It’s Not Them, It’s Me

I’ve posted twice about Toastmasters. The first time, I was glowing when I got home and wrote about how great the group was. The second time, I didn’t have such a great time. I’ve spent the intervening weeks working up the courage to try another group.

This weekend, a long-time friend suggested a possible reason for the couple of members’ awkwardness (and rudeness) the last time I was at a meeting. Perhaps, she said, they heard me say I was a homeschooler, dismissed me as a “religious freak” (her words), and didn’t hear anything I said after, “I’m a homeschooler.”

I was taken aback. A religious freak? Really? With the nose piercing and the unshaven legs and the Birkenstocks?

I admit, my first inclination was to get defensive.

I’m certainly not one of those kinds of homeschoolers. I accept the science behind evolution. I don’t (often) wear my hair in a bun, nor do I wear ankle-length denim jumpers. I have only two children by (emphatic) choice. Heck, I’m a Unitarian Universalist/Buddhist (a Buddhitarian, if you will). I can barely even be called “religious.” (I can see the argument for the “freak” part, though.)

As I thought about it more,  I realized that my defensiveness showed my own bias against families who homeschool for religious reasons.

I’m fairly sure that these families exist, but I’ve not met any of them that I know of. I’ve certainly met people who are homeschoolers and are devout in their religious faith. I’ve met people for whom religion and spirituality are a central part of their home education. But I’ve also met people who send their children to private schools and public schools who are equally devout and for whom religion is just as central to their family life. What I’ve not met are homeschoolers who’ve actually removed their children from school because they want to avoid secular influences.

This is what my neighbor asked me the second time we spoke with one another.

“So, do you homeschool because you want to protect your children from the secular influences in the schools?” he asked.

I was tempted to answer, “No,” but I realized this would imply an agreement with the assumption behind his question, that there are influences in the schools that I might want my children to avoid because they’re non-religious.

I could have answered, “Yes,” because there really are non-religious aspects of schools that I want my children to avoid, like overcrowded classrooms, bullying, and a focus on grading and testing, rewards and punishments, rather than on fostering cooperation, compassion, and a love of learning.

The truth is, I homeschool mostly because of the positives of homeschooling. I want to spend time with my kids. I want the excitement of watching them learn and make connections. I want them to have time to pursue extra-curricular activities without sacrificing alone time, which I know my introverted kiddos need even in our small family and would need even more if they spent 6-8 hours a day with two or three dozen kids. I want them to have the benefit of one-on-one instruction that moves at their own unique pace, adjusted daily or hourly, if needed.

I believe in public schooling. I support public funds for schools and for better teacher salaries. I believe that every child has a right to an education, regardless of social or economic status or their parents’ background.

I just don’t think public schools are the best place for my children. Nor do I think most (nearly all) private schools are the best fit for my kids. I have the interest and the ability to teach my children at home. My opinions on home education encompass only my individual children and my own ambitions, skills, and limitations as their parent. I do not prescribe this choice to anyone. How could I? I’m not in their situation. I cannot know what’s best for someone else’s family.

So, where does this leave my Toastmasters experience?

If the people at Toastmasters that evening heard the word “homeschooler” and dismissed me as whatever kind of freak, they weren’t seeing me and they weren’t even willing to try to see me. If this is the case, then I was judged and rejected on the basis of one word and an inaccurate stereotype. Of course, when presented with this possibility, I jumped to just the same type of stereotyping and rejection as I tried to defend myself.

But I can’t know why people—well, two people—were rude to me that evening. Maybe I smelled bad. Maybe it was because, when asked to speak about leadership, I talked about the Founders of the country while they were talking about corporate leadership and Stephen Covey and motivational speakers.

Perhaps they were intimidated by my awesomeness (it could happen).

Fact is, regardless of what their reasons were, I’m responsible for how I react.

I choose to live with just one foot outside the mainstream, and that can cause some imbalances I think. I refuse to be restricted to just one group. I want to be a blogging hippie homeschooling Classics-reading toddler-nursing mama who also happens to go to Toastmasters and rub elbows with the full-time corporate/entrepreneurial types there.

In college I hung out with stoners and honors students (and stoner honors students) and cheerleaders and football players. I played in the flute chorale, attended a Christian missionary group, and co-founded an underground newspaper and an AIDS awareness club. I played rugby, babysat, and worked in the library, the athletics department, the community service office, and the campus games room.

I like being in between. I like finding common ground with people who seem very different from me. I guess this makes me a perpetual freak since I’m never going to fit fully into any particular group. If I don’t get a warm reception everywhere I go, I’d best get used to it because I’m kind of asking for it. But if I stick with it and keep trying, I will eventually find that common ground with even the people with whom I seem the most dissimilar. In that way, I won’t be a total outcast with any group of people. (Except maybe the Justin Bieber fans.)

What I want to remember, though, next time I meet up with some religious homeschoolers, is to look for our similarities. This is my chance to feel the strength of my convictions and not feel threatened by different viewpoints or victimized when others don’t receive me as warmly as I’d like.

And this is my pep talk to try and get myself to attend Wednesday’s Toastmasters meeting. We’ll see if I make it or if I make excuses to miss it again.

Staying up past midnight the night before to blog is a pretty good excuse. Maybe I’ll go with that one.

4 comments

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  3. Melanie Meadors · August 24, 2011

    I’ve had that happen to me a couple times. THere was a family down the street who wouldn’t let their daughter play with my son because they heard we homeschooled (so we must be freaks). After about a year they saw we didn’t bite, so now she comes over regularly. But quite often I come across the opposite, where there are very conservative and religious homeschoolers who are also very political, and they distanced themselves from us because we weren’t on their side of the fence. To each his own, I guess. I just try not to let it bother me, though I do sometimes feel hurt that anyone would think that we would be some kind of bad influence on their family. We generally try not to judge, so often it comes as a surprise when someone judges us merely for not being the right religion, or because I wear pants. I just try to let my actions speak for themselves, because obviously you can’t convince people like that with words. “Yes, I’m a nice person!” Perpetual freak has sort of described me since my high school days… But at least I’m my own person rather than a sheep.

    (Ugh, the girls down the street are obsessed with JB…Every time his name comes up while they are playing I say, “Oh, I’m starting to not feel well again…” jokingly and either they stop or they purposely start making up JB cheers and try to drive me insane. Yup, I get the respect of the neighborhood children….)

    Like

    • CJ · August 24, 2011

      I’m surprised to find that perhaps Utah (well, Salt Lake City) is more tolerant of homeschooling and differences in religious belief than Central Massachusetts is. This certainly warrants more observation.

      Like

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