Have you ever had someone make you feel small, in the not good way?
We all piled into the doctor’s examination room. This is a normal scene – me with all my ducklings.
At doctor’s offices it’s normal for an older elementary child to be seen there because all kids all the time have to schedule appointments – they are taken out of school and brought back.
But it always comes up in normal, casual conversation – So, where do you go to school?
When my kids were kindergarten age, immediately they would dart their eyes at me – as if to say Oh no, I don’t “go” anywhere. What am I supposed to say? I don’t know what it is about this unspoken exchange, but I feel as if the questioner has decided that my child is unfortunate.
Some people have literally patted my child on the head, as if to communicate – Oh, honey. I’m so sorry you’re being sheltered so much and you aren’t learning anything. I pity you.
Other people look at my child as less. I can’t explain it, but they take the idea of home education and equate it with poverty, stupidity, religious bigotry, and/or out-of-date ideals.
In either case, I want to swoop in, rescue my child, and wipe the experience from their memory.
But I can’t.
Why is it that when a home educated child is asked, What are you learning in school? It feels like the question really is, How effective of a job is your parent doing? Or worse, it comes across like, So how ignorant are you?
It isn’t that I fault the person for their curiosity.
I don’t even blame them for testing the cultural norm that children should be sent away to an manufactured environment for their educational training by wanting to be shown by my child that the alternative to what is considered normal is a valid option.
But what child at the age of 5, 6, 7, 8 or even 9 years can eloquently answer this question with a grammatically correct response that bullet points all the subjects, interests, social and emotional developments that they are engaged in on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis?
Aren’t we all caught a little off guard whenever someone asks (or demands) an answer for what we are learning?
Can I fairly point the same question back at them and demand that they summarize all they they learned throughout the entirety of their formal education?
We have been put on trial and judged either innocent or guilty by the prosecution – whomever they may be – and what we do with their verdict has the power to free us or crush us.
And the even more difficult thing is that sometimes these awkward or even embarrassing exchanges have made lasting impressions on my child.
In my experience, there is a shift that happens when adults engage with children of school-age. They separate the child from the student. When they address my child and ask – what are you learning? – I believe they are innocently (for the most part) addressing the student. It isn’t with malicious intent at all.
But separating a child from his child-ness and expecting him or her to conduct themselves as a student with the “right answers” and the “scripted response” doesn’t actually serve them as an individual. Teaching children to compartmentalize their identity at such an early age leads to confusion, insecurity, and behavior issues.*
I don’t care how young a child is – they can struggle with insecurity issues. And the person with the most power to make them feel insecure is you.
The person who is questioning or treating your child disdainfully doesn’t have as much access to the feelings in their heart regarding whom they are as their parents do.
So whose responsibility is it to prepare the child for the pop quizzes they will encounter?
Go back to the list of things to do to ensure you are ready for your own confrontation, and then move on to these recommendations:
- Talk regularly about why they are home schooled. Expose them to the realities of the alternatives, and allow them to ask you questions for further understanding of what they have to gain from being home.
- Ask them questions about what they like to learn. Let them know that their education isn’t timed or boxed. Sure, you may work on developing their skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic every day at 9 o’clock – but that time doesn’t encompass the whole of their education.
- If they are feeling overwhelmed by the number of questions from a number of people, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your schedule. It may be that they are feeling worn out and worn down by the amount of time around people who do not view them as children but rather expect them to perform as students.
- Take note of the places your child gets quizzed the most, be observant of how they react to it – when you arrive back at home or another safe place – what is the first thing they want to do?
- Fight against the temptation to feel embarrassed when your child doesn’t do or say what you hoped they would do or say. Again, they are little people not perfect performers.
- It takes time for everyone in the home to feel settled in the process of owning your choice home educate. Just because your child doesn’t know how to respond today, doesn’t mean that they won’t ever be able. Allow them time and grace to embrace learning and then allow the response to take care of itself.
- Ask you child how the conversation made them feel, and then work through the situation again to form a framework for a solution of how to handle themselves when found in a similar situation in the future.
Being supported in your choice to home educate is a gift. Cherish it. Don’t make light of it in the face of heavy opposition or criticism. Be confident.
There’s an even better list than this in Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson found on page 31. The section is titled Know What to Do When Cornered by a Critic.
You as a parent have a big advantage in teaching your child simply because you are the parent. The most significant people in a young child’s life are usually his mom and dad…You may think that you’re something less than the world’s best parent. You might also think that you can’t possibly educate your child as well as a state certified teacher might. But because, subjectively, you are the most significant and important person in the world to your child, you have greater credibility with him and can get more mileage out of instructional time than anyone else could. And that is an objective reality. – Gregg Harris, “The Christian Home School,” Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1988 (from Educating the WholeHearted Child, 30).
I believe that by working through these confrontations with my children, I am better preparing them for the real world than if I were to jump in and shelter them from every attempt from the outside to test or criticize them.
Further, I believe that this small part of the home school life is vital to the strength, confidence, and confirmation that this is what God has called us to on the home school journey.
And finally, in the area where we live, we are hugely supported. Most of the people who question my children are well-meaning, caring people who just want to connect and relate to my child. “School” is one of those life stage conversation starters – just like someone who is “college age” is asked So what’s your major? And it may make a young adult who doesn’t know what they are going to do feel insecure – even though no harm was meant by the asker.
Let’s all be wise in relating to children. Don’t give into the cultural philosophy that children are entitled to certain benefits from attending a public school and thereby discredit or bully children into feeling that their family’s decision to home educate is harming them. Be mindful, those who are not home educators, that your good intentions may be guided by the cultural norms without even knowing it.
*For more information about identity, security, purpose and the harm that can come to an individual who has been taught to trust that these core needs will be met by an educational system (whatever it may be) read: Finding Authentic Hope And Wholeness by Dr. Kathy Koch.
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