Saturday, February 02, 2008

Reason Number One Why We Homeschool

I've debated with this for awhile, which is one of the reasons I haven't posted for a few days. Well, that, plus being sicker than the proverbial dog during this wonderful cold and flu season.

Here's the deal: The reasons why so many people choose to homeschool are typically legion. If you tried to pin down any one of us on the single biggest reason why we chose to shield our children from public schooling, we'd have multiple system failure trying to come up with one. You want a hundred reasons? No problem. I can dash off a list if you have the time. But you want one? Only one? Not sure I can do that.

Now, however, I believe I can articulate the primary reason why we homeschool. To do so, though, requires telling a bit of a story.

We have wonderful friends up north. We visit them once every other year or so, and more often if we can arrange it. Their only child is our god-daughter, and we love her nearly as much as we love our own girls. This god-daughter — we'll call her Anna — is suddenly experiencing something that most people would not consider all that big a deal. In fact, they would wonder why I even bring this incident up at all.

Anna has been homeschooled on and off. She's an exceptionally bright young lady and easily qualifies for gifted magnet-type school programs. She's had a fairly mixed bag of educational experiences throughout her elementary years, and is just now getting into middle school; at least partly at her own insistence. She loves the social aspects of school, and as she prepares to enter those critical teenage years she wants to experience it all. Her parents support her in this decision.

Anna was able to begin this school year with one of her closest friends from her elementary school. Through most of the first semester they were buddies who found themselves making new friends and starting their own little klatch. One can easily imagine the rapid-fire conversations covering the whole range of topics from boys to classes to which teachers they absolutely can't stand to favorite music and movies and back to boys again.

Then came the holiday break. Upon returning to school after the holidays, Anna began to notice that her close friend was suddenly becoming antagonistic toward her. In fact, she began to descend into downright meanness, and has since been going out of her way to make her now former friend as miserable as possible. Worse, she's taking their newfound friends with her. No physical violence thus far, that I'm aware of, but anyone who's been to middle school knows just how much of a toll the head games can take.

Anna is beside herself over this issue, and the stress is starting to affect other areas of her life. She's a swimmer, for instance, and this whole issue is quite probably affecting her times in various races and events.

Now, having written about this situation and reading back over what I've said, I still believe that most people would probably read this and go, "Hunh. Kids in middle school acting mean. Now there's a revelation." And you would be right. It is perfectly normal behavior in middle school, especially when I think back to my own experiences as a kid. I was a skinny, scrawny kid with big ears and a lip. I spent my fair share of time being the target of bigger, cooler kids on campus until I got smart and began avoiding the obvious traps. I believe I spent a lot of time in the library, now that I think about it.

Anna, however, is not the "hide in the library" type. She cannot understand why her friend has suddenly turned on her like this. She wants desperately to get things fixed that obviously are broken, but has no idea how. Her parents, for their parts, are full of sympathy and understanding, and feeling a little short on answers themselves right now. How do you teach your social daughter that she needs to rise above such pettiness and just be the same sweet kid she's always been?

Which brings up reason number one why our family homeschools. It isn't so much that we are not social creatures. We don't have a huge number of close friends, although our Christmas card list is a goodly size. Rather, it is that we would prefer not to be deemed the sort of social creature that today's society creates, condones, and even glorifies. We see it everywhere. We go to our carefully screened and vetted movies and see previews for other movies. Movies that show kids who have the sort of attitudes that make me want to campaign for corporal punishment in our schools. Our kids will never see these movies. Likewise nearly every kind of TV show involving kids who demonstrate that same attitude. Since the girls have mostly outgrown Dora and Blue, they don't watch a lot of TV anymore.

The problem is that most of the kids who attend public school these days do watch that stuff. They are immersed from infancy in the kinds of pulp entertainment that their parents enjoy, which statistically means they're being saturated with attitude from the time they learn to speak. "No!" becomes "You know I've got my lawyer on speed-dial..." in the overly sarcastic lives of our kids today. In a day and age when we need far more "Ozzie and Harriet" kinds of programming, kids today get "South Park" instead. It's a no-win situation.

I watch kids in our neighborhood who seem to have no higher ambition than to do skateboard tricks and back-talk to their parents. The only way they can communicate involves words that my daughters have grown to refer to as "potty words." These are kids that my Dad would have threatened to take a 2x4 and apply a little woodshed diplomacy to back in the day.

I don't want my kids growing up to see that this kind of behavior and thinking is in any way acceptable. I know how snotty and sarcastic I became, especially in high school, and I really don't want my kids to look back on their school years with the same sort of regret that I feel.

I do not mean for you to come away from this post with a feeling that Anna's experience encompasses the entire reason why we homeschool. Far from it. It is merely a vignette, if you will, that demonstrates one of the primary reasons. We know full well that even in a relatively cloistered homeschool environment, our girls will still come across such shenanigans. What we hope is that by being more careful with the things to which we expose them, they will have a better platform from which to handle those situations.

For the record, I'm sure Anna will come out of this experience just fine. She has a solid home life, and her parents love her. They have the wisdom to help her through this most-typical of all tweenie problems. As her god-daddy, I wish she didn't have to feel so bad even for a little while. As an interested observer, I know it happens all the time. She'll get through it and likely be a better person for all that.

In the meantime, we will continue to steer our daughters around the kinds of people who would do those things for as long as we can get away with it. Then we will hope that we, too, have the wisdom to help them deal with whatever challenges come their way.

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