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As we head into the holidays and the family gatherings that go with it, we can pretty much count on meeting up with two kinds of relatives: those who are interested in homeschooling and want to learn more about the Charlotte Mason Method that we use and those who are antagonistic toward homeschooling and want to probe for any weaknesses in the method that we use.
Either scenario can raise the stress level if you’re caught unawares. So we thought it might be helpful to start the conversation before you head over the river and through the woods, share some ideas, and remind you that you’re not alone.
Last time we talked about genuinely interested relatives, and we brainstormed ideas for explaining CM in succinct and familiar words. Today let’s consider how best to deal with homeschool critics in the family.
Three Ways to Be Prepared
Many of you mentioned last week that just thinking ahead, planning for how you might handle the situation, makes you feel more confident. Preparation is a key.
Prepare Your Child
Sometimes the critic takes the back door and approaches your child, cornering him and quizzing him. If so, it can be helpful to prepare your child to handle that situation gracefully. Remind him of the good manners that are due his elders and give him some ideas of what to say.
For example, if you don’t put much emphasis on grade levels in your home school (We didn’t.), your child might feel awkward if the critic asks, “So what grade are you in?” The simplest way to prepare for that question is to take a little time beforehand to rehearse what each child’s typical grade level would be: “Sandy, it will be easiest for Uncle Bill to understand if you simply say that you are in third grade.” Then role play it a couple of times over the days leading up to the family gathering in order to make sure Sandy is comfortable answering that question and can convey a respectful attitude as she answers. (Hal and Melanie Young, over at Raising Real Men, wrote a great post about how they handled this situation.)
The grade-level questions aren’t as difficult to answer as the specific topical quizzes, though. You know which ones I mean: “So Mikey, have you learned your multiplication tables yet?” or “Hey Johnny, how do you spell pneunomia?” For those types of questions, you might encourage your child to say something like this: “I haven’t studied that yet, but what I have been learning about is . . .” and allow the child to narrate something that he is excited about studying lately.
For example, if Uncle Bill buttonholes your child with “So have you learned long division yet?,” your child might reply, “Not yet, but I’m really enjoying studying Monet’s works. My favorite one so far is Woman with a Parasol. Have you seen that one?” This type of response allows your child to demonstrate that he is learning, even if the subject matter doesn’t happen to be the one the critic asked about.
It de-fuses the potential bomb that can destroy your child’s confidence and love of learning and arms him with an opportune yet respectful reply. And who knows, maybe your child and Uncle Bill will discover a mutual interest that can blossom into a great conversation and, possibly, a lifelong friendship.
Sometimes the critic takes the front door and confronts you personally. For those encounters it helps to look for common ground. Rather than viewing the comments as a personal attack, try to view those inquiries as an expression of interest and concern. Most likely you both have a common goal: you both want to make sure the child is getting a good education. It’s quite possible that the critic simply needs to be reassured that you share that goal and have thought things through.
A person who has never experienced the freedom of homeschooling often finds it hard to think outside the box when it comes to education. It might be helpful simply to confirm that you have a plan to cover the same kinds of subjects that other children cover, but you might not cover them in the exact same order or at the exact same pace as other schools.
If you have opportunity, you might also share that you have some other objectives for your child’s education too. For example, you want him to learn to be a self-learner; because when he knows how to learn for himself, he will be able to learn anything his entire life.
The main thing is to assure the other person that you are fully engaged; that you have carefully considered your child’s education; that you have a plan; that you’ve thought things through. You don’t have to lay out that whole plan for the critic’s approval. Simply assure him that you also want your child to have a great education and you have a plan to do that. “Thanks for asking. How was your drive down here?” (Sometimes it helps to brainstorm a few neutral subjects to which you can turn the conversation when needed.)
Prepare Your Smile
All the time, in every conversation with the critic, be aware of your nonverbal communication. Your facial expression, the tone of your voice, your whole demeanor will play an important part in the message the critic receives. You want to convey confident respect.
That goes for both you and your child.
Remember the power of eye contact and a sincere smile. Practice so you can state your theory but not attack, as Charlotte counseled. Pray for those with whom you will have contact during the holidays. Ask some homeschooling friends to pray for you as you interact with friends and family.
Most of all, don’t let any stinging remarks take up lodging in your heart and mind; they will only eat away at your spirit. Rather, keep your eyes on the beauty of education as an atmosphere, a discipline, a life, and drink in that glorious sight. You are doing a great work for the children’s sake!
Do you have any tips or counsel for lovingly dealing with homeschool critics in the family? Leave a comment and let’s encourage each other.