Contributed by John S.
Said my 4 year old daughter. She was about to enter an enclosure at the zoo – one of those domes that little ones can stand up under and be “inside” the exhibit. She got on to her hands and knees and started to crawl toward the opening. Then she saw and heard a small group of schoolgirls already inside, her own age, talking loudly and being, in her words, ‘not nice.’ She backed out and reported this to me. I looked in myself and said simply “you’re right.” And we moved on. Tonight, as she recounts her day to us, she will no doubt mention these girls.
My daughter is not shy, timid or overly fearful. She is sensitive, attuned to the moods of others (much more than I am) and prefers to assess a situation before she commits to it. She likes the company of kids like her; cooperative, smart and optimistic. As a parent, at many points in her childhood, I will probably have to talk with her and work with her in how she deals with other children, especially those that, on the surface at least, seem aggressive to her. But as a homeschooler, I will never have to force her to accept or imitate this behavior.
Like most homeschooling parents these days, I was a public school kid. School safety, bullying and violence were not the headline topics they are today, but they were concerns. I grew up in an environment where, in order to survive, I had to take on a persona that kept me more or less unharmed. As a small and insecure boy, I hid in the shadows or befriended older, more popular or tougher kids to give me a sense of safety.
In adolescence, I used my intellect and my sense of humor to work my way into a clique that insulated me from the harsher realities and ostracism that more introverted kids face. These strategies and adaptations were my survival skills, masks that I wore until college, when I grew into my talents and felt freer to choose my friends on the basis of what we had in common, instead of what they could do to keep me safe.
As home schoolers, my daughters are free to choose their companions based on their personalities and their common interests. They don’t have to become chameleons, cynics or bullies because the system or their parents demand it of them. Their teachers, the adults and older kids in their lives, can be real partners in their education.
I love my daughters as they are. I don’t require them to hide their uniqueness so they can survive in a system that asks them to soften their strengths and repress their authentic personalities in the name of conformity.
Through home schooling I look forward to watching them grow into their fullest selves, developing and appreciating their intellectual, physical and social lives according to their particular rhythms, talents and inclinations. They can focus on what they want to learn and who they want to be, instead of who they have to be in order to survive.