Discussing diversity with the homeschooled child

Catholic Dads recently asked how other homeschool families discuss homeschooling with family, friends and paticularly with the homeschooled children.  Particularly the questions of children seem to draw out uncertainties.  After all, we have so much power to frame the entire discussion and insert our views into our children.  Catholic Dad’s questions echo my own thoughts as I attempt to answer my daughter’s questions:

But how do we explain this [the reasons we homeschool] to a five year old without a.) giving him the impression that he’s missing out on something fantastic, b.) running the risk that he looks down his nose at other kids who do go to school or c.)getting the impression that schools and everything associated with them are to be avoided?  Homeschool Diplomacy

They are good questions and the answers deserve some pondering.  After all, short of sending your children off to school for an extended period, any answer given will only be part of the story.  It’s like trying to explain a foreign culture without it coming down to food, holidays and national costumes.

I don’t have an answer.

Actually, I have more questions.  Essentially, they are the same questions, broadened and not specific to homeschoolers.  How do we explain differences and diversity to our children?  Whether it is a woman dressed in a sari, or with a hijab covering her head, a child with obvious physical deformities or a man behaving bizarrely on a street corner, how do you address the questions your children have?

As a child stands staring, the most common reaction I see from parents is a swift diversion and a muttered “It’s impolite to stare!” as the child is whisked away.  Now, it is impolite to stare, and an important part of raising children is teaching them these finer points of social life.  But in that moment, the child has also noticed something:  people are different.  We come in different colors, shapes and sizes, we have different customs, we speak different languages and some of us suffer from diseases and disorders that make us noticeably different.  Some of us are hurting, are hungry and even smell.

But it is impolite to stare, so we whisk our children away.

I’d be the last to say that it is appropriate to turn the person into an object lesson. . .although a man with a neck injury at McDonald’s once told me he never minded the children staring.  It was the parents shuttling them out of sight that got to him.  But I can’t help but wonder how many parents pick up the conversation with their children later.

I wonder, because a lot is learned in that moment.  A lot more than perhaps we realize.  It brings us back to that socialization issue homeschoolers are so fond of:

The process whereby a child learns to get along with and to behave similarly to other people in the group, largely through imitation as well as group pressure.  Answers.com

It is also a process which occurs without critical analysis.  That quick but firm redirection (with perhaps a touch of shock) may teach our children a lot more about our culture than simply that it is impolite to stare.  After all, there seem to be certain “things not spoken of” that we aren’t even supposed to look at.

But how do we (and how should we) discuss these issues with young children?

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Crimson Wife
The thing I find tricky to deal with is my 6 1/2 year old’s belief that parents who homeschool love their children more than parents who send their kids to a traditional school. I’m particularly sensitive to this issue because I had to be employed full-time outside the home when she was a toddler because we truly needed my salary and especially the health insurance coverage at the time. I’ve tried explaining to her that we live in an area where the cost of living is extremely high and that most families are not as fortunate as we are to… Read more »

It is hard at that age, I think in part because everything is so much more black and white.

Interesting because I’ve never thought of it. We did pull our children out of school, but that was after Grade 1 and JK respectively. My youngest has some idealized version of school. When they speak of school, I just remind them that our life style offer’s us flexibility and opportunity and we’ll just focus on that. In regards to the staring at ‘odd’ people question. I resolved from day one not to shush my children, but still do sometimes. Typically the conversation goes like this, “Why is that person walking with crutches?” I’m not sure sweetie. “Maybe …” Possibly but… Read more »
Mrs. C

Unfortunately, Elf remembers just enough of his lessons to get us into a lot of trouble. When he was six, he once asked a cashier in the food court if her “boss” knew she was off the farm.


Though it seems the entire process of childhood is going from the general to the specific… and then we get to college and are told to think in general terms again and paint with a broad brush under the guise of “statistics.” :]

Interesting… since we live in Japan, my kids and I are usually the ones dealing with stares, and sometimes annoying comments. My kids really dislike being stared at, and therefore rarely openly stare at others (unless we see a fellow foreigner!). Because of that it is very easy for me to simply remind them how they don’t enjoy being gawked at if a situation does come up. Conversely, I have had to teach them how to deal with being stared at, and how to be open to people. Sometimes they just want to escape from people who make a big… Read more »

Hip hop icon Nelly has created and perfected the Apple Bottom Clothing Line and accessories called Apple Bottoms

Ruth macCarthaigh

In relation to children noticing ‘different’ people, tell the children the truth in love…

We as a family are pretty different where we live being saved, baptists, no tv, no christmas, home school etc. We are used to it and anyway, I found over the years that other children don’t mind, it’s the parents that usually think it’s a bit different.

I tell my son that there are pros and cons to all different kinds of education but hey, he loves home schooling in his pyjamas so he thinks he has the best of them all:0)