We were on the beach the other day when I looked over to where the kids were and noticed that they had become heavily involved in a game of flag football with a group of children I'd never before seen. Lovely, I thought.
Later, I learned that, indeed, it had not been such a lovely game. Two of the boys, upon hearing that my kids are homeschooled, started to bully them.
Let me back up and say that we have only ever experienced direct bullying towards the kids twice in my children's lifetimes, once when they were very young and a child refused to let Rhubarb go down the slide, stating that she is "too black for this park". This occurred when we lived in the far northern suburbs. The second time occurred more recently. You can read about it here.
Based upon my rather small research sample this summer, I am going to assume that the brunt of bullying really begins when children are between 9 and 11, the ages of our current summer bullies.
Back to the beach. Upon gathering the children and preparing to return home, I learned that the two boys had inquired as to the children's school. They proudly responded that they homeschool. The boys started to laugh and mock them; one of them told the kids that homeschooled kids are "idiots about making friends."
Hmmm. Now, let's unpack that a moment, shall we. A child with a clear and overt vehemence towards peers he has just met is calling a group of three children who bravely asked if they could join a game full of strangers "idiots about making friends."
Where do we think this child learned that bit of erroneous information?
They also told my children that they would "never do as well as kids who go to school on tests" and went on to test my kids, firing questions at them and expecting immediate answers. My kids stayed silent for the most part, refusing to play along. Again, he called them "idiots."
This testing thing, this flim'-flammin'-mother-of-pearl-testing thing, is my achilles heel. Do people randomly test kids who attend private schools to make sure their education is sound? How about kids that did not attend 12 summer camps during the break? Children educated in another country? Are they randomly tested to assess their intelligence?
Most importantly, where did these children even learn to test a child who is homeschooled to prove that they are not adequately educated? And where did they get the idea that their randomized school testing is an indicator of intelligence in the first place?
These are not the original musings of two 10 year old boys. These are the imitations of their parents and teachers.
Now I, as an adult, deal with direct bullying regarding homeschooling on quite a regular basis. I have been accosted by total strangers who have felt the need to tell me how unsocialized my children surely must be (my children who have just introduced themselves to their children on the beach and have organized a group game). I have had family members express their disapproval at holiday meals. People I typically adore, from church, from activities I attend, feel completely comfortable questioning my motives regarding homeschooling. That we want our children to learn through their passions in an environment that encourages them to think outside of the box and to control their individual creative and intellectual gifts is rarely regarded. The REAL problem with homeschoolers, I am told, is that they are so poorly socialized. They don't fit in.
These same people often comment to me that my children are "so refreshing" in that they converse with adults as much as kids, that they are "unusual" because they stay at the dinner table, engaging in conversation, instead of running to watch videos as soon as possible, that they "are always the first at an activity to invite other kids to play", that they "make an activity easier by taking a leadership role with the kids."
We can't have both. Either homeschooled kids are, as a rule, poorly socialized or they are not.
So where did these kids learn the supposed deficits of homeschooled kids? From other adults.
There is no doubt in my mind, then, how they became bullies themselves. Unfortunately, I also have no doubt that homeschoolers are not their only targets.
The adults in their lives have taught them that it is okay to judge an entire group of people based upon rumor, based upon what they have read in undoubtedly sensationalized news reports, based upon assumptions about homeschooling (assumptions they will never confirm as long as they are pre-judging homeschoolers).
If these kids now believe this is okay, and apparently believe it is acceptable enough to do it within about three yards of their parents (who, in this case, were sitting on a blanket watching the whole thing) who will they pre-judge next -- when their parents are not looking? People who practice a different religion than them? People who look different than them?
Somehow, many adults believe it is okay to categorize an entire group of people, a group 2-3 million strong in this country alone, based upon second and third hand information; and it is okay to freely disseminate that prejudice; and it is okay to confront those in that category; and it is okay to feel good and smug about not being a part of that group.
Adults, you might think that you are breaking hundreds of years of prejudice with your children by not showing overt signs of racism or anti-semitism (for example), but it seems you have just transferred that prejudice onto other groups of people. I don't now. Maybe you are not happy with the education your child is getting and so you have decided to blame it on homeschoolers? Is it that you feel guilty because, as so many of you have told me and others I know, you "Could never spend all day with your kids"? Are you torn because you have chosen to work outside of the home and parents who stay home and hang out with their kids threaten your own values (sidebar, most homeschooling parents also hold a job or two and most also feel some guilt about that)?
How about this, then? Share THOSE feelings and let's chat about them. Let's support each other in the educational choices each of us has made because, and I know you'll be shocked to hear this, we also question our decisions to homeschool. Every parent rakes over their choices on a regular basis. That's what makes us good parents. If, however, any of us is not willing to hold a mirror to our own doubts, our own fears and inadequacies, we will continue to find groups of people upon whom we can thrust our insecurities. Scapegoats, we call them.
Scapegoating homeschoolers (or any groups of people who parent differently than you); trash-talking homeschoolers; stereotyping homeschoolers: THAT is not great parenting. And, if you do it, you should not be surprised when you learn that your child has moved on to a new group of scapegoats: Muslims, perhaps? The elderly? People with brown skin? Who might they choose next?
It's entirely up to you.