Wednesday, 14 September 2011

We're damned if we do, and damned if we don't.

There's been a discussion recently on a home ed list about home ed groups and about how some new home educators felt they weren't welcomed into these groups. There was talk of home ed cliques, of people feeling excluded, of rude behaviour (by adults and children) and of badly behaved children at groups. There was talk of groups being too expensive, too far away, too unstructured. And all of this culminated in a pretty damning (I thought) criticism of experienced home educators, followed up with an insistence that existing home educators somehow HAVE A DUTY to help all new home educators.

Now, I've been thinking about this for a long time. And it's taken a while to work out how to write this post without offending anyone. (Chances are, I'll offend someone so I apologise in advance.) I was also trying to figure out in my head whether us HE oldies do have a duty to provide anything to newbies.

The conclusion I came to was that while it would be nice to think that the ideal home ed community would be welcoming to all, could provide for all, it simply isn't going to always be possible. At a stretch perhaps home edders have a MORAL duty to support and help those just starting out, but in all other aspects we have diddly squat duty to ANYONE except to our own families (and perhaps our boss if he still pays us). The majority of us have been very proactive, have been self-starters in the home ed community, because there simply wasn't a community until we made it into one. We have worked hard and we still do work hard. Most of us have horrendously busy lives (kids, house, work, study not to mention all those less essential jobs that make family life actually work) AND make time for newbies out of our own goodwill. But as for having a DUTY to newbies? I don't think so.

I don't get paid (in kind or in financial reward) for spending an hour a day answering newbie's questions on home ed e-groups. I do it because I hope it will help others, even though answering the same questions day in, day out, takes up time that, realistically, I don't have. People I know who run groups don't get paid (and often don't even get thanked) for the time, money and effort they put in. And there is an indignant part of me that thinks if anyone is willing to put the slog into organising and running a group (and take the inevitable crap - lots of - that goes with it) then they should be able to bloomin' run the group in whatever way they see fit. Even if that means the group doesn't suit me or my family - and often it doesn't.

Now, sure, we all have different ways of educating - and parenting - our children. But if you (that's the hypothetical 'you') don't like what is happening at a group that someone else is voluntarily organising, then you have several choices:

you can

  • put up with it, for a while at least (you never know, group dynamics might change, or you might just find you chill a little and forget your initial reservations lol)

  • help the organisers change how the group is (in a polite non-judgemental way - why not offer to help out?)

  • try another group, or

  • do something that YOU do want to do. Something that suits YOU. That may, or may not, mean starting something up yourself.

I know how hard it is to start groups up when you are new unless you are a real social whizz, so perhaps it is better to put up with something you're not a fan of, until you find your feet. Since home eddding I've spent a lot of time with people that I would never have crossed paths with in any other area of my life. And a few people that (given a choice) I probably wouldn't choose to spend time with. But that's life. The home ed community is nothing more than a little microcosm of society and chances are you will have to rub along with people who don't think, live or parent the same way as you.

Now I admit this isn't the same as someone being outright spiteful or nasty (there is no excuse for that). But I do wonder how many rash first judgements are to blame for this assessment of home educators. Now in all my time of home edding I've never met anyone who is downright nasty. I've met people I don't get on with (they probably don't think much of me either lol). But that's not the same as someone who is through-and-through nasty.

First assumptions are rarely correct: even though I like to think I'm a good judgement of character my assumptions about alot of HE people have later been found to be completely and utterly wrong. One visit to a group is rarely enough to suss out the HE community and if you feel the need to make judgements about them (e.g. because of the car they drive or their income which were cited as examples during the discussion), then perhaps it's not too much of a surprise that the people you're so freely judging aren't particularly welcoming.

The only way to truly know anyone, particularly other home edders, is to spend time getting to know them. So I would say: ignore your initial thoughts and prejudices! Work through those outer onion layers! If you can cope with your relatives over Christmas dinner then you can do pretty much anything in a social environment! You don't have to be best buddies. You're grown ups and you really can agree to disagree. But give them a chance.

I know from experience it can take time. We attended a group for 4 years (!) before I really got to know some of the other adults. And I don't think this is unusual or suprising. My friendship bonds are usually created only by the assistance of alcohol (copious amounts) and an absence of children, neither of which is an easy environment to create among home educating adults. But it did happen. Eventually.

Well, I hear you say, if I'm the newbie, why should I make the effort? Well, if being new to a community, you naturally expect others to make an effort, then it seems only fair that you meet them halfway. AND if you don't persist, but instead assume that because a small bunch of home edders dont' do things the way you do that the home ed community has failed (and therefore the whole community should be damned) then you are closing the door to all those future wonderful friendships that are waiting to be made.

I'm not sure I'm looking forward to the comments on this one. But maybe there are a few others out there who wont shoot me down for thinking aloud :)


Anne B said...

I won't shoot you down for this, because I understand what you mean exactly.

We are all busy, and we are all different too, and I no more expect to make instant friends with someone because we both HE than because we both sent our children to the same school or shop in the same supermarket.

My suspicion is that a lot of us feel we have to somehow justify what is after all a minority choice and so we don't tend to talk about the bad days as much as the good ones, and this leaves people with the impression that HE life is a wonderful party and someone has forgotten to send them an invitation.

It's not perfect, but a bit of persistence makes it pretty good!

PS - Like the blog!

C said...

I wont shoot you down either.
As the other commenter said, I dont assume just because we both HE we must be friends. But if I want a shot at making friends I at least need to do my part and make an effort too. Once judgements are put aside you can often be surprised by who is underneath the label.

Anonymous said...

Wow that sounds like an interesting discussion! Nothing like that would happen on some other list I won't mention ;)

I think everyone who is new to something bears some responsibility for putting themselves about a bit and sticking their necks out. I do recall a discussion about SOAP where it seemed like it would be a good idea to have a meeter and greeter of some kind every week just so newbies could be introduced to some other folks as it was a rather open area where people weren't forced together by walls! That was driven more by the situation than any complaint though.

I agree with Anne that there is no more reason to like all home edders than there is to like everyone at the school gate. I like a larger percentage of home edders I have met compared to the parents I met at school over about 10 years or so. That is probably down to the fact that there are more socially odd people who home ed than there are in the school community and the fact that I find I get on with people who wear unusual clothes. Yes, I am that judgemental! Don't try to befriend me if you are dressed top to toe in Next! (only kidding)

Well that's my statistical analysis done for the night. Have you suggested that more local groups get together in a pub at night without children? I think that really might help!

Big mamma frog said...

Anne B - oh yes, even after years of going to groups I thought everybody else must be superhuman, they always appeared organised, well-stocked with food and the right clothes, never shouted at their kids who were blatantly all geniuses...

..until we organised regular pub evening for HE Parents (no kids). Then I saw the cracks in everyone's veneer and in a sort of shadenfreude way it was blissfully reassuring :)

I suppose that's why I try to keep this blog lighthearted, and occasionally give a glimpse into the not-so-perfect home ed world. Because that's what real life is like.

Ruth said...

I'm not offended either. I don't do groups. Many reasons why not mainly we are not near one I can get to on public transport. I don't feel us old timer have duty to look after newbies either. In fact it gets wearing. I also got fed up of the annual phone calls to help compile reports for the LA and never hearing from the HE's again until the following year.I used to be an EO contact so I have helped a lot of newbies in the past..but no we don't have a duty at all. So glad I'm not on that list where that discussion took place lol

Big mamma frog said...

I wonder if perhaps some of the people who are home educating now (now that home ed is more widely known) expect alot more than the oldies ever did.

I come across the occasional newbie who expects some sort of grand, sleek, well-organised, well-resourced local support network, willing to drop everything to help them and to provide everything (curriculum, sports, educational activities, exam facilities, companionship for their child etc) for free or discounted price and in a convenient location at the right day and time for them.

I have no idea where they get these ideas from lol, but I do wonder if they realise we are not a government service but are just ordinary parents too!

Not all newbies are like this of course, the majority are grateful for whatever we can offer, but there have been enough to make me think, perhaps, that times are changing and that HE in a few years may be very different to what we know and love now.

Big mamma frog said...

Ruth - I used to find the public transport thing tricky too (I only learnt to drive 6 years ago). It used to be 2 different bus journeys each way to get to our regular HE group.

And, yes, being on-tap advisor can be pretty wearing. It must have been exhausting being an EO contact. Most of the time I enjoy helping out newbies, but none of us are superhuman and we all need a break sometime... :)

Jennifer Williams said...

Hi there - I read the same discussion and resisted joining in because I know some of the posters from other groups/lists and thought what they were saying didn't mesh with what I know of them and how they operate/contribute/however you want to call it. I was pretty shocked by some of the comments made and I think pretty much the same as you so well done for saying it! Jen x

z barras said...

I feel I've been on both sides in participating in groups and organising things too, both of which myself and my children have found a bit stressful to be honest. I've come to know a few close friends through HE, who do parent differently and even educate differently from but still I enjoy their company lots. I have to say at the minute I'm in more of a "doing our own thing", I don't expect anything from any older HE's and have to admit a little to being too busy to coddle new home educators unless I feel that I will be likely to be involved in with them lots. I don't feel that I had that much help when I first began and I've managed fine :-) I'm actually enjoying the freedom to do our own thing at present and not get involved with group politics. I enjoyed reading this post Big Mamma Frog, thank you! Zoe x

Carol said...

Good grief - all sounds a bit of a wind up to me. Come and move to the middle of nowhere - no one talks to eachother here so there's no expectations!

Funnily enough, one of the things I used to like about going to groups was that it felt it was a safe place to talk about all the things that seemed to be going pear-shaped and all the work we didn't seem to be doing! Now there aren't any local groups to go to, I miss that and have to be careful not to "talk myself down" to people who don't understand HE, in my personal need to offload such negative feelings. What a shame to know there are those who cannot value the efforts of others. When I started to HE, just having an opportunity to meet and share with other home educators was enough - and something for which I was really grateful!

Big mamma frog said...

Thankfully, Carol, this isn't happening on a local list, but even so...

I know what you mean about needing a moan every now and then. I've had the odd winge to a non-home edder and instantly regretted it (their stock response is always 'Well, if it's that bad, put them in school.')

If you ever want an email grumble feel free to offload on me :)

Anonymous said...

Good points! Maybe it would help to remember that ALL groups suffer problems with dynamics at some point - it's not just HEors! I went to several groups over our HE years and there were always hiccups, always overcome one way or another. You're right that everyone needs to take responsibility for themselves. Trouble is that people tend to have been conditioned to expect others to be in charge like doctors, banks, schools do, (make you feel helpless sometimes!) Parents can think this is going to happen in HE groups without realising that charge remains with them! But, whenever we have the time and energy to be supportive to others, that's important too, even if it's only a welcoming smile!

MadameSmokinGun said...

Hello hello - trouble in paradise? Don't the non-HEers just LOVE that! When I was a newbie I rather resented the 'oldies' being all knowing and smug - but that may have just been the group I was trying to infiltrate at the time. Now I've definitely got MY tribe - all shapes, backgrounds, ideas etc - fantastic. The very worrying thing at the mo is that we are being praised on our (strangely large) list as being friendly and wonderful and worth travelling to - too much to live up to and surely leading to an implosion? This is of course probably paranoia as once strong groups do suddenly seem to collapse - but for now we are pretty steady. Having said all that we have certainly frightened away plenty of newbies - seen many a face just the once. And I can't help feeling that it really is a case of if you can't stand the heat - bugger off somewhere else. We've had loads of hiccups and nastiness here and there - but I don't feel any duty to people now. Just to my actual friends who are there for me. All new faces very welcome and we are the sort of gang to chatter away and dole out advice and swap disaster stories - but actually carrying people is too much for anyone. As you said we all have our own busy lives - and if someone wants to be involved - they really have to put in the effort themselves - simple!

KP Nuts said...

I know you wrote this post a while ago but I couldn't comment at the time as I was still sorting things out. Basically I have just (this week) stepped down from running the local group in West Sussex that I ran for five years. For ages it was a very easy thing to do as everyone jogged along okay but recently it got really hard and I was having to play peace maker several times a day. Your post helped me sort out my head on this one. Already several new groups have sprung up. Some more more experienced home eddrs who don't want to help new people, some for social contact, some for discussion etc etc. There were 140 members of the group so room to spread.

Big mamma frog said...

140 members sounds like a lot of people to keep happy!

I think you're right KP. Group dynamics change, for a whole variety of reasons,many of which we have no control over. I guess however hard it is there comes a time when something has to give. As you've proved other groups can and do rise up out of the 'ashes'.

Good luck for the future!