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."
"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.