As more experienced homeschoolers/ unschoolers moving in to our fourth year of educating at home, many times I hear the same rhetoric about homeschooling and sheltering. The basic premise is that teaching your child at home is something that we undertake because it shelters children from the real world - and that this is a bad thing. That withholding very young and impressionable children from the institutionalised school environment is unnatural, and will disadvantage them in that they will not experience the harsh realities of life, and therefore will not be able to cope with a harsh adult life once confronted with it.
With harsh working environments, difficult relationships, abusive employers or bullies at work. That life as an adult will be hard for them, and that as children, they need to harden up to the fact that life is not all rainbows and sunshine.
At the beginning of our homeschool journey I blogged on this exact subject and how I was not sure how we were supposed to react to the mindset that life is difficult and harsh and that reality is all about being bullied and mistreated - and therefore children should get used to this as early as possible. I couldn't quite understand why people felt like this?
I thought that maybe this kind of thinking originated from our generation growing up from a very young age, in the institution of school, where we spent most of our waking day in places where we were not loved by the people around us. Although exceptional teachers may care for their pupils and develop close relationships with them, you are not loved at school, and growing up around adults that don't love you, for the majority of your day, surely could contribute to you developing less than loving ideologies about what 'reality' is like? And I thought that maybe this is the ideology that you develop while growing up being dictated to for the majority of your waking day. Because, reality in an institution like school means that you follow rules and regulations, and are told what to do for every waking moment from the time you are barely able to spell your own name, until you are an adult, and walk out of your first 13 years of institutionalisation straight into your next institution - be it a Tafe, or university or a job.
Growing up in this environment it is hard to think and act joyfully at the moment when you are joyful - because those emotions are preserved for certain times of the day. You cannot move around when you feel like moving, or eat when you are hungry. Or talk when you are bursting with words and ideas. You cannot create when you are creative. Or tend to your personal needs when you need to (how many children have wet themselves or been in trouble for needing to use the bathroom at an inappropriate time of the day?...).
Have these ideas about life being hard originated from adults who have grown up in schools? - and then, because this is what 'reality' is seen to be, migrate into workplaces where they are less than happy/ fulfilled, because this is seen to be reality too?
Have we developed these ideas because we have moved from the often oppressive environment of school, to the oppressive environment of being an employee in a workplace, where your time is not your own and your thoughts and actions for the majority of the day belong to someone else? Is this where we have developed our ideas of what reality is like? and what 'real life' is supposed to be? And have we let go of the idea of a beautiful, fulfilling life, to the extent that we want to prevent children from getting the wrong idea, that life can be fun, and interesting, and free of drudgery? at least for the majority of the time?
Is this where we get these ideas that children need to harden up?
Yes life can be hard. But in our day and age, no, you do not need to be in an oppressive, soul-crushing workplace. You do not need to work for other people, in fact. You do not need to be in a job where you do not wake up in the morning excited to go to work. You DO have the power to say no to anything and everything that is hurtful and harmful to your soul and your life's purpose. Yes, there are some times when we need to take a less-than-ideal job short-term to support ourselves and our families, but this never has to be a permanent undertaking. Emergency measures are not the same thing as long-term life plans. If you are in a job that you hate and cannot possibly survive without it, you can make the decision to spend every spare moment you can looking for another job, or creating yourself a job, or thinking of business plans, or learning an instrument to busk on the street if your heart desires. In every day you have a million different choices that you can make, and for almost all of us, those choices are ours and we can choose any of a billion different paths to take.
And I think this is what we need to teach our children.
That there is no one right way. That life should not be a free ride, but it should be a fun ride. That there are a whole lot of different people in the world, and that not all of them want the best for you - and that you should avoid the ones that don't, and appreciate the ones that do. That discipline is different to suffering - you can be disciplined and pursue your goals, but that you don't have to put up with abuse/ mistreatment in the workplace or anywhere else in order to get to those goals.
What if we changed our thinking as parents and changed our purpose to help our children to live joyfully? to give as much positivity as possible to the world, but also to expect good things back. Not just on the weekends, not just on family holidays, but every day, all of the time?