let kids watch beauty and the beast

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?