Monday, August 14, 2006

Homeschool bumps

On being told that our two boys were homeschooled, a Pastor caught me off-guard with a strongly worded reply: “I would never approve of homeschool in my church. We live in Malaysia and Christian children cannot afford to miss being a witness in a multicultural society.”

What do you say to elders and pastors who adopt an adversarial position on alternative education? To think that once upon a time, the issues bugging us as new homeschoolers were curricula, socialisation, and <gasp!> entry into local universities!

Here are a few more bumps on the road to homeschool bliss to watch out for.

The all-purpose playmate
Some people have the strangest notion that homeschool is equivalent to no-school. It explains why we get requests to baby-sit kids whose parents do not know how to handle nor amuse - usually when conventional school terms wind down, or after their exams are over. "Can you drop Ethan and Elliot over at our place at 2 p.m.? Or would the boys prefer Jimmy to come by your place?"

Unfortunately, our kids have school even if the rest of the nation is enjoying one of its frequent breaks. Holidays are too plain boring for the ordinary school kids. You see, they have long forgotten what to do with themselves after being conditioned, examined, instructed, drilled, grilled and school-belled into submission. So, can our boys come over?

The resident comic relief
Sure we’re all part of Christ’s body, but to his peers in Sunday School, the homeschooler is funnybone and resident comic relief. Expect put-downs like “You homeschoolers so innocent-one, don’t know what’s a lesbian!” to spiteful name-calling like, “Dummy, never go to school don’t know anything.”

Though all parties involved usually plead innocent to any malice, it does get a bit grating. Depending on how armour-plated your homeschool child is, learning not to return tit-for-tat is an important lesson in character formation in your home curriculum if it isn’t already there. If nothing else, all this teasing makes for a message on verbal abuse: “That’s God telling you how your brother feels when you call him names!”

The kid who wasn't there
Beware the conscientious Sunday School teacher or youth leader. He/She is likely to belabour the importance of passing exams, studying hard to get a good job, etc, besides the constant diversions into fervent prayers for jittery students whose exams hang like the sword of Damocles over their future careers. The homeschooler, alas, is supposed to take all this in his stride since it’s not the class’ fault that he’s different. Who wants to know if a homeschooler has any educational need?

The lone stranger
After awhile, a homeschooler begins to really, really feel like Nemo. Not that he likes being a clownfish to begin with, but he realises that there’s not many people he can have a mutually satisfying friendship with.

Thanks to Mom and Dad, the home educated kid is alternately too mature for his age (so stand-offish!) or too kiddish for his church peers (what, still playing RISK?). Besides who wants to know about the books he’s reading, the Latin he’s learning, the number of times he has to mop the floor per week, the community work he’s doing, the Homeschool Support Group field trip he’s back from, or the scary SAT test that’s looming ahead?

The expedient substitute
The number of school tests, holidays, extra-curricular activities or tuition plays havoc with the church worship roster. “Elliot, can replace me or not this Sunday? Got test next week.”

In case you think it’s the lot of homeschoolers to be the convenient stand-in (since they do not go to school), their Mom doesn’t have it any easier too. The homeschool Mom (since she doesn’t ‘work’) is thought to have lots of time to spare, so can she help with this chore, or that errand please?

The unintentional rebel
Well, not exactly, but a homeschooler has his off days too. Like the human being that he is, a kid is as lazy as he dares to be. He knows, oh he knows what the whole homeschool scene is about, but can’t he just take it easy - for a while?

On the other hand, what’s the big deal about studying at home anyway? The other kids do cool things in regular schools – uniform brigades, parades, interschool competitions, football, meet interesting friends, etc.

Hmm, a homeschooler who wants to go back to the grind that is conventional school! It’s not as unusual as you think, but it’s enough to make any parent fast and pray for a solution. Do not underestimate the memory of meat, fish and cucumbers in Egypt, particularly if your homeschooler was pulled out of the neighbourhood school late in life (and who still can’t understand why he has to do this for his parents’ sake).

The black sheep of the flock
Temperature in church takes a slight dip - suddenly mothers don’t know what to talk about when they’re with you. Your Cell Group members try to be polite, but they are truly and deeply concerned that your son isn’t in school. “Are you sure you can do it, this homeschool thing?” Your CG leader is incredulous, convinced you’ve been misinformed by an overzealous homeschool advocate. He knows you’ve never been to college, and may not have considered the obvious limitation of your grey matter. “Sammor, you have 4 children and one more on the way? How your financial?”

Of course no one has officially broken fellowship with you, but brace yourself: here comes Mrs Chinniah whose three super-achieving children have had a sterling record in Sekolah Menengah St Michael’s, and two are on their way to their Masters, sans homeschool!

Meanwhile back on the road...
In the world out there and in the community we call Church, the lessons all of us have to learn are the same: how to count others better than ourselves, and how to act justly and love mercy (Micah 6:8). Let me end by mixing my metaphors and refer to a title of Warren Wiersbe’s many books: The Bumps Are What We Climb On. That, homeschoolers, is the stuff of real life.

[Originally posted on the HOMEFRONTIER newsgroup]

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