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:
- 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 :)