The first concern centers around narrow presumptions about how learning and socialization should happen. Apparently the 5-day-a-week, 7-hour-a-day format really makes sense to some people. But if children/humans really are born to learn, to puzzle their way through the world, does this stop at 2:30? And how much of the school day do you really think is devoted to learning? And must it happen in a group setting, and from the top down? The weirdest misconception is that classroom settings are ideal training for adult social interactions. Or rather, that the segregations inherent to our school system, where children are divided according to age, academic ability, and by default, race, social class (and often gender) are structures that we want to teach and have them perpetuate as adults. The more you hear people protest about the need for “socialization,” the creepier the term seems.
When you chose this alternate path, you learn to evaluate and use your resources very differently. As a New Yorker, I let the city become my co-teacher. I let the subway system teach my son about maps, timing, personal space, courtesy, rodents. The homeless guy who sits outside our grocery store is teaching him about social inequality, and also about charm. We have access to fantastic restaurants, great museums, gardens and parks. Some of the most talented artists and entrepreneurs in the country live right in our neighborhood. And we actually take advantage of all of these resources, since we have the time to do so. My son takes a handful of classes, we belong to a variety of groups, and we have play-dates 4 to 5 days a week. He chats with our dry cleaner; he negotiates with our fruit vendor, and he’s learned to politely indulge the elderly neighbors’ excessive attentions. We live in a place of constant contact and exposure. The notion that either one of us has been isolated or socially deprived by the choice to homeschool is absurd.
On to the second concern: this is not a condemnation of your choices. (Also, NYC’s social landscape will survive this, it has endured much worse.) I’m keenly aware that it’s not an option available to everyone. Critics have rightly pointed out that it’s mostly workable for a stay-at-home mother with a well-paid spouse. And indeed, my partner is the primary breadwinner. While I do have an income, my part time job and freelance assignments (one of which you are reading right now) are minor contributions to the pot. But there are many women and men in the homeschooling community who are in fact, “other than” the white, middle-class, married, employed, etc., stereotype that so many people hold. So, while my choice may be a privileged one, for many women in this community, it is a radical one. This brings us to the next question.
The third concern: Sigh. Yes, this somehow has become yet another shitty front in the Mommy Wars. The homeschooling community has more than doubled in 10 years. There are over two million homeschooling families in the U.S. right now. While this exponentially growing movement is mostly led by women, it has either been overlooked or simply dismissed by many feminists. I think at the root of this dismissal lies the belief that this is a one-way transaction. The implication is that our children are sucking us dry of information, leaving us hollow shells. And, at the end of this 18-year “teaching process” they will decamp, leaving us withered, bereft, career-less. On the contrary, this process is mutually beneficial. I now approach new information and learning opportunities in a global way. For instance, did you know how many different ways you can explore the subject of pirates and piracy? There is the historical perspective, the geo-political perspective, you can look at maritime law, explore questions about slavery and theft (so, moral and ethical questions). There is the pressing question of pirate fashion and pirate music, and foods commonly eaten at sea.
Generally, I am becoming more adept at breaking problems down to their essence, identifying the fundamentals and building ideas from there. This learning has informed my work—writing, translation, transcription, etc. And the process of teaching is teaching me patience, which informs my yoga practice, my relationships, and my own explorations. Sitting with my son’s questions, not batting them away, as he puts out a thousand little feelers, figuring his way through the landscape (psychic and physical), has been a therapeutic exercise for me. I am learning to be less reactive; I can sit with my own breath, with my own frustrations. Maybe once I am able to get him to differentiate between his b’s and d’s, I will be ready for laghuvajrasana. or translating Proust.
To circle back to the question of my career: feminism is not about arbitrarily prioritizing a woman’s career. It is about integrating women, children, and men into a balanced mode of living, rather than a fractured/authoritarian structure. In fact, the holistic structure of homeschooling intuitively mimics this ideally balanced world. Paid labor is not the only form of fulfillment or validation. I long ago let go of the idea that the things I was best at were lucrative. Why would I want a financial stamp of approval from a system I abhor? Instead, I have found homeschooling a place to explore, to nurture and be nurtured. Most importantly, my child is thriving.
You’re wondering when I’m going to get to the Jews. It’s coming, I promise. I just had to get all that off my chest. Thanks for indulging me. And the Jewish question complicates things further, so let me get to that in my next post.