Home Education Magazine
January-February 2005 - Articles and Columns
Beware the "Shoulds" - Tracie Schneider
My family has been extremely healthy this winter, somehow managing to escape both colds and flu, as well as the many other unidentified respiratory illnesses that sweep through this area during the chilly months of the year. I, on the other hand, have not been so lucky, and have only recently recovered from a particularly nasty case of a disease that is becoming all too common among the homeschooling community. While there may be a more scientifically correct name for it, I refer to this illness simply as the "Shoulds." And let me tell you, it hit me hard this year and has been difficult to shake off. If you have been homeschooling for any length of time you are probably already familiar with it and may have suffered from numerous episodes of it in your own family. However it can also strike those who are new to homeschooling and even, in rare cases, those who are merely considering the possibility of homeschooling at some point in the future!
There are a number of ways to tell if you or someone in your family has been stricken with the "Shoulds," and if you listen closely to yourself and others you will learn to spot it easily. The primary symptoms manifest themselves as thoughts and sentences that begin in one or more of the following manners: 1) "We should be doing more (fill in the blank)." 2) "My child/children should be able to do "fill in the blank" by now." 3) "We should have gotten more (fill in the blank) done today/this week/this year" or even the all-encompassing 4) "I should be better at this homeschooling business by now!"
If left untreated, mild to severe complications can arise, such as 1) nagging and pressuring your child/children to accomplish tasks above and beyond his or her actual abilities or interests, 2) giving your child more work to do in one week than the average public school covers in a typical month, 3) spending hundreds of dollars purchasing expensive textbooks, workbooks and pre-packaged curricula and even, in extreme cases 4) entertaining thoughts of enrolling your child/children in an actual school!
These symptoms and their consequences can appear very quickly after initial exposure to the disease, sometimes striking the victim even before she is aware that she has been exposed. And, unfortunately, it is almost impossible to tell who or what may be a carrier of the illness. My most recent case, for example, was contracted from a completely sweet and innocent-looking five-year-old child whom I observed writing her name (first, middle and last) on a blackboard in perfectly executed, properly placed upper and lower case letters, while cheerily humming a tune to herself as though the task required only a minute portion of her total brain capacity. Thoughts of my own six-year-old child (for whom writing of any type ranks somewhere between eating mushrooms and having to clean her room) began to creep into my head, followed almost instantaneously by the following unsolicited thought: "Child X (name intentionally withheld to protect the innocent) should be able to do that by now and I should have made her do it whether she wanted to or not!" Never mind the fact that this un-named child has a vocabulary equal to most 12-year-olds, reads fluently, and can sit down at the piano and play the melody of almost any piece of classical music after hearing it only once.* (See disclaimer at the end of this article.)
By the time I reached my house, the illness had progressed to the point that I had formulated a two-pronged plan of attack that involved: a) buying more writing workbooks from our local homeschooling supply store and b) trying once again to interest my child (who had already made it quite clear that she was not interested) in that kind of writing paper with the three little lines on it. You know the kind I'm talking about.
Unfortunately, I was re-infected with the "Shoulds" later that same week, after taking a peek at the math portion of a fifth-grade standardized test and realizing that I should have already taught my own fifth grader how to fluently convert fractions to percentages and back again by this stage of her life! The complications which resulted from my re-exposure were not pretty and I will not go into them in this article.
I mention these things not to frighten the reader unnecessarily, but simply to point out the ease with which one may be infected by this disease. In addition to exposure from small children and standardized test questions, the illness may also be contracted by listening to your children's same-aged friends talk about what they did in school today, by listening too closely to the comments of non-homeschooling friends and relatives about what your children's cousins or friends did in school today, by browsing through workbooks written for grade or age levels corresponding to those of your own children, by reading or purchasing any book with a title such as What Your ______ Grade Child Should Know by Now, by possessing or handling a copy of the educational standards of any state or developed country, including those you have never visited, or even, in rare cases, having a discussion with another homeschooling mom or dad about what their child/children have accomplished this school year. Of particular danger are other homeschooling parents who are both highly organized and/or are homeschooling six or more children simultaneously while operating a small business out of their homes, or parents whose homeschooled children are currently attending Harvard or Yale.
Again, I do not wish to alarm anyone by the information contained in this article. However, if you do find yourself infected with this highly contagious disease, I urge you not to unwittingly pass it on to other homeschooling parents by sharing with them unnecessarily detailed descriptions of the talents and skills of your own homeschooled children, particularly if those children are at or above standard grade level for their age.
Above all do not panic! However troubling the symptoms of this disease may be, complete recovery is both possible and surprisingly easy to obtain if the following steps are taken: After ridding your house of any contaminated materials and/or people, I have found it extremely helpful to take several days off from "school" and get as far away from so-called "educational" materials as possible. Go camping, go to the beach in the middle of the week, do an entire week of art and music projects, have a picnic several days in a row, listen to music and dance with your children, do something messy (such as experimenting with bubble formulas indoors or anything involving papier mache, baking soda and vinegar), ride bikes, read books out loud, work in your garden, go for a walk, and, above all, appreciate, enjoy and revel in the unique and wonderful talents and abilities of your own unique and wonderful (even if not two grade levels above their age group) children. Remind yourself of the multitude of reasons you decided to homeschool your children in the first place, and give yourself a loving pat on the back for having actually pulled it off!
* Disclaimer: By making the above statement with regard to the talents of my own child, I did not knowingly or intentionally intend to infect any reader with the above-mentioned disease. (Anyway, your six-year-old can probably write his or her own name in perfect upper and lower case letters and your fifth grader can probably convert fractions into decimals and back in her sleep. If they can, just please don't mention it to me the next time we meet.)
© 2005 Tracie Schneider
January-February 2005 - Articles and Columns
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