May-June 2007 Selected Content
The Road Less Traveled - Linda Dobson
I Can Read This, So I Thank My Mother
Today I waited at a red light behind a car with a bumper sticker proclaiming the owner's child was a local school's student of the month. Yesterday, I was behind another vehicle whose owner's child is an honor student. The day before, yet another bumper sticker told me that if I could read it, I should thank a teacher.
After all these years, such stickers still irritate me. Many years ago, they bothered me so badly that, being the good homeschooling advocate that I am, I decided to fight back. I created my own bumper sticker. I gave them away at homeschooling conferences, and with book purchases. (And all of the homeschoolers within my local support group, I now believe, in retrospect, were afraid not to put theirs on their cars.)
The sticker simply said, "Have a nice day. Homeschool your children." But the "nice" was crossed out and replaced with "great." It's what I believed then, and with each passing year I believe it ever more deeply. However, I've come to the conclusion that those bumper stickers may have been a waste of paper, ink, and never-get-rid-of-it stickum.
Not a whole lot has changed since my bumper stickers were created. The idea that education is all about the resulting grades, evident back when my children were still small, has simply grown increasingly popular over the years, whether one looks at bumper stickers or newspaper articles. The study of science, history, and the arts falls by the wayside as test preparation takes center stage, even as the media shares news of college seniors oblivious to the basics of American history.
Something even more disconcerting has transpired at the same time, however. Researchers, describing their recent study as the largest ever of its type, reveal college students have been steadily scoring higher and higher on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory over the last 25 years. Beseeching parents and teachers to stop endlessly telling children they are special - and having them repeat it back - psychologists warn us that narcissists "are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, be at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors." Believe me, a society full of these types will make the community members in Lord of the Flies seem as if they were on a perpetual picnic.
This is not to say that Narcissistic Personality Disorder is new or unique to today's college students. Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations was published in 1978, interestingly, during the start of the modern homeschooling movement. The point is that it's looking more and more as if our society, at some point in the fairly recent past, crossed a threshold. At the same time the institutionalization of education dumbed us down, as my friend John Gatto likes to call it, it has also served to help create what you might call "non-human humans" who live in a psychological/emotional disconnect, in a world of their own making, oblivious to - and apathetic about - what they don't know.
In the past, when I heard parents say they had no desire to spend the large amounts of time with their children that homeschooling requires, I just plain couldn't understand. Now, perhaps, the researchers provide an explanation: Narcissists are malevolent people and incredibly psychologically/emotionally draining when they're around. Perhaps a nice day, let alone a great one, with one's children, might have been such a foreign concept to many families that my bumper stickers may as well have been written in Chinese.
With the benefit of hindsight, today I would create a totally different bumper sticker. It wouldn't tell the world how wonderful the child is. It wouldn't try to sell another parent on homeschooling. I wouldn't even give or sell them to parents. I'd ask the children at homeschooling conferences if they would like one. The sticker would say, "I can read this, so I thank my Mother." It would offer at least a momentary recognition of old-fashioned accepted responsibility, good manners, honesty, and acknowledgement of the truth of connectedness, and the power of love.
In lieu of a new bumper sticker, please allow me to use this column to thank you, mothers, everywhere. Have a nice great homeschooling Mother's Day.
© 2007, Linda Dobson