Guilt, and How to Come to Terms with It
(Originally published in the Holiday, 2008 issue of Homeschool Horizons)
Itís always interesting to see how people respond when they get a peek into our homeschool. I have found that repairmen are generally supportive. One particular duct-cleaner told me that his mother had wanted to homeschool him; but she was told that, because she had a Masters in English, her child wouldnít get enough variety in his education. He himself concluded that, for all the good school did him, he would have been better off at home. His story illustrates a nagging insecurity that typically plagues homeschoolers. We fear that, by being at home, our children are missing something vital in their education. A friend and former homeschooler calls this ďgap guiltĒ.
Every child in the world grows up with gaps in some area of their experience and learning. All our childhoods were different depending on our region and background. Even within families there can be gaps. My younger sister and I speak French, and my older brother and sister do not, simply because of our ages. They started school in Ontario, and we started school after we moved to Montreal. Even then, our opportunity only came because my parents chose to settle in the Montreal suburb of St. Lambert, where the concept of French immersion had early beginnings. On the other side of the city, Anglophones my age were still being schooled in English. The question, therefore, isnít whether or not homeschooled kids will have gaps in their education; but, rather, what gaps will they have?
When we choose to homeschool, we choose the gaps that go with it. If we choose to send our kids to school, we are choosing a different set of gaps. Children in school, for instance, may not have a chance to focus on an ardent interest, or to learn good social skills in a small group. The schoolchild is not free to travel the world, which was the main educational tool my brother-in-law used when he homeschooled his young daughter. When I chose to homeschool, I chose two guilt-inducing gaps that can be summed up in questions that are often asked here in Ottawa: ďWhat about French?Ē and ďWhat about gym?Ē
I freely tell people that the only thing I regret about homeschooling is the fact that my children are not bilingual. I spoke French to them when they were little; until I bumped into my own limits. We dabbled in French curricula throughout their education at home, but it was never done robustly enough to teach them how to speak it. The truth is, there is nothing like immersion for learning a language; but since I never completely mastered French, have no Francophone relatives, donít watch French TV or listen to French radio, it isnít happening in my home.
There are those who declare that it doesnít really matter; and there are certainly plenty of anecdotes to support the truth that opportunities are to be had without a second language. Nothing anyone says makes it better for me. Whether a second language is necessary or not, itís a wonderful thing to have, if only for the fun of understanding it when itís spoken in movies; or for the thrill of seeing how differently two languages can express the same thing. Iím sorry my kids didnít have an opportunity to learn French easily, and I will always be sorry. But Iím not sorry I homeschooled; and so I just have to accept the gap, be glad of the opportunity to homeschool, and come to terms with the guilt.
Physical activity is another area in which I must face, but ultimately ignore, the doubts. There were no doubts with my oldest two children. Daily ballet classes with one, and love-of-sports with the other, took care of their physical activity. However, my younger two children prefer the Lego and literature varieties of pastime, and so Iíve had to make an effort to keep them active. Iíve had some successes with swimming, walking, hiking and golf, but I often wonder if it is enough. I feel the guilt when I see the neighbourhood children walking or bicycling to school everyday, swinging their skipping ropes and bouncing their balls in anticipation of recess. I picture phys-ed classes and massive activity in the school yard. But if I have perceived that my kids are better off at home, Iím not going to send them to school for that reason alone. We would get more exercise if we had a dog, but Iím not doing that either!
Earlier, I mentioned the bilingual gap among my own siblings. My brother is now bilingual, having found it more useful to learn Persian than French. If we want to, whether we went to school or not, we can fill in the gaps ourselves when we grow up; and not only that, we can choose how to fill them. Surely a very literate duct-cleaner would find plenty of ways to enrich himself with further learning. As parents, weíre interested in the whole of the child; and if we have discerned that the child is more whole at home than at school, we must embrace the form that his home education will take, gaps and all.