As my family drove by a school yesterday, on the way to pick apples, we saw an elementary school, all the little 5-year-olds lined up outside. I had my customary fear reaction, accompanied by a sharp intake of breath. Boy, am I happy that my son isn’t going to school! Arp looks, smirks, and says, “Federal Dis-attachment Center.” Not only is my husband witty, but he was underscoring something that has been on my mind a lot lately – how parents are discarding their own attachments and intuitions in favor of the mainstream edict that kids need school.In the past I’ve focused a lot on how putting my son in school, with a community of strangers, will hurt his attachment to me and his family in general. How else could a child be affected when you suddenly thrust him in the arms of strangers that mostly care about test scores? But the new focus I have is on how school is affecting the attachments of parents to their children, and how we are denying our own instincts.
This issue is not new to me. As a breastfeeding mother, I’ve had to become comfortable with listening to my own intuition many times before. When my newborn cried and my breasts leaked, I was driven to rush to the side of my baby and feed him. No grandmother, with her comments of, “Don’t spoil the baby,” or “Keep him on a schedule,” could deter my instinct to feed my baby and cuddle him close. I also followed my instincts when I kept my children in my bed at night. It felt right to sleep close to them, feeling their breath on my arm. No announcement about the supposed dangers of co-sleeping would beat back my instinct to have a family bed.
But as we parents of almost-5-year-olds approach the decision to either homeschool or send our kids to public school, we encounter yet another erroneous message from society that asks us to sacrifice the attachment we have for our child, to put aside our instincts. Since M is almost 5 himself, I’ve talked to quite a few parents about how they came to make the decision to send their kids to school. At some point in my conversations with other parents, I almost always have a moment when I can see a particular feeling in the other parents’ eyes – a feeling of sadness, a fear of what the beginning of school means, a wish that they didn’t have to send them there. Almost always, that moment passes and the other parents give reasons (or make excuses) about why they have to send their child to school, or why they just couldn’t homeschool, or how, really, their child is getting a lot out of school. But those reasons never really take away that initial look of sadness and fear. What I think few parents are able to realize, or admit, is that they are risking much of the attachment they have for their child by ignoring their instinct to keep them home. Maybe the feelings we have as parents are there for a reason. Maybe the anxiety we have about sending our little children into the arms of strangers should be listened to.
Although it is not a book that really outright encourages homeschooling, I think Gordon Neufeld’s Hold On to Your Kids has a lot to contribute to the discussion of how school hurts attachments between parent and child. The author obviously has not considered homeschooling as a solution to the issue of the damaging affects of peer culture, but for those of us that are looking, the answer is obvious (homeschool, darn it!).