Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"I could never teach my own children." And, "Schools give children socialization."

I hear these statements all the time, of course from people who seem to think homeschooling is equivalent to child abuse. Here was my recent response to a blogger who posed these questions ... er ... statements. She is a public school teacher.

I'm curious why you think you couldn't teach your own children. I used to think that myself. That's a common misconception about homeschooling and I think it goes back to the whole classroom mindset with which we were all raised. (I say "we" because I attended public schools.) That mindset had me thinking that the teacher holds the knowledge and dispenses it to the students.

Once my children were born and I began to explore their educational options, I met homeschoolers who helped me understand otherwise. In my family, I am not the only teacher. I simply facilitate my children's learning; we use the whole world as our classroom. My goal is to raise eager, independent learners who know how to use various tools to access the world. In short, I can teach simple addition facts without any additional resources other than what's in my head. I'll be honest: I will not be able to teach trigonometry with only the information stored in my brain. However, I will be able to facilitate my children's learning by directing them to the resources they need to learn. That might be a book (the first thing our classroom mindset allows us to think about) or something entirely different. Chances are it will be real-life learning.

Homeschooling has been quite an adventure for our family so far. I have been able to learn new things (or long forgotten facts) along with my children. It's family learning at its best.

You mentioned that public/private school can give children socialization and group skills. My opinion is this: Those are but two areas that are important for children to learn. I will not sacrifice the rest of my children's learning only so they can access socialization and learn group skills in a forum that I think is inferior anyway. Instead, I expose them to genuine social experiences.

Let me explain. One of my daughters is 5 years old. If I sent her to the public school two miles from my home, she would be in a kindergarten classroom all day, five days a week, with one teacher, maybe an assistant, and about 15 other 5-year-olds. (Their average class size is 15.8 students in the elementary school.) So from whom would my daughter be getting her socialization? From 15 other 5-year-olds. As a teacher, you may have spent time with a group of 15 5-year-olds recently. While I find them energetic and delightful, I don't think I need to explain any more. (But let me know if I do.)

Instead, I expose my daughter to real-world social situations. She gets far more chances to interact with our extended family that time would allow if she were in a classroom all day (great grandma, grandparents, aunts and uncles), and she interacts with real people each day ranging from our nice postmaster to the clerk at the grocery store and from the farmer down the road to our elderly neighbor. That's real life.

I worked in an office environment until my first child was born. Never did I work with a group of only 30-year-olds. I had to know how to work with a variety of people of all ages from all walks of life, from my 60-something secretary to the 20-something graphic designer I supervised and the 40-something advertising sales person.

We're an active family and that gives my children plenty of opportunities to interact with other children, too, all in settings guided by me and other caring adults. They include 4-H, a soccer team, Sunday School, gymnastics class and more.

There are two things my children cannot do well, and I blame it on homeschooling. They don't know how to stand in line, and they don't know to raise their hands and wait to be called on.

I can certainly do without those.

Monday, March 10, 2008

If you're going to slam an organization, at least get your facts straight.

Here's my letter to Misha Davenport, who wrote “To nurse or not? Moms feel pushed to nurse” in the March 7 Chicago Sun-Times. Basically, he used one source to say that La Leche League has a "pushier attitude" toward mothers. Judge the situation for yourself, but he really needed to use facts in his article. You surely know that I'm pushy, but the organization? No. It's right in its mission that it helps mothers who choose to breastfed. Heck, maybe it should be pushy. What if this headline read, "To use carseats or not? Moms feel pushed to safely buckle their children," and went on to say that some La Car Safety League pressured mothers to make the right choice for their children? Is that pushy? Or is it for the good of our babies?

I read your article “To nurse or not? Moms feel pushed to nurse” in the online edition of the Chicago Sun-Times. I’m sorry the mother Jami Brownlee feels as if she had a bad experience with La Leche League. Thank you for reporting that another mother found the organization “a godsend.” In my experience as a mother, I have found the latter to be the case for myself and many, many women and babies whose lives are positively impacted by volunteer La Leche League Leaders around the world.

As a former journalist in the trade press, I was surprised by your article. I was trained to avoid initiating a piece based on a single person with a bone to pick, and if I thought the issue was more rampant, I was to use more than one person as a source. You wrote, “Yet some moms say there's been a shift to a pushier attitude,” then go on to tell readers about one mother who feels that way. The second source mother believes the La Leche League group (not a chapter) was "a godsend."

The second mother seemed have a problem with hearing that one bottle feeding can cause nipple confusion. I’m thankful that she and her baby found that not to be the case. I personally experienced a similar situation with my first child in which that one bottle fed at the hospital did cause nipple confusion for my newborn girl. My baby and I struggled for the next six weeks to correct it. Thanks to a La Leche League Leader, we were able to overcome the bottle-caused nipple confusion. I’d be glad to share scientific data regarding the facts of nipple confusion if you like, including peer-reviewed medical journal articles proving it does happen. Thankfully, there are alternatives to “flushing” jaundice from a baby’s system and even if artificial feeding is used, there are alternatives to bottle feeds such as cups, spoons or syringes.

I appreciate that you attempted to approach this story from an unbiased perspective by interviewing both the mother who chose to bottle-feed and the La Leche League Leader. However, I wonder if you read the La Leche League Philosophy (pasted in full below). If you read it, you’ll find that what you reported is not what the philosophy says.

You wrote, “Some women have taken issue with parts of the organization's 10-point philosophy, including the assertions that mothers need to be alert and active during childbirth (no epidurals or drugs of any kind) … .” If you read the actual philosophy, you’ll find that the statement simply says active and alert participation is a help. It says, “Alert and active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting breastfeeding off to a good start.” It mentions nothing about epidurals or drugs. Your interpretation is quite a leap. Even a woman who has a c-section — something most people would probably agree requires drugs — can find ways to have more active and alert participation. She may ask for a partial block when appropriate rather than general anesthesia (uncommon anyway); she may ask to hold the baby as soon as possible after birth; she may choose to nurse her baby in the recovery room rather than waiting. These are all ways to get some help from active and alert participation, drugs or not. Of course there are ways to get even more active and alert participation in birth that I’d be glad to share if you like.

You also claim La Leche League says, “… that they must breast-feed for at least a year and a half (the AAP recommends up to a year; the World Health Organization says two) … .” I’m not even sure where you may have received this information to be misinterpreted this way. I wonder if you partially read or skimmed the La Leche League statement about solid foods as I can’t figure out where else you would have gotten anything like this. That statement says, “For the healthy, full-term baby, breast milk is the only food necessary until the baby shows signs of needing solids, about the middle of the first year after birth.” That simply tells us babies don’t need extra foods such as baby food or cereal until about 6 months old. I’m curious if that is what was misread, or if it was something else.

Thank you for reporting the AAP and WHO recommendations, however, please note that the way you reported these was inaccurate. It’s evident you didn’t read the actual statements, which can be found by a simple Google search on the organizations’ web sites. You wrote, “… the AAP recommends up to a year … .” The actual policy from the American Academy of Pediatrics says, “It is recommended that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mutually desired.” (Source:;100/6/1035.) That is far different from “up to a year.”

The same goes for the World Health Organization statement. Please note the words “or beyond” in their strategy. In their Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, the WHO asserts, “All mothers should have access to skilled support to initiate and sustain exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and ensure the timely introduction of adequate and safe complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to two years or beyond.” (Source:

I appreciate your noting the needs of single mothers and lesbian couples. I agree these are important. However, you again misrepresented La Leche League philosophy. You wrote, “… and that a father's involvement is essential (sorry, single moms and lesbian couples).” As a writer, I’m sure you appreciate the nuances of words. Choosing to use different words than the La Leche League philosophy really says changes the meaning — and not only in a subtle manner. The philosophy actually uses words such as “enhanced” and “important.” Nowhere does it say it is essential. Actual statement: “Breastfeeding is enhanced and the nursing couple sustained by the loving support, help, and companionship of the baby's father. A father's unique relationship with his baby is an important element in the child's development from early infancy.”

Thanks for reading this.

Click to read La Leche League Philosophy.