Friday, March 20, 2009

Conversations at the pool

My kids are taking swimming lessons at the YMCA now, and I've struck up a pool-side friendship with one of the other moms. So far, we have had the typical public-school-mom to homeschool-mom conversations. It's always so funny to me, how predictable these conversations are. It's also a little sad, in a way.

I started by asking about her kids' school and how she liked it. She went on at great length about the large classes, the busywork in the classroom, the lack of PE, the homework. In short, she wasn't too happy with it, but, hey, she said "it's free." I wanted to ask what school district she lived in, where she doesn't have to pay taxes that go to the school system, but I refrained. I didn't think she'd want to be lectured on the difference between "free" and "taxpayer-funded."

So she in turn asked about my kids' school; I correctly anticipated her response to being told that we homeschool: "Really? Wow, you must have a lot more patience than I do! I couldn't do it. My kids fight all the time." It was just about at that moment that my boy gave his sister a big hug of praise and encouragement after her first ever jump off the diving platform. What great timing. The woman's eyes popped out and she asked "do they ever fight?"

I thought about telling her that homeschooled kids have lots of opportunity to develop close relationships with their siblings because they are not separated all day into age-specific groups. But I didn't have a chance because she suddenly asked "does this count as PE for your kids?"

Think about this. Her kids are in swimming lessons because their public school doesn't give them enough PE. And she is asking me if the swimming lessons count as PE for my kids.

So I reassure her that yes, they count, and so does the homeschool PE class my boy participates in, and Little League baseball, and the exercises he is doing for Boy Scouts every day. And so does soccer in the fall, and walking the dog around the block, and doing morning stretches, and hiking in the park.

She didn't say anything for a minute; she looked a little confused. Then she said "Really? It counts?" I should have been ready for this because I've heard it before, at baseball and soccer. The moms of schoolkids that I have run into just don't get how sports can count as PE, even though PE often includes... sports. At least it did when I was in school; that was why I was always cutting PE. I guess it's because there's no grade attached to it, no consequences if they don't do well, and, of course, no state-certified teacher involved.

The lesson ended then, so we jumped up, quickly said goodbye, and tried to hustle our girls into the showers before the line got too long.

The following week I was surprised when she sat down with me again. This time she was ready with her homeschooling question - a classic: "Do you have ways to get your kids, you know, out with other kids?" (She must not have heard the s-word.) I always want to say "you mean around other kids, like NOW?" But I don't. I just say yes, between Scouts and other classes and church and Sunday School and neighborhood friends and homeschooling activities and, you know, swimming lessons, yes, they are around other kids.

So, it's sort of funny, like I said, because the conversations are so predictable. That's OK, because homeschooling is kind of weird to most people, and I don't expect them to know much about it. This woman at the Y isn't challenging me, or asking me why public schools aren't good enough, or telling me I'm warping my kids' minds. She's just asking questions.

But the sad part: she doesn't really like her kids' school, or the education they're getting, but it doesn't occur to her that there are other ways to educate her kids. I wonder how many parents are sending their kids to schools they don't like, to get an education they find inadequate, and doing nothing about it, because the "free" public school is the default position. I don't find that sad because they're not homeschooling. I don't think homeschooling is for everyone. I find it odd, and sad, that there's no decision there. No "critical thinking" which is supposedly a big part of education these days. I'd love to hear one of these moms I meet say "yeah, we thought about homeschooling, and private school, but we decided public school would be better for our family" even if "better" is code for "we can't afford private school and we need two incomes so homeschooling is out." I'd have a lot more respect for someone like that than someone who shrugs and says "oh well, it's free."

I can't wait for the next swimming lesson to see what kind of questions I'll be getting.


Sandy said...

We've had these same kinds of conversations with people and I find them sad as well. It's as though people think there is something magic happening in the school building that can't happen anywhere else, a magic that can't be explained or duplicated's magic.

AmaniS said...

It is the same here in Germany. No one likes the system, but no one knows what to do about it.
She is now thinking about it, but it is not that they made a decision. They didn't think there was one to make.
It is like going to the hospital to have a baby. Until about 10 years ago,people never thought about having one at home.