I’ve been pondering this question after a series of less-than-positive e-mails surfaced recently in our homeschool’s group Yahoo loop. Apparently there was feedback from several people (who no longer participate in the group) that our group, now 60+ families, was unwelcoming and unsupportive to new homeschoolers. The question posed by the member who surfaced this issue was, “What message are we sending to new homeschoolers?” Among the various responders was one question that I found intriguing. This particular respondent asked the group, “Are we a group or are we a support group?” I chose not to further what became a heated debate, but the question made me think about how we approach people who are new to the homeschool environment, whether we are in a group or interacting as individuals.
I am convinced that there are several errors in judgment we make any time we interact with new homeschoolers, and though I mean well, I’m guilty of all of them at any given time (by the way, this is my partial off-the-top-of-my-head list):
- Assuming that people already know what they need to know
- Similarly, assuming that people know what questions to ask (and consequently not offering any additional helpful information)
- Assuming that everyone is computer savvy and knows how to access information (how many times have I said to a new homeschooler, “Just go to the HSLDA website. You can Google it if you need”).
- Projecting our household needs, convictions, and concerns on everyone else
- (the opposite of #s 1 and 2) Being the homeschooling “expert”, to the point of overwhelming and/or demeaning the effort of a new parent who’s just trying to get started
I remember being a homeschooler of only several days when I attending an area meeting with another more seasoned mom. When I introduced myself to the group and mentioned how long I had homeschooled, one “veteran” questioned, dripping with cynicism, “So, did you go with all Bob Jones or all A Beka?” After a moment’s trepidation, I was able to collect myself and respond that I was using a CM approach, to which she seemed genuinely shocked. Inside, I was somewhere between incensed and crushed, thinking that the comment implied that I was too dumb to do any homework, and that I didn’t know any better than to proclaim myself a homeschooler and head immediately to the nearest packaged curriculum vendor. Thank God that I’m too thick-skinned to be anything but momentarily shaken by comments like that.
As I thought about these assumptions, it occurs to me that these are the same errors we make when we miss the chance to share Jesus Christ with a new believer or an unbeliever. It all boils down to one thing: being too focused on self to understand and then meet (or at least attempt to meet) someone else’s needs. The great evangelist Billy Graham once stated that mass crusades, to which he dedicated most of his life, don’t have the power that a one-on-one conversation has to change a life.
So with all of this said, I thought about at least a couple of new homeschooling moms who’ve come into my life recently. I need to apologize to them, largely because I was so busy sharing my relative “expertise” until I didn’t listen, and I probably overwhelmed them in trying to lay out for them all of their options. I also thought about what support will look like from me having considered all of these thoughts:
- I will take the time to listen.
- I will ask if there is a need that I can help meet.
- I will ask if I can pray with them right there, not later.
- I will share our school days from my heart, not the “heady” conversation that I can quickly jump into. This requires that I relate experiences where I leaped, where I laughed, and where I cried.
More importantly, I will do these in the order listed above. God bless you today.