A brief thought on comparisons

This is in response to Patience’s comment on the last post — I started making a comment, but it got too long:

I wonder if it [the tension around kids talking up homeschooling to non-homeschooled kids] has something to do with the weird combination of hyper-competitiveness and a warped version of equality that we have in America. I am especially guilty of always wanting the “best,” the most “authentic,” etc. Yet of course we firmly believe that no one is better, smarter, etc. than anyone else.

So we are all deeply invested in believing that we have found the “best” yet our Midwestern humility and American egalitarianism requires us also to believe that what we have is no better than anyone else, and probably just a little bit worse. 🙂

I think as a result pretty much all differences are threatening. I have sat in homeschool groups listening to people complain about vegetarians, environmentalists — not because they disagree with their principles (which are varied anyway, but I digress), but because they somehow get a “feeling” that those people think they are better than everyone else. Of course the irony is they probably have friends somewhere saying the same thing about homeschoolers while they are out of earshot.

You could look at the recent election for more on this constant fear that someone, somewhere, is thinking they are better than you. But why relive that unpleasantness? 😉



Filed under Oh Mother, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Socialization, Why Homeschool?

8 responses to “A brief thought on comparisons

  1. Jen

    I wonder if there really is any way around this. It’s pervasive, especially among women (though perhaps also among men; I wouldn’t really know). It’s breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding. It’s stay-at-home moms vs. working moms. I think by the time we’ve decided on cloth vs. disposables we’ve all become very sensitive to not portraying another’s choices as “lesser,” whether we really think that it is or not. Seems like an extension of the political correctness of the 90s.

    I always cringe a little inside when my kids’ schooled friends ask me to homeschool them (especially in front of their parents). So, I see where you are coming from.

  2. Political correctness happens here as well but I don’t think its to the same degree. I was always surprised to see the vehemence with which sides were taken over issues on American discussion boards when generally in my experience people here would not feel so threatened. I do know of a couple of cases of antagonism towards other people’s choices – religion, schooly vs unschooly, etc – but they’re more about the particular people, who I think would sniff at any choices anyone made that differed from theirs.

    There just seems to be less social fear in our culture.

    I think contributing factors towards this are that we are a largely secular society, still emerging from our pioneering days, and we have less pervasive guilt-inducing advertising on our screens. Also, because of our physical environment, when people first came here they tended to live in quite isolated areas, making a place for just their family out of the deep, tangled forest. We didn’t suffer so much the tensions of newly created villages; we haven’t been through civil war; we just got on with making our own lives work. So I think we have a culture of minding our own business.

    However, the flip side is that we have a sickeningly high rate of child abuse here because people tend to shrug their shoulders, stay out of other people’s affairs, and not judge others’ “parenting styles.”

  3. i think two things are coming into play –

    one, when you make a choice, people who are less sure of themselves feel threatened, defensive, imagining that you are judging *them* for *their* choice, rather than just choosing what you want for yourself, what works for you.

    two, people who are less secure of themselves always seem to take purist positions – not only do they believe in (veganism, radical unschooling, family bed, no TV, public school, etc. etc.) but they grip to them dogmatically and ferociously. how many times has someone been kicked out of an unschooling group because they admitted they use a math curriculum on the side? the group bands together and drives them out, because to include them would weaken the purity of their beliefs.

    i wish we could get more comfortable, as people and as a society, with our individuality.

    what i tell the boys, re: homeschooling vs. not homeschooling, is that people usually feel really good about decisions they’ve made, no matter what they are. ;^)

  4. Angela,

    I see this a lot, unfortunately. I think it goes even deeper than just insecurity though. There is an accepted and pervasive arrogance in our culture based on the idea that anyone who doesn’t do something/view something as I do is lesser.
    This can be everywhere. What concerns me is that so much of these attitudes focus on things that are CHOICE-education, nutrition, religion, cultural, etc.
    I do not really understand the need in others to JUDGE all the time. Looking only at homeschooling…it isn’t just method that is judged, but time committed, how many outside activities, record keeping abilities, etc. While I am just as aware as any that many folks do it differently from me, I try to view the differences as learning opportunities, not threats to my way of doing things.

    I wonder, then, how few people are really able to be self accepting enough to admit they don’t /nor will ever have all the right answers? I become very frightened when others, or groups of others, feel the right to impinge on my choices, and I worry as I see this tendency growing.

  5. Sarah

    I think you all have made excellent points. No wonder so many of us suffer from panic attacks! It’s hard, especially when you try to reform the bad habit of being critical of others and then are attacked for reforming! There’s got to be a way of living life peaceably and without judgment while still making the best choices for ourselves.

  6. I agree with previous comments that there is an element of insecurity in this. But I think you have also hit on something cultural. My reading of this is a real inability to accept diversity without reforming it into sameness. There does seem to be a really strong cultural sense that there is “one right way” to do almost everything in American culture and then discussion of different methods becomes all about figuring out which is the best or the right method. I think this also might explain the prevalence of fundamentalist and literalist forms of religion, too.

    I guess this is one of the things I find attractive about some debates about postmodernism, the attempt to figure out how to be equal while still being different. What does a real acceptance of diversity look like? It’s hard work, that’s for sure.

  7. This reminds me of a board I lurk on, an unschooling board. There is an ongoing thread amongst the women asking how to cope with questions regarding the choice of unschooling and what exactly it is. I’m constantly struck by how irritable some of these women get – and the stories they tell about these little interactions with relatives/strangers/friends make me so sad, because some of the questions seem like relatively straightforward phatic remarks, of the “Nice weather, eh?” variety. Old ladies who haven’t a clue what unschooling is, or parents worried about their 9 year old grandson not reading or knowing math. Things you’d think most people could understand to some degree, and yet they become imbued with such perceived negativity and hostility. I think a lot of it IS insecurity, but not insecurity about not feeling accepted in their choices – insecurity that they might not be doing the right thing, and these questions bare the bones, so to speak. I often feel quite despairing, reading the reactions these mothers have, because a part of me wonders if their kids will pick up on this hypersensitivity and grow up to be just as intolerant of the odd friendly, nosy question from someone in the bus line.

    Of course, I say all this but when the twins were young, just babies, I often despaired at how many “Are they twins?” remarks I had to endure. It was incredible. I had them right about the Chinese New Year, and I had Asians queuing up around the block to have their pictures taken with me and my twins some days (it was lucky apparently). It was excruciating and often quite exhausting. Once an entire tour from Korea had the twins sit with them in a park for a photo. I kept telling myself that one day the twins would grow up and not look like twins anymore and I might actually miss the attention – and it helped for (most of) those interminable “Twins? Yes?” comments.

    After writing all this, I wonder if we’re not encouraged to be intolerant. Part of the individualistic furor seizing us all.

  8. It is a crazy attitude that I really just don’t get. I actually like my friends to be doing something different. I like the ones that I have something in common with but I have learned so many things from those who don’t.

    What I like is people who have an opinion and are okay with others having their own. That is what works for me.

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