Sunday, December 06, 2009


I was at a party tonight. It was a craft thing. I was sitting next to a woman who, when she heard that I homeschool, had this to say.

Challengingly: "Oh, so you don't send them to real school."

Well, no.

"How old are they?"

Eight and five.

"Oh, five, so she's not in school then."

Yes, she's in Kindergarten, we homeschool.

Dismissively: "Kindergarten! Hmph. Homeschool kindergarten. So you don't send her to real school, like."

Pause...No, we do kindergarten at home.

"I don't know what you'd do for kindergarten at home."

Well, you'd be surprised. The ministry likes it, anyway.

"I don't approve, as you can see. [I'm thinking, of kindergarten? of the ministry?] I'm an old schoolteacher from way back. [Oh. Of homeschool.] And here's why. It's the socialisation, you see. Those children, those home children, when they go to real school they don't know how to behave. Ask any teacher, they'll tell you those children who are kept at home..."they don't know how to play", they'll say, when they go to real school."

Feeling my face turn red as my needle-felting increases in speed and ferocity.

I didn't make a verbal response. There were so many things to choose from. I could have gone with any of these.

1. I'm interested in your definition of socialisation. Do you mean that my children will not be aware of the proper pecking order among a barely-supervised and potentially harmful gang of 30 children, all the same age? Because Thank God.

2. When you say "don't know how to play", I'm wondering whether you mean that a child who is put in a concrete box to do worksheets for six hours a day, and periodically released to run among 75 or 100 other 6-9 year olds on large, plastic, specially-built gym structures...that this child knows how to play? And that my child, whose time is largely her own and is expected to fill it with reading, games, puzzles, outside explorations, conversations with her family and friends of various ages - and yes, TV - doesn't know how to......what? have fun? Get all the way across the monkeybars? Or, do you mean that she doesn't know how to manage the dynamic of love-hate friendship politics, rule following, and peer aggression on the playground? See item 1.

3. Homeschooled or not, my children are obviously far better socialised than you are, since neither of them would dream of saying something so rude to a total stranger at a party.

4. Get back, bitch.

But I said nothing because I realised something she didn't: that I was at a Christmas party, in someone else's house, making a felted angel and polite conversation with people who weren't sure of my first name. So I smiled at someone else, willed the angry flush away, and took the high road.

I had plenty of time to think about this exchange during the couple of hours I was there. I didn't have much to say...I was in a new place with a new group of people, after all. I wasn't there to be a loudmouth, to defend my family choices, or to proselytise for alternative education. It certainly wouldn't be me who made the hostess feel awkward and uncomfortable by holding a hostile and defensive conversation at her Christmas party.

I thought about my own experience at school. I remembered how often I dodged into the K-1 cloakroom or the girls' bathroom, or the dark and deserted equipment room, to avoid someone mean, whose voice I could hear coming down the hall. I remembered days of boredom and repetition. I remembered certain years, certain grades when I didn't think I'd make it out alive, and others marked by happy friendships....well, friendships I remember as being happy.

I went through the system, and I came out of it okay. I'd say, though, that I got educated despite school, rather than because of it.

Not that it didn't teach me a few things. It taught me to fear the disapproval of others. It taught me that if a perceived authority figure questions my choices, I probably made a serious mistake. It taught me all kinds of interesting things about how wrong I look, how unacceptable I am physically, and that my role as a female is largely concerned with escaping the notice of predators. The list of things I learned that I am no good at.....well, let's just say it's long.

A lot of my life afterwards has been about recovery. Many of the choices I make now, as a parent, are about protecting my children from that early harm which I feel left permanent marks on me. My choices for their education are a reflection of my philosophy, and all the things I've learned and taught in the last 30 years.

I sat there tonight, quietly listening to bits of other conversations, and doing my felted angel craft. I started with two pipe cleaners, the same as everyone else, and hunted through the shared bag of coloured wool to make the body and robe of my angel.

The only one with purple butterfly wings.

The only one with black hair.

The only one with brown skin.

The only one that was completely different.


mel said...


I was a public-schooled kid. Almost every home-schooled person I've met has been so well adjusted - so much so as to make me wonder if I'll ever get there. Maybe I've just met really exceptional individuals, but I tend to think there's something to it.

Alison said...

Now I need to turn the comment you left me a while back straight back round,and say, "thank you for posting this, I feel a real connection with you now". It sounds like my school experiences were very similar to yours, and the results, too. And, if I'm being honest, I think a large part of why I don't want children is the way children treated me - and the way I would worry about how they were treating my child. I don't think it's gotten any easier in the last 25 years.

Oh - and I love your angel. She gives me an immediate, visceral sense of warmth, comfort and welcome.

Ames said...

The whole "socialization" issue is so ludicrous on so many levels, it is just insane.

Yea, sure, I'll send my kid to a "real" school so she can learn to "socialize". She'll be a semi-literate, but, darn it, she'll know how to socialize.

Geez, you were far more gracious than I would have been.

I would tend to pay better attention to the naysayers if they had a legitimate concern. For example, "No home-schooler I ever met could read."

Ames said...

p.s. the angel is gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

I think it's great you took the high road and didn't feel the need to try to explain to her that every parent has the right to have their child educated the best way for them and their family - good for you! Besides....I'm quite sure you were never even seeking her "approval" in the first place!

Geek Knitter said...

I'd have leaned towards option 4... and then taken the high road. I think as long as your kids love learning they're going to be a leg up on a lot of others.

Are they happy? Then carry on (not that you need my approval).

Love your angel!

Valerie said...

Shan, I would love to have a cuppa tea with you! Was blown away by your statement: "my role as a female is largely concerned with escaping the notice of predators"...a line that could be a premise for an entire novel. Oh wait...Margaret Atwood did that in Catseye.

I love your angel and am sure the hostess will love to have you back. As for the other lady...meh.

lizbon said...

I'd like to leave a really thoughtful and erudite comment, but all I can think of is Amen.

And I wish I'd been there to back you up. (Though I'd have had a hard time holding my tongue.)

Dave Hingsburger said...


I think I had that teacher in school, she was the kind that was annoyed by creativity and was startled by insight. Socialization ... does that have the same number of letters as victimization ... oh it does, how odd.

kate said...

We have had enough conversations on education that we understand each other, I think, and the choices we each make on educating our children.

I want to say instead .... I truly love your angel.

Michelle said...

I don't comment often, but I feel compelled to chime in here and say good for you for being the polite one. She's probably also the type to say things like "Are these all yours?", "You're not going to have any more, are you?", and "I liked your hair better before you cut it all off". No way would you have changed her mind, and she would likely have just gotten louder and more obnoxious.

Gena said...

It sounds like we shared the same educational experience. I worry about my own future kids having to deal with all the socialization problems I had in school.

Good for you for taking the high road and for doing what's best for your own children.

Wendy said...

Loved your post Shannon! Wow, I can't believe the nerve of some people. I admire you for taking the high road, as I don't think I would have been able to.

Jadekitty said...

As a home-schooled child, I am very happy that my parents spared me a public education. Thank you for thinking of your children :)

Terri said...

Good for you! I have been dealing with the homeschool questions for 11 years now. Does not seem to matter that my two oldest are in college. One of them a college that any traditionally schooled child would give up a limb to attend. Somehow it is still not good enough for people.

Keep wearing your purple wings and know that you are doing the right thing.

Tabatha said...

You are awesome! I took the low road the other day and I feel not so great about it now whereas you have the confidence of knowing you did the right thing.

Good post!

Gwen said...

Thanks for this.

faerie finder said...

im so sorry that person was horrible!!!!!!
you should have told her:
"i keep them home to save
them from people like YOU!"

i too spent a few years ducking into
the bathroom and pulling my feet
up onto the seat to avoid lunchtime
horrors. school is flat out unbearable.
its bad enough with the kids.. but then
you have teachers like that woman who
make it even worse!

i love your angel
you should have tacked it to her head.
wait no, shes not worth it :)

Jenny said...

I can't believe some people!
I didn't have a negative experience going to a public school. I actually loved school. My boys go to public school and are loving it as well. With that being said, I think it boils down to what YOU as a parent want to do for your child. It's not my place to tell you what you should be doing. I've seen in the public school system children falling through the cracks and that is awful. Luckily we haven't had to face any of these issues...otherwise I'd rethink their education plan. I know I'd never have the patience or skill to homeschool my kids. You should be applauded for taking the time and effort in doing son!

Stace' said...

On just about every report card I received as a kid, the teacher would comment "Please inform Stacey that school isn't the appropriate place to socialize". So, which is it?

This is now my canned response to the argument. It's a show stopper.

Annalea said...

Everything I've typed so far feels stilted and formal. You're just one of the neatest, and most thoughtful, women I've had the good fortune to run into. Thanks so much for today's post. :o)

--Annalea, a fellow recover-er.