Discussing diversity with the homeschooled child

Catholic Dads recently asked how other homeschool families discuss homeschooling with family, friends and paticularly with the homeschooled children.  Particularly the questions of children seem to draw out uncertainties.  After all, we have so much power to frame the entire discussion and insert our views into our children.  Catholic Dad’s questions echo my own thoughts as I attempt to answer my daughter’s questions:

But how do we explain this [the reasons we homeschool] to a five year old without a.) giving him the impression that he’s missing out on something fantastic, b.) running the risk that he looks down his nose at other kids who do go to school or c.)getting the impression that schools and everything associated with them are to be avoided?  Homeschool Diplomacy

They are good questions and the answers deserve some pondering.  After all, short of sending your children off to school for an extended period, any answer given will only be part of the story.  It’s like trying to explain a foreign culture without it coming down to food, holidays and national costumes.

I don’t have an answer.

Actually, I have more questions.  Essentially, they are the same questions, broadened and not specific to homeschoolers.  How do we explain differences and diversity to our children?  Whether it is a woman dressed in a sari, or with a hijab covering her head, a child with obvious physical deformities or a man behaving bizarrely on a street corner, how do you address the questions your children have?

As a child stands staring, the most common reaction I see from parents is a swift diversion and a muttered “It’s impolite to stare!” as the child is whisked away.  Now, it is impolite to stare, and an important part of raising children is teaching them these finer points of social life.  But in that moment, the child has also noticed something:  people are different.  We come in different colors, shapes and sizes, we have different customs, we speak different languages and some of us suffer from diseases and disorders that make us noticeably different.  Some of us are hurting, are hungry and even smell.

But it is impolite to stare, so we whisk our children away.

I’d be the last to say that it is appropriate to turn the person into an object lesson. . .although a man with a neck injury at McDonald’s once told me he never minded the children staring.  It was the parents shuttling them out of sight that got to him.  But I can’t help but wonder how many parents pick up the conversation with their children later.

I wonder, because a lot is learned in that moment.  A lot more than perhaps we realize.  It brings us back to that socialization issue homeschoolers are so fond of:

The process whereby a child learns to get along with and to behave similarly to other people in the group, largely through imitation as well as group pressure.  Answers.com

It is also a process which occurs without critical analysis.  That quick but firm redirection (with perhaps a touch of shock) may teach our children a lot more about our culture than simply that it is impolite to stare.  After all, there seem to be certain “things not spoken of” that we aren’t even supposed to look at.

But how do we (and how should we) discuss these issues with young children?

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0 Responses

  1. The thing I find tricky to deal with is my 6 1/2 year old’s belief that parents who homeschool love their children more than parents who send their kids to a traditional school. I’m particularly sensitive to this issue because I had to be employed full-time outside the home when she was a toddler because we truly needed my salary and especially the health insurance coverage at the time.

    I’ve tried explaining to her that we live in an area where the cost of living is extremely high and that most families are not as fortunate as we are to be able to afford the basics on a single salary. She just doesn’t get it, though. 🙁

  2. Interesting because I’ve never thought of it. We did pull our children out of school, but that was after Grade 1 and JK respectively. My youngest has some idealized version of school.

    When they speak of school, I just remind them that our life style offer’s us flexibility and opportunity and we’ll just focus on that.

    In regards to the staring at ‘odd’ people question. I resolved from day one not to shush my children, but still do sometimes.

    Typically the conversation goes like this, “Why is that person walking with crutches?”
    I’m not sure sweetie. “Maybe …” Possibly but you can always politely ask them why but you need to understand if they say they don’t want to tell you! (I always say the last part in a ‘stage whisper’ so that the individual can hear and hopefully recognize that I am not talking behind their backs and they have an option *when* my child asks them to not say. And I say *when* because I know it will be *when* and not *if!*

    If the conversation continues, then I remind them, its not polite to talk about people like that and we can talk more later on. Usually there is not a later on as once we’ve rounded the bend something else is pressing on their minds.

  3. Unfortunately, Elf remembers just enough of his lessons to get us into a lot of trouble. When he was six, he once asked a cashier in the food court if her “boss” knew she was off the farm.


    Though it seems the entire process of childhood is going from the general to the specific… and then we get to college and are told to think in general terms again and paint with a broad brush under the guise of “statistics.” :]

  4. Interesting… since we live in Japan, my kids and I are usually the ones dealing with stares, and sometimes annoying comments. My kids really dislike being stared at, and therefore rarely openly stare at others (unless we see a fellow foreigner!). Because of that it is very easy for me to simply remind them how they don’t enjoy being gawked at if a situation does come up. Conversely, I have had to teach them how to deal with being stared at, and how to be open to people. Sometimes they just want to escape from people who make a big deal about their differences, but over the years have become more and more proud of (in a good way, I think), and comfortable with being different.

    In general, we all appreciate people who ask polite, interested questions, rather than commenting about us amongst themselves! I love it when parents deal with their curious kids as Songbird wrote above. It is nice to see parents who are trying to teach their kids.

    On the homeschooling question, I find that the biggest challenge has been the second one you addressed. My older kids tend to feel “better off” and priviledged to be homeschooled. Sometimes that can cross the line into being prideful, so I have to remind them that we are doing what we are called to do, and that others have different callings and ideas, and that we must not judge or look down on others. I am not sorry, though, that they feel blessed to be homeschooled! The same thing goes for being Christians (since we are very much in the minority there, too).

    We have openly discussed differences with our kids from a young age. I suppose it has been easy for us, since we are usually in the minority in several different ways, and we also have a speical needs child in our family. Our kids have learned so much through their every day experiences!

  5. In relation to children noticing ‘different’ people, tell the children the truth in love…

    We as a family are pretty different where we live being saved, baptists, no tv, no christmas, home school etc. We are used to it and anyway, I found over the years that other children don’t mind, it’s the parents that usually think it’s a bit different.

    I tell my son that there are pros and cons to all different kinds of education but hey, he loves home schooling in his pyjamas so he thinks he has the best of them all:0)

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