I've had a lot of mail and comments about my last post. It's been amazing...thank you so much for that.
I had an email exchange with someone yesterday, prompted by "Carborundum", and it led me to think more deeply about children's experience in traditional school. Normally I wouldn't carry on about any subject two days in a row, but in this case there really is more to say.
Often (like, very often), when people confront me about socialisation, they say things like “kids have to know how to deal with bullies...if they are never exposed to bullying and negative situations like that, they won’t be used to it.”
I always wonder whether they are even hearing themselves. “Getting used to bullies”, translated, is “suffer through it, and learn to avoid them”. What kind of society do we have, when we willingly and daily expose our children to damage, just so that they get used to being exposed to damage?
Because it serves no other end – once school is over, the need to tolerate bullies is obsolete. If it comes up in the workplace, it’s called “harassment” and it’s illegal. On the street from a stranger, it’s called “assault” and it’s illegal. In your home from your partner it’s called “domestic violence” and....it’s illegal.
A 6-year-old girl comes home from Grade One in tears. Mean boy is bothering her. Next morning, she has a stomach ache. Mom says, "You can't just stay home - you've got to learn to deal with it." A month later, girl is throwing up every morning and crying all the way to school. Mom says "I told her to ignore him - he's only doing it for attention. [Laughing] I told her it's the way boys show they like you. Anyway I talked to her teacher: she's going to try to put them into different groups." Two years later, the girl is 8. The boy is still in her class. He hasn't changed, but she doesn't complain about him much anymore. She has started odd behaviours, though: mostly playing her girl friends off against one another, and pushing some of the younger kids around.
A 7-year-old boy with a life-threatening anaphylactic peanut allergy is on the playground at lunch. A group of older boys approach, hands in pockets. They pull their hands out and begin to throw pebbles at him, yelling at him that what they are throwing are peanuts. "You're gonna die!!" The boy's friend, panicked, tries to block the 'peanuts' with his body, crying to his friend "RUN!" The principal, when notified, advises that he avoid those boys in future. Later that year, there is a girl who has never liked the boy. Her parents think "peanut-free" infringes on their child's rights. They send peanut butter to school with her. She walks down the hallway outside his classroom after lunch, with her PB-smeared fingers trailing along the wall.
Five years and many incidents later, the parents decide to homeschool the child for his own safety. Now he's 13 years old. It has been 18 months since he was removed from that school. He still remembers, with an edge of panic, that day with the pebbles.
Mr HalfSoledBoots and I are walking downtown in Victoria. We are on a crosswalk when an SUV nearly hits us. It passes so close that Mr HSB reaches out and slaps his hand, hard, on the back window. The SUV screeches to a halt. Five young men pour out of it. One of them, huge and staring, shoves my husband into a parking meter while roaring a stream of profanity. He rears back, fists clenched, and spits into my husband's face. His friends pull him away and they take off.
A cyclist walks up to us, leading his bike. "I saw the whole thing," he says. "Next time try not to get in their way."
No. He says "I've called the police. I'll be your witness."
The young man is charged with assault. We identify him in a photo lineup. He goes before a judge.
My friend, aged 25. Married to a bully. A year or so after the wedding, he starts to push her around. Nothing major at first. (The punching comes later.) She tells me about it. What is my response?
"I guess he must really like you."
"He's just trying to get a reaction."
"Don't give him the satisfaction."
"Stay out of his way."
"Try not to be alone with him."
What makes school the exception? Why don't the rules apply there, too? We tell toddlers to respect others, not to snatch, not to yell, not to hit, not to make mean faces. Adults are expected to know that. But in a school? ignore them. Next year they'll move to middle school. Try to stay near the teacher. They're just trying to get a rise out of you. Don't go out of sight of the playground monitor. Stay together.
As a parent who has chosen alternative education, the burden of proof is on me. People want evidence, constantly, that homeschool is effective. I have to prove that my kids are just as good at math as their mainstream peers. I have to prove that they can speak articulately, print neatly, make eye contact, and are getting at least 20 minutes of exercise per day. I am expected to be proud and relieved (and the worst part is I am proud and relieved) when someone gives me a surprised compliment: "Oh my goodness! Your kids are so well-behaved!" Or once, at a party, after several minutes spent quizzing her (I was not present): "Your little girl already knows all her colours...good job."
I want the burden of proof to be on the mainstream for a change. I want proof that children in their system are well socialised. I'd like schools to have to prove that their environment is loving, supportive, intolerant of violence and hatred. And that the people coming out of it are articulate, polite, egalitarian, responsible, thoughtful, erudite, and well-rounded.
I want the public system to prove, using real, valuable benchmarks, and real, concrete, personal examples, that it is worthy of being given your children for 30 hours a week.
I suspect I'll be waiting a while.