I’m getting some great comments on this post, please click on the post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the page to read them! And then please do add your own! I’ll try and reply on Saturday (it’s midnight Friday here now!)
The day before yesterday, I wrote about how I was getting together with a group of fellow homeschoolers in Bahrain. I was really looking forward to it. They are really nice people, I enjoy their company and I think it’s great for my kids to spend time with other homeschooled kids for a change. It’s an added bonus that they get to play with kids who are both boys and girls and different ages to them. I think this is very enriching. This is the way kids should play together, not exclusively with the same age and gender, which is what tends to happen with schooled kids.
As I said in my earlier post, I was interested to know how they these ladies would fit into my preconceived homeschooling tribes and wondered if they were thinking the same thing about me – whether I fitted into their tribe or not. Well, I still don’t know and I can’t decide whether this is OK or not.
It was an absolutely lovely afternoon. The host was incredibly gracious and hospitable, even though I would guess, if we had a frank talk, that we may have some major ideological differences. But we didn’t talk frankly and I wonder if that’s cowardice or social maturity.
All of us skirted politely around ‘safe’ subjects – newbies like myself gratefully asking more experienced homeschoolers questions about their approach, but we didn’t talk in much depth. Mainly it was lovely just hanging out with a very nice group of women and their great kids. Kids and adults all got on well. I felt incredibly grateful that this group has embraced us so warmly and allowed us to join in with them. I’m already looking forward to meeting up again in the next few weeks.
But, part of the reason we’re all getting along so well is that we aren’t touching on any sensitive subjects. I was always taught not to talk about religion and politics at smart dinner parties in London, where I grew up. Well, I don’t go to smart dinner parties anymore and I think religion and politics are some of THE most fascinating subjects to discuss! But they usually splinter people apart. Sometimes this is a surprise because you had no idea the other person holds a view that you have serious issues with or vice versa. Sometimes you have a good idea what you’re getting yourself into but don’t mind.
I only very, very occasionally get out in the evening by myself. I did so a few weeks ago to attend a book launch for a novel about Palestine. After the book reading, I got chatting to a guy over a coffee. We quickly got into an interesting, reasonably intellectual conversation (my favourite kind of conversation) that was political but not overtly personal. But it’s hard not to talk politics without getting personal. At some point, he said something that I found incredibly offensive. He was politically/culturally naïve enough not to realize that I would be so offended. He wanted to further our acquaintance, not halt it dead in its tracks. I was too polite/cowardly to say anything there and then and just tried to bring the conversation to a polite end. He didn’t suspect anything and hoped we’d get together with my husband soon. When I got home and told my husband about the conversation, he was shocked that I hadn’t said how distasteful I found this particular point of view. I was a bit perplexed myself, unsure what I should have done. I even asked a couple of friends in the coming days what they thought. I think they felt that in such a venue, with a stranger, it would have been hard, perhaps for a woman especially, to have been combative but understood my husband’s mild frustration with me too. I hope that if this happens again, I would be more courageous and would call the person out on their view or at least express my antipathy to it and either agree to disagree or recognize this was a deal breaker and that we couldn’t socialize further.
And that’s the point….as curious as I am about these lovely ladies and as important as I think it is to live an authentic life – and that means being true to my values, even defending my values – I don’t want to lose them! The man at the book launch might have been an interesting addition to our social life if he hadn’t held this offensive view (and therefore probably others) but his loss was not serious. The homeschooling community is so small in Bahrain and they are so nice, I don’t want to jeopardize belonging. I don’t want to jeopardize our emerging friendships both for myself and for my children’s sake. I don’t want to bring up a subject that either they or I might feel is a deal breaker. But it feels a bit fake and I’m not used to this. I’m not used to spending time with people with whom I might share some serious ideological differences. And I’m a person who wears, for better or worse, my heart on my sleeve, so it does feel a bit like a ticking bomb; that sooner or later I’m going to say something that will cause ructions. I don’t think anything they say about their homeschooling approach would cause waves with me nor mine with them; even if they thought I was doing it all wrong they don’t know me well enough to care much or else would rightly think that my kids are still young so I’ve got time to self-correct! It’s the other stuff, the political, religious, ideological stuff that’s potentially contentious.
I’m sure we all have some idea which issues we’d seriously disagree on. But do they think these are like the proverbial elephant in the room, in the way I do? Am I right to be so forthright in the way I go about in the world? Since I’ve joined a community that’s so important to me, but so small, have I got to change to continue to belong? I don’t mean change who I am, my values and beliefs, but change the way I live these values and beliefs – for the first time in my adult life to keep them to myself and hope others do the same so we don’t fall out over anything, however politely it would probably happen? Is this new homeschooling group, and other homeschoolers I may come across, providing a great opportunity for me to become more socially mature, for the sake of my kids especially, let alone myself, or am I becoming a coward or worse, morally bankrupt? What’s the better role model for my children, rejecting the warmth and comfort of other people, a community, because their views clash with ours or ensuring that such subjects don’t arise so we can enjoy each other’s company on a more superficial but nevertheless much needed basis?
The other day, a friend posted on her Facebook page a situation which brought home to me how differently people see the world, even people linked by friendships. We are, after all, all Facebook friends with this one person. This friend of ours was talking about issues her kids had had with friends of theirs. Sometimes kids discuss thorny issues happily, innocently, curiously which might cause offence but which they’re probably unaware of if they’re young.
My friend’s kids were having dinner at a neighbour’s house. When they came home they asked their parents what side they were on, in terms of the present civil unrest in Bahrain (which has, as is so often the case, old roots). The parents were rather taken aback by this and wondered what had instigated that question. Their kids said they’d been asked by a friend of their friend’s mother. This is disingenuous and patronizing; asking kids a question to find out what their parent’s think. I think that’s quite unforgivable. But I’d be curious to know what the kids replied. The next day, a friend of the kids told them they weren’t keen on America since they took away Palestine (was this my son, although he knows Britain’s role in it too??!). My (American) friend joked on her Facebook page – whatever happened to asking the perennial tricky one, “Mom, why is the sky blue?”
My friend’s Facebook friends had some infuriating responses. One answered very thoughtfully and positively I thought, commenting about how beneficial it is to have kids live overseas, that it opens kids minds, that the resulting “cultural understanding and empathy is outstanding.” But others answered in a way that, I think, showed little faith in kids generally and more specifically, naivety about how kids living with conflict of one type or another are forced to think about such things. One commenter wondered why an adult would think a little kid had thought about such questions. Well, my friend’s kids may not have done, they are very insulated from what’s going on here, although, since I have faith in kids generally, they may well have picked up on something of what’s going on here and could well have thoughts about it. One of my friend’s bright kids is 10. As a confident young man, he may well have formed an interesting opinion on what’s going on here without having access to much information. Kids can be very perceptive.
I was also annoyed by a comment that said that the fact kids were making such comments explained why, “that part of the world has such a difficult time getting along — kids are taught at an early age to pick sides”. This seemed prejudiced and narrow-minded – there are a lot of reasons why ‘this part of the world’ and so many other parts of the world have ‘such a difficult time getting along’. But, there’s a grain of truth in it, as much as I hate to admit it.
I’ve seen kids being seriously indoctrinated to take sides and sing revolutionary songs in a very ‘black or white’ way. But it’s hard not to do that when you’re living it. And it’s ignorant prejudice when people who have had privileged easy going lives (and I count myself in that group) don’t try and understand this. Perhaps instead we could have more sympathy with their reality, whilst constructively trying to think of ways to help people have a more nuanced view of conflict situations, including their own view. I certainly try and do this with my own kids but then again, I can. I can stand back and have perspective. My kids aren’t first generation refugees but living the aftermath of that fact further down the generational line. Young kids take comfort in certainty, for things to be black or white, good or bad, but it’s immaturity to see the world that way as adults. It’s much harder to see the shades of grey. Young kids are easily indoctrinated to take sides but nevertheless from teenagers on, we must all try to see the shades of grey and for myself, I am trying to teach my kids this hard lesson already.
Another commenter had much the same annoyingly trivializing comment, “Why can’t kids just not be kids? Can we not just learn from the past and move on?” Why can’t we? Some people find this very hard to do because they are suffering from civil conflict or war, or its aftermath, and the repercussions of that go on for generations. Palestinians always lament what was stolen from them. Of course they do. Their lives would be entirely different today if their grandparents and parents hadn’t been forced from their homes to live in abject poverty. Of course they would. It’s all very well saying, as the same commenter did, “I just wish for peace I guess is what I am saying, for one and all”. That’s easy for those of us to say who haven’t lived in fear and suffered from persecution.
If I had been having this discussion in person, with the commenters on Facebook, let alone my friend, things could have got heated. Just as I didn’t wade into an awkward confrontation at a book launch party, I didn’t wade into this online discussion either. I would like to have done. I’d like to uphold the banner of all that I believe is right, in part because maybe, just maybe, I could educate these people with a different point of view that might change the one they have. Now that’s progress! I personally have changed my mind a few times, when I’ve had a chance to learn more about a subject, and it’s a really enlightening, liberating experience, not scary at all. Most people think that the ground will shift beneath their feet and their world will come crashing down around their ears. But if only they’d give it a try, it’s more like making your foundations feel firmer and truer. But again, I didn’t want to rock a fragile new homeschooling friendship, with the friend who had originally posted, so I didn’t plunge in, keyboard blazing, and anyway online is not a very civilized forum for such discussions.
This brings me back to my dilemma with the new people I’m meeting with homeschooling – I like them and want to be part of a homeschooling community, but by not ‘showing my true colours’ or asking them to show me theirs am I being a coward, a terrible role model for my kids or worse, morally bankrupt OR am I being socially mature and a caring mother? Your thoughts would be much appreciated!
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IF YOU’RE NEW TO HOMESCHOOLINGMIDDLEEAST, welcome! I highly recommend that you start reading from ‘Day 1’. The fastest way to access this is to look for ‘Archives’ on the right hand side of the home page, click on ‘February 2012’ and scroll down to the bottom of the page that opens. If you want a quick first visit, you could type a term e.g. ‘socialization’ or ‘university’, into the ‘Search’ box or of course you could just read my latest posts without doing anything!
Why I recommend starting at Day 1 is because this is an adventure into homeschooling that is not yet 3 months old and the journey has been a rollercoaster – philosophically and emotionally, catalogued daily for the first couple of months. For you to get the full intellectual and dramatic impact, it’s best to start at the beginning. You might be contemplating home educating and wonder what those early nail-biting days feel like or you might enjoy reading somebody else’s take on an experience you share with me, or you might be more generally interested in my thoughts and feelings on education and parenting. Whatever the reason you’re reading, I’m really humbled that you’re taking your valuable time to do so and I really hope I can be some kind of hope or inspiration for you. Thank you!