Sheltering kids

We recently had a mom join our Nova Unschoolers email list who is not happy with how the school experience in going for her kids. She wanted to find out more about homeschooling and to help allay some of her fears. One of the issues she brought up was the fear that she might be "babying" her kids and that school is necessary for kids to be able to manage in the "real world" (where else will they be able to learn how to deal with those "hard knocks"?).

This is actually a very common argument against homeschooling. "Kids have to learn how to cope in the real world where everything does not revolve around their needs." and "Kids need the discipline that school gives them".

The funny thing is, do people really think that homeschoolers do not want their kids to grow, to be more responsible, and to learn self-discipline? That we don't want our kids to be able to deal with "real life" issues? Of course we do! Thousands of kids are being homeschooled, and you know what? They are turning out to be able to function very well! Even without 12 years of school to "teach" them how.

I wonder if, on some level, the people who make this argument need it to be true…otherwise all the BS they put up with in school was not needed! Or maybe school did help them become more disciplined and focused…but my theory is that it was more their personality type rather then school. Yes, school helped them nurture it, but it was there to begin with. Not all kids who go to school turn out to be disciplined after all.

Really though…to think outside the box for a moment…I wonder if making kids "learn discipline" for over 12 years actually backfires? I remember hearing an argument that going to school helps teach a kid how to get up on time (a skill they will need if they want to hold down a job). Putting aside the questionable assumption that all kids will eventually go on to jobs that require them to wake early, this argument seems to make sense on the surface - as we know for sure that left to their own devices, kids would never want to get up on their own…I mean look at how hard it is to get kids up for school on time!

But what if kids were not made to get up on time for something that they may or may not like (school) for 12 years? What if they were given the freedom to sleep in sometimes (or always?). What would happen? Well, lots of homeschool kids have this option and it seems that if there is a good reason for the kid to be up (good to them), they can wake up early even without years of training.

I have seen this with Jason (8 years old). Several months ago he asked to have an alarm clock so that he could wake up at 7am and watch tv/play gamecube without having to share with his younger brother (who usually sleeps until 8am). He also asked his dad to make sure he is awake before he leaves for work. Shocked me I can tell you…a kid who wants to wake up earlier? Yup. And what makes this more surprising is that he is more of a night owl and definitely not a morning person! He even remembers to set his alarm clock at night without me reminding him. The reason to wake up is important enough to him. And you know what? This is the discipline that I want him to develop. Self-discipline. Not the "because I say you have to" discipline with artificial consequences (what do grades really mean anyways?)

So it can and does happen. Now, will every kid decide to wake up early? Probably not…maybe some kids will decide that sleeping in is more important and will get a later starting job. Who knows? I just don't think that 12 years is necessary to develop this "skill" or any other skill. I know that as soon as I went to college I tried to schedule as many afternoon classes as I could and I slept many a weekend morning away…often times just because I could! (OK…and sometimes because I had to after staying out too late the night before, but that is another blog post….)

Another problem I have with this "need to cope in the real world" argument is, do these folks really think that we are able to totally construct an environment where our kids never have to do something they don't want to do? Really? If so, please show me how to do it, I will do it for myself! The fact is that our kids will be living in the "real world" (much more so then if they were in school!) and will naturally have to deal with situations where they have to do things they don't want to. Shoot…every day my kids have to deal with that just because I have 2 kids who do not always want to do what the other one wants. They also have classes they take where they deal with other kids (yes…homeschoolers do not always spend all their time at home!). And they have to deal with me as well, as I am sure that Jason will tell you.

The thing is, they will learn much more about compromise and coming to a consensus in these situations because they will have more control over the situation. If they are being bullied, they don't need to learn how to deal with it…they can decide that they do not want to put up with it and drop the activity. Or they can decide that the activity is worth it and I can help them determine what their options are and plan a course of action. The important part is that I am there to help…they are not thrown into the deep end and told to cope the best they can.

Where else in the "real world" other then school (and jail) are you given no choice but to be there? Yes, you often have to deal with undesirable things where you work…but you are still there by choice and you can decide if it is worth working in that kind of environment (and most times you also have some sort of recourse available). Kids in school do not have that choice and they do not have the guidance of a parent that they have if they homeschool. I prefer that my kids look to me when learning how to deal with difficult people and situations…not their peers.

I remember when I first started out and had similar worries…a wonderful hsing friend asked me if I really thought that it would take 12 years for my kids to learn how to wake up early. Or to learn how to take a test or how to ….It was a big "aha" moment for me….

Also published on Life Without School.