My dear friend Beth Garrigus, who now lives in the Southwest, used to say that living lies in the conflict. I thought she was nuts: why would one seek out conflict? Given that Beth is one of the least conflict-inducing people I know, after a bit of reflection I saw that she meant that personal growth comes from confronting an existing conflict; knowing how to bear witness to conflict with an open heart and mind.; being able to hold a safe and sacred space for those who are rubbing against each other, knowing that a peaceful mutually satisfying solution can exist.
I have another friend who believes that no person should ever offend another person, and I am married to a man who believes that no person should ever take offense because of another person. I believe the truth lies in the middle: people who feel strongly about their beliefs can feel free to express them, but express those beliefs without judgement of those who believe differently; people who feel they are being attacked can take a moment to center themselves and determine what their own truth is and move from conviction of that truth or compassion for the different point of view. It can be exceedingly difficult to stay in a place of stillness when one feels attacked or when one feels the need to zealously promote.
I tend to be a promoter (bet you guessed already!) and I need to be careful that I don’t run people over with my passion and excitement. Homeschoolers can be passionate independent people, but sometimes we’re as independent as adolescents: we want a gang to be different with us; we want safety in a least a few others being on board. Hence we develop an us vs. them mentality: we’ll only hang out with people who eat macrobiotically, wear hemp clothes and only watch CBS Sunday morning on TV. We get excited when someone else shares our convictions and we close ourselves off. And then the most poisonous thought of all creeps in: if we stick to these basic beliefs our children will turn out right, they will be protected from the evils wrought by those who do not adhere to our beliefs.
Over the years I have been on the receiving end of such zealotry and I have had my zealot moments as well, but I learned my lesson early. I won’t share my first lesson in “my child will never…”, because it’s not polite conversation, so I’ll share the next time I couldn’t help myself. I was sitting at Hochstein and I watched a mom help her son unload a bass violin at the front door for his lesson. I said to the mommy next to me, “I’d never let my kids get into an instrument that was so expensive and difficult to move around.” So now (I swear it’s because I said “never let my kid”) Elsa plays the harp. Costly and unwieldy, but beautiful.
I also banned Barbies from my home (which made my mother-in-law desperate to buy my girls Barbies). Where do you think the first Barbie came from? At Elsa’s third birthday party, a homeschooler gave her a TEACHER Barbie of all things. This is what I have come to call “contamination”: your child picks up a toy, a habit, a desire, from a child in another family. Now that Maggie and Elsa are in their teens we have been contaminated and have done our share of contamination many times over. (Just a couple of weeks ago I, yes the adult me, turned two 13-year-olds onto the TV show Project Runway. Oh well.) Once we were contaminated with the Barbie bug, we had a Barbie plague which continued until quite recently.
However, what I have learned over the years is that none of the worries about the “right” way to raise a child or keeping certain things away from our children matter. When it comes to keeping our children on the path to becoming the most they can be, we need only two things: comfort with ourselves and the RAHA vision statement. In it are these words: “We are deeply devoted to our children and believe that their growth is best fostered in a child-led, rather than curriculum-driven, learning environment that is centered in the home and reaches out to explore the world around us.”
When we are comfortable with ourselves and the choices we make for our family, another family’s child or choices cannot be perceived as threatening to us. When we are deeply devoted to our children, they know they can ask us for whatever they need, and that we will help them fulfill that need in ways that are appropriate for them and our family. Because we are centered in the home and reach out to the world, we know that we can taste things that are new or alien and return to the sanctuary of our living space to renew and rejuvenate as needed.
I have learned to let my children show me what they need. For a while it was Barbies and dress-up clothes, then for a while it was the thought of cosmetology school, and then for another while it was how to get to a PhD in psychology. My daughters are social scientists and the world is their laboratory.
So I don’t take offense if another family questions my choices; I know they’ll be challenged by their kids, too. I don’t expect anyone to take offense at my choices: when I follow my kids’ dreams it is no reflection on what another family needs to do to follow their kids’ dreams.
Go forth and be the homeschoolers your family needs you to be. Take no offense at the homeschooling choices made by other families. Find the joy of living the life you were meant to live. And, be comfortable knowing that by going against the established norms you are creating waves of conflict. Be willing to sit with those whom you have agitated. Be a model of compassion and conduct civil discourse, but don’t be an apologist for your truth. Those waves of conflict will compel the educational tide to turn someday and embrace child-led learning instead of standardized cookie-cutter curricula. Stir things up and enjoy all of the different flavors homeschooling families can brew!