“She’s Not in School, So She’s Not Learning Anything”

I have this weird hearing problem – when there are multiple noise sources, a kiddo demanding my attention at my elbow, a loud car driving by, and someone else talking to me, I get bits and pieces. Not enough to make sense of at first, but later, when I piece it all together, I can usually understand what the person was saying.

Usually I nod and smile, not completely sure what they are saying to me. The ‘translation’ kicks in about thirty seconds too late.

This happened to me a few months ago with a neighbor girl.

She’s a nice kid, eleven years old or so, and my five-year-old adores her. Often she will come to our door and ask if Emily wants to play and the kiddo always drops everything to run outside. It was during one of those days, and a particularly noisy passing truck that the neighbor girl said to me, “Well, Emily’s not in school so she’s not learning anything.”

I smiled and nodded at the moment as my ears struggled to decode and send the signals to my brain. And as I watched them both run off to play, got on replay what most people get the first time round.

Not in school…not learning anything…OMG…WHAT?!

I didn’t correct her. By this time she was across the street and chatting away with Emily as they headed for her rope swing in the backyard. But it bothered me off and on…and still does.

How is it that we have distanced ourselves so much from the act of learning, from the abilities we create innately within us, that we are gullible enough to accept that learning only comes from within the walls of schools?

Sometimes I get on a real anti-school rant – and it is often influenced by this attitude I see in not just the neighbor girl, but others, every day. If a school or a teacher promotes this, even if they tacitly avoid speaking the truth (that learning happens anywhere and everywhere), then they are lying to themselves and others. Realistically I suspect that most of the preconceived notions these kids have is a result of what their parents tell them, not necessarily school. However, in my frustration, I find schools complicit, even if it isn’t fair. After all, H&R Block isn’t going to tell you that you are perfectly capable of filing your own taxes, are they? No, of course not, they are going to warn you of all of the pitfalls of doing it yourself, because you aren’t an ‘expert’ like them.

By the way, I’ve worked for H&R…do your taxes yourself, save the money…really.

Here’s the thing. We breathe, we learn. We love, we learn. We exist, we…learn. It’s what we do.

Human beings are interesting and curious creatures. It is that curiosity that taught us to walk upright and gave us language, oral and written. Curiosity has led us through the Stone Age, led us to create ships to sail across the vast oceans (and explore deep underneath them), brought us through the Industrial Revolution, and in my lifetime brought the knowledge of the centuries to the fingertips of billions of people.

That’s huge, folks.

So here I am, stumped by this young girl and not sure what to say. Because she believes it, she really does. The indoctrination is complete and thorough. She may eventually begin to question that indoctrination when she sees Emily reading or going off to attend college classes at the age of sixteen to supplement her homeschooling…but who knows?

The other day, as my husband mucked out our little pond, the young neighbor boy from next door joined in. He is drawn like magnet to our backyard. The chickens seem to fascinate him, and he even helped (a little) in the building of the chicken house. As we watched the clean water slice through the pond gunk he turned to me and asked, “So…are you planning to homeschool Emily all the way through high school?”

“Yes,” I responded, “that’s the plan.”

He turned away and said nothing after that. This is his typical mode of interaction with me. He either pretends I’m not there, or asks me a loaded question like that one. No matter my answer, he never engages in a debate or responds to my questions back. It’s kind of weird and I stood there wondering what script was running in his head right about then. His father is a football coach and health teacher in a local school district. I’m sure their dinner table discussion, when it turns to us, is…interesting.

Do I throw a monkey wrench in these kids’ lives and get them to questioning what exactly is learning and how does one accomplish it…or do I just leave well enough alone?

I am of two minds about this. Part of me wants to somehow convince them that Emily has an amazing opportunity here…but to what end? I don’t see either of these families willingly homeschooling for any reason. The other part of me wants to just do my own thing and not justify it to a kid whose life path (at least until 18) has been set for them by parents who a) sincerely believe they are providing a proper education for their children, (and maybe they are) or b) probably think I’m a complete whacko for homeschooling.

I guess it becomes a choice similar to those with religious faith…do I proselytize to others my belief system…or do I just do my own thing and not worry about it?

I think that, after working through it writing-wise, I have my answer. But now I’m curious…what is your typical response to those pesky homeschool questions? Especially the ones from kids who are public-schooled. What do you say in return?

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