Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Individual Paths (An Opinion Post)

A few weeks ago, Susan wrote this post.  I have thought about it and re-read it several times.

Homeschooling is not the norm.  Homeschooling is not something most people do.  Most kids go to some sort of formal school.  Homeschooling is a risk.  We are taking our children's education into our own hands.  The power and the importance of this is not lost on most homeschool parents.  We realize the danger of doing things differently, but we also believe that the outcome is worth it.  What is true in the rest of life, is true in homeschooling: the greater the risk, the greater the reward.

"Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do."
~ Steve Jobs

Homeschool parents believe that allowing our children to learn at their own pace, in their own time about what they are interested will provide lifelong learners.  This type of innovative learning will prepare children for a changing world.  Homeschool parents have an emotional attachment to their students, they want them to succeed and they know what each and every one of them are struggling with, what each and every one of them excel at and what each and every one of them are passionate about.

Since homeschooling is not the norm, it can be daunting.  It can be scary.  We love our children and we want the best for them and we believe with all of our hearts and minds and souls that homeschooling IS best for them.  But...we are part of a larger picture...we are part of a society and we know that our children have to function in that society and we want to make sure that they are prepared.  And so we compare.  We compare ourselves to other homeschool parents.  We compare our kids to other homeschool kids.  We compare our homeschools to school.  It's natural, it's normal...it's human nature.  What we need to realize and remember though, is that if we are truly celebrating and reveling in our individuality, if we are to truly do this, we need to stop comparing.  We need to look inside ourselves.  It's scary and it's not easy.  But it's worth it if you are on this journey.

Sometimes I think homeschool blogging is unhealthy for me.  Reading about what another family does and how they do it confuses me or makes me start comparing myself or my family to them and their family; it makes me question how we do things.

We can listen to what others are saying and doing.  I can listen to my father-in-law go on and on about how my girls should be in sports and all the benefits of sports, or I can acknowledge that my girls have tried every single sport open to them (softball, soccer, tennis, skating, swimming, bowling...) and that they would rather spend their time reading, drawing, sewing and writing and performing plays with their friends.  The sports-oriented people are not wrong and we are not wrong, we are just different.  Individuals.  I don't want to push my girls to do something just because someone else says it is the BEST thing for them; I want my girls to follow their own path.

I can internalize that another family spends all of their free time and energy on their children's interests and activities and feel that I fall short because I work outside the home, because I blog, because I enjoy photography and learning about SEO and web design.  Or, like Susan said, I can acknowledge "If we follow our own passions, if we take the time to do what we love and share that process with our kids, we show them by example what life-long learning looks like."  Both my family and the family who spends their every waking hour on their children's interests are getting what they need.  We are both getting the experience that is necessary for us on this journey.  It's as individual and unique as each of us.  Our family spends a lot of time hiking or exploring historic sites or arboretums and gardens or museums and taking photos.  Jason and my passion has inspired a passion in our children.  They now have their own DSLR cameras and experiment with settings, lenses, etc.  Would they be better served doing Destination Imagination or music lessons or forensic science because that is what another homeschool family is doing?  Not necessarily.  Would the other family be better served doing what we are doing?  Probably not. We are all on our own unique, individual path.  If a blogger asserts that what they are doing is the best thing to do and what everyone should do, I leave them alone.  They aren't raising my children and they don't know what is best for my family.  Just as homeschooling may not be right for every family, unschooling may not be right for every homeschool family, classical education may not be the right fit for every family...as homeschool bloggers and parents we need to be open-minded to other families just as we want people to be open to the idea that we homeschool.

One of my favorite quotes:
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
~ Eleanor Roosevelt

I have seen homeschool bloggers write posts about how bad blogging is because it takes them away from their children.  Then why are they blogging?  How does that make the reader feel?  Chances are the reader is also a blogger and they now feel judged.  When this happens, I do a self-evaluation.  I may talk to Jason and the girls.  Blogging is something that I do for myself, true.  But Jason will quickly point out that I am modeling to my children that writing is a worthwhile and fun thing to do.  My interest in blogging has lead me to learn about SEO, to teach myself html and CSS, to learn more about web design and to try to be a better photographer.  My children SEE me learning, they SEE that learning is a life skill, I am MODELING the behavior that I want for my children.  I believe it is healthy for parents to have interests other than just their children.  I believe it is healthy for children to see their parents involved in something bigger than themselves and the family.   As blogging homeschool mothers we should be empowering each other, not cutting each other down.

I believe that as mothers, homeschool mothers, bloggers and people we should be trying to empower and inspire each other, NOT say 'if you don't do things the way I do things, then you are not doing it right'.  We have no right to tell people what they "should" do.  We are not raising their families, we are not in their shoes, all of our experiences are as individual and unique as we are.  We need to choose our words carefully; we need to choose words that inspire and empower others.  I am sure that I don't always succeed at this, my main goal for my blog is for it to feel like two friends, sitting at my kitchen table, chatting over a cup of tea...but my intention is to make others feel inspired or empowered when reading my blog.  Or, at the very least, I want people to leave my blog feeling happy and not chastised or judged.  It's difficult on a blog to show your daughter rolling her eyes or your child spilling their orange juice on the project you all worked hard on; we don't want to show the piles of dishes in the sink and the Easter grass that litters our carpets, we have been trained not to "air our dirty laundry in public"... but I try to remind myself that even that blogger that seems as though they have it all together and have all the answers and thinks they figured out the magic key to lifelong learning, even they have moments when they lose patience and feel overwhelmed and want to lock themselves in the bathroom.  We all have bad days.

Competition can be healthy when it inspires or encourages us.  We can read some posts and learn from them.  We can read some posts and do a self-evaluation.  We can learn and grow from them.  But if they make us feel inferior, if they make us uncomfortable, we should probably just let them go...acknowledging that we are on different paths and that is okay.

When I start to compare my girls' experience to school, I think of the Steve Jobs quote above.  Some may see us as the crazy ones...the ones who see things differently, we certainly are not fond of rules, and by not subscribing to the rules, by not comparing ourselves...we may have that impact on changing our childrens' lives and their futures', we just may help our children to reach their full potential and all of their dreams...and after all, isn't that why we are doing this?