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Most of us have chosen a “different” path in life. We homeschool. And even more than that, we don’t use a traditional method of homeschooling. We use Charlotte Mason’s approach. Those choices can be unsettling to onlookers.
And if that’s not enough, many of us have chosen to wander away from the crowd in other areas of life too: what we eat, the size of our families, what we wear, our goals for our children. Onlookers sometimes become more than just curious; at times they may share their “concerns” in no uncertain terms.
When those moments happen, it’s natural to have one of two reactions: we either withdraw into ourselves and say nothing or we explode and say everything we can think of. Neither is fruitful.
Here is Charlotte’s counsel when faced with opposition: “State your theory and practice, but attack nothing. Be indignant at nothing. When people’s minds are put on the defensive they have no room to receive new ideas” (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 106).
You can be sure that Charlotte received more than her fair share of criticism and opposition from the established school system. Her ideas and methods were revolutionary in her day. And she knew that her coworkers and student-teachers would face some of those antagonists as they went to their positions in various communities.
So she warned against either extreme. Don’t withdraw into silence; go ahead and state your theory and methods when given the opportunity.
Which raises a question: Can you briefly and clearly explain what you do and why you have chosen that path? Sometimes it’s hard to give a succinct explanation to others. We might do well to give some thought and rehearsal to stating our theory and methods.
But our attitude during this explanation is paramount. We cannot afford to slide to the other extreme and go on the offensive. When we become angry—even at an unjust or mean statement—we shut down the lines of communication. Attacking may make us feel better for the moment, but it will never convince the other person that we’re right.
“When people’s minds are put on the defensive they have no room to receive new ideas.” Those of us who have chosen different paths have done so after much thought; those ideas are not new to us anymore, they are old companions. But for any onlookers, our ideas are new. They will need some time to make friends with the new idea. So our task is to present our idea-friend in a favorable and polite manner, giving time and space for it to be invited into the onlooker’s thoughts. And who knows, maybe it will start to settle in and find a home there too.