Are you a native homeschooler or an immigrant?

We tried out a new piano teacher. And as an introduction to the teacher’s studio, he sent me the recital program from last spring.

One thing I noticed is that each student’s age, school and grade are listed. I read a little more closely and I can see the kids are ranked by how far along they are in their piano studies (most advanced at the end of the program.) And you can tell who is really talented by who is young and advanced.

I don’t need to tell you my competitive spirit kicked in. I told myself to settle. I told myself to meditate. I told myself that if I were doing what’s important to me every day then I would not have to be overly invested in my kids. I took a walk outside to have competitive thoughts with the dog.

On the way home, I said casually to my younger son: I can’t remember, what grade are you in?

He says, “I tell them I’m homeschooled. Why what do you want me to tell them?”

“Well what grade do you think you’re in?”

He says he doesn’t know. He says the kid he went to kindergarten with is going into eighth grade.

That seems so old to me. And also I told myself we would start doing math in seventh grade. And also my son was born in the summer, and it’s not good for kids to be the youngest in their grade.  “You could be the oldest in your grade if you say you are going into seventh.”

“Why would I do that?”

“It’s hard to be the youngest.”

“I’m the youngest in cello all the time.”

“We could do math at a leisurely pace if you’re in seventh grade.”

“Mom. What are you talking about? Why does this matter? I don’t care what grade I’m in.”

I pause. “You’re right,” I say.

When we started homeschooling I worked so hard to shelter the kids from people who asked them leading questions: Who will teach you? Do you miss your friends? What do you do all day?

Now my kids are immune from those questions. I’m the only one in our household who cares that kids prove their piano chops by listing their grade in their school. I am the only one in our family who cares about school even though I’m the one who took the kids out.

I feel like an immigrant family. Where the kids are native. And I can never be native. I’ll always be a visitor to another culture, watching, in amazement, as my kids assume there’s nothing new about homeschooling.

18 replies
  1. Jessica from Down Under
    Jessica from Down Under says:

    Excellent! The last paragraph was fantastic – I think about it all the time! We are first-generation h-schooling mums. I wonder what 2nd or 3rd generation will look like??

  2. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    Turns out I wasn’t even an immigrant, just a tourist. Maybe an ex-pat at most.

    I have great affection for the country I visited, and I will root for its team every year.

    The funny thing is that before my kids were born I thought I’d probably homeschool them. It was they who asked to go to school. I can see the appeal.

    The boy’s new school accepts acceleration in math through courses taken at CTY, and we’ve been having a great fun time this summer with math. It’s nice to see him really enjoying math again after how utterly horrid and stupid it was at our city’s finest public school. I hope that math at the new school is more like doing math at CTY and less like taking math at his old school.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I’m a flunkie unschooling mom. Except that I still have the nonchalant attitude now that the kids are in school. Our schools schedule multiple parent/teacher meetings throughout the year and I literally don’t have anything to say. I make sure the kids are having fun, reading what they want, getting the supports they need and I’m out. On the other hand, it’s probably refreshing to have a parent like me instead of the hyper tiger moms that they get.

      We know kids that are the same age as mine and going to college full-time just to get the math they want. That’s great for math and all, but I guess I’m more interested in my kids learning collaboration, ethics, art, asking questions and having leadership opportunities. That seems to be what the future is… with AI and all that, math can be done by computers. We all have calculators with us wherever we go. By no means am I suggesting that kids should be stuck doing math below their level. Which is why I ask for differentiation for my one kid that is two grades ahead in math. Give her something different with the same material. Like word problems instead of algorithms. They have done that for me. But, I think too much focus is on math like it’s a panacea or something.

      • Bostonian
        Bostonian says:

        Math seems to make people anxious in peculiar ways. I think perhaps most people aren’t very good at it and found it both mysterious and terrible in school. It’s probably one of those things where if your kid enjoys math you shouldn’t talk about it in front of other parents, like having a baby who sleeps through the night.

        I think if I had my druthers I’d ruther my kid learn more about collaboration, ethics, and leadership too. But I don’t really get to pick what my kid studies, let alone what he learns. Most of what I do is encourage him, both to pay attention to the classes his institution tells him he must take and to pursue the things that really catch his interest.

        I have wondered how the teachers perceived my participation. I brought my daughter to goal-setting conferences in Kindergarten and First Grade because, after all, they’re her goals, aren’t they? I learned this was not usual. I will ask her if she wants to come this year.

  3. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Oh, I love this analogy! I am an immigrant and I have tried so hard to assimilate into the culture, but the kids keep reminding me that I just don’t get it. I will always look at education though the lense of school. I too, like Jessica, wonder what the 2nd and 3rd generation will look like.

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I think it’s hilarious that you want to list him as a 7th grader for the piano recital!!! I can totally appreciate the competitive spirit. My daughter is an actor, and I think one of the most fascinating experiences is getting to meet parents of other actors (or in your case musician parents). Like we all act like we don’t care, and it’s about the kids pulling us there…. except that we DO care, and even though it *is* about the kids we are basically their managers and we are competitive with each other.

    I think it’s good to reflect back and think about what you had pre-planned. It shows how flexible you are that you are not doing the math you said you would be doing by this time.

    Comparing it to being an immigrant is a stretch though. :) Just saying….

  5. Terese Hilliard
    Terese Hilliard says:

    The article on red shirting suggests against it. It also states that itis best to avoid the craze. I didn’t get the impression that the author thought it was a good idea. It might be more challenging for younger students, but I don’t read any literature that states that it is the best for kids. Each and every child is different (as you well know) so RELAX EVERYONE!

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I have met a few kids that have summer birthdays that should have definitely been red-shirted. Now they are homeschooling and redoing a grade because they shouldn’t have been pushed to start school so soon.

      I don’t think anyone needs articles telling them what to do. If they have an immature kid that hates being read to or sitting down for activities…then perhaps they should think about delaying kindergarten. It’s about knowing your kid.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      In my city, redshirting is not allowed by the public school district. Parents who want to redshirt their kids have to send them to private schools. Sometimes they send them back to public school after they’ve been ‘reset’ in private schools.

  6. emily enfp
    emily enfp says:

    as a homeschool grad who is close to making parenting decisions, i find this topic fascinating. there is definitely a different cadence when im talking with homeschool grads (friends from childhood) or my peers about how they’ll raise their kids. homeschool grads all consider homeschooling as an option, but for almost everyone else it’s completely off the table, and a ludicrous notion.

    • E
      E says:

      emily enfp, what other differences do you notice in your homeschool grad friends versus mainstream-ed friends now that you’re coming out the other end of it? Just curious because my oldest just turned 12.

      I agree with Penelope that what comes naturally for my “always been unschooled, never been to school” kids is hard for me. I never thought of it like being an immigrant, like learning life as a second language. My experience is a bit more visceral.

      I always described the schoolish worries and thoughts I carry from my own childhood indoctrination as scar tissue running down the middle of me. At this point, it’s fused in there and so much a part of me that to tear it out would be to totally damage the whole. I can never be complete, like the unschooled kids I know. I can’t wash away the stain no matter how intently I scrub.

      I did well in school even as I hated it. I chose not to ever put my kids in there and yet…

      I still get this giddy, nervous feeling each fall when new pencils and backpacks hit our Target store.

      I still crave external praise more than I actually need or want it.

      I still grapple with the impulse to rank my kids in everything.

      I have to stop myself from turning every one of their authentic passions or interests into a vocational track.

      I can’t look away from a crisp sheet of lined paper, especially if it has a smart three-hole punch along the side. I want to sharpen that new pencil and have at it (in my very best penmanship, of course.)

      I’m 40. How sick is that?

      I just wonder what I would have been like if left unmodified. I know I can’t have it. But as a thought experiment, I reflect.

      We have lots of homeschooling friends and it’s nice to be around kids growing up as complete people without the modifications we parents endured via shame and praise. When I’m around a big group of my kids’ friends, it’s an almost anthropological experience. Like I’ve observing a group of humans from either a more self-assured, communal past – or a more enlightened future.

      But that’s just my experience of school and not everyone agrees with me or it. I tell my kids all the time that if they make different education choices with their kids someday, I will support and trust their decision to do what they think is right on their own terms.

      Trusting them like that is how I find my way around the scars.

  7. Jenn Gold
    Jenn Gold says:

    I know what you mean… Their mindset is sooo very different – Freedom and Joy. They do “educational” activities at odd hours for fun because they enjoy their “work”. Learning is year round and is as natural as breathing.

    The school system in me keeps an eye on those key performance indicators though, lol.

    Very relateable.

  8. sarah
    sarah says:

    Last night Andy and I were taking a walk, discussing our oldest son. His actions are so foreign to us. Basically, being an intp he has one friend, and they got in a fight. My son supports gays and the friend doesn’t. After a week, of thinking, my son said he wasn’t going to be friends with him. Although, I’m very proud of him, the fact is I could have never done that at his age. To have the extreme confidence to loose a friend (basically the only one) and believe I will make another? Or to stand up so strong with a belief?

    It amazed me how the culture of home schooling has shaped him. I told Andy, I have no clue how we got a kid like this, but I sure am proud of him.

  9. Amy D. Kovach
    Amy D. Kovach says:

    Two recent anecdotes regarding this issue:
    Recently I met a young woman through work, she is a nurse. She had grown up in my locale. I asked her “What high school did you go to?” She said “Oh I was homeschooled.” That was that. She had obviously gone on to college and become a pediatric specialty nurse. The homeschooling was just a part of her history.

    I attended a funeral recently of a 38 year old young man. Had a beloved wife and 3 small children. Family full of love and joy. It was a terrible loss. He died of melanoma. The service highlighted many areas of his life, which was very full and meaningful. He had been homeschooled, gone to college and had a challenging job in the healthcare field (some sort of logistics of managing operating rooms). Again, the homeschooling was a chapter, not the defining element of his life.

    I think it only feels so defining when you’re in the midst of it and (almost) all the other kids are going to school. The older you get, the less significance it has.

    Sort of like breastfeeding – when you are a young mom, it is SUCH a big deal. But now, when you look around at groups of people, whether they were breast/bottle/both is completely insignificant.
    I’m not saying these choices don’t matter, I’m just saying they become a smaller piece of a bigger life the further you go. And the stress about it will decrease proportionately.
    (Sorry if this doesn’t make total sense, I guess it felt clearer in my head – was a little harder to articulate than I thought.)

  10. Tom
    Tom says:

    When I started reading the blog, I wondered why you chose the title and whether it mattered whether one is a native or immigrant home schooler. Its only after I got to the last line that I got the gist of it. Its a really read indeed. I guess I’m with you on this one, more of an immigrant home schooler. The idea of home schooling still seems a little strange to me, but I believe its the way to go in education today.

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