Coping with Doubts

(The following was a letter sent to Growing Without Schooling Newsletter that I thought I would share with you.)
Dear GWS,
I truly believe, though, that it is the parent who sets the tone and that once the parent has handled his/her own doubts, the child’s dwindle.  My doubts tend to surface toward the end of the “school year” when I must admit that I never did get around to most of the wonderful projects and learning activities that I envisioned in September.  Then I wonder whether I am ruining my son’s life by not making sure he knows what he ought to know. These doubts surface other times of the year, too.  But because I’ve read and re-read John Holt, GWS and other supportive literature and I’ve discussed these issues alot with other “unschoolers”, my doubts are short-lived and I once again am confident.  This problem never becomes an issue for my son, though sometimes I am prompted to attempt some sort of schoolish pursuit for a while and my son bears with me on this for a short time before he helps set me back on course.

We weathered the storm of all my son’s friends going off to school and them telling him he should go to.  I arrived at a standard patter:  first I’d ask them if they liked school.  Only about 20% said yes, so I’d ask them which they like better, school or vacation.  I’m sure the answer to that one is obvious to GWS readers.  So my son saw that all the apparent enthusiasm for school was just hype.  We also played school–I’d make him a lunch, then I’d put on a hat and become the bus driver and would “drive him to school”  (I’d drive around the block).  Then I’d be the teacher and would call roll.  We’d do classes, have recess, and such. About 3 or 4 days of this at the beginning of his kindergarten and first grade years, and he’d feel he wasn’t missing anything and would bore of the game and we’d be back to living real life again.

As time went on, my son’s schooled peers became thoroughly indoctrinated into the idea that “you won’t learn anything and you’ll never get a job, if you don’t go to school”.  Some parents even tried to convince JP (my mom’s nickname for our son) of this.  But I just kept on top of it with my own “indoctrination” program–I’d point out to JP the things that he knew that the other kids didn’t know.  Then when he landed his first job at an antique store, sorting marbles for minimum wage, at the ripe old age of 9, he knew for sure that the job issue was hype, too.

Our society has a very extensive advertising campaign on the “importance” of school so I’ve also been very active at promoting homeschooling to my son and at pointing out ways in which he is lucky because he does it.  When we’re having a great time at the beach in the middle of the day, I’ll say “Gee, you could be in school right now”.  When there’s alot of kids at our house because their mothers don’t want the gang at their houses, I point out how lucky JP is that his mom loves having him around all the time. When we drive by a school and the kids are inside, I mention how lucky JP is that he isn’t cooped up in a classroom, sitting at a desk.  If the kids are on the playground, I make a comment about their “token” 20 minutes outside, probably spent teasing each other.  When he asks me some deeply felt question and we have a great conversation about it, I point out that he’d not have been allowed to ask that question in school.

Occasionally JP is put on the spot because he doesn’t really read yet.  Once a friend invited him to church, and we both thought it would be a good experience.  It turned out that they went to Sunday school and had to write essays.  Of course, JP was completely embarrassed by the fact that the teacher had to write everything for him, even though he’s theoretically in 4th grade.  This comes up at other times, too, and it is a difficult situation for JP to deal with.  But because I have no serious doubts about the path we’re on, I don’t get stuck in this problem.  After all, it’s tough for kids to deal with any ways in which they are different from the other kids.  If it weren’t homeschooling, it would be something else.  My confidence helps JP through these rough times even though he really doesn’t know how to handle other people’s questions.  For example, today he was concerned about going to a birthday party because he thought the adults might ask him what school he goes to.  Once they heard he was homeschooled, he thought they’d then ask him to read some words to see if homeschooling works.  Of course, that’s unlikely, but it is possible.  I made some suggestions: he could ignore them or ask them why they wanted to know, for example.  But he pointed out it’s not especially realistic to expect a kid to stand up to an adult like that.  I don’t have any answers for him except to tell him that he’ll run into things like this all his life, where he has to choose to stand up for his believes or figure out some way to avoid confrontation over them.  He seemed satisfied with this and went off to the party and had no problems.

I believe that we make problems for ourselves when we think we can come up with answers for our kids that will make everything ok for them.  If we look at our own selves, we can see that we have ALOT to learn yet.  I think that when we accept that about ourselves, we demonstrate to our kids that problems and difficulties don’t mean there’s anything wrong.  They just mean we have more to learn.  And when we let our children know that we trust them to come up with their own solutions, we teach them to trust their own inner voices.  Heck, I’ve often found that my son’s solutions are as good or better than mine. And when we take the viewpoint that we’re all learners and we can each learn from the other, the pressure is no longer on the parent to know and solve everything…and without the pressure, thankfully, we seem to know more and come up with better solutions.

I started a support group in my area and have developed a terrific group of friends for myself and my son as a result.  And the more he reads GWS, the more he’ll feel kinship with those who write in and the many others who subscribe.  There are many of us pulling for him!