Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Warning: Do Not Feed The Bears

Emily's been griping. Waaah, waaah, why aren't you posting, waaaaah...

Well, I'll tell you, World Wide Web.

It's because I've been sick. Sick and stressed. Sick and stressed and sucked dry of any shred of creative impulse.

But I'm back.

Here's today's thought: What Not To Say To Children You Meet Who Are Homeschooled

How do I know? Well, my childhood ran the gamut of educational opportunities in midwest America towards the end of the twentieth century. I went to public school for kindergarten, was homeschooled for several years, and went to high school in a small Christian school.

I'd like to focus on the homeschooling years. Now, this was a couple decades ago, before A) parents blogged about homeschooling quicker than you can blink, and B) before everybody knew that lots of normal people did it. That sounds a bit perverse, but I don't mean it that way. By "it," I mean homeschooling. Not...

Anyway, so here I am, my cute little Kool-Aid moustached self, skipping along the sidewalks of my small hometown. These were the days when The Smurfs were on TV, when Reagan was the nation's Grandpa, and when large plastic jewelry was stylish.

But grown-up's I'd been taught to respect, and I did, at least outwardly. But over the years I developed some disdain for grown-up's who asked stupid questions. It ended up feeling like Other People's Parents were viewing you like an animal in the zoo, with a large sign proclaiming "Warning: Do Not Feed The Bears" hung on the bars of the cage.

They peered down at you with poorly disguised curiosity, smiled too widely, and said things like the following.

"How do you like being homeschooled?"

My inner self raised eyebrows at this. What grown up would ask this? Let me tell you something. I liked being homeschooled. It's possible I would've liked public school, I don't know. But I knew, even then, that this was a Foolish Adult I Would Disdain. Why? Because first, they're assuming you have something with which to compare it. Second, they often asked this in the presence of other adults, sometimes my parents. Even if I hadn't liked it - and I did - what did they expect me to say? And third, it made me feel different from other kids, like I had the chicken pox when everyone else didn't, or something, instead of what I was: the same as most kids. Overall, I was a bright kid who didn't miss the motive behind the question when it was asked. Why didn't they ask what my favorite subject was, like they would've asked other kids? Lack of imagination, I suppose.

"Do you have friends you play with?"

Now...I'm speechless. If I'd been more bold, less respectful, and more comfortable with my burgeoning sense of sarcasm, I would've pulled a sad face and said, "no...there's no one to play with. And you know what else? I'm socially awkward and stunted, too, just like homeschooling critics worry. In fact, I haven't played with another child since I was four. Not even my little brother, who's homeschooled too. We have imaginary friends, and some day we'll turn into serial killers."

Once again, the thinly veiled motives behind the question were all too apparent on the faces of the adults who thought they were being subtle. But, being the respectful bugger I was, instead, I had to answer with longsuffering. "Yes, I have friends. And there are kids at church." Or, "Yes, I have friends. I'm also in softball and the community youth choir."

But even when the adults were impressed with how well educated I was, sometimes that led to awkward conversations in which they complimented me. At least they were complimenting me, but what does a ten year old say when someone says, "wow, you're really articulate." "Uh...thanks?"

So next time you meet a homeschooled kid, do the world a favor: remember that all kids are kids, except maybe those weird rocket science ones who win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. But mostly, you won't meet Spelling Bee winners. You can bet your blue suede boots that most homeschooled kids are that: kids. They may be bright, or they may be particularly independent; they may show surprising comfort blurring generational lines, or they may be surprisingly well behaved; but kids are kids. Ask what subjects they like, what their favorite movie is, if they have a sport or hobby or pets or an activity.

You know. Normal kid stuff.

I swear we don't bite.


Bob said...

No, you don't bite. You get other little kids to bite for you so you can come inside because you didn't want to play outside! We raised a Machiavellian! love you--daddy

Grateful for Grace said...

Ok, first of all... your daddy posted a comment! How much does that ROCK??!

Great post. I love it. I can't tell you how many times my kiddos have heard this or similar questions. Truly irks me.

Gillie said...

Thanks for the post- I loved it! I am currently warming up to the idea of homeschooling- mostly because I live in a state with a very sad educational system. I find that there are many people with low opinions of home schooled kids, but I've met so many smart women on the internet that are surely doing great job. Thankfully, I have a few years before any major decisions have to be made, since my son is not yet 1 year old! So much to look forward to....