accepting criticism,  communication,  homeschooling,  how do we know what we know is true

Someone’s judging a homeschooler! Call out the troops. Or maybe, don’t.

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Sometimes I read something someone else writes, and I recognize in it something that connects with other issues. Today I saw a post titled “Maybe we haven’t been critical enough of our fellow moms….” I saw it posted on facebook, and in most of the comments on facebook people were being very critical of the blogger, saying that people need to mind their own business and not judge.

For my part, the post and discussion threw me into all sorts of confusion. The sense I had from the article was not that someone wants to stick her nose into other people’s business willy-nilly, but that someone was trying to tease out and understand the rules around not judging, and why we prioritize that even when people sees children at risk. I could be wrong on that. I don’t know the blogger. I don’t know her sister-in-law. Definitely I question why someone would post publicly about her opinion of her sister-in-law’s educational decisions. If she has real issues with her sister-in-law, I think it probably needs to be taken up quietly, respectfully between the two of them, not publicly. But I can see there being multiple sides around the issue of not judging.questionmark

Donald Trump, for example, wants us to not judge his locker-room talk. The father of the stanford-swimmer-rapist wanted people not to judge his son based on “15 minutes of action”? People use the idea that we should not judge to tell us not to judge actual bad things. So I start to think, we shouldn’t tell people not to judge. We should tell people to judge wisely. Judge thoughtfully. Judge lovingly.

Likewise, to use the language of the original post I’m thinking about today, there are things we need to be critical about, but we need to be critical in wise ways, in loving ways, in effective ways.

The sister-in-law of the other blogger could be doing a great job unschooling. Many unschoolers do great jobs. However, it is also possible that she is not. She might have been overwhelmed homeschooling, and start embracing the unschooling ideas because it helps her feel better at not being able to keep up. She might even know she’s not doing a good job, but everyone around her keeps telling her not to worry because the magic-unschool-fairies make everything work out. It might be that someone does need to sit down and talk with her – find out what is really going on. From this article we can’t really tell what the situation is for the sister-in-law, but it is possible that things really are bad for the kids. We can’t tell, so why do so many homeschoolers jump to assume she’s doing great, other than that they want to defend themselves?

I think it needs to be ok to admit that things don’t always go well. Not everyone who follows the same philosophy as you is doing perfectly. That’s ok. Just like we need to be able to talk about male violence without having to couch things in terms of “not all men,” we should be able to talk about homeschooling problems without having to preface every single sentence with “not all homeschoolers.” The blog I’m blogging about actually does say that she recognizes lots of unschoolers do well. She did try couching it. She’s still getting flack for judging.

People might only hear about the successes of unschooling. They might be assured it will work, because people only talk about the successes and everyone who says otherwise is just “being judgmental.” But there are people who say they are unschooling – who believe they are unschooling – who do not educate their children. Is it being judgmental to say that? Or is it being realistic? There are people who regret unschooling. There should be ways of having honest conversations about that, but it gets hard because people easily get up in arms.

What if this sister-in-law really doesn’t get that unschooling doesn’t work for everyone? What if she’s really not trying in any way? What if her kids really are falling behind, or stopping dreaming of the big things, because they start believing those things are out of their reach, because no one’s helping them learn what they want? What if the sister-in-law is acting not out of an enjoyment of the learning her kids are doing but out of fear that if she says the wrong word to her kids she’ll somehow squash their learning. (I remember when I used to read unschooling blogs that I began to get very nervous, that everything I was doing in interacting with my children was me imposing my will on them and that they would be better if I left them entirely to themselves – something I was never quite ready to do.) What if the sister-in-law is being told that anyone who dares question how she’s doing things is just being judgmental, and because of that she loses the opportunity to really discuss what’s going on in her life?

I think before judging, people need to find out what is really going on in a situation. People not involved in the kids lives shouldn’t make judgements based on labels like unschooling or homeschooling. They shouldn’t make judgements based on academic grade levels or skills, since those vary from child to child. But it is possible for people who are involved in a child’s life to recognize that there is something wrong, and that in this day and age when we put such priority on not-judging, it can be very hard to make that decision and say, “yes, I know so-and-so might be angry with me for this, but I also know I need to do something.” I would hope that anyone who is in a position where they feel the need to do that can do so thoughtfully, making lots of time to listen to the other person and without breaking the relationship. But sometimes, yes, it is necessary to say things another person might not want to hear.

Sometimes it seems that once one idea is expressed, the only people who speak out in that same circle are those who agree. The other people might disagree, but they might look around the circle and think that they are the only ones who disagree, and stay quiet. Sometimes it is important to speak out. In this article the woman mentions vaccines. Sometimes, in certain circles, it seems like the only people who speak out about vaccines are those against it, and its easy to start assuming that lots of one’s friends are against vaccines. Sometimes people need to know not everyone around them disagrees. Yet saying, “I disagree with you on this…” can end up feeling like being judgmental. People can be hesitant to do that.

I don’t know. I don’t know the situation that one blogger sees. I just think there are times when we need to be willing to risk things. We need to be willing to risk having the difficult conversations. We need to be willing to risk being called judgmental.

It hurts to be criticized. It hurts to be judged. I get that, but not every judgement against a particular homeschooler is a judgement against you individually. Not every person who questions you at the grocery store about it is meaning to attack you. It is okay to brush away the comments from ignorant strangers, but it could be beneficial to make space for genuine concerns to be discussed.

My dad used to say that the phrase “polished society” comes from the idea of a rock in rock-tumblers, that society becomes polished because we tumble against one another, breaking off the rough edges in the process. I have no clue if that is the origin of the phrase or not, but using it just as a metaphor, I think its worth noting that its probably pretty painful for the rocks to be tumbled, but that doesn’t mean it is a bad thing either. We all do have rough edges and parts of ourselves that perhaps we do need to let go of. The process of growing up can be painful. Maybe being criticized is like being bumped in the rock-grinder. Maybe the criticism is misjudged and useless, and we’ll just bounce on without changing much, but maybe occasionally there’s things that we need to be challenged on.

With regards to educational choices, I believe that families need to find what works best for their family best to give their children an education. If education is not happening, there is a problem. Who should be the judge of whether that education is happening? Ideally the family and others close to the children, definitely not strangers on the internet, but occasionally government officials. Abusive families do sometimes cloak themselves in the language of homeschooling, using it to justify the lifestyle they want. I think we would be better for listening to those who grew up in abusive families, and modifying the language of homeschooling so that it becomes harder to justify abuse (including educational neglect) through it.

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