Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Posts tagged “common sense

13 Reasons Controversy

It’s been a while since I’ve come across something in the homeschool world that makes me sit up and take notice, but this is one of those things that compelled me to write about it. There’s a new series on Netflix that you may have seen. It’s called 13 Reasons Why, and it’s based on a YA novel of the same name by Jay Asher. It’s about a high school girl who commits suicide, but leaves behind a series of audiotapes intended to be passed around to the people she holds responsible for her death.

**general spoiler warning** If you haven’t read the book or watched the series and don’t want details, you should probably stop reading this post until after you’re read/watched it. 

Also, to clarify, I am not advocating either watching or avoiding the series for its own sake. If your child is talking about it; if their friends are watching it, then I absolutely advocate watching it, because chances are your child will see it one way or another.

Apparently, there are a lot of feelings about this series; A LOT of feelings. From the outset, I’ll say unequivocally that material that sparks discussion about mental health, depression, bullying and other issues that teens (and young adults) face has a place in the public eye, period. Even more-so if it engages teens, who tend to be most at-risk for suicide. Whether you agree, disagree, like it, hate it – whatever: discussion about topics that we, as a culture, tend to file under ‘taboo conversational topics: Do Not Engage!’ is a good thing. It’s a necessary thing. And it’s about damn time.

Full disclosure, I’ve watched the series; I have not read the book. My children (13.5 and 15 at the time of this writing) have neither read the book or watched the series*, but both said that they ‘might’. I’ve told them that it’s fine if they do; to let me know if/when they do so we can talk about it. I also gave them a synopsis of what it’s about, gave a warning about graphic rape scenes and drug/alcohol use, and mentioned that there are things that Hannah (the main character) says, thinks and does as a result of disenfranchisement/bullying/potentially undiagnosed and untreated depression that aren’t ‘reality’; and that we need to talk about it during and after they watch it. We don’t generally censor what our kids watch; I’d rather know what they’re watching so we can decide if we need to intervene or talk about it than have them sneak around watching things behind our back. We’ve set standards for them that have gotten more permissive as they’ve gotten older; I don’t think we let them consume anything that isn’t age-appropriate. You may disagree, which is why if my kids come to your house, they’d have to follow your rules (or the lead set by your kids, which may be very different from your ‘rules’… but I digress). And before you lose your mind over that, we a) have developed trust with our kids based on communication and experience and will continue to base our decisions and permissions on that trust; and b) can still monitor when we feel the need to, because parental controls and history/system checks on media are a thing that exists and we reserve the right to record and check as needed. Also, to clarify, I am not advocating either watching or avoiding the series for its own sake. If your child is talking about it; if their friends are watching it, then I absolutely advocate watching it, because chances are your child will see it one way or another.

In any case, my point is that we talk about mental health issues fairly often in our house. I was diagnosed with clinical depression (major depressive disorder) in 2006, and with severe generalized anxiety disorder in 2011. I take medications, supplements, use tools like apps, meditation practice, journaling and a focus on self-care as part of my management plan. They’ve seen me manage my own mental health issues and heard me talking about it with others a lot. Along with some of the other moms in our homeschool group, I went to a teen mental health first aid course and got certified as a ‘teen mental heath first aid practitioner’, and our teens are participating in a semester-long mental health course through our homeschool co-op, using curricula and resources from TeenMentalHealth.org and other similar sources. I say all of that to tell you this very scary fact: seeing and knowing and doing all that doesn’t make my kids suicide-proof. That’s hard to read; it’s hard to admit. But it’s the truth. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

The reason I started writing this post is because, like many homeschooling parents, I’m in quite a few internet support groups that focus on homeschooling. It’s generally helpful, and sometimes I learn new things there, or find tidbits of new information that I want to use in our school career. other times, I come across things like this:

 

Okay, fine. You don’t want to watch it, then fine. But let me tell you this: if your kids want to watch it, and their peers are watching it, then even if you think it’s ‘poison’, then you should damn well be watching it, too. If for no other reason than because you should be informed of what’s going on in and around your child’s world. Changes are, if your kids’ peers are recommending it, then your child is going to figure out how to watch it, with or without your approval.

And hear this: if your opinion is so strongly negatively stated, do you think that your kid is going to come to you to talk about what they saw if they watched it without your permission (or in spite of being explicitly told not to watch it)? Nope. So your precious snowflake is going to be left alone to figure it out, or have only the influence of his or her peers to guide how they process the show. Not only that, but as a parent, you’ll miss out on being able to clarify the points that need to be made throughout the series about how Hannah could have made different choices, or how her friends could have, or what your child’s options are in different scenarios.

And then there’s this, which makes my eyes want to roll right out of my head.

ARE YOU FRIKKIN’ KIDDING ME?? Also, it’s extremely bad form to tell a parent who literally has experience with this situation that it’s not reality when it is very much their reality. I can’t even imagine how awful it would be to have your child survive a suicide attempt. I can imagine it would be harrowing, and that you’d be on red-alert all the time. To have your child attempt it again? I can’t even imagine that kind of pain and stress and anger and hopelessness.

To their credit, the moderators of that group very quickly deleted that comment thread. The post itself is still up, with decent discussion both for and against allowing/encouraging/discouraging (and some outright forbidding) students to watch, and decent discussion about whether the series addresses teen suicide and bullying appropriately or not. The discussion was relatively civil and productive, with good points on all sides.

From the message thread, the article lists these reasons why ‘not’ to watch (edited for clarity):

  1. This show was overly graphic. …  These rapes are gritty, horrifying and not something your children need to actually witness just in case they need to deal with something like this. They did a good job of showing Hannah (the girl who committed suicide) and how she felt during the rape, but watching her body writhe with each “thrust” was completely unnecessary and not something we needed to watch in order to understand the gravity of the situation.

  2. The suicide toward the end of the series might as well have been a handy dandy how-to graphic for how to kill yourself.

  3. The other big problem I had with the suicide was the build up, the entire series lead up to Hannah killing herself. Which isn’t different than in the books, but for some reason, they made it feel like a big reveal, an event that you were waiting on. Something exciting. Suicide should never EVER be exciting. And I was disappointed that they depicted it as such.

  4. They glamorized Hannah, the girl who killed herself. They made her out to be this big amazing person that everyone remembered and was heartbroken about after she left. ….  the series made this about her, like she left some sort of legacy only a dead girl could leave behind. Why would you want kids to think their lives will only have meaning after they die?

So, obvious warnings are obvious; Netflix rates the show as TV-MA, and included content warnings on the episodes that have the most graphic content. The author of that post’s child is in 6th grade… so, not 17… but she may be mature enough to handle watching the series with her mother nearby; that’s a decision that each parent needs to make. I don’t necessarily disagree with the author’s assertions in the context of her particular child. But to give all parents a ruler by which to measure their own children is ridiculous.

But to take this one point at a time… first, I don’t think it was overly graphic for the audience intended. As mentioned previously, the rating is TV-MA. It’s more subject matter than content that garners the warning. There’s no nudity; they do a damn fine job of conveying the horror of one girl (Jessica) being raped while under the influence of alcohol, and of (Hannah) witnessing it but being unable to say or do anything to prevent it due to her own trauma without being, in my opinion, overly graphic. They didn’t rush through it; they didn’t gloss over it; they didn’t give you an out as a witness to what was happening, either visually or audibly. You, as the viewer, endured it with them. Not only that, but you were flashed back to it at different points – just moments or glimpses – but the trauma is revisited over and over again, unpredictably…. just like in real life. That, to me, is one of the biggest arguments FOR watching it – exactly because of how well-done this particular aspect of it was. Not only that, but in the production commentary (the last episode of the series), they specifically talk about how Hannah never said the words ‘no’, or ‘stop’ or anything, really, when she was raped. It was clear that she did not want to have sex, but she never said no. That makes a conversation about ‘victim blaming’ necessary. Talking about it is one thing. Seeing how it happens is another. Was it rape if she didn’t say no? After seeing it, it’s painfully obvious that she was, in fact, raped. In some religions, because she didn’t scream, or say no, she is considered guilty of fornication. That scene puts an entirely different face on that circumstance, and is fucking *necessary* if you’re a young woman growing up in a religion that teaches that.

Secondly, you don’t need to give kids a ‘how to’ guide to commit suicide. If it’s on their minds, then they’ve already thought of it or imagined it or planned how they’d do it. I was about 12 the first time I ever thought about killing myself, and by 14 I had a concrete plan. I was raised in a pretty strict household as far as what we were allowed to watch – nothing rated R, no horror movies, nothing overly sexual or violent. I never needed anyone else to tell me what to do. I never got as far as an actual attempt, but  I didn’t need to be ‘influenced’ by outside sources. All those thoughts and ideas came from right inside my own head. Showing it isn’t going to ‘give them ideas’ or convince them to ‘give it a try’. That’s a huge myth, and yet it persists because people – parents – don’t ever want to face the reality that kids have very real pressures in their life and may lack the tools to deal effectively with them. A further truth is that some teens have mental health issues that are undiagnosed.

Today’s kids, younger and younger every year, are under an enormous amount of pressure. Their brains do not work the same way that adult brains do; they process information and experiences differently than we do, and they lack both life experience and time to understand that what they feel today isn’t going to last forever. As an adult with depression, I can tell you that in the depths of a depressive episode, even with life experience and the clear understanding that those dark feelings don’t last forever, sometimes forget it. That’s why depression is an illness – because it messes with your brain. Not talking about suicide because you ‘don’t want to put ideas in their head’ is stupid and reckless. By the time I was 18, one classmate and 1 friend had committed suicide, with several others hospitalized after suicide attempts…. and this was back in the 90’s.  Now, there are things like cutting and other forms of self-harm. It’s a real thing. Real kids do it. Your kids might do it. My kid might do it. We might not necessarily know about it. Again – there’s that scary place to think about – that our child might be in pain and in harm’s way. But avoiding it doesn’t make it go away; it makes it more dangerous.

Here’s something it’s important to understand about suicide: people don’t do it because they’re healthy and thinking clearly. People who commit suicide see death as the only way out. Out of suffering, of being a disappointment or a burden on others (friends and family), out of the confinement of struggling every day just to live. I also think it’s important to understand that unless you also struggle with depression or anxiety or another mental illness, you can’t know what it’s like to reach that point; to get to the point that thinking or feeling like ending your life is the only way to be free. This is probably one of the best images I’ve ever seen that illustrates that feeling – everything is so awful that death looks peaceful in comparison. But, because of the stigma that depression and mental illness carries, it’s incredibly hard to talk about. That’s okay; talk about that, too. Tell your kids that you’re scared for them. They need to know that.

The third point is an idiotic one, imo. You begin the series knowing that the girl killed herself; but one can hardly tell the story without flashbacks. As the viewer, you get multiple insights to the story – Hannah’s perception as she tells it on the tapes; the recollections of her friends and classmates; and a ‘narrator’ view, which features Hannah in a somewhat less than ‘perfect’ view. I disagree that Hanna’s suicide was built up to in order to sensationalize it; I think the flashbacks gave a fairly well-laid out progression of the deterioration of Hannah’s mental state and circumstances that led to her making the decision to kill herself. Starting off with the suicide scene, or downplaying it wouldn’t make sense. I think showing it the way that they did was appropriate; it was graphic and horrific and terrifying and lonely and sad – everything that suicide is. This feeds into the next point – they didn’t glamorize her; quite the opposite. I saw a bunch of people who gave lip service to mourning a girl they barely paid attention to when she was alive. That’s not glamorization; that’s tragedy. Her life didn’t have meaning after she died; her life ended. That’s what death means – you’re dead. No more life to live; no more chapters to your story.

Here’s what I saw, first and foremost: I saw a lot of kids with a LOT of problems, and mostly absent or distracted parents. I saw a lack of communication; a lack of courage (courage to speak up when you see something that you know is wrong, to defend someone else, to start a conversation, to say the thing you want to say, to have a voice at all); a lack of trust and confidence in the adults in the kids’ lives. I saw obvious warning signs (drinking, drug use, heavily tattooed under-aged teens – you don’t get those from hanging out with fine upstanding citizens… because it’s illegal) that no adult acted on. There are SO MANY things to talk with your kids about… for me to talk with my kids about.

I think Hannah is responsible for her own death. She kept things to herself when she could have talked – at any point – to the people around her. If not peers, then adults. She felt like she didn’t have options, and that’s where the adults in her life failed her. But it wasn’t a one-time thing; it was systematic. It was something that went on and on for a long period of time. Her parents were distracted by real problems, but they were distracted nonetheless. Her friends also had real problems, but each person in Hannah’s life that she sent the tapes to also had options. Not necessarily a responsibility towards Hannah, but options for how they handled their own situations that led them to whatever thing they said or did that Hannah ended up blaming them for. Hannah did a terrible thing… several, actually. Playing the ‘blame game’ helps no one; absolves no one; is fair to no one. Suicide is a tragedy, but ultimately, the person who ended their own life is the one responsible for that decision. There’s a discussion on ‘suicide revenge’ that should probably happen as well. This isn’t a new concept; Marilyn Manson’s Coma Black has the line ‘I kill myself to make everybody pay‘. Hannah left tapes to explain/punish those she held responsible, and ultimately let herself off the hook for her decision in both deed and via the tapes. That was a shitty thing to do.

As a parent: TALK TO YOUR KIDS. Tell them that you have issues; that you don’t understand them or their culture, but that you are trying. Let them teach you. Don’t play the disinterested parent-role; don’t let them think that you have all your shit worked out. If you haven’t learned shit-management techniques in your 30+ years on the planet, then you probably didn’t pass any down to your kids, so they’re likely in need of those tools anyway. Let them know that life doesn’t just magically work itself out when you turn 20 or 30 or 40. It’s still a struggle, BUT you learn coping mechanisms on the way that can make it easier. Be an example – take charge of your own issues. If your issues are affecting you kids, then for fuck’s sake, get help, and include them in the process. The other half of this is LISTEN TO YOUR KIDS. Trust them when they tell you that their life is horrible (instead of giving in to the righteous anger that we love to fall back on and list all their privileges and blessings so they’ll see how entitled they’re acting and shape up). Getting angry at them for being ‘ungrateful’ instead of listening to what they’re telling you can lead to a teenager who doesn’t feel like you’re a source of support. Trust that they’re using the best vocabulary that they can, and help them find better words to express what they’re feeling. Ask questions and LISTEN to the answers without giving in to the temptation to be all judgmental or looking for ways to punish them to opening up to you. You can’t have open, honest communication with a teenager and then censor how they talk, or try to shape their expression into your worldview. Listen to see where they are at and meet them there. Then cover new ground together. It’s okay to be lost, or not know what to say. Tell them that; they need to know that we don’t have everything all figured out either, and that it’s okay to learn new things (like how to handle intrusive or overwhelming negative thoughts). It’s also okay to seek outside, professional help. In fact, that’s something your kids should already have – access to suicide hotlines and a network of adults that they can trust to talk to.

In closing, I think people tend to forget that TV and book characters aren’t ‘real’ people; they’re amalgams of multiple people, or archetypes that real people don’t fit into exactly. Real people are so multi-faceted and multi-layered that no book or TV character could ever get it just right. No real person is as one-dimensional as a character; and no situations are quite as simply laid out as real life scenarios are. This book and series, and others like it, create discussion opportunities for parents to guide their teens., and I believe that’s what the series is intended to do. Whether you allow your child to watch it or not, there are some real-world things that today’s kids face. There are real-world situations brought up in that series that I believe it is entirely worthwhile to talk about with your kids. Whether you choose to use the series as a conversation starter, or some other method is up to you – but have the conversations with your kids. Please.

Warmly,
~h

* When I started this post, they had not. After I asked, I guess that brought it to their attention, and LBB (15) decided to watch it. At the time of this post being published, he’s about halfway through the series, and we’ve had multiple discussions about it – big ones, little ones, talks at the dinner table, talks in the car… sometimes just a comment here or there, sometimes more drawn out.

 

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Bridging the Gaps: Is Homeschooling Enough?

bridging-the-gap-1aI’ve written about gaps in education before, but it’s been a while, so I thought I’d address it again; specifically the idea that public schools (or ‘brick and mortar’ schools, which include any style of schooling that involves a ‘school teacher’) provide a ‘better’ education, or a ‘more complete’ education than homeschooling can.

There are a couple of things wrong with this assumption – first and foremost is the idea that all b&m schools have the same educational goals and model and structure. It’s true that basically all b&m schools function very similarly, in that the children go to school and are taught by someone who (presumably) has extensive education in classroom management and state standards. But as far as the curriculum and even models of teaching and goals… those can be quite different, even within a single city or state. Even if the curriculum itself was standardized, the execution of the material is often left up to the individual teacher. What one teacher may consider ‘core’ might seem frivolous to another, and your opinion on the matter may still be different again. They may skip over things you consider to be vitally important in favor of information that you vaguely remember covering in school but ultimately had no use for at all as an adult and therefore consider useless.

Teachers are human and have their own areas of interest that may bias them; mine, for example, is ancient Egypt. I’m fascinated with the culture and religion of the time and we’ve spent a lot of time studying it! I could do a whole year of history/geography and social studies in Egypt alone. But while it’s extremely interesting (to me), it’s not the most practical thing to have a deep knowledge of unless your plan is to go into Egyptology (which neither of my children have expressed an interest in doing). This bias can play a positive role as well as a negative one. On the plus side, I’d rather my kids spend a year learning about a subject that their teacher is deeply interested in and knowledgeable about than just ‘cover’ a wider range of materials. There’s something engaging about learning from someone who is passionate about their topic that makes you more interested in it, too. And that interest could lead to various science and history related fields of further study…. but I digress.

Secondly is the mistaken idea that students in a b&m school are afforded more opportunities than homeschool students. When struggling with a lack of confidence in our teaching ability, homeschooling parents sometimes forget that a classroom teacher’s ability to teach is very often stifled by classroom management and school/state/federal policies that end up meaning that the lessons are taught to the weakest student’s ability. That means that if your child is among the more advanced in the class, or even if he or she is ‘at grade level’, she is more or less left to her own devices to advance her studies because the teacher is otherwise engaged with students who are struggling to get to ‘grade level’ and can’t work with your student individually. In fact, that’s a huge advantage that homeschooling has over any other type of schooling – personalized attention. If your student is at the other end of the spectrum, then all kinds of other issues start creeping in – from dealing with potential learning disabilities, potential behavioural issues to possible bullying and self-esteem issues. No one is inspired to learn when they ‘feel’ like they’re dumb. This is, in part, one of my major issues with the way schools are structured – students aren’t robots and they don’t all learn in the same way, at the same time or on the same level in each subject. Homeschooling addresses all of those issues, because you’re typically mastery-focused and not dependent on grades to get by.

My oldest starts high school this fall, and I admit I am struggling a bit with the idea. Well, that’s not entirely true; one minute, I struggle with doubt and anxiety, the next I can HOMESCHOOL FOREVER!!! I’m not sure if my wildly fluctuating confidence and lack thereof is a good thing, or a normal thing or what… but there you have it. On one hand, I know it’s a thing I can do. We’re mostly at ‘grade level’ except for spelling, and some things I feel like we’ve covered more than he would have gotten in b&m school. Still other things he’s gotten to do that ‘count’ are opportunities he never could have had stuck behind a desk for 9 months out of the year.

I think that for me, that’s the main goal: give my kids a good foundation and teach them HOW to learn. Teach them that learning is a lifestyle, and that ‘school’ isn’t the only way or place to learn. Another facet of my goal is to expose them to as many things as I can to prod their interest in learning more. They need the basics to understand the world around them and to know how to function within it, but that love of learning and being engaged in finding out more is something that will never be ‘taught’ from a textbook. Hands-on learning, getting out into the world and experiencing how the knowledge affects and enriches their day-to-day life – that’s what I want for them.

If you’re new to homeschooling, and struggling with a lot of these kinds of doubts – can I do this? will it be enough? am I depriving my child of a decent education? can he still go to college? what if this doesn’t work out? – and whatever other questions you have… remember: nothing is permanent. If you try homeschooling (or if you’re a homeschooler considering heading back to b&m school) and it doesn’t fit, you can change it. If you’re worried about doing it all yourself, take heart – you don’t have to! There’s a whole WORLD of support for homeschooling parents out there, from groups and forums online, to local tutors and programs your child can enroll in, homeschool co-ops, online high schools and more. It’s not always ‘all’ up to you.

Whether your child is college bound or not, and there’s a whole world out there that doesn’t depend on a 4 year college program to ‘make it’, if you strive to give your kids a good foundation, you’ll do fine even if there are gaps.

Warmly,
~h

 


Thoughts on “I can’t Homeschool”

home school

Basically, yes, you can.

Ultimately, that’s the end result of my thoughts on ‘I can’t homeschool because…’. Whatever your objection, it can be overcome if the need is there. When it comes down to it, most of us homeschool because it is what’s right for our kids at the time. Or maybe what we were doing with/for them wasn’t working and we needed a change, and homeschooling is a step towards an as-yet-undefined ‘something different’; but either way, it’s usually because we want something better for our kids than what they were getting before. So yes; if the need is there, you absolutely can homeschool your kid(s).

But just for funsies, I thought I’d break it down into specific objections.

THOUGHTS ON ‘PATIENCE’

‘Girl… I don’t know how you do it. I have zero patience; I’d lose my mind if I had to be cooped up with my kids all day, every day!’

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten some variation of that comment. It’s frustrating to me, because I also have zero patience, and frequently wonder if I am, in fact, losing my mind. It’s also annoying to me, and probably to other homeschooling parents as well, because it implies that we have some kind of handle on things that other people don’t – and that assumption/implication is SO FAR from the truth that I just #literallycanteven.

I am not a patient person. I am, in fact, the living embodiment of Impatience. I am easily frustrated and frequently have to take ‘mommy time outs’ for all of our sanity. Having no patience is not a ‘reason’ that homeschooling can’t work for you. Knowing your limits, getting into better touch with who you are as a person and what you need, and incorporating that into your week is key. I say ‘week’, because ‘day’ isn’t always possible. Balance over the course of a week is much easier to gauge and maintain than it is to try to balance every day, and most of us can take a couple of hard days (even in a row) as long as we get some down time after that. Same in homeschooling.

Personally, I need time away from my family quite frequently. Even my Loverly Husband, whom I’ve dedicated my life to, bugs the crap out of me if we’re forced to spend too much time together – that’s human nature, and children are the very embodiment of ‘human’: selfish, compassionate, irritating, kind, argumentative, adorable littles copies of the person I see in the mirror every morning. I love them so much I could squish them into itty-bitty pieces and put them in my pockets… but they make me insane and I just need to escape them, and that’s okay. Headphones are a staple in our homeschooling day – for me, and for the boys. Headphones let us all be absorbed in the work we’re doing without distraction. It gives us ‘privacy’ in the presence of the others in the room. The kids have the entire house to school in; they don’t need to be under my feet to get their work done. They check in with me when they need help, or we work together if we’re covering new territory.

I also take needed ‘me’ time – writing group on Monday evenings, Mom’s Night Out and/or Brunch once a month or so with my friends, and even a lunch date most weeks. Involvement with our homeschool group is another way I pepper my day with conversation from other adults – both online and at weekly events. I volunteer/work, so I also have obligations that get me out of the house that aren’t related to my kids; so that helps, too. Which leads me to another objection:

THOUGHTS ON ‘I CAN’T BECAUSE I WORK’

I get it. Working a full-time job (or even a part-time job) makes homeschooling a little more difficult, especially with littles.  Working parents often feel like the task of homeschooling seems impossible or impractical for their family. If that’s how you feel, then you might be right for your particular situation. But it may surprise you to know that a lot of parents who homeschool also have 8-5 jobs outside the home. Most would say that it’s not the ideal scenario, but it’s far from impossible, even if both parents work.

If you want to homeschool, or need to homeschool for your kids’ sake, there are strategies that you can employ to make it work. Flex-schooling is one. Basically, flex-schooling is school that isn’t done in the traditional ‘school day’ hours. Evenings, weekends, holidays – that’s where a lot of school gets done. Depending on your childcare situation, you can send work with them to be accomplished during the day and review it with them in the evenings. If the kids are older, then some combination of that might work. Organization and planning are key when your time is limited. Better organization and better planning means that your time with the kids is well spent. Talking with your kids about what to expect and what is expected of them is also key. If they’re older, then they might need to step their game up a bit and be able to work independently or help younger siblings with their work.

Another alternative is to drop to one income. For many families, this isn’t feasible, but for some it will be. Do the math – many find that whoever brings in the lesser income if often only paying for the things necessary to maintain the second parent’s job – a second car/insurance/gas, childcare and food expenses. Eliminating those expenses often means that one parents can stay home, making homeschooling a more viable/less stressful option.

We’ve done various combinations of these things. We have only one income, and one car. I work, but it’s on a volunteer basis even though it’s a ‘real job’. Flexible school days and hours work well for us; even into weekends and the wee hours of the night, since I am not a ‘morning person’. My kids get their work for the week on Mondays, and turn it all in on Fridays (ideally). It doesn’t always happen like clockwork, but that’s the plan, anyway. We’ve tried other things, and will try new things in the future, I’m sure. We make it work!

THOUGHTS ON ‘I DON’T MATH’ OR OTHER PERCEIVED PARENTAL EDUCATIONAL DEFICIENCIES

Basically, if you have a high school education, then you are well qualified to tackle homeschooling K-8th. Some might extend that through high school; I say at least through 8th grade. That’s where all your basics are – reading, writing, and arithmetic, and we all do those things every day. So we don’t all have training on how to teach a 6 year old how to read – that’s okay, because we have THE INTERNET, with literally all of the knowledge of mankind at our very fingertips, including myriad videos posted by school teachers with strategies they use in their classrooms that you can adapt for use with your child.

Every homeschooling parent (and honestly, everyone who wants to know something, period) I know uses YouTube as their go-to resource for learning how to do a thing. From learning Klingon or Elvish to diagramming sentences to building a primitive shelter from mud and bamboo to explaining string theory…. it’s all there. Just because you are their ‘teacher’ doesn’t mean that YOU have to do all the teaching. Combine internet resources with the knowledge and skills and abilities of other homeschooling parents in your area, and you may be able to establish a cooperative learning group where each parent teaches to their strengths.

Last but not least, there are guided textbooks and curriculum. If you can read it, you can teach it. With ‘say this’ guides to just plain reading and learning along with your child – just because you don’t know a thing doesn’t mean that you can’t facilitate your child learning how to do it.

THOUGHTS ON ‘I DON’T HAVE SPACE’

If you have a kitchen table (or even a TV tray), and a bookshelf, then you have space to homeschool; and besides – who said homeschool has to take place ‘at home’. It can be ‘yard-schooling’, ‘car-schooling’, ”grandma’s house-schooling’, ‘park-schooling’, ‘library-schooling’ – wherever you are, your kid can learn. Yes, it’s nice to have 15 acres of property and an old barn that’s been converted into your own personal little school house, but if space is your limiting factor, then you need to think outside the 4 walls of your hacienda.

Honestly, we don’t even ‘school’ at the table or desks even though we have a ‘school room’. Mostly, it’s sprawled on the bed, or couch or in the car on the go, or in the yard when it’s nice out.

THOUGHTS ON ‘I DON’T WANT MY KIDS TO BE WEIRD’

NEWSFLASH: Your kids are already weird.

Next!

Srsly though… yes, there are some people who are isolated and lack social skills. But you’ll find those people in public schools, too. That’s often more of a personality issue than an issue of where/how they were educated. Most homeschoolers are active in extra-curricular activities (sports, dance, martial arts), local community service activities, volunteering, and participating in classes offered during the day when most kids are stuck in school. Because homeschooled students are often interacting with the people in their communities, they’re not shy about walking up and striking a conversation with people of all ages. I don’t usually see the kind of uncomfortableness around the elderly, or scorn for younger kids among most homeschooled students that I know. High schoolers play with 5th graders and they’ll all talk with the janitor about his job and offer to help the lady put her bags in her car from the grocery store. Maybe they are weird – but this is the kind of weird I am totally okay with.

Socialization is always a ‘hot-button’ topic, but the rule comes down to this: If you don’t want your kids to be isolated hermits, then don’t BE an isolated hermit.

THOUGHTS ON ‘COLLEGE’

Did you know that colleges actively recruit homeschooled students? We’ve been doing this for 6 years now, and now that LBB is about to start high school, I have been getting emails from colleges all over the US, and even a couple in Germany who want my kids to enroll with them for dual credit courses. Many of them give preference to high school graduates who have gone through their programs when it comes to college admissions. Why? Because homeschooled students generally are interested in learning. They’re self-starters; motivated; driven; goal-oriented. Not every student, but the majority are. They’re not burned out on classroom activities; for many it’s a totally new experience. Because they’re used to working independently, they don’t have issues with getting their assignments done, and are more likely to actually read the material assigned and engage with the professor. Don’t take my word for it: Penelope Trunk,  Online College, Stanford Alumni, Alpha Omega, Tech Insider, MIT Admissions… the list goes on.

CONCLUSION

 

Here’s the deal – we all do what we think is best for our kids, within the abilities we have and what circumstances allow. All of us, which includes you and me and the neighbor down the street. My situation is different from yours, and the neighbor’s situation is probably vastly different from either of ours… and we’re all just doing the best we can. The choice to homeschool everything to do what what you think is best for your kids/family at this time and within what your current circumstances allow. I say ‘at this time’ because I know a great many homeschoolers who either went into homeschooling with the plan to put their kids back in a brick-and-mortar school at some point, or whose kids eventually decided that they’d like to return to school (or try it out if they’ve never been). I know others who have had to make some shifts in their family dynamic and plans due to circumstances beyond their control, and others who gave it a try and found that it wasn’t a thing they wanted to do… and all of that is both fine and totally normal, and completely within the norm of ‘homeschooling culture’, because it’s not ‘about’ homeschooling – it’s about doing the best you can, in any given moment, for your children and family as circumstances allow.

Homeschooling isn’t ‘for’ everyone. It’s not possible for everyone, or even desirable. But if you want to do it, then there’s very likely a way to make it happen. Don’t let the ‘I can’ts because…’ stop you!

Warmly,
~h


Homeschool Regulation

I question I am seeing a lot of lately is along the lines of, ‘If there’s no regulatory body for homeschooling in Texas, then who makes sure that you’re doing it/that the kids are being properly educated?’.

For one thing, the question implies that there should be some sort of regulation. I understand where that particular flaw in logic comes from; after all, we’re used to our lives being ‘regulated’, even for the most trivial things. Most of us rely more on what we’ve been told than on what we inherently know (or could know). For example, we’re told what we should eat, and how often, rather than told to listen to our bodies. I’m not immune to that pressure; to this day I don’t know if eggs are good for me or bad for me, or if I can eat a whole one or only the whites (or yolks)… There are other examples, but the point is the same; without being told when or how much, we’ll learn through trial and error to listen to our bodies and figure out what the appropriate course of action is. The problem is that we’re comfortable with being told what to do and how to do it. We don’t even think about how many of our choices and decisions we routinely turn over to ‘the Experts’ and just have faith that ‘they know best‘.

We’re also very used to the traditional model of school, to the point that we (as a culture) honestly don’t even comprehend why or how going outside of that model is even possible, let alone desirable. The familiar model, which is to cover material, test for understanding, move on, rinse, repeat for 13+ years, must have some sort of regulatory process. For a state-funded, or even privately funded organization, effectiveness is a key component to sustainability, and so there must be some sort of regulation to facilitate that process. I don’t dispute that, and I am not fighting to change that model (today). But when you take what is familiar away, we basically have no idea what education would look like. We’ve eroded our instinct and confidence to educate our children in even rudimentary skills (like reading and writing and basic arithmetic) to the point that our default position is to look outside for instruction.

Another facet to the issue of regulation is the idea that without it, parents won’t teach their children, or they won’t teach them the Right Things, or the kids won’t be motivated to learn. This assumes that, one: parents don’t have their children’s best interests at heart; two: that there are Right Things that Should Be Taught; and three: that children are not instinctively inquisitive and eager to learn. Those are all incorrect assumptions.

If there is anything that parents are invested in, it’s their kids’ education and general well-being. In most cases, parents will work harder and more tirelessly on behalf of their children than anyone on the planet. For most of us in the working class our future relies, to some degree, on our kids ‘making it’ in life/ the real world because they’re going to have to take care of us one day! If that’s not incentive enough, then I don’t know what is. I jest… but truly, you don’t have to convince or coerce or bully or supervise parents making sure that their children are prepared for life. It’s innate, this desire to create successful offspring.

The second point is the idea that there are Right Things that Should Be Taught. Just… no. There are MANY ways to go about education. There are many models, many philosophies, concepts – you can make yourself go completely bananas trying to learn about every method, ever. For the parent trying to find The Right Way, or even the Best Way for Our Family, this process is one of the hardest steps in preparing to homeschool. There are so many options that it’s overwhelming and easy to get frustrated and lost. Clearly, with the varying requirements of different public education systems, even their experts and advisers can’t agree on what ‘should’ be taught and when. So what usually ends up happening is that the parents draw upon their own education as a guide. They pick things out that have been most helpful to them in the course of their life, or that they wish they’d understood better and make sure their kids are taught those things. They’ll cross-reference what they think is important with any number of resources, including the TEA’s scope and sequence (for Texas parents), to come up with a comprehensive educational plan for their kids – because they are invested. Add to that basic internet access, and a local support group and they’re pretty darn set.

Then there’s the bit about the kids. Honestly, when I hear things like that, the mental image I get is of a crotchety old man, griping about how ‘kids these days’ blah, blah, blah. I was one of those kids who liked school so much that I would play ‘school’ when I got home. But not all kids – most kids, I’d bet, hate the way school makes you learn. It’s definitely not for everyone; in fact few children learn best the way that most public schools teach. Even the way we think of as ‘normal’ has become less and less so over the years. Where children once had hours of free play and recess and PE built into the day, our children have restrictions, hours of homework and structured playdates on weekends. Play is a child’s work, and they need that activity – it’s how they learn. Even older kids, when deprived of screen time, will figure out things to do and learn the whole time they’re doing it. We go screen-free for several weeks during the summer, and as an experiment, we’ve given the boys Snap Circuits, The Dangerous Book for Boys (The Daring Book for Girls), The Boys Survival Book, and several versions of the Cub Scouts Handbooks, along with sheets, rope, pulleys, carabiner clips, and other assorted supplies’ and told them not to come home until sunset. They inevitably come home with tales of their adventures and newly acquired skills (involving math, science, reading comprehension, and good ol’ common sense). Given the option, I’d MUCH rather learn about physics and math by building a playhouse or erecting a tent than reading a textbook. So would they.

Rather than relying on external regulation to enforce education, it makes infinitely more sense to first of all have faith in parents and children, but also to leave education to the individual parent, who has been teaching their particular child(ren) since the day they were born. Most parents, with children in the public education sector and private/homeschooled/alternative schooling, do honestly and genuinely want what’s best for their kids, and they’ll work hard to make sure their kids get it. But if you want to educate your kids outside of the traditional model, here’s a newsflash: You don’t need to be told by the government, or state, or local school system, or experts how/when/how much/what to teach. Yes, really.

To answer the questions I know are coming:

  • Yes, some parents will be lazy.
  • Yes, there are some fundamentally crazy parents who will selectively educate their kids in religious nonsense to their detriment.
  • Yes, there will be some students who ‘graduate’ homeschool without fully mastering even basic concepts like arithmetic or reading.

But if you think that this never happens in mass education, then you’re either naive, or hopelessly under-educated on the subject (in which case, your opinion is less than invalid on this issue). Even within the public education system, you will have bad parents. In this equation, it’s not education that is at fault, it’s the parents. Period. You can’t take those few examples and blame homeschooling when the parents are at fault, because those children would be neglected and abused no matter where or how they were educated – because they have shitty parents.

So where does the idea that regulation is required come from? I’m sure it comes from many different places, but I think that some of it is based in personal bias. Maybe the person whoclaims that there ‘should be’ regulation either doesn’t have kids and is parroting what they’re familiar with, or maybe they do have children and have never stepped out side of the box. Maybe they have children, and can’t imagine taking on the additional task of homeschooling (or don’t want to) and honestly don’t see or understand why anyone would want to take on the burden of educating at home when there’s a perfectly adequate (and free) system set up to do that for you. Maybe the person you’re talking to lives in a state or area where the school system is beyond excellent (I know they exist; I’ve heard tales!!) and has no concept of how truly deplorable the public education system is where you live (*cough*BISD*cough*). Maybe the person is a teacher or college professor, and since academia is their bread and water, they truly feel that only someone as similarly educated as his or her august self is capable of imparting knowledge to the youth of the nation. Maybe the only ‘examples’ of homeschooling they’ve seen are sensationalized news stories about horrible parents that happened to ‘homeschool’ (but, of course, that was the click-bait), or the only children they’d come into contact with who were homeschooled were ‘under-educated’ according to the school’s intake testing (which is, by the way, not necessarily demonstrative of the child’s education – maybe they hadn’t covered fractions yet, but the child had an in-depth knowledge of Ancient Egypt and can play 2 instruments. Just sayin’.) Who knows why people think the funny things they do. If you have time to address their particular bias, feel free; otherwise just smile and nod and do your own thing.

What I am saying is that the entire idea that there should be regulation for homeschoolers is generally flawed, and even more-so when we consider the very individualized approach to education that homeschooling celebrates. On a small scale, education is truly mastery-focused. Where a child excels, progress is rapid. Where a student struggles, progress is slower, but thorough. In the end, the student’s education is more completely assimilated, and there is less of the ‘retain for test, then forget it’ model that is often found in mass education. Is there a place for testing and regulation in homeschool? Maybe. For re-entry into a traditional school, or entry into college, it may be necessary, though more and more colleges are allowing homeschoolers to be assessed differently than traditionally educated students. For specific career goals, testing may be necessary, to assure a good foundation for cumulative lessons, or review might be required to reaffirm foundation concepts. But even that is more for older kids, not pre-schoolers and elementary aged kids. If a parent isn’t capable of educating, without input from outside sources, a child through elementary school, then that’s not a good testimonial for the traditional model.

What do you think?

Warmly,
~h


Secular Culture’s Attack on Christian Homeschooling

Homeschool World/Practical Homeschooling has an image with a quote, ‘Secular culture is trying to remake homeschooling in its own image. Time to get back to Christian homeschooling!’ I have to admit that it caught me unawares; I recognize that some factions of the Christian sphere like to project the notion that they’re constantly under attack and being persecuted by silly little things like ‘equality’ and ‘civil liberty’, but I hadn’t realized that secular homeschoolers were trying to oust Christian homeschoolers from the scene entirely. I was under the (apparently, grossly mistaken) impression that secular homeschoolers were attempting, with best foot forward, to eek out a small place for themselves within the predominantly faith-based homeschooling world – and not even a separate, ‘atheists only’ (or whatever equally ridiculous segregated dynamic) space, but just to be allowed on the homeschool scene at all.

I’ll admit that much of my commentary on this topic is sarcastic, partially because it baffles me that anyone actually feels this way. I fail to see how this is even a legitimate complaint, but I digress. If you’re offended by my sarcasm, please feel free to refer to the author’s notes in my sidebar for available options for remedying that. The article goes on to state:

In some of the new “secular” homeschooling titles that are beginning to show up, the immense influence of Christianity on the modern homeschool movement is largely ignored. It would be fine if these books were honest enough to challenge the Christian influence in homeschooling, or even attempt to discredit it, but they simply ignore it. No one should be surprised by this – it’s certainly a publisher’s or author’s prerogative to include or
exclude whatever they want. However, we should be concerned.secular

I’m confused about what sort of challenge these people want. Most homeschool material is curriculum and doesn’t cover the history of education and how homeschooling really got its groove on. If you want to look into the history of home education, specifically, then yes, I’d probably agree that Christian homeschoolers had a lot to do with either challenging state laws that made homeschooling illegal or helping to clarify where the law was vague or didn’t address it at all. I just don’t understand what obligation anyone could possibly have to the original (Christian?) political activists from years ago, or what challenge they’re after. No one, to my knowledge, is denying that Christian activists paved the way for homeschooling to become more mainstream. But I don’t go around thanking the descendants of the Revolutionary War for establishing American’s independence (although I could – <looks in mirror> Thank you, Heather, for your ancestor’s service. Why, you’re most welcome, Heather! Cheers!!)  And just who is it sitting around wanting acknowledgement – those who fought those battles likely have grand or great-grandchildren by now – haven’t they moved on to bigger and better things?? I just don’t get it.

And what does that even mean, ‘remake homeschooling in its own image’. Do they mean ‘secular’? Because that doesn’t mean ‘anti-Christian’. Literally, the definition of secular is: denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis. You know, like school/education… which can have a spiritual or religious component, but is not, in and of itself, a religious activity. I would love for one of these alarmist articles to use the word ‘secular’ correctly just once! Lots of things are secular – baths…baths are secular. So is mowing the lawn and feeding the cat. Secular doesn’t mean ‘bad’, nor does it mean that you are in any way prohibited from bathing in Holy Water, or asking the Lord’s blessings upon your lawnmower or praying over your cat’s Tuna Delight. It just means that they’re mundane things; not inherently spiritual. And that’s perfectly fine.

But to say that they are an ignored population or imply that they are in any way under attack, is baffling. In my city and surrounding area, for example, at one point there were thirteen homeschooling groups/co-ops. Of those only ONE was secular/inclusive. I also am part of a Texas-wide secular homeschooling group, and there are places where there is an active homeschooling community but only one family that isn’t faith-based for a hundred miles or more. I hardly think that by any stretch of the imagination, the Christian population of homeschoolers is in any way under-served. Not to mention that it’s pretty presumptuous to assume that all homeschoolers are Christian (or white, or mom is the primary teacher, or that the students are her own children – assumptions are bad, m’kay?). Homeschooling has attracted so many more types of people and families since the early days.

The article continues:

Potential or new homeschoolers who pick up the latest secular tome claiming to be the greatest ever guide to homeschooling will receive a distorted picture of the movement that overlooks the enormous impact and influence of Christian culture on homeschooling. Many new and veteran homeschoolers will pick up these books because they have “homeschooling” in the title, and may undiscerningly recommend them to others, tacitly endorsing the secularized viewpoint of these publications. Large bookstore chains will carry these books, often to the exclusion of books published by Christian publishers and authors, throwing the weight of their reputation behind this new and more “PC” brand of homeschooling. This could, potentially, influence public opinion, and even legislation.

The reality, of course, is that this is business as usual in our culture. But the net effect of this in a decade could be the co-opting of the national homeschool movement by secularists. Christian homeschooling would not go away, but in the new institutionalized, culturally acceptable form, it would likely be marginalized.

Again, unless you’re specifically looking into the history of homeschooling, most ‘homeschooling 101’ manuals don’t cover the start of the homeschooling movement. Even if they did, homeschooling has changed so much since the ’70s and ’80s – even the ’90s for that matter. It’s hard enough keeping up with the legal requirements year to year – who has time, and it it even necessary to read up on how homeschooling became a thing? If you’re interested in it – sure; but I’d be willing to bet most people don’t care. Even when I started homeschooling my own kids, researcher that I am, I don’t recall ever feeling like I needed to delve into the history of homeschooling; all I really needed to know about homeschooling was: is it legal? what do I have to do? how do we get started? Short of knowing that the case that made it legal in Texas was TEA v. Leeper 1991, I have literally not looked any deeper into the history of homeschooling than that.

Do Christian homeschoolers get a nod of thanks for the work they did to legalize homeschooling? Sure; maybe. But Christian homeschoolers, despite making up the majority of the homeschooling population overall, aren’t the only ones out there. Their presence is obvious; their impact and influence over the materials isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. Take a trip to any homeschool store or convention, and the stacks are overflowing with Christian-based materials – I can’t even say ‘faith-based’ because the overwhelming majority of the material out there is Christian-influenced. So color me very confused when I ask what in the name of Merlin these people are even talking about. Most of us who prefer a secular curriculum have to look long and hard to find resources; and if you’re looking for resources within a particular style of homeschooling (like Charlotte Mason), essentially your only option is to ‘secularize’ a Christian resource.

Of course companies have started capitalizing on homeschool culture, and thank goodness they did or we’d all be trying to adapt other resources still (which sucks). My siblings and I were homeschooled in the early/mid ’90s, and my cousins were homeschooled throughout (so from roughly 1982-1998-ish). I remember my aunt sharing resources with my mom, but most were classroom-designed materials that were adapted for homeschool use. Nowadays, there are myriad resources that start out for homeschool use.  Most are Christian-based, but more and more come out every year that are secular, which is awesome! That doesn’t mean that Christian resources will go away. I dare say that most secular homeschoolers look at some of the models of Christian homeschooling and shudder – their goal being to move in as far opposite a direction from that model as possible. Even some mainstream curriculum options are often shunned by some Christian homeschoolers because it’s based on a 6,000 year old Earth model rather than based in fact. While I disagree with that, personally, I recognize that it is your right to use those materials if you choose to, and I’m not out campaigning for laws to restrict their use. I think it’s a fair application of ‘live and let live’.

Obvious disclaimer is obvious… there are a great many – the majority, even – Christian homeschoolers out there who want nothing to do with this kind of crazy-pants fanaticism. I recognize that the worldview perpetuated by the image that set this post off is a small, but unfortunately vocal, population of faith-based homeschoolers, and that this stereotype is just as damaging to the overall perception of Christianity as terrorists are to Islam and Muslim people and culture. I think most people get that. It certainly isn’t the responsibility of the normal/average Christian to dispel these kinds of perceptions, and I don’t expect the average/normal Christian homeschooler to do that. I can only ever speak from my own experience, and over the last decade, I feel like homeschoolers that aren’t faith-based have finally started to make themselves known. Homeschooling is SO MUCH MORE ACCESSIBLE now, and that is amazing. There are all kinds of people homeschooling – working moms, stay at home dads, single parents, parents who work/school cooperatively with other families, virtual-schoolers, unschoolers, straight parents, queer parents, non-traditional families, faith-based homeschoolers, Christians who use secular resources, and literally every other niche dynamic I can think of… it’s incredible and wonderful and diverse and I am happy to be part of it… and it bothers me that there are still people who want to take that away because it’s not exactly ‘their’ perception of Right™.

Y’all go out and play nice! Follow Jesus’ example of ‘How to be a Compassionate Adult in 1 Easy Step’ (spoiler: Step 1: Don’t be a dick.).

Just food for thought.
Warmly,
~h


Fight for Kids, Not Against Them

I came across this article the other day that was about fighting for your boys instead of against them. The post was Christian-based, but made some really valid ideas… up to a certain point.

Some of the first things on the page were amazing observations; that as our sons grow, feeling that we (parents and children) weren’t on the same team anymore; that it’s normal for our children to challenge parental authority as a natural part of breaking from the family unit to seek/establish their own identity; and that emotions can creep in and do their best to persuade Mom that the child is the problem, rather than the situation/behaviour.

I’m totally with her up to that point. I was expecting similarly ‘aware’ progression and advice/solutions to help a parent and a child work through this stage in a positive and productive manner, but what I got was an utter break in rational thought. To be fair, I didn’t realize that this was a Christian-based article; had I known that, I would have been prepared for the abrupt shift from ‘awareness and reason’ to the ‘slam-the-shutters-down’ glaze of reason in favor of the party-line of Christian-based ignorance.

Rather than offer practical solutions, the author completely ignores the *actual* issues like communication, understanding and the like, she introduces unnecessary confusion into the equation by excusing the child’s behaviour completely by blaming ‘Satan’ as the one who’s destroying your relationship with your child and “Jesus/God” and prayer being the solution. Rather than actually DOING anything, she advocates what boils down to making a series of wishes, crossing your fingers and hoping that things will get better while absolving yourself of any further responsibility. After all, it’s not our fault that these issues escalate; it’s ‘Satan’.

I’ve never understood this  mindset – that parents bear no responsibility. Putting the onus on parents to ‘pray harder’ or ‘do more’ (which usually means getting more involved at church, which ends up taking the parents even further away from their kids) makes parents feel even more helpless, and that things are even further removed from their hands to ‘fix’ things. Perpetuating the idea that parents can’t be wrong under the guise of being ‘godly’ only further alienates children from their parents, because the solutions aren’t family-based. All the kids end up seeing is a parent traveling a road that the child isn’t on, doesn’t understand, or isn’t interested in. More effective, I believe, if for parents to be open to the idea that they may have things ALL WRONG. Examine their methods and look for flaws. Admitting to their mistakes, acknowledging their humanity and propensity to make mistakes levels the playing field and puts you all firmly on the same side. How much easier is it for a child to admit to his mistakes when a parent first admits their own?

I believe in helping my children understand that they control their own actions, just as I do. We all make decisions each and every step of our lives, and they aren’t always the right ones. But even a misstep can be re-directed. It’s not some invisible evil that tempts and lures us; it’s decision-making on our part. Sure, we can be led astray, or get lost for a time, but having a family structure that allows for mistakes and is supportive about correcting them can help set things right again. Cultivating an environment within the family of being honest with ourselves about how we feel, what we need, asking for help when we need it, and a host of other issues that both begin and end with the parents. I don’t believe that there is an invisible force that will magically fix things, or in excusing my children’s undesirable behaviours (due to immaturity, lack of experience or hormonally-driven out of control emotions) because of ‘Satan’. Poking your head in the sand never solved anything. Perpetuating a culture of helplessness by shirking the monumental task of raising children to be responsible, self-aware adults who contribute positively to society is detrimental to our future on this planet. It’s even more difficult when the parents are re-working their own childhood trauma to make better decisions for their own families.

The practical solution to this issue begins when they are small. Children understand language long before they have the ability to speak. If even a 6 month old dog can understand basic commands, think how much more intelligent our children are. If we give our children the vocabulary to describe their feelings, help them focus on how they feel as a basis for asking for what they need, imagine how much more concise their communication will be when they’re older. Sometimes, for myself especially, this means learning to do that for yourself is the first step – and it’s a hard one. While this is my ideal, it’s certainly not always attainable; I’m human and fallible, not a robot that can be programmed without deviation to a previous operating system. I’ve also failed in numerous ways to override my first impulse and implement the new ways of communication that I’ve striven to learn. Thankfully, my kids are both understanding and forgiving, and we continue to learn together.

I’m not an expert of child-rearing, but I do know that ‘prayer’, at least when applied to this type of situation, isn’t a solution. It may be part of a solution, but it’s not going to work without the active involvement of the parents and cooperative action from the children. Kids need active parenting – proActive parenting, even. Especially as pre-teens and teens, when they’re going through the agonizing process of separating themselves from their identity as an almost-adult instead of ‘X’s child’. I would so much rather have my children know that they can come to me with mist-steps along the way and know that they will find a hearing (and understanding) ear rather than a disappointed tut-tut and reference to the Nation of Israel, or some other biblical anecdote that vaguely mirrors the situation they’ve come to me with (I always HATED that as a kid).

I don’t ‘like’ organized religion as a whole; that’s no secret. But if you’re religious, that’s fine – pray, pray for your kids, pray with them. But please don’t make the mistake of praying and thinking that you’re done. Offspring are long-term projects; ones that take YEARS to fully develop, and they need you every step of the way.

Warmly,
~h


I Allow My Kids to Play Violent Video Games

Hi there. I’m a parent, and I play violent video games. I have never killed anyone,  mugged anyone, maimed or raped anyone, robbed a bank or knocked over any convenience stores, or lived through the Zombie Apocalypse or fought in any Alien Wars. I also allow my kids to play violent video games. 

I consider myself an AP parent, with all of the lovey-dovey concepts that go along with it in full practice.  I also consider myself a  ‘crunchy’ mom (scoring 157 on the crunch scale), and I do not find these lifestyles incompatible with allowing my children to experience and participate in video game violence. I thought that I would start off with that clarification so as to give you, dear reader, an idea of where I stand on this issue. 

This topic comes up quite a bit in my group of homeschool friends. Most of us have gaming kids, and they often play together online. The confession of which games our kids play is almost always admitted with a shy smile, ducked head and almost shameful countenance, like we’re divulging some horrible secret. I grew up watching Bugs Bunny (of sarcastic, cross-dressing fame) and Daffy Duck/Elmer Fudd/Yosemite Sam trick and try to kill each other with horrifying regularity. Then there was Wile E. Coyote, with his unlimited spending account at Acme. Co., try, and fail (often with self-destructive consequence) to off the Roadrunner. Other cartoons, Captain Caveman, Tom & Jerry, Ren & Stimpy, the terminal stupidity of Beavis and Butthead… all had their share of cartoon mayhem and violence. I grew up with video games, like Super Mario Brothers (where the Mario Brothers begin their reign of murder and 8-bit violence on the animal population of Mario World within the very first frame), Contra (where there is nuthin’ but killin’, especially with the ‘up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start’ cheat code, which allowed a wholesale killing spree virtually without consequence). Though the graphics have improved, the violence in video games nowadays is more often in story format now (movie format, even) and in many, you can choose your path to be less or more violent.

Articulating why I allow my children to play such games is often elusive. Being able to pinpoint exactly why I don’t find them as threatening as Media portrays them is very difficult. But I came across this article on The Escapist by Shamus Young called ‘Violent Video Games are Awesome‘ that does a wonderful job explaining what I haven’t been able to. Katie Couric apparently brought this topic into the limelight yet again(with a beautiful critique by Chris Person on Kotaku), and tweeted for the public to respond with the positive side of video game violence, and Mr. Young’s reply was, in part, thus:

“This is a really pernicious way to continue the conversation. Imagine if I argued that nose piercings caused brain cancer. To support my argument, I talk about two people (there’s a robust data set for you) who had pierced noses and who also had cancer. And then I ask everyone if there’s anything positive about nose piercings. Instead of defending my ridiculous and shoddy argument, I’ve put the opposition in a spot where they somehow have to justify the existence of the thing I’m attacking.

It’s hard to give the positive side of lots of things: Celebrity gossip shows, greasy food, rock music about sex and drugs, trashy romance novels, and shallow Bejeweled knockoffs for Facebook. You can’t show the societal benefit of this stuff. That doesn’t matter. In any kind of civilized world, you shouldn’t need to prove that your entertainment benefits society. That’s not why we make or consume entertainment.

The argument is taking the angle of, “since these games [maybe] cause violence, and since they have no redeeming social value…” and then letting the audience take over from there. Couric doesn’t need to dirty her hands arguing that violent games should be banned. She can just construct a narrative where that’s the obvious conclusion and let nature take its course.”

I’ve only quoted a small section of his rebuttal, and I encourage you to read the article in its entirety. His assessment of Ms. Couric’s methods are spot-on, and his reasoning is quite sound. Many of the points that he makes, including that of the regulation and compliance of video game manufacturers to  appropriately label their products being far superior to other warning labels, are points that never seem to get brought up in the ‘great debate’.

Another issue lacking in the ‘great debate’ is parental supervision. Aside from the fact that these are MY KIDS and I am the one who gets to decide what they are able to handle and allowed to do, the push to ban video games wrests this decision from my hands and puts it into the hands of a one-size-fits-all government. It implies that I, as a parent, am incapable of making the decision as to what my child should and shouldn’t be allowed to do.

As their parents, Loverly Husband and I have what we consider reasonable rules about video game violence. For one, our kids are not allowed to play games in which you are killing people. So, no ‘Call of Duty’, no ‘Rainbow Six’ – most realistic ‘war games’ are out. However, killing fictional monsters? A-OK. ‘Halo’,’ Gears of War’, and cartoon video game violence (Mario, Sonic, Ratchet & Clank, and the like are all fine). When they are allowed to play games with a more mature ESRB rating, they do so with language and gore off, so no huge blood spatters and gratuitous swearing. This is far less ‘violent’ than movies like even Harry Potter, where people start getting killed by kids in the first movie, and get tortured by wicked adults more or less throughout the franchise, or Chronicles of Narnia, where a sibling group of children lead a war of men and fantasy creatures alike, or Avatar, where an entire civilization is razed in grand American fashion for land and money, then rises up to kill their oppressors (which is what the Native Americans are still being punished for… and the American government is totally fine with that, even to the point of celebrating and revering the perpetrator of this horrific injustice with a national holiday). I dare say that’s done more to desensitize people to real violence and atrocity than killing off fictional invading aliens in a video game.

Another rule for us is that Loverly Husband usually plays it first. There are definitely games that they are not allowed to play – my personal favorite ‘grown up game’ is the Dead Rising franchise; zombie killin’ sprees all around. Games like  Alan Wake and L.A. Noir are off the table for the kids. Resident Evil, BioShock, DeadSpace, Grand Theft Auto, Saint’s Row… all are off limits to our kids.

I realize that other parents have different rules for their kids, violent video games or not, and that’s fine. That’s as it should be. When my kids go to friends’ homes that have more restrictive rules, they abide by them. When they visit friends who have less restrictive rules, they are required to follow house rules where they’re at (which means that occasionally, they may play video games that we don’t allow, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s okay with us).

One aspect of this argument is woefully ill-addressed. The constant assumption in this debate is that given the opportunity, kids will always choose violent video games just because they’re available, over others. That’s certainly not true in our house. PeaGreen plays Minecraft on creative with no mobs (no killing at all) more than any other game, ever. LBB’s favorite franchise is Halo, but it’s not just limited to the games. He reads the novels, instruction guides, watches videos of game strategy – it’s more than ‘just a game’ for him. Do they get carried away with it sometimes? Absolutely. They’re both focused, intense kids. When the game gets too consuming, we will either cut back of go for a full media ban for a while (which we’re currently doing in prep for summertime). The same could be said of any recreational activity. Balance in all things, right?

The bottom line is that I don’t think that there is a correlation between kids playing video games and being violent. That logic is post hoc ergo propter hoc. Violence is far more likely in children with underlying issues: depression, behavioural problems, un-diagnosed food sensitivities, developmental disorders, family issues and the like. But these issues are almost never brought up as the reason a child exhibits violent behaviour; instead video games are used as a scapegoats because we want something/someone to blame, and a ‘quick fix’ solution, even if it’s entirely mis-directed. We conveniently tend to forget that:

“Violence is (and always has been) a part of the human condition. From war to child abuse, murder to school-yard bullying, violence takes its toll, often with children being the innocent victims (or occasionally the not-so-innocent perpetrators).”

http://www.public.asu.edu/~dbodman/

Loverly Husband and I use common sense and knowledge of our kids, and communication with them to determine when something is within their ability to handle, and to help them understand the difference between entertainment/fantasy and reality. They’re not stupid. They understand that what may be acceptable in a video game is not how one would act in real life. They’re old enough to get that what they do and experience in an entertainment format is vastly different than real life, and we have done our best to ensure that with communication and supervision.

Allowing them to play violent video games does not make me an uninvolved or unconcerned parent, nor do I believe that it increases my children’s tendency to act in a violent manner. On the contrary, we are extremely involved in our children’s lives, and have been told to have an enviable relationship with them. Judge me if you will, but make no mistake about our interest in their welfare.

But if you need more ammo in order to cast me in the role of ‘bad mother’, I also let them listen to heavy metal and rock music, never used a trampoline net, allow them to play near a snake-infested pond, shoot guns and own archery equipment, and occasionally buy them a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go teach my kids about evolution and sex.
Warmly,
~h