I realize that this first term of full-time homeschooling has prompted more than the usual number of posts about homeschooling. Fortunately, you’re all just dying to hear every infinitesimal detail about our homeschooling life. Right?
The other day I was reminiscing elsewhere about what it was like back in the good old days when homeschooling was weird and subversive, not hip and progressive. You know, the days when nobody had heard of it, and for a lot of people homeschooling=educational neglect=child abuse. I can still remember the first time I was in the park, and some random adult starting quizzing me on the multiplication tables. It made me nervous, and a little annoyed, but I complied as best I could.
At the time, I never considered how my mom might have felt. Now that I look back, however, I realize that the person quizzing me wasn’t so much interested in deciding how good of a student I was, but how good of a teacher my mom was. I can’t remember if I “passed” the pop quiz or not. But it was the first of dozens, if not hundreds, of conversations with concerned strangers about the merits of homeschooling, and specifically homeschooling as it related to me and my education.
Yesterday evening at our Church “linger longer” (informal get-to-know-you dinner), I experienced a weird moment of déjà vu. Axa was sitting next to a man we knew only slightly, who engaged her in conversation. After ascertaining her age, he asked what I suppose is the typical question for adults who find themselves having a conversation with child: “oh, are you in school then?” She smiled brightly, and answered that she was homeschooled.
I braced myself internally. Would he respond positively? Negatively? Ambivalently? Would my six-year-old have to bear the brunt of someone else’s disapproval of our educational choices?
“Oh, are you learning to read, then?” he asked. She answered in the affirmative. “What else are you learning?” he queried. “Well, math . . . ” she began. And he did it. I kid you not, he did it: “what’s two plus two?”
She was silent. I held my breath. The seconds ticked by. What was she doing? Why didn’t she answer? Was it possible that she had forgotten every bit of math I’d ever taught her, including two plus two? I could not believe how anxious I was for her to say something. I would never have put her on display like this, but now that she was in the situation I couldn’t very well reprove our acquaintance for asking the question, or tell him my daughter didn’t need to answer. That would only make her feel worse. Of course, it wasn’t at all apparent that she felt bad in the first place. I had no idea what she was thinking. The one obvious thing was that I seemed to feel more nervous than she did. Mostly I felt appalled at myself for hoping that my child would perform, knowing that my anxiety was only partially on her behalf. Was I just so pathetic that I needed my six-year-old to validate the institution of homeschooling and my own parenting?
Finally she broke the silence: “what’s plus?”
Once he clarified that he was talking about addition, she easily answered his question, as well as several others of increasing difficulty. Eventually, he excused himself to go get more soup. I breathed a sigh of relief. Her self-esteem was intact. And homeschooling and I had stood up to the inevitable but sometimes brutal unofficial on-the-spot performance review.
In the end, I suppose that defending the virtue even of personal decisions is just part of the price we pay for taking “the road less traveled.” Outside pressure can either wear us down or give us the opportunity to build muscles we didn’t know we had. As Nietzsche says, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Up to and including random strangers taking it upon themselves to assess the validity of our life choices.