Who is the Real Bully Here?

We were on the beach the other day when I looked over to where the kids were and noticed that they had become heavily involved in a game of flag football with a group of children I’d never before seen. Lovely, I thought.

Later, I learned that, indeed, it had not been such a lovely game. Two of the boys, upon hearing that my kids are homeschooled, started to bully them.

Let me back up and say that we have only ever experienced direct bullying towards the kids twice in my children’s lifetimes, once when they were very young and a child refused to let Rhubarb go down the slide, stating that she is “too black for this park”. This occurred when we lived in the far northern suburbs. The second time occurred more recently. You can read about it here.

Based upon my rather small research sample this summer, I am going to assume that the brunt of bullying really begins when children are between 9 and 11, the ages of our current summer bullies.

Back to the beach. Upon gathering the children and preparing to return home, I learned that the two boys had inquired as to the children’s school. They proudly responded that they homeschool. The boys started to laugh and mock them; one of them told the kids that homeschooled kids are “idiots about making friends.”

Hmmm. Now, let’s unpack that a moment, shall we. A child with a clear and overt vehemence towards peers he has just met is calling a group of three children who bravely asked if they could join a game full of strangers “idiots about making friends.”

Where do we think this child learned that bit of erroneous information?

They also told my children that they would “never do as well as kids who go to school on tests” and went on to test my kids, firing questions at them and expecting immediate answers. My kids stayed silent for the most part, refusing to play along. Again, he called them “idiots.”

This testing thing, this flim’-flammin’-mother-of-pearl-testing thing, is my achilles heel. Do people randomly test kids who attend private schools to make sure their education is sound? How about kids that did not attend 12 summer camps during the break? Children educated in another country? Are they randomly tested to assess their intelligence?

Most importantly, where did these children even learn to test a child who is homeschooled to prove that they are not adequately educated? And where did they get the idea that their randomized school testing is an indicator of intelligence in the first place?

These are not the original musings of two 10 year old boys. These are the imitations of their parents and teachers.

Now I, as an adult, deal with direct bullying regarding homeschooling on quite a regular basis. I have been accosted by total strangers who have felt the need to tell me how unsocialized my children surely must be (my children who have just introduced themselves to their children on the beach and have organized a group game). I have had family members express their disapproval at holiday meals. People I typically adore, from church, from activities I attend, feel completely comfortable questioning my motives regarding homeschooling. That we want our children to learn through their passions in an environment that encourages them to think outside of the box and to control their individual creative and intellectual gifts is rarely regarded. The REAL problem with homeschoolers, I am told, is that they are so poorly socialized. They don’t fit in.

These same people often comment to me that my children are “so refreshing” in that they converse with adults as much as kids, that they are “unusual” because they stay at the dinner table, engaging in conversation, instead of running to watch videos as soon as possible, that they “are always the first at an activity to invite other kids to play”, that they “make an activity easier by taking a leadership role with the kids.”

We can’t have both. Either homeschooled kids are, as a rule, poorly socialized or they are not.

So where did these kids learn the supposed deficits of homeschooled kids? From other adults.

There is no doubt in my mind, then, how they became bullies themselves. Unfortunately, I also have no doubt that homeschoolers are not their only targets.

The adults in their lives have taught them that it is okay to judge an entire group of people based upon rumor, based upon what they have read in undoubtedly sensationalized news reports, based upon assumptions about homeschooling (assumptions they will never confirm as long as they are pre-judging homeschoolers).

If these kids now believe this is okay, and apparently believe it is acceptable enough to do it within about three yards of their parents (who, in this case, were sitting on a blanket watching the whole thing) who will they pre-judge next — when their parents are not looking? People who practice a different religion than them? People who look different than them?

Somehow, many adults believe it is okay to categorize an entire group of people, a group 2-3 million strong in this country alone, based upon second and third hand information; and it is okay to freely disseminate that prejudice; and it is okay to confront those in that category; and it is okay to feel good and smug about not being a part of that group.

Sound familiar?

Adults, you might think that you are breaking hundreds of years of prejudice with your children by not showing overt signs of racism or anti-semitism (for example), but it seems you have just transferred that prejudice onto other groups of people. I don’t now. Maybe you are not happy with the education your child is getting and so you have decided to blame it on homeschoolers? Is it that you feel guilty because, as so many of you have told me and others I know, you “Could never spend all day with your kids”? Are you torn because you have chosen to work outside of the home and parents who stay home and hang out with their kids threaten your own values (sidebar, most homeschooling parents also hold a job or two and most also feel some guilt about that)?

How about this, then? Share THOSE feelings and let’s chat about them. Let’s support each other in the educational choices each of us has made because, and I know you’ll be shocked to hear this, we also question our decisions to homeschool. Every parent rakes over their choices on a regular basis. That’s what makes us good parents. If, however, any of us is not willing to hold a mirror to our own doubts, our own fears and inadequacies, we will continue to find groups of people upon whom we can thrust our insecurities. Scapegoats, we call them.

Scapegoating homeschoolers (or any groups of people who parent differently than you); trash-talking homeschoolers; stereotyping homeschoolers: THAT is not great parenting. And, if you do it, you should not be surprised when you learn that your child has moved on to a new group of scapegoats: Muslims, perhaps? The elderly? People with brown skin? Who might they choose next?

It’s entirely up to you.

4 Responses to Who is the Real Bully Here?

  1. My first job in the education field was working with the “bad” kids at a middle school in a fairly affluent San Diego suburb. I was in charge of in-school and after-school detention, and occasionally supervised Saturday school. My job was to take kids who had been removed from class for an hour or two and counsel them on better behavior, tutor them in their homework, and (hopefully) help them make better choices in the future.

    Sometimes, when I’d been seeing a particular kid too frequently, I had to contact their parents and discuss the issues their student(s) had been having in class or in school. And the thing that frustrated me the most wasn’t the behavior of the child, but the attitude and behavior of the parents. “Boys will be boys” was a fairly frequent phrase that set my blood boiling. “That’s true,” I would respond, “but that’s no excuse for them to do what they’ve done.” Everyone makes mistakes, I get that. I have made, and will most likely make, lots of them. But saying “boys will be boys,” excusing the reprehensible behavior of kids just because they’re kids and don’t know any better, is not the solution. TEACH THEM. Be good examples (most of these parents were pretty privileged and felt their kids could do no wrong), don’t just say “eh” and let it go. Or tell your kids that the teachers don’t know what they’re talking about, or should be ignored because they’re not in the same socio-economic group as their (usually) wealthier students’ families.

    There were times when I literally wanted to reach through the phone and smack said parent. Because I thought that was probably the only thing that would get them to shut up and listen for the moment that it took for me to explain that following the basic rules of courtesy and good behavior are more important than football. I got more skilled at dealing with those kinds of parents, but it still bothers me intensely that parents expect schools to do a lot of “parenting,” and that they don’t want to take responsibility for the ways their children behave.

  2. Leigh, do you mean when talking with the kids? I was not there for the exchanges between the bullies and my kids, but I can share what we discussed afterwards.

    I have always explained that anytime someone calls you a name, they are telling you about them and not you. Name calling is always a reflection of how they feel about themselves and, particularly, in this case, since they don’t even know the person they are bullying, they are not saying anything about the person they are bullying.

    We also talk a lot about intentions behind words — that words, in and of themselves, are not harmful, but the intentions can be. SInce the intention here was to hurt them, it was a harmful word. We then talked about how they felt upon hearing it. One child astutely said, “I can’t think of a time when you could use ‘idiot’ without some kind of mean intention.” It was a good point.

    We talked for a long time about what the bullies might have been thinking. We went over a few scenarios. The one that was most poignant, and probably most probable, was that maybe they had asked to be homeschooled and their parents said no by listing all the things the bullies listed off to my kids. Maybe the parents didn’t mean to sound so unkind, but in preventing their kids from pursuing the idea, they taught the kids to judge homeschoolers (instead of telling the truth — which is usually that they did not feel qualified to do it).

  3. Thanks for answering. I recently discovered your blog, and I find it really interesting–I enjoy reading it. Your explanation to your children about the “idiot” incident was really thoughtful. My little one is 2, and I (fortunately) don’t have to worry about bullying yet. There have been instances when another child has pushed her or knocked her down (natural behavior for a 2 year old), and my motherly instinct has been to lash out at the offending child. I have always regretted it afterwards and have had to apologize to my fair share of mothers for speaking harshly to their children. If you had been present and heard the bullies call your children an idiot, I’m sure you would have come up with a gentler solution.

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