Feb 22, 2012

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Why must children “perform?”

Why must children “perform?”
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I get the honor and pleasure of homeschooling our almost-eight-year-old son, Zayne. It was a little quiet on the social front a few years ago, but lately that has not been an issue. Between Tuesday drama class, Wednesday Play-n-skate, Thursday bowling, and other monthly gatherings, we get time in with friends. As far as the learning part, I have total faith that all kids want to learn and actually can’t stop learning. I view my job as cheerleader and researcher for my son. When he is interested in a subject, it is my job to find a fun way to investigate it. When he is hesitant to try something new, it is my job to encourage him and let him know he can do anything he wants to do, while also supporting his knowing of his own limits. I am continuously amazed at how respectful, caring, and smart these groups of homeschooled kids are, and how dedicated and loving their parents continue to be over the years. It is a privilege to be able to support our children in this way, and it is obvious we are all grateful for the opportunity.

But what about the rest of the world?

Not as often as when I visit Southern California (or when a Southern Californian visits) do I get occasionally asked, “What do you do?” This question almost has an air ofย  “I want to know who you are and I’ll know as soon as you tell me your work,” which I resent, for I feel too often people – especially Americans – identify with their work as who they are instead of just an activity that they may or may not enjoy that may or may not support their lifestyle. All of us are leaps and bounds more than whatever we get paid to do. So here I am, in the world, and some stranger asks the “what do you do” question, and I say something like, “Oh, I mostly stay at home – I homeschool my son full time.” What happens to the persons body language after I say this statement varies greatly, and shows me a lot about their internal reaction. People who support this choice immediately smile and say how great it is that I am able to do this for my son. And then there’s the other response…. last month I actually got asked, “Why would you want to do that?” The lady at the Sushi place we’ve been going to for four years found out we homeschooled last week and replied, “Oh, so he have no friends?” I have had people ask how I think I’m qualified to teach my son.

Now, I get it, I really do. We have been taught how important “education” is our entire lives, and have been told the consequences of being “uneducated.” Sadly, it is as if our country only uses this determinant of education to see where one fits in the classes of society. Homeless? Oh, you must not have gone to college. Graduated with honors? Oh, you must be doing fine. Ironically, I’ve met a homeless person with a degree and a rich high-school drop out. So what? It still doesn’t take away from our fear that if a person doesn’t get “educated” they’ll “never make it.” So sad we don’t trust the inherent knowingness in all people and all life; we think that good is concentrated more in one place than another because that is what our eyes tell us. It isn’t!

Thankfully, I have tools to handle these situations where I feel put on the spot, or like I have to defend my choice as a parent to homeschool my child. Unfortunately, our children don’t have that practice yet, and they end up having to interact with the doubters out in the world, too. And in my experience, the first thing a doubter does when they find out I homeschool and Zayne is standing right there, they test him. They expect a performance NOW to prove that homeschooling is working and not a waste of time. So they say things like, “Do you know your timetables? Are you learning all the capitols? How many planets are there?” You get the idea. He gets confused.

My question to all of those people is: What is that about? How would you like it if I quizzed you about what you know? Can you just see adults sitting around a table asking, “Well, did you learn your periodic table?” Why do we feel the need to interact with kids this way? Schooled and homeschooled kids alike, I see them being asked to perform wherever they go. “What did you learn in school today? What’s 3 times 3? How many stars are on the American flag?” And of course, the kid version of “what do you do” is “what grade are you in?” Are we thinking we’re helping them? I’m sure schooled kids get asked that kinda stuff all day – do you think you’re assisting them by adding to that experience of being questioned? What if you just treated them like a person, too, instead of a machine ready to spit out information at any given time to prove their worth as a student?

Here’s what I would love to see (and have seen it, but not often). We go out in public, someone wants to interact with Zayne, and they just say something along the lines of, “Hi, how are you today? Doing anything fun? What’s your name?” Isn’t that what we would say to another adult? Can you imagine if I asked the person in front of me in the line at the bank how old they were? Why is this the only way we know how to treat children? Well, I’ll answer that question with my own opinion: we don’t know how to interact with children because most of us are uncomfortable around them. And this is because we don’t get a lot of time in with kids, unless their ours. Our society has forgotten the tribe, and that kids are happier when they have adult friends, too. Our society has forgotten that keeping kids around reminds us of our youth, just like keeping the elderly around reminds us of our death (and we need to be reminded of both or we become arrogant). It is human to keep all of these cycles of nature close to us, and it is “civilized” to push them away. When we put our kids in daycares and schools and our elderly in retirement homes, we miss an opportunity to interact with the full spectrum of life. We then forget how to treat a child, and – by automatic cultural reaction – we ask them to perform for us. So we can feel more comfortable. Well, what about the kid? What if they would be comfortable with you just looking them in the eye and really seeing them? Would that convince you that they’re enough? Or that you are?

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  1. Darcivana says:

    keep, up the good work, looking forward to reading your new material.

  2. Anna Tennis says:

    Much of what you wrote can be applied to people’s comfort/discomfort and acceptance/non-acceptance of really young children, too, as well as “school-age” people. Great post!

    • I agree, Anna. It just seems to be the way our culture relates to kids until they are “old enough” to be considered a real person. Thanks for the feedback & comment! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. If I were you, I’d prefer the 2nd question; at least it is a desire to know a how instead of a what. But I hear ya. And, in her defense, I’d probably ask that, too, if I saw you every day after school LOL ๐Ÿ˜›

  4. Derek Holloway says:

    PEOPLE TREAT ME LIKE THAT WAY TOO MUCH. Every time I walk in the door, Danielle(My stepmom) asks, “What did you learn in school today?” or, sometimes: “How was your day in school?”

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