The guy I will never convince

I may have told this story before, but it’s one of my favorites.

I was taking a nonfiction writing class at Columbia, during grad school. It was a big deal for me, because it didn’t fit into anything related to the stuff I was officially studying. I had been pretty strict with myself up until then about focusing, but I really, really wanted to take a writing class.

It’s a good thing I took that class, because I met two amazing friends there, and now we have a writing group. But that’s not the story. That would be a sort of boring story.

So I was working on the memoir that I’m always sort of working on about homeschooling/unschooling, and some other girl had been an escort all through college, which is how she paid for Columbia, and some people were writing individual essays in which the words all sat in exactly the right places. I felt like I should figure out a way to include more sex in my story. But there wasn’t really any sex to include for a lot of  it, and when there was, it wasn’t very relevant to the plot.

And meanwhile, everyone was asking me about homeschooling and I was trying to clarify things. And this one guy, who was otherwise perfectly intelligent, kept asking me the most frustrating things.

“So was it just that your parents were social outcasts in high school?” he said, with a straight face.

I laughed aloud. Wait– was I supposed to answer that with a straight face? No, my parents were both popular in high school, especially my mom, as far as I can tell. And she was one of those super super pretty girls with the annoyingly perfect hair. I try not to judge her for her past :) Actually, if you think about it, frustrating boy in nonfiction class, if you went back in time and showed up at my parents’ high school, you would’ve probably fallen in love with and gotten totally rejected by my mom. WAIT. Maybe that already happened! That explains EVERYTHING.

Sorry. I get carried away.

I wrote chapter after chapter, trying to describe my life. I talked about socialization. I talked about the stereotypes people tried to slap on me and the ridiculous things people said to me. I talked about how much fun I had. And at the bottom of my last piece, the horrible frustrating guy wrote, “It’s really sad that your parents’ allowed you to live such an isolated, socially malnourished life.” He seemed to be trying to empathize, somehow. He didn’t seem like a mean person.

He had somehow missed the point, despite being in class with me for months. Despite reading some very personal details about my history.

And honestly, sometimes that’s what the world feels like to me, when I talk about homeschooling and unschooling.  I feel like I talk and talk, but sometimes there’s just no room in the conversation for something that seems so radical to people.

The Wall Street Journal publishes a piece about Montessori, and everyone gets excited about this daring educational alternative. Well, it IS a daring educational alternative! And there are also other ones. Some of them don’t even start with a big building. But sometimes I get the sense that the people who talk and write about education aren’t quite ready to have a real conversation about homeschooling, either because it’s simply TOO different, or because they’ve already dismissed it in their minds.

I went to an Ed Chat event (people who care about education get together and eat mozzarella sticks and talk about, well, education) at Lisa Nielsen’s place the other night, and a man there, who teaches high school, told me that he imagined homeschooling as a very rigid form of school-at-home. You know, desks and blackboard in the living room. And he imagined that the people doing it were always conservative Christians.

Those things are just not true. And when you read the New York Times, you can get a sense of that. Once in a while there’s one of those “look at this weird thing” pieces about homeschooling. But it’s important to reach beyond the New York Times. Not everyone reads it, anyway.

So I have to hope that if people, including myself, keep writing and talking about homeschooling, the conversation will be forced to expand. And for every frustrating guy who insists that I was abused by my parents, there will be two people who start to realize that I wasn’t.

The hard thing to accept for me is that that guy exists, and he will probably never be convinced.

24 comments to The guy I will never convince

  • Mary H.

    Just remember, “Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.” Dale Carnegie. It’s the quote that helps me deal with closed minded individuals. 😉

  • Oh, do I ever get what you’re talking about. There are some (incredibly frustrating) people who just *do not* and seemingly *will not* get it, no matter how many ways you explain things…

  • I enjoy your blog. My oldest son graduated from our homeschool and he hears the stereotypical questions all the time. Mostly, he gets the comment, “But you’re so cool – how could you have been homeschooled?” He just laughs.

    Mary

  • I have trouble getting the point across to people that I was homeschooled all of my life and am not socially different from any other normal person. I just have less scars.

  • Kristin

    I run into those frustrations. I homeschool my five-year-old and people just don’t get it. I have to take a marketing approach and, with enthusiasm, talk about our experiences and our exciting plans for the future. Then some people seem surprised and interested. But like every idea that’s “different” than the mainstream, it will take people A LONG TIME to get comfortable with the possibility that kids can learn more about the world by *not* going to a school everyday. No matter — I like being on the cutting edge of thought about children’s education. Someday we’ll be called pioneers. 😉

  • Mere

    I have to say that I have a completely different experience. There might be a couple of those questions but generally people see how our school systems are failing a lot of our children and how much potential homeschooling has. Of course I do have to reassure some that the children get to “socialise” with others but when you present all of the positives there isn’t really much room for negative rebuttals…I mean seriously…lower ratios, individual educational plans, less hours doing more, seeing REAL life, meeting real people, parents who are so committed to their children and their educations that they would sacrifice career, extra income, sanity alone time…we could all go on forever I am sure. :-) We will always get the ONE who is closed minded but I think that there are many more that actually think it’s great, regardless of whether they are doing it or not. Maybe that ONE keeps us honest and on our toes. And I’m always up for a good “discussion” every now and then. 😉

    • kate

      Yup! That’s mostly what I get these days, too, as someone who was homeschooled.

      But when I talk about homeschooling as an education writer it’s different than talking as a homeschooler, one on one with someone who was not a homeschooler. When I write about homeschooling in a bigger forum, the response is mostly negative most of the time.

      And it also depends a lot, I think, on where you live and who you run into.

      I wish it was the case that most people could see how reasonable the argument you make for homeschooling is. But most people put their kids in school without thinking there’s any other way to do it. And most people do not like to be told that there might be something wrong with what they’re doing. I don’t ever remember telling someone that they were wrong to put their kids in school, but my presence alone has on occasion caused people to feel defensive about their choices.

      • Mere

        (sorry for the late reply..I know you have moved on to other posts!) I just wanted to say that you are so right..I imagine that people in the forum that you are talking about it with would be a lot more critical and analytical for the sake of it, compared with a chat between two (or more) people in a relaxed environment. But I think that you are a great person to be having those conversations with if your blog posts are anything to go by. Positive, well informed, educated and very clear and simple are just a few of the ways I would describe your posts. You are a “regular” person (if there is such a thing) representing us and I for one am more than happy with the perception of home-schooling that you put forward. We only need to promote our positives, people can see for themselves the public school negatives. Keep on with what you are doing cos you are doing a great job. :-)

  • Leslie

    Very timely for me! Just today, I took the girls with me to the school board elections. As I was signing my name on the ballot, the woman asked the typical question: “Is it a day off of school today?????”. My answer to this is usually a perky “No, we homeschool!” (read “isn’t that GREAT!?!???!!!! as the subtext of my words and my body language). Most of the time the response is pretty positive. Today, I could tell the woman was barely trying to hide her disgust. Ick. Not much I can do for her. So, I just proudly continued my merry civic duty way (to go along with the civic “lesson” for my girls).

  • Beverly

    Don’t bother beating your head against the wall of ignorant people out there. You make far more headway cultivating the agreeable. I say this as a physically disabled individual who has married, had a child, held a job, kept up a house, and driven a car, much to the amazement of a great many people who believe that being in a wheelchair makes you a neuter, helpless, welfare case.

  • Claire Allison

    I think the only way people come around to ideas they have a knee-jerk response to is if they have a personal experience that refutes it. So, maybe some day that guy will have a kid, put him or her in the system and learn what it`s like to be a parent with a kid in the traditional system, and learn of the frustrations it creates for people. Or maybe his kids will do fine. I think those people can come around- but their lives have to reflect the need for that change before they open up to a `radical` change.

  • I love homeschooling our two boys, and have almost exclusively positive comments come our way. The two exceptions are: “What about socialization?” and “I could never spend all day with my kids. I would go crazy.” I empathize with those concerns, and then we move on, usually to genuine interest and admiration.

    I’ve actually found that the most negative comments tend to come from homeschoolers, about families who chose to put their kids in school. Really, I often sense a tremendous amount of judgement toward parents who continue with traditional schooling options. If people react defensively to us, I wonder if we are not giving them reason to.

  • Let me add to that last comment. I know that there will always be the bonehead who has it out for homeschooling. (It sounds like the guy in your writing class was just that sort of guy.) I’m just suggesting that we might be more inviting if checked our own judgements.

  • Years ago, when we first started home educating, someone told me that I was too normal. She was convinced that everyone who chose this path was either a religious fanatic or a hippie living in a bus at the side of the road. “What makes you think I’m not?” I responded.

  • I am a homeschooling mother of 4. I took my kids to a (different) pediatrician the other day because ours was busy. It was less appointment & more an inquisition as to how my children are “normal” (her word) since they “are isolated” (also her words). We will not be going back to that doc again. I didn’t even feel the need to try to convince her that my children have friends & are definitely NOT normal. Ha!
    Don’t beat your head against the wall for the few that are already closed-off to homeschooling. Just be glad that an ever growing number of people are doing it (&/or supporting it).

  • Yeah, I know those types. I have a two year old, but already I get asked what special occasion has us at the park or the store mid-morning. Apparently, he should already be handed over to the nearest preschool…

    I once took him to an attachment parenting bookclub meeting among a bunch of other women and their toddlers. We had read a book on the importance of imaginative play, but ended up spending the entire hour and a half debating schooling vs. homeschooling. (and we werent even talking about UNSCHOOLING!) I was homeschooled myself, and after listening quietly for nearly an hour, I could finally take it no more. Oh the bashing of homeschoolers social skills, intelligence, productivity, futures, ect… that they had already let loose. They were rather stunned to learn that I had been homeschooled, excelled in academics, athletics, was happily married, and chose to stay at home with my child (an option some of these women claimed they didn’t even have). Not to mention, I planned to homeschool my own child. Gasp!

    Needless to say, we weren’t invited back to the next meeting. *sigh* And they talk about homeschoolers not being socialized!

  • shevrae

    My husband has become quite a source of amazement at his job – people keep coming up to him and saying things like, “So and so told me your wife stays home and teaches the kids. They don’t go to school? How does that work?” So he explains the general idea they ask more questions and by the end of the conversation most people say they think it’s a really great idea. Except for the one woman who is convinced that he keeps me chained up here – but she just makes us laugh. :)

  • Jen

    I so needed to read this today so that I know it’s not just me and I’m not crazy. While I am involved in some homeschool circles, I am still mainly socializing with friends who are going the school route. It doesn’t seem to matter what I say… they don’t want to understand. They could never imagine themselves making such a radical choice even though they are mostly miserable in their current situations. They say that their kids beg to homeschool but they tell them there is no way that is going to happen. Then they load up on more enrichment, or try to school-at-home after their kid’s full day of school and end up feeling frustrated. I try to gently suggest that it might not need to be so hard, that I understand it seems like a difficult leap, but really all we are doing is living life and following our interests.

    I’m looking forward to reading your memoir someday. I have to believe that the tide is slowly turning and people will eventually be able to understand that there is another way.

  • I think you will run into more of these types in a college class (at Columbia no less) than in the broader world. I grew up in a rural part of New Jersey like the one you describe as your hometown and also was educated on the east coast. I used to run into more inflexible thinking about education among my college educated friends there than I do here in California where I am raising my kids (unschooling them).

    We rarely have anyone say anything disparaging about how we live our lives. Most comments are polite and range from “you’re so lucky.” to “I wish my parents would let me…” From where I stand the homeschoolers I know are out in the world having full lives whereas the schooled around me are somewhat isolated (into classrooms all day) and limited because of time constraints imposed by homework, and the limited time of their busy parents who are working hard. Not all of them but most don’t seem to have as much time as they would like to pursue passions, interests and even skills they might want to develop unless those skills conveniently fall into the realm of an existing program (like….cheer or football for example).

    That said, I don’t know many homeschoolers who are denied the kinds of extracurricular opportunities school kids have. Most choose more exciting options because their choices are so much broader. I am not disparaging cheer and football by the way. I actually know an unschooler who plays football and loves it and my two daughters spent a year on a junior cheer team that competed nationally but then the next year decided to do other things with their time. Sorry, my ramble has taken almost as much space as your original article.

    Keep it coming, I am very much enjoying your writing and your grown unschooler perspective. I hope to see that memoir of yours in print someday soon.

    warmly
    Krisula Moyer

  • Kels

    The image of desk and a chalkboard in the living makes me laugh. Early in my parents homeschooling adventures they bought school desks at an auction for my siblings and I. What I don’t remember is every using the desk it to do school work at. The kitchen table had so much more space. The desk did come in handy for when ever we decided to play school. Though at this time of my life most of my information about “regular school” came from Anne of Green Gables and Laura Ingalls Wilder. We had a chalkboard too, that , which ended up in the garage. We used to leave messages on it in Morris code for each other and riddles to solve.

  • Val

    Yes, I think you hit it square: No room in the conversation for something that seems so radical.

    On the radio today, James and I were listening to something on NPR about a family who had adopted a black child and the comments the siblings were subjected to……drumroll, please….

    At school.

    I really, really wonder a lot of things about school and the suffering brought about by that place.

    What is it with the personal remarks and lack of manners, and good golly, all of it? Most of the teachers try, I realize, and yet how can one teacher adequately supervise and instruct 25 kids? She cannot. Impossible.

    Why would anyone want their kid to spend their childhood at school? Time for bed. love, Val

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