13 November 2009

Opting Out

First, obligatory mutterings: Yeah, it's been a while; no, I'm unlikely to try and catch up on what has transpired. Onward and upward. Anyhoo...

While reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, I came across the term "opting out" applied both to homeschoolers (opting out of public schools and all that goes with it) and locavores (opting out of supporting #2 corn production and the whole accompanying military-industrial complex). I have decided that I like the term and am shamelessly co-opting it.

It was a timely discovery as it is what has been living in my head a lot lately. There are (at least) two major sides to opting out. The first is the best part opting out: choosing something that fits better and works for oneself or one's family. This is the good part, the fun part. For homeschooling, this is not having to live on a strict clock and get everyone out the door at the right time to deliver everyone to the places they need to be; not having to have "discussions" with teachers when Bug digs his heels in and/or acts like a lively, active six-year-old boy; watching skills, abilities, and interests unfold and blossom in all three kids, on their own schedules. For eating local, it is getting to eat tomatoes that taste like tomatoes; getting to know the people that are involved in growing our fruits, vegetables, and meats; understanding how local and sustainable can get a lot of petroleum out of the food chain and get more of each of my food dollars into the hands of the actual farmers.

The other side is the downside. And that is pretty much the rest of the world. For homeschooling, it's the fact that everybody (okay, not really everybody, it's hyperbole, people) thinks they know more about what is best for my kids and what my kids need. In this regard, we are fairly lucky. Wisconsin has a fantastic homeschooling organization that has been instrumental in making it one of the more "hands-off" states for homeschooling. On the other hand, there are still the legion of people with whom the standard conversation goes something like this:

Them: Do you have kids?
Me: Yes, three.
Them: How old are they?
Me: Two, five, and almost seven.
Them: Which school do they go to.
Me: We homeschool (and/or clarify that we unschool)
Next comes the helpful advice part. And a big part of me feels really bad complaining about this, as I know that the helpful advice usually is coming from a good place, that the adviser is truly trying to be helpful, and, like me, wants the absolute best for my kids. The problem is that I have thought (a lot) about homeschooling and unschooling; I have read (a lot) about homeschooling and unschooling; I have been in the trenches with trial and error. And a lot of the advice I get is the equivalent of asking someone with kids in public schools if they have thought about keeping lines of communication with their children's teachers open; if they have thought about volunteering in the classroom if they have time; if they talk with their kids about what they are doing in class and as homework. On good days, I can truly appreciate that others mean well, even when their remarks are somewhat misguided. On the worst days, I usually manage to smile and say thank you and keep the crankiness to myself. I guess the upshot isn't so much "I'm crabby and don't want to hear your advice" as that I sometimes get tired of having to explain (and occasionally defend) myself and my choices. There are times when opting out can be much harder work than it seems and it would just be nice to live in a place where the things I do are normal and I'm not such an odd duck. Or that I could select my own communities (which I often do) without having to drive all over creation to meet up with them.

Likewise, as delicious as eating local is, it isn't without pitfalls of its own. Like living in a state where the state government lives in the pocket of big ag where our milk supplier, who was following the rules for distribution, can be shut down when the state decides to "reinterpret" the law in favor of antibiotics, corn-fed cattle, and factory farms. As furious as I am about losing my milk and yogurt, the thing that absolutely scares the dickens out of me is the possibility that the political winds could shift and homeschool law could be reinterpreted in some pretty scary and invasive ways. Plus, with the loss of the milk income, my farmers could lose their farm or decided to move to live and farm in a less hostile environment. Then I would also need to find a new source for my beef and pork and summer eggs. And how ironic is it that the state needs to shut down farms that are doing things right to prevent competition for big ag, while at the same town, the local cooperative grocery can hardly sell enough to stay in business?

Anyway, enough cranky ramblings for now. This is the hazard of storing up too many crabby blog posts over the last several months. Also, I have gotten dreadfully behind on posting finished objects and updating Ravelry. There have been fibery pursuit including at least a partial conquering of my crochet-phobia! More, and more chipperness coming soon, I hope!


Namma said...

You're co-opting "opting out"? I think there may be pun or something there somewhere, but I'm not exactly sure...

As far as the downside of homeschooling is concerned, i.e., answering to people who question your motives, maybe just a simple statement would be sufficient...something like, "I feel that I can provide the best education for my children"...and just leave it at that.