You know what really helped me to see my world with a different lens? Reading about female genital mutilation.
It's a big problem in some communities. girls have their clitoris removed each year. It's extremely painful, of course, but also dangerous—hundreds of girls die each year from infections. And those who survive endure intense pain during sex for the rest of their lives.
Westerners have made huge efforts to educate the communities performing female genital mutilation (FGM) on why it's not safe and not necessary. The key decision makers in this arena are the mothers. The mothers decide when their daughters will do it, and the mothers often perform the procedure personally.
So the question is, why, when the mothers know how painful the process is, would they have their daughters go through the same thing? It is cultural, of course. But what the mothers don't want to admit is that the pain they themselves endured is a waste. And also, they don't want to risk making their daughter different from everyone else because it might end up being bad for her.
It's easy for us to see that the mother should say no to cutting off her daughter's clitoris. But it's hard for us to overcome the same mental and cultural obstacle when it's not FGM but rather homeschooling.
We have in our mind that our kids need to read what we read. They need to get through math becuase we did and we don't want to hear that all those years were wasted. We tell ourselves that we are more valuable to society because we have degrees. If we tell our kids the degrees are worth nothing in the real world, then we have to question our own value.
Sometimes, when I get scared to be a homeschooler, I think about how much I admire the women who can protect their daughters from FGM. And I think, this is such a small risk in comparison. How can I not do this for my kids when other parents have to endure so much more to go against the dominant belief system?
The women who hold their daughters back when the rituals come calling – those women risk being ostracized by their community. They risk making their daughter unmarriageable. And they have to look back on their own lives and start questioning everything: why did their mother let this happen? Why does the community devalue the kids? How can you be part of a community and not accept basic principals of the community?
You have to ask all the same questions when you take your kids out of school.
When I read interviews of mothers thinking of holding their daughters back, the mothers are scared and tortured by the decision. When I read interviews about the mothers a few years later, they are so grateful they did it. Their daughters are so grateful. And in hindsight the decision seems so logical and easy.
The decision to homeschool is so similar. The emotional part of the decision is very difficult. The logical part of the decision is very easy. In order to cope with the emotional difficulties, we tell ourself that the logic is complicated.
It's not complicated—here's how I know. Many of you will say that public school is not as bad as a FGM. But that is a cultural opinion, not a scientific one. Long-term repetition of low-level trauma is worse for somenoe's personal development than a one-time huge trauma. Here's how I know: I was at the World Trade Center when it fell. And I tested very high for post-traumatic stress. But after talking with me, the psychologist told me my high levels are from my childhood—of repeated, subtle abuse—rather than from 9/11. If you have unpredictable, low-level stress that you have no control over, you can't recover until the low-level stress stops.