School squashes cultural diversity

When I moved to the farm with my children, it never occurred to me that I would be raising farm kids. But it happened quickly that my kids did things I would never have dreamed of doing in my own childhood. They spend the day with no shirts. They chop wood with axes. They pee in the yard.

There was a moment, with each of these things, where I put my foot down. “Put on a shirt to sit at the table,” I said. But then sometime in the middle of this summer, I got tired of saying it. It seemed stupid. It seemed like a city rule, because in the city you wear a shirt most of the day anyway.

A city rule is a rule like “kids don’t use an ax”. It’s something that makes total sense, but in the country it’s not practical. We heat the house with wood. My husband chops wood all summer. So of course the kids want to chop wood. And probably using an ax is like using a gun: if you have a culture where it’s common, everyone is better at it.

We don’t have this discussion, though. My husband thinks it’s patently ridiculous to say no guns, no axes. So I capitulate. Not that the kids shoot guns. But it’s coming. I can tell. And before you criticize it, consider that the only way to keep the raccoons from eating the animals on the farm—because the raccoons are too smart about traps—is to shoot them. Or hit them with a bat over the head. Which is what my husband did when I moved here because I went nuts over the idea of a gun.

If we did not homeschool, my kids would have one culture. They would be in school in the country, maybe, and we would not be free to travel to NYC, or Vegas, or LA. We would not be able to drive each week to Chicago for cello lessons. We would not go to Madison for violin.

If we went to school in the city, the kids would have city friends. I would have a job where I support us in the city, and leaving the city to be on the farm for extended periods of time would be too hard.

Over the past few months, my kids have started saying ain’t on a regular basis. The first time I heard it, I was shocked. I identify with the demographic of overeducated ex-European Jews. We simply don’t say ain’t. And next, my youngest son is using double negatives, as in “She didn’t mean no harm.” At first I was stunned but then I waited and listened.

I noticed that the kids understand to use that language on the farm. In the city, they never use it. And I see the language of rural life and the language of city life as verbal evidence that homeschooling has allowed my kids to easily and regularly move between two different cultures.

So, what I’m saying is that to raise kids who can learn to move in and cope with dual cultures, really, you need to homeschool. Traditional school is the melting pot of all the cultures the kids have at home and school becomes the lowest common denominator of these cultures, so that the days can be orderly and systematic. It’s cultural agnosticism.


18 replies
  1. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Out of interest, have you ever calculated the carbon footprint of your lifestyle–driving to Chicago regularly, burning wood for heat…?

    Questions about the sustainability of our lifestyles seem even more important and urgent (to me) than whether our kids are getting optimal cultural diversity.

    Just wondering.

  2. Liz C
    Liz C says:

    Thanks for this article! I’m watching our four kids learn to navigate multiple cultures with fairly graceful ease, and it’s delightful. The one culture they have a hard time cracking is “public school”–there are a lot of harsh things they just don’t “get” easily (like the high-drama and meanness, mostly). I’m not terribly upset at that. I also love watching otherly-schooled kids come into our home and just RELAX, as we don’t go for drama or mean here.

    (By the way, I could write that first sentence in the comments of just about every article of yours I’ve read thus far. I’m glad to have found your blog!)

  3. Ron
    Ron says:

    I love the country lifestyle and think it’s better for kids. Nature, hard work, fresh air, exercise, etc. Beats sitting in a classroom all day, then sitting at home or going to the mall.

    I agree also with your unstated premise that living on a farm in the U.S. is a different culture than living in a suburb. I used to live in rural North Carolina and now live in a suburb. We moved to gain all the “advantages” of lessons, culture, etc., but I feel that we lost a lot too. We ended up conforming to this suburban culture and its standards.

    By the way, you know you can skype those violin and cello lessons so you don’t have to drive all over the place for them.

    • Isabelle Spike
      Isabelle Spike says:

      Wow, I hope you’re not a string teacher, because you couldn’t be more wrong about being able to Skype violin ans cello lessons. I taught violin for years, and there are *countless* things you can’t teach via Skype, including positioning of both the left hand and bow hold, and tone. There are many things that require actual physical manipulation of the student’s posture, and many aspects of sound that wouldn’t be the same over Skype. (Sorry for the off-topic comment, but I think it’s important to realize what *can’t* be outsourced to technology when talking about education.)

  4. Katelyn Kramer
    Katelyn Kramer says:

    What you’re describing here is a classic case of “Third Culture Kid”:

    The technical definition is: “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture.” Usually when people use this term, they’re talking about a child who grew up in a country other than their homeland (e.g. passport), but it applies here. You grew up as a city girl, and your kids are growing up as farm boys.

    It’ll be interesting to see how they identify themselves once they’re adults.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for the link to thire culture. I had never heard of this but I get it.

      The fact that my husband grew up on a farm means there is guidance for the kids in this culture. But I can easily imagine how incredibly difficult it would be to help the kids navigate rural life on my own – it would be very very hard on all of us. This makes me think about how difficult it must be for parents bringing their kids to a culture with no navigator.

      Thanks for giving me a word to describe this.


  5. karelys
    karelys says:

    Your pigs always look like they are smiling. They are like “ya’ll havin’ a good day?” :)

  6. K
    K says:

    I grew up in the suburbs in the North. I live in the rural South now. The first time a coworker shouted “I DONE TOLD YOU ’bout that shit!” to another coworker, I wanted to laugh. But now it flies out of my mouth in appropriate situations, because it gets the point across better than my standard English. :)

  7. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    Oh this is so, so true. We lived in northern India for three years with our three kids and we homeschooled them the whole time (still are). They learned to speak some Hindi, and even better almost, to speak English with an Indian accent when playing with their friends. They were true TCK’s, or Third Culture Kids. They could move in and out of our American apartment (with a live-in Nepali house helper) and into our Indian neighborhood. I loved that we could study about George Washington and then go celebrate Diwali with our neighbors. Such good memories…

  8. Hazel
    Hazel says:

    Being homeschooled isn’t necessary for experiencing cultural diversity. Homeschooling can squash exposure to cultural diversity just like a conformist neighborhood or school can. A kid can be a TCK and go to school.

    Many schools can provide rich intercultural experiences through interactions with students and teachers from different backgrounds and a multicultural curriculum.

  9. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot
    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot says:

    Who wants to be raised in the city any way. Apparently only 1 in 5 Aussie kids have climbed a tree! How tragic is that? I’m sure you are all happier living in the countryside and being surrounded by animals – even if you do have to whack some of them on the head with a baseball bat…

    I try not to correct my kids when they use an Aussie twang ( I speak the queen’s english;) they are just trying to fit in, experimenting and learning about different cultures like yours. And, yes, that’s a very good thing.

    PS. Great piggy pic.

  10. Lisa S.
    Lisa S. says:

    Hi Penelope – I’m a little late reading this post but I love your observations about moving between two cultures. It reminds me of how sometimes black people have to seamlessly move between two worlds and this movement often happens through speech. When I’m at work, I will speak a certain way, use certain words but when I get together with my friends, we eventually drop the professionalism in our voices and speak with a certain slang or inflection that you’d never hear me use at work. Btw – I think your blog is fantastic.

Comments are closed.