|Math with rats at the Phantom Rickshaw.|
Shall I list off the ignorant, often prejudiced comments my kids have been subjected to during our 6 years of unschooling? Why yes, I think I shall, because it's a relief to share, and maybe some of you can relate. Here are the major ones, off the top of my head:
- Don't you get sick of always being with your Mum?
- You don't have any friends.
- You must be stupid since you don't learn anything.
- You must be really a genius, because you're learning about that, and I'm not. (Followed by "I don't know anything you know, so don't tell me about it", and stomping off.)
- Do you homeschool because you have a learning disability?
- You homeschool? I didn't know you were a Christian! (We're not religious at all, for the record.)
- How will you ever get a job?
- You know people will bully you if you tell them you're unschooled.
- Isn't homeschooling illegal?
- Can you read?
"No." I said, glancing at the clock behind him. "Because my children are unschooled, and because, even if they did go to school, school was out at least 20 minutes ago." My kids grinned at me, the cop apologized, and left with pink cheeks. I later told my kids that if I'd really had my wits about me, I would have reminded him that we do not yet live in a police state, and that even if they did attend school and even if school had been in session, it is my right to pull my kids out without his permission.
We went home with a little righteous pleasure, and also a little flustered and grumpy. I shared the story with many people, because I think I needed to feel validated. Am I doing the right thing?
This is why criticism hurts - because it digs at our convictions and makes us question them.We all want to feel the arms of our social support system around us, but I think that, although we know these experiences hurt, they also help us grow stronger. We need to question our convictions! We need to re-ask the questions we think we've already answered. Maybe one day it will be right for our kids to go to school, or to try the foods they've avoided for years, or to cut their hair and get a regular job. But meanwhile, one of the greatest lessons my kids are getting from being unschooled is that of diversity. They tread the waters between their schooled, homeschooled, half-schooled, and unschooled friends, of many different ages, interests, and backgrounds, and my kids have the benefit of learning earlier than many others that there is nothing unusual or threatening about this natural diversity. I love that!
I also love that in every ignorant question is an opportunity to teach somebody. In journeying down this little-traveled path, we have the privilege of being able to report back from the front; of forging the way for others, and of pulling down some of the hurdles before they get to them. We make mistakes and tell about them, so that others can feel reassured, and maybe both we and they can avoid some of the same pitfalls, later on. That feels really good.
When I was a little girl my teacher told my mother that I was "different". That was a death-knell for my self-esteem at the time, but I credit it for my courage, now. It also provided a bit of a cushion between my ego and the incessant threats and teasing I endured. I was put in the Special Needs Enrichment Program (later called the Challenge Program), which as far as I knew meant I just had a big learning problem. People told me I was smart, but all my report cards said I was not working up to my potential. When I was a teenager I actually asked my mother if I was, as we called it then, "mentally retarded". She couldn't understand why on earth I thought that. I have come out of my childhood with a slow-growing understanding that first of all, I am not stupid (this still amazes me), and that I am not even particularly "different". I found my many tribes, and a few close and treasured friends, and that too feels really good. I'm glad to pass this gift of experience on to my children, who are, themselves, different, both from every body else, from each other and from me.
So bring on the odd questions, assumptions and prejudices, World! We don't mind answering, and we'll try to do it with compassion, because sharing is wonderful.
And of course it sometimes hurts. But luckily it turns out that my kids are not sick of me, and my arms are waiting when the pain of ignorant criticism gets them down.