I read an interesting article last night called An Unschooled View on Bullying by writer Kate Fridkis. I almost didn’t read it because of the word “unschooled” in the title since I wouldn’t consider us unschoolers, but I was intrigued by the topic of bullying since it’s been on my mind lately.
Is there bullying in homeschooling? And I’m not talking about teasing, which the author readily admits she did. But, as she states, “We were far from perfect. But we were far from cruel. The very overweight girl wasn’t teased for her size. What kind of person would do that?”
In the six years we’ve been homeschooling, we’ve made a wide range of friends and acquaintances. Sometimes, my kids love the kids they meet, sometimes they would rather not see them again. When we meet a child whose behavior bothers them, we talk about it. This isn’t to say that feelings don’t get hurt: Oh, yes they do. Friendships end and people feel left out of groups—but I wouldn’t call any of this behavior ”cruel” and I certainly wouldn’t call it bullying.
In our large coop, sometimes the girls form loose little groups that hang around together at lunchtime. I remember my oldest telling me that she prefers to play with the group of 10-12 year olds that likes to run around and play, but there is another group of girls that likes to sit and talk about clothes. That made me laugh since I know she is right on the cusp of moving from one group to the next.
Oh, and there is no question she’ll be able to move from one group to the next when she’s ready. These are not “cliques” as I remember them with their “you can’t sit here/play with us/talk to us” rules.
In the six years we’ve been homeschooling, I’ve never seen bullying in any of our circles.
My oldest daughter begins sixth grade in September—middle school. While talking to a good friend who happens to have a daughter the same age as mine, he said, “Be glad she isn’t going to middle school. If you can keep her out of any grades, keep her out of the middle school.” I know all too well what he means. Middle school, though I was never outright “bullied”, was not a good place for me. It was a much worse place for many others who were teased, picked on, and shunned.
But why don’t homeschooled kids bully? Or do they?
Contrary to what many news articles will try to make you believe, these are all normal kids. They love electronics, they play sports or dance or do gymnastics, they hate to clean their room. Most of them give us a hard time over doing schoolwork. They have friends who go to school and friends who don’t. They attend sleepovers, go to summer camp, get asked to parties, and ask for an iPod Touch (already? sigh).
They are not always under the watchful eye of their parents. Yes, most homeschoolers let their kids out of their sight. And many of these kids have access to email and can chat with each other out of earshot of any grownup.
What makes it different? And what lessons can parents of kids in school learn from this?
I’m not suggesting that everyone quit school and homeschool. It’s definitely not the lifestyle for everyone, nor is it even feasible for most families. And I’m certainly not suggesting that my fellow homeschooling parents have some advanced parenting skills or that we are somehow “doing it better”. Believe me, we don’t know what we’re doing either.
But what is it that makes a confident and well-liked 11 year old say “SURE!” without hesitation or irony to a sweet 9 year old’s request for a sleepover, and not roll her eyes and wonder why this little person thinks it’s okay to talk to an older kid? What is it that makes the kids of the devout Christian homeschooling family AND the radical unschooling family get along without incident in our coop? What is it that makes it unthinkable that any kids in our coop would tease the little boy with Down Syndrome, or laughingly mimic the child whose speech is often impossible to understand (who happens to be my own son)?
There is nothing “better” about homeschooled kids. They are regular kids with regular fears, problems, insecurities, and preferences. And yet, bullying is just not an issue. Why?