Monday, March 18, 2013

Why I Homeschool: Is Homeschooling a Crutch?

A reader asks: Does homeschooling create a crutch for the weaknesses that our children possess? And: Isn’t this part of learning: how to adapt to non-ideal situations?

Great question.

Here’s my first answer: yes. Yes, homeschooling can create a crutch for the weaknesses our children possess. And, again, yes: part of educating a child includes teaching them to adapt to non-ideal situations.

Actually, this whole question, about protecting our children and how protecting them might make their weaknesses all the weaker, is the reason I was at first opposed to homeschooling.

Yet, ironically, it was the same reason—protecting my child and giving her a “crutch”--that finally tipped the scales, for me, in favor of homeschooling.

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there lived a sweet little girl who, sadly, did not have any friends. Or, at least no friends her own age.

The little girl had, as a baby and a toddler, played near children in playgroups and during Mothers’ Morning Out, but not with them. Now that the little girl was coming so close to school age, the mother freaked out. The girl’s father was making lots of noise about homeschooling, but the mother shushed him. How would the child learn to make friends if they kept her at home? Wouldn’t the child’s friendlessness just become more and more of a problem?

So, off to preschool the little girl went. Her mother watched anxiously to see what would happen.

The girl came home chatting happily about two little girls named Laney and Briar. Laney and Briar were bffs, and they both had blonde hair. They both brought giraffes for “G” day. There were other little girls, one named Carley who was very sweet to Abby, and one named Charlotte who liked to play with her. But nobody compared to Laney and Briar, who, even the mother could tell, didn’t like the little girl.

“I like to follow them,” the girl told her mother. Once, dropping the little girl off in the morning, her mother heard another child ask her which center she wanted to play in. And the little girl said, “I will go wherever you want me to go.”

But, this was a learning experience, wasn’t it? Wouldn’t the little girl, who had been around children her age since she was six months old, who was not delayed in any observable way—except with social skills—who was charming and very sweet and completely comfortable playing pretend with grownups and her older brother, who was certainly capable of interacting—wasn’t she?? Wouldn’t the little girl learn?

Her mother tried to tell her: You should play with Carley. Or Charlotte. You should find something you all three want to play together. Or, you should take turns. First, play your thing, second play her thing. Okay? Do you understand?

But, no, the little girl wanted to play with Briar and Laney.

The mother fretted. She wondered then and now: what is it that is so infuriatingly attractive about a person who shuns you?

Briar and Laney began piling playground mulch on the top of the little girl’s head, as punishment for following them around. Next, there were bits of mulch in the waistband of the little girl’s sunshine-yellow capris. Finally, the little girl came home with sand in her underwear.

The little girl’s mother coaxed the story out of her: Laney and Briar had trapped the little girl in the plastic play house on the playground and put sand and mulch down her pants.

The little girl’s mother went to the preschool the next day and fed Briar and Laney to a jagged-toothed, foul-smelling dragon.


What I really did was go to the director’s office, where they brought in a social worker who told me I should put Abby in “transitional” kindergarten.

It was very near the end of the year, so I let her finish—with strict instructions to stay away from Briar and Laney. And then, I did look into transitional kindergartens. I considered another year at a different preschool. I could just keep her home a year.

One thing was clear to me: though Abby seemed ready enough for academic pursuits, I could not send her anyplace where there might lurk even one Laney or Briar. I simply could not do it. Maybe you think I’m weak for thinking this way. Maybe you think I’m not doing Abby any favors by protecting her. She has to face the so-called “real world” sometime, doesn’t she?

But, beyond those horrid little blonde-haired monsters, Abby’s handing off her power to the other kids so willingly scared me. Charlotte hadn’t even asked her for this power, and she gave it to her: I will go, she said, wherever you want me to go.

I was upset and completely motivated by fear, but I now think keeping Abby home—protecting her—was the right instinct.

Does homeschooling create a crutch for our children?

We use this analogy in a derogatory way; we use it to mean a devise to make the weak weaker. But, if you think about what a crutch is supposed to do—aid mobility temporarily while the weak get stronger—that is exactly what I’m trying to do as a homeschooling mom. I want my daughter to lean on me until she has gained the confidence and skills she needs to navigate the world without me.

And, at the same time, I do think that this—coddling our children, not forcing them into situations where they have to gain these life-skills—can be a major downfall of homeschooling. We have to nudge them, but we also have to know when to keep them close, when to build them up and when to snatch that crutch away. Make them stand by themselves, if only for a moment.

This is no easy task. Math and reading, these are easy. Self-confidence and determination, humility and self-possession...these are much, much harder.

I love this reader's question. I couldn't print all of it, but in the reader's letter, she explains her situation, her very personal concerns about her own six-year-old son. I don't know this reader in real-life, but I feel like I do: our concerns are the same. How do I help my child navigate these impossible situations? How much me--how much mothering and what kind of mothering--does my child need?

We worry about our choices. We have to ask: am I really helping my child or am I simply assuaging my own mama fears?

One thing the Laney-Briar fiasco and similar trials have taught me is that it's not my job as mom to iron out what I see as my children's weaknesses. I have to prepare them for their future lives, sure, and teach them the basics--self-discipline, self-confidence, kindness and fortitude--but I also need to celebrate who they are, so-called “weaknesses” and all. Abby is shy. She is ten years old now and she still prefers the company of adults to the company of children her own age. She doesn’t follow kids around any more. She plays with them—preferring organized games to free-for-alls—or she hangs back, goes solitary. She’s the girl by the tree, talking to herself. Doing exactly what she wants to do. And I couldn’t be prouder.

I just read Emily Rapp’s memoir, The Still Point of the Turning World, which is about her experiences parenting a terminally ill child. In an interview on the Today show, she told parents, “Your child is not a project.” I think about that. It’s like Rapp has summarized, just like that, what I’ve been struggling for ten years to learn. What I believe God has been trying to teach me. What both my children, in their different ways, have been trying to demonstrate.

They come into the world this way, don’t they? Wanting to show us who they really are?

Your child is not a project. What a challenge, what a relief. What a thing to tattoo to the inside of my wrist so I am constantly reminded.


sheryl monks said...

Oh, Susan, this is beautiful. What a service you are providing with this series! And what a great mom you are.


Susan Woodring said...

Thank you, Sheryl. xo

Heather @ Raising Memories Blog said...

Thank you for this post. It helped me to see things a little differently (put some things into a better perspective) as I continue in my quest to determine what is best for my children.