Well, Diane Flynn Keith's article "Homeschoolers & Money" (PHS #50) sure evoked some passionate responses, didn't it?
In pondering the letters and emails we received as a result, I began to think it's time for all of us to ask ourselves a few questions. And here they are:
- Do you ever look down on those who have less money than you to spend on curricula and experiences for their children?
- Do you ever resent those who have more money than you to spend on curricula and experiences for their children?
During my many years of homeschooling, I have never actually encountered a single "rich" homeschooler who tried to make others feel inferior because of their relative lack of wealth. Rather, these people were usually busy running the many field trips, lobbying efforts, curriculum fairs, and so on. Which makes sense. If you can afford to absorb the cost of some photocopying and long-distance phone calling, you are much more likely to volunteer than someone who would have to be reimbursed for such activities immediately or risk not being able to pay household bills.
How would a "rich" homeschooler go about putting down a "poor" homeschooler, anyway?
"Nyah, nyah! I can afford all-new curriculum and you can't!" Or perhaps, "Anyone who settles for less than [very expensive curriculum X] is a total loser!"
Come on, folks. This sounds more like high school kids dissing each other over footwear fashions than any homeschool group meeting I've ever heard of!
On the other hand, it is definitely possible that well-off homeschoolers may not be aware of the dire financial circumstances of a particular member of the group. Assuming that everybody else can afford to pay top dollar for curriculum, camps, or travel may be a mistake. So it would be polite to ask, "How much can you afford to spend?" when asked for your curriculum recommendations, and to plan activities for those with low budgets as well as those with more to spend.
I'm not going to agree that all those who have some money have an obligation to hide this fact, though. Although pride is a sin, so is envy. And envy is a very easy sin to fall into. I remember when Bill was in seminary - a period that extended for most of a decade, as he pursued two degrees part-time - and our budget was so tight we literally could not afford to buy a single Dairy Queen ice-cream cone. Imagine having an entertainment budget of $0 for most of ten years. That was us! It was tough seeing all those folks who I didn't think worked any harder than us or were any smarter having all sorts of good things we couldn't afford. But if at any point I started thinking it was wrong for them to have those things, or that they should give me things just because we were poor, I would have been sinning.
In my case, it wasn't the fact that I didn't have anything, so much as the way other people often took their good fortune for granted, or even whined about it, that got my goat. So if you're well off, just check yourself out for a minute and see if you (a) recognize how fortunate you are and (b) are grateful for it. If to this you add (c) awareness that not everyone else is as fortunate as you, I believe there's no valid reason any fellow homeschooler should grump at you.
Now, let's talk about invalid reasons. A lot of us these days seem confused about the difference between necessity and desire. Those who watch TV have spent decades bombarded with the message, "You deserve everything you want! And there's no limit to the things you can want!"
Our ancestors understood things a bit differently. They had a saying: "Use it up/Wear it out/Make it over/Or do without." Applying this to our day, if there's an educational product or service you want but can't afford, you can:
- Buy it anyway and tighten your belt in some other place.
- Do without it.
- Come up with a substitute that costs less but is almost as good, or possibly even better.
- Offer some "sweetener" to whoever offers the product or service in order to get a reduced price. For example, swapping babysitting for music lessons.
- Harass, intimidate, or bully the provider into reducing the price, either just for you or for everyone.
All of these are reasonable except #5. And I'll tell you how to recognize #5. If someone asks you to do something for them or give them something for free, and you politely explain you don't want to do it, if they act apologetic, it was just an honest mistake. But if they act "hurt" or resentful, and especially if they begin to question your morality and piety, and most especially if they threaten to tell other people about your low morality and piety (for not doing their bidding), they are bullying you. I don't care how sweet and "Christian" they try to sound, or how many Bible verses they quote - it's their actions that tell the tale.
At this point, we're no longer just talking about money. Whether it's time spent answering curriculum questions, or someone demanding a discount on a totally optional science class, whoever demands "something for nothing" is demanding that another person be their slave to that extent. Biblically, we can volunteer to become the servants (but not slaves) of others; but others don't have the right to enslave us. If we don't have the right to say, "No," we are slaves by definition.
So let's all lighten up a bit. Think about whether both "rich" and "poor" would feel comfortable in your meetings. Let those who have less of this world's goods be happy that some folks can afford all sorts of educational goodies - while being fully aware that, as Melanie reminded us in this issue's letter column, a great education actually can be had without a lot of money, and that it's possible to be rich in time, energy, and creativity as well. Let those with larger discretionary incomes be sensitive to the fact that not everyone is wealthy, without having to feel guilty about their own blessings. Let's all try to get along and love each other. After all, homeschooling isn't about money... it's about love. So don't show me how much money you have or don't have, and don't worry so much about money, either. Show me your love.