culture

What does homeschooling mean to you?

aloneThe Patriot News has a positive article on homeschooling which strives to dispel the myths about homeschool students being taught at home.  As in isolated, secluded and lacking any interaction with anyone off the plantation.  Nice to know that the existence of co-ops, field trips, proms and graduation ceremonies so elevates us in the eyes of the masses.  There was one statement in the article which left me pondering, however.

At one time, home schooling was looked at as not simply an alternate form of education, but an alternative form. Pennlive.com

Meaning, I think, that Americans increasingly view homeschooling more as one choice among many and as another path toward the same goal: an educated child.

Other than a slight urge to shout out “Stop the presses!  Homeschoolers are normal!” after reading them, I do appreciate the many positive stories on homeschooling which attempt to portray us as something approaching normal.  But I wonder sometimes if this portrayal is entirely accurate.

Choosing between homeschool and public school is not quite like choosing between Coke and Pepsi, McDonald’s and Burger King, Target and WalMart.  It’s more like choosing a religion, going green or becoming vegan.  It is not a simple choice between two forms of education, but a lifestyle choice.

An as of yet alternative lifestyle choice.  Accounting for a whopping two to four percent of the population hardly makes homeschooling “normal.”  It just means there are enough of us that most people have run into a homeschooler or two at some point in their lives, making everyone a self-professed expert on “all” the homeschoolers they know anytime the subject comes up for discussion.

Personally, I’d prefer to spend less time trying to convince people that we are “normal,” and more time asking what that really means and how it applies to a remarkably diverse society.

Homeschoolers as Deviants

As I read Milton Gaither’s review of Jennifer Lois’ “Emotionally Layered Accounts: Homeschoolers’ Justifications for Maternal Deviance”, I sort of got stuck on the title and place of publication.  While the article itself sounds interesting while it looks at how we as homeschooling mothers respond to social criticism (as opposed to leaders in the homeschool community), I just never pictured myself featured in the journal Deviant Behavior.

Homeschooling certainly isn’t the norm, but is it deviant behavior?

de·vi·ant

Adjective
deviating from what is considered acceptable behaviour
Especially now that we have supposedly gone mainstream?  I realize that we are a minority, but is every activity shared by a minority of the population deviant?  Perhaps I’m stuck too much on the negative connotations of the word.  After all, when you call someone a deviant, I don’t picture someone who perhaps is making some choices I don’t agree with.  I see someone that I would not want to run into alone in a dark alley.  Some synonyms, selected somewhat randomly:
degenerate
pervert
miscreant
reprobate
And that shortened list is ignoring the majority which emphasize the “especially in sexual behavior” part of the thesaurus’ definition of deviant.
At any rate, now that we are not merely weird and unsocialized, how do you justify your maternal (or paternal as the case may be) deviance?
(Some repressed part of me has the impulse to show my tongue ring–but alas I haven’t any.)

Is our culture too overprotective of children?

Grandparents in West El Paso, Texas left their five grandchildren home alone while they ran into town to “take care of some business.”  The eldest was thirteen, the youngest four.  They never expected to receive a call there at the IRS from the fire department telling them they had to come home.

They never expected their house to catch on fire.  Fortunately, all five children were rescued, with the eldest being taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.  She was upstairs, where the fire began, but is expected to recover fully.

Hopefully we can all agree that the fact that this couple was homeschooling these children is fully irrelevant, but it does bring up the question of supervision.  At least to the local news channel reporting on the story.

But some may say that 13 years old is too young to be a babysitter for four other kids.

According to Texas law, there is no specific age said to be too young to be left home, and each child and situation should be taken into consideration.There is a law, however, that defines something called neglectful supervision. A law that states a child should not be put in a situation that a reasonable person would realize requires better judgment and maturity than the child has. KFOX14 (link no longer available)

I’ll play that “reasonable person,” but there are too many other questions in my mind that would need to be answered before I could definitively say that this thirteen year old lacked the judgment and maturity to be put into this situation.

  1. How long were the adults intending on being away? An hour or two?  Most of the day?
  2. How old were the other children? We know the youngest was four, but a twelve year old could help and a ten year old could be responsible more or less for him or herself.  Just knowing the age of the eldest and the youngest leaves me a tad suspicious that the reporter is trying to stir controversy where perhaps none need be.  But I’m just suspicious that way.
  3. How mature is the thirteen year old? I’ve known thirteen year olds who were quite capable and responsible and full grown adults I wouldn’t trust with my puppy.  I would hope that the grandparents would be better judges of her maturity level than any arbitrary age level.
  4. What are the relationships between the children like? I wouldn’t leave my ten year old with any of them just yet, but I’d sooner leave her alone with her two sisters and baby brother than with just her six year old brother.  He is “active” and they do not get along very well.
  5. What about the neighbors? If you know your neighbors and your children have some place to go in an emergency, the situation looks a lot different.  Especially if those neighbors know the children are home alone and are keeping an eye out on the house.

Here in Nebraska, you can send your eleven year old to the Y or to the American Red Cross to earn their babysitter’s certificate, even though I have a hard time imagining leaving my daughter responsible for another child at that age.  But just because I wouldn’t do it doesn’t mean it constitutes neglect.  It reminds me a bit of the discussion last spring surrounding the columnist who allowed her nine year old son to navigate the Subway system to get home.  Alone.  In New York City!  My first reaction to that story was a resounding “She did what?!”  But I was born and raised in the Midwest and I would be uncomfortable navigating the NYC Subway system alone.  This child, on the other hand, has grown up with it.

There was a time when a thirteen year old girl could expect to marry soon, have children and raise her own family.  This, in fact, still happens in parts of the world.  And young Sarah Noble was but eight when she left with her father to explore the wilderness and cook for him.  Granted, these children had/have a far different upbringing than most of our suburban youth.  Today, they would probably be placed in protective custody.

But I still wonder.  Was this couple neglectful in leaving their grandchildren home alone?  Or has our culture artificially extended childhood by becoming too overprotective of children?

Is blogging killing communication?

communityI have been doing a bit of reading recently about the internet, communities and the concept of virtual communities which develop over time.  The internet seems to offer an incredible ability for us to connect regardless of geographical boundaries.  To find information on a broad range of topics and often to find first hand accounts of how the stories we see in the news are affecting communities around the world.  To engage with people we might not otherwise ever talk to and find points of commonality as well as develop a certain level of respect for ideas we disagree with.

But I have found that the more I read other blogs, particularly political blogs, the more I appreciate my readers here.  It seems that in any serious discussion, there are two basic types of comments left: “Amen” or “You’re an idiot.”  There is very little meaningful or respectful discussion of any issue.

Maybe it is the nature of the blog and the internet.  A million voices are shouting through the noise and the easiest way to attract a following is to market outrage.  The e-newsletters I receive never merely outline an issue, provide some bShoutackground and offer suggestions for organizing against an action.  Mixed in with this purported goal of the newsletter are hyperbolic statements about the end of America.  The end of homeschooling.  The end of the family.  The end of worker’s rights.

Everything is sensationalized.  There is never a middle ground.  There is always a call to arms.  And someone like me who generally believes that most of the consequences we get ourselves so upset about were unintended consequences of an action designed for good is passed off as “blind to what is really going on.”

Speaking about the recent outrage over Prince Harry’s comments about the Taliban and an Pakistani officer, Bookworm Room (via To Love Honor and Vacuum) puts it best,

The level of anger and hysteria about everything nowadays — absolutely everything — just puts me off, especially because it leaves no room to paint with the real brush of outrage.  If calling your enemy by a pejorative, or using a very low level slur in a sarcastic way to refer to someone who is obviously a comrade in arms, is exactly as horrific as using children as human shields, you’ve rendered your moral compass useless.  To use an analogy only those of us over 40 understand, if you play your records at 78 rpm, they all sound like indistinguishable gibberish.  We live in such a hysterical era.

Hysteria and outrage, not simple disagreement.  This incident can be exchanged with so many issues going on in our culture and our government.  That whole Subway thing?  Sure, if you were upset about it you don’t have to eat at Subway.  But the comparison to “Negroes need not apply” were a bit over the top for me.  The Motrinmoms thing?  I was all for baby wearing mothers to bring attention to the ads and to baby wearing in general.  But in the end it reached a level of outrage which went a little beyond rational.  Especially once I began to see blog posts popping up asking if Motrin’s actions were “enough” once they pulled the campaign.  Even the current outrage over CPSIA.  I am totally against this law, and believe that we do need to act against it.  But do I believe that our elected representatives are sitting around in darkened rooms thinking up ways to kill small business and take books away from children?  Hardly.

The Economist has an interesting article which Lynn of Bore Me to Tears linked in my comment box and I’ve been meaning to come back to ever since:

“We now live in a giant feedback loop,” says Mr Bishop, “hearing our own thoughts about what’s right and wrong bounced back to us by the television shows we watch, the newspapers and books we read, the blogs we visit online, the sermons we hear and the neighbourhoods we live in.”  The Economist

It doesn’t seem to be about community anymore, but about isolation.  The paths of communication between groups are getting narrower with the advent of the internet rather than broader, pushing us to the extremes of our political philosophies as there is a decreasing need to get along with anyone who disagrees.  We are in a “giant feedback loop” as American society becomes increasingly fragmented according to religious and political views.

There is a danger in this. Studies suggest that when a group is ideologically homogeneous, its members tend to grow more extreme. Even clever, fair-minded people are not immune. Cass Sunstein and David Schkade, two academics, found that Republican-appointed judges vote more conservatively when sitting on a panel with other Republicans than when sitting with Democrats. Democratic judges become more liberal when on the bench with fellow Democrats.  Ibid.

At first, I thought what I was seeing on the internet was a combination of providing a platform for extreme views to be expressed and the lower level of social inhibitions in online communication.  But now I’m not so sure.  As it becomes easier to associate only with those we agree with, we are pushed to the extreme.  Outrage is cultivated and rewarded through attention, traffic and a following.

What could be an excellent tool for community building and crossing political and religious divides may actually be making those divisions deeper and more difficult to cross.

‘Tis the season to be boycotted

Every year, Christmas seems to be thrust into the center of the culture wars as businesses determine how to promote their goods to us and we decide just how upset we are at being wished a Happy Holiday.  My concerns began with an email alert I received from the American Family Association regarding the lack of the word “Christmas” in Costco’s holiday, er, Christmas, marketing campaign.

TAKE ACTION

Send your email to Costco.

Let Costco know that you will exercise “your privilege” of shopping only at stores that recognize Christmas. Remind Costco that their competitors are vying for your business too, and you will shop accordingly.

So far as I can remember, I’ve never set foot inside a Costco, so my scathing emails and promises to “shop accordingly” would mean very little. Of course, they don’t need to know that, but that is what started my musing. That and being told to boycott. That sort of strikes at my rebellious nature and really isn’t the best way to get me to do much of anything…especially when it comes in the form of an email newsletter I can only assume I signed up for at some point.

Anyway, that led to the Naughty and Nice lists put out by The American Family Association and The Liberty Counsel.  And I just noticed this, but what am I to do with Barnes and Nobles? They made the AFA’s “Naughty List” and the Liberty Counsel’s “Nice List.”

I’m a rather conservative Christian. Perhaps a bit too conservative even for the AFA and The Liberty Counsel for as I look down the Nice List, I’m not impressed by well-meaning companies paying honor to my Lord and Savior.  Instead I see a list of companies who would very much like to replace any Christian meaning there may be in the season with the Almighty Dollar. The name of my Lord and Savior is slapped on sales, bath soaps, cookbooks, linens and toys, all to be delivered in time for Christmas in hopes of clinching a sale. I wonder sometimes what exactly Christ would say if he were to walk through the “naughty” Bloomingdale’s or the “nice” Macy’s.

How dare you remove my name from your holiday flyer!

Er, Christmas flyer.  That seems stranger yet. And a bit out of character. But as a Christian, I’m supposed to “take on the mind of Christ.” To be His light to a fallen world. And it really seems there are ways to do that which are much more effective than engaging in what comes across to me as a publicity stunt to garner attention to a cause outside of the mission of the Church.

No man will live or die, be saved or condemned based on the welcome phrases used at a place of business.  If I had my druthers, I would much prefer to have the name of Christ connected with missions to aid the poor, the widows and the orphans than to have it connected to boycott after boycott of issues which are little more than expressions of cultural dissatisfaction and do nothing to help those who are truly in need.