensive research I've done in many areas and that family and friends don't realize I've spent so much time doing. People seem to believe that my knowledge about homeschooling, educational philosophies, and even socialization is limited to their personal knowledge about those topics. For the most part, though, my homeschooling is treated as a taboo topic, and although I suppose that's preferable to open hostility, it does frustrate me that I don't feel at liberty to talk freely about our successes or discoveries or especially our bad days and things that just didn't go as planned. One of my distant friends has yet to even acknowledge the fact that I'm homeschooling; she just avoids the topic entirely. I don't have any real-life homeschooling friends yet, but I'm hoping that will change as I've recently started getting involved with a local support group.

Shawna said...

Very informative!

As someone leaving public education, (my child and myself as a teacher) this post gives me lots to look at and work with and consider so that my transition and work at homeschooling can be a successful one!

Jess said...

What a lengthy and excellent exposition on things I am sure many homeschooling moms have felt! It is discouraging the lack of interest that we receive from relatives and friends.... it is difficult to comprehend how they can be so judgmental about something they've never researched or actively sought to understand.

I will be linking to this post in the future. What an excellent thing for Christian women to read, to help understand SOME of the perspective of a thoughtful homeschooling mom!

Jess @ Making Home