Friday, September 24, 2010

A Multitude of Options

Ever since participating in the Carnival of Natural Parenting, I've been growling in my head about some of the other entries. The topic of the carnival was: We Are All Homeschoolers, and we were asked to describe how we incorporate teaching our kids into our days, whether our kids are home schooled or otherwise schooled.
It was an interesting carnival, and included bloggers with babies, older children, toddlers, and bloggers who homeschool, unschool, send their kids to public or private schools, and all manner of styles of work at home, stay at home, work outside the home parents. I loved reading about other peoples' perspectives and philosophies; teaching our kids skills and life lessons is something many parents feel passionate about and contemplate a lot, so there was a lot of interesting reading published in the carnival. I took away some interesting ideas and tips, and mostly an appreciation for the variety of approaches and personalities there are out there.
But. There were a few homeschoolers who weren't shy about the fact that they feel homeschooling is the ONLY way to go. It's that same attitude that drives me nuts about many parenting situations, that there is one superior way to raise kids and those who deviate are doing it WRONG! There are definitely things I feel passionately about when it comes to parenting. I do think attachment parenting is better. I really do! It makes intuitive sense to me to care for my kids' hearts and respond frequently and as gently as I can when they have a need or cannot regulate their emotions, and touch them lots and carry them lots when they're small and just generally be responsive when they need something. I can't do this ALL THE TIME, because sometimes it's really taxing, but I do think the philosophy behind attachment theory and attachment parenting is true, and makes sense.
However, different things work for different families and I'm pretty open about living and letting live. It may not always appear so here on my blog, but in REAL LIFE, I'm actually really good at the live and let live. A blog is a self expression forum, somewhere were I say stuff I don't generally say unless with like minded people, because who am I to judge someone else's philosophies and opinions, and especially who am I to make them feel judged or bad about those philosophies and opinions? I just do what I do and let others do what they do, for the most part.

I breastfeed forever. Doesn't work for you? Great!
I use a variety of discipline techniques, including the occasional spanking. Doesn't work for you? Awesome!
I cosleep. Can't sleep with a kid in your bed? Okay! Don't cosleep!
We walk our kids to school. Too overwhelming or far for you? Drive!

So. Back to the carnival homeschoolers. I think I might call some of the militants. Homeschooling is a fantastic educational option, and it fits the attachment theory well. Children are designed to be born into and function within family units, and to learn their life skills and socialization within that context. The more family togetherness that we can foster, the healthier our children are, emotionally, and the more fully and completely they will be able to evolve into autonomous individuals, because they are not pushed to be independent before they are ready. They also need not contend with peer comparison or pressure, never feeling stupid because they are a late bloomer, never feeling superior for being a teacher's pet, and never, ever enduring playground taunts for peeing their pants when they are six. Homeschooling is awesome.
Public schools are ALSO a fantastic educational option, one which is our educational method of choice for now. You know that proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child"? School is our village. It works for us. It's not perfect, but I think our kids are very well cared for and well supported in their current learning environment. And Matthew does BETTER in a group of peers, as far as focus and skills acquisition, so school is a particularly positive environment for him at this stage in his life.
Some of the other parents who participated in the carnival were emphatic that homeschooling our kids is a God given calling and that public school is nothing but negative. What happened to variety is the spice of life? What happened to open mindedness? What the heck happened to valuing education itself? Aren't there kids in Northern Pakistan's tall mountains who DREAM of going to school? I think I read about them in Three Cups Of Tea. And aren't there UNICEF studies which show a grade 5 education can turn a region's upcoming generation around from living in perpetuating poverty, to healthier communities whose children are, in turn, educated and grow up healthier AND less poor? Isn't it education itself that makes the difference? Literacy, basic mathematic skills, critical thinking skills, an awareness of the larger world and its ideas, fostering imagination, learning art appreciation, self expression, etc? I just wanted to say that I celebrate access to education, in all its forms and styles and deliveries, at home or outsourced to schools. And I don't appreciate being overtly judged for the method of schooling we choose. (I'm sure homeschoolers don't appreciate judgement either! And I know they run into a ton of it in a culture steeped in the perceived normalcy of our current style of public schooling...which is maybe where the force behind these carnival writers' words comes from). Balance, people. All we need is balanced perspective. School is cool. Home is awesome. Education is the magic key.


Dana said...


tamie said...

Hey, Mel! I always love your challenging words.

You and Lori and Rachel and some others have taught me the importance of not judging parents, and I really appreciate that. And you've got some great points about education.

At the same time though, I think it's tough because we can't *just* be open-minded. Like, live and let live by itself isn't such a great philosophy, because some people are living in really fucked-up ways. I think that we all have these lines we draw where we say, "Live and let live, except when it comes to X" and "X" is "abuse" or "neglect" or what-have-you. Right?

My brother lives in Sweden where spanking has been illegal since 1971 and has been strongly discouraged since 1966. This means that pretty much everyone our age and younger has never experienced spanking, and most people in Sweden believe that spanking is backwards and barbaric and certainly abusive. It also means that millions of people have to figure out how to parent their children without spanking--and they're obviously figuring it out because Swedish culture is pretty cool! :) But my brother and I talk a lot about spanking because he rarely has to encounter anyone who spanks, and he lives in a culture where everyone considers it to be obviously abuse. I, on the other hand, live in a culture where spanking is still very common, and even though I actually pretty much 100% agree with my brother, I have to figure out how to be around people (good friends, many of them) who do something that I feel is terrible and very wrong. Every time someone spanks their child around me my heart races and I feel that I am doing something terribly unethical by not intervening. And yet, can you imagine if I tried to intervene? I'm almost certain it wouldn't change things in that family's life, and it would likely be the end of a friendship. The point, though, is that live and let live doesn't feel right to me in those situations, because I feel that spanking is damaging to children--so I feel like I'm standing by while children are being hurt--and yet at the same time, I don't know what else to do besides be quiet, and maybe have a conversation about spanking if it happens to come up.

(I realize that you spank occasionally, and I'm not bringing this up to pick an argument, but more to use it as an example of why live-and-let-live doesn't always feel right, good, or healthy to me.)

It seems to me that this is the reason why so many people are so passionate about what they believe about parenting--because they truly do believe their way is best for children, and in many cases they believe other ways are actually *harmful* to children. You know? And that's a tough one, because there certainly are plenty of common practices that really ARE harmful to children.

Maybe the best thing we can do for each other is try to keep talking to each other, and especially try to keep listening to each other. I'm not a parent, but in other areas of my life I'd much rather that people engage me and even disagree with me, even vehemently disagree with me, but at least engage me, rather than just say, "Well, I do it this way and you do it that way, let's not talk further about it." Maybe we both have something to learn from each other, if we can stay in fellowship and keep trying to understand where the other person is coming from. At the same time, there really is a time and place to say, "This is wrong." There is even a time and place to develop laws to outlaw what we think is wrong. The question is, what is that time and place?