Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Get (Ab)used to it.

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Because it serves no other end – once school is over, the need to tolerate bullies is obsolete.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?
"Ignore him."
"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.


Wendy said...

Wow, Shannon, I don't know what to say - except that right now I am crying and agreeing with everything you have said.

April W said...

Some people are so assinine. Your story about the peanuts reminds me of something that happened when my husband and I went home this past summer. My step-daughter is very sensitive to sugar. She used to have very bad emotional problems and got sick quite frequently. We took her completely off sugar and low and behold she calmed right down. She started being able to control her emotions and even her color improved. When we went home, everybody tried to give her sugar. Even when we told them in advance. I was saying to one of my close relatives how upset I was getting that people weren't respecting our wishes as parents and was told that I was being unreasonable. "What if she was diabetic?" I asked. "Well then, you would just have to give her a pill or something. People can't be expected to inconvenience themselves like that." What? Really? My daughter should have to take a pill, with all the side effects that come with it, so you won't be saddled with the responsiblity of respecting a parent's wishes? Douchebag.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Shannon, this is brilliant, in my work I want to make it so that organizations that care for people with disabilities must PROVE they are safe havens, safe places. I love the dealing with bullies is obsolete after school because after school - they become criminal.

Kristine said...

SO f-ing well said. Robb and I talk more and more about the real possibility of homeschooling Lucy; it's a ways off in the future, and I don't know how we'll make it work if I can't stop working entirely, but I think of everything I went through in school, and I am just not willing to put my sensitive, beautiful little girl through all of that.

Cynthia said...

Oh, so true. Makes me wish I was homeschooling.

mel said...

I don't love the reason why you are so fired up (I'm behind you, 100%) and I don't love thinking about you being so frustrated... But I love what you do when you're impassioned. You write brilliantly and you make us think and you make us care (if we weren't/didn't already). That's an enormous talent, Shan. In addition to making you one kick-ass mom.

Emily said...

Amen, lady. Your story of the interaction you had forced upon you at the crafting party literally left me with my mouth hanging open in outrage, and you just articulated so well (a few of) the problems with her attitude.

You know, I'm continually dumbfounded at how convinced people are that a)they're 100% right, and b)other people are interested in what they have to say. I was just talking to a friend of mine with a hyphenated surname, who says that people confront her about it all the time. Freak out at her about how inconvenient and impractical it is/would be to have a hyphenated last name. Tell her they would never hyphenate, if they had kids. WHY DOES IT EVEN OCCUR TO YOU TO SHARE THIS? So rude, and so irrelevant!

Gena said...

You make such great points. Most of my family members are teachers here in the States. They constantly complain about the out-of-control children, their inability to discipline children, and in some cases, the ruling to not give out homework.

But there is very little that can be done, for fear of the reaction from parents. So the kids who really want to learn must suffer because of the teachers' fear of reactions from the parents of the kids who don't want to learn.

And yet you have to prove that your kids are getting a good education outside of the system. Go figure.

Stace' said...

If all things were equal in the school environ, then "the other side" would have valid arguments. The reality is that the institution simply doesn't remotely represent the "adult world". The goal is to raise adults. Period!!!

karen said...

Well said Shan!
You know that I agree on all of it and more. Another important thing is the pure act of giving another person their time. Time to learn everything. Tolerance, compassion, sharing as well as all of the rudiments of academic skills. I learned this lesson well from my dear Grandmother. She invested time in me, teaching me more than I could ever hope to learn from a course or a book.The time that is invested in each of us, by someone who loves us, is priceless. That is one of the reasons that homeschooling was such a natural choice for me.Your thoughts, your examples, your challenge to the exisiting public system- dead on!

clumsy ox said...

I'm with Uncle Dave: this is pure brilliance.

Anonymous said...

Wow, powerful and true....Wish I was in the position to homeschool...Public schools really are very lax in lots of ways...especially with bullies....

Baba Yaga said...

very well said.

In any event, people who have been subject to systematic bullying in childhood seem to cope cope less well with bullies later on than those who haven't. Being bullied does *not* improve anyone's copeability.