Demographics Are Not Community

I wrote a long post about com­mu­ni­ty to a home­school­ing list in response to a dis­cus­sion about “fer­al” chil­dren some of us have encoun­tered, and nobody respond­ed. That always upsets me. So I’m going to inflict the damned thing on you folks.

What start­ed the dis­cus­sion was a state­ment from Laurel:

Fer­al (accord­ing to the Oxford dic­tio­nary) means wild, untamed, uncul­ti­vat­ed, with a sec­ond def­i­n­i­tion of sav­age or bru­tal. I did­n’t call these chil­dren juve­nile delinquints—these are not ‘bad’ kids, but kids who have nev­er been par­ent­ed by a lov­ing car­ing per­son who edu­cat­ed them or taught them social skills. Sad­ly, some of these kids would be bet­ter off on the street rais­ing them­selves than in the home they are in.

(That com­ment led to oth­ers on the list attack­ing the author, claim­ing that she was­n’t being sup­port­ive enough to the “home­school­ing com­mu­ni­ty” because she want­ed to avoid the fer­als for the sake of her own chil­dren. Since I know this per­son to be incred­i­bly help­ful and always will­ing to share her remark­able store of knowl­edge, that ran­kled even more than it would have otherwise.)

I’m try­ing to wean myself from the use of the word “com­mu­ni­ty” when it isn’t appro­pri­ate. There is no home­school­ing com­mu­ni­ty, any more than there is a (white/black/Asian/Amerind) com­mu­ni­ty, a (Christian/pagan/Catholic/atheist) com­mu­ni­ty, a (queer/polyamorous/gaming) com­mu­ni­ty, etc. Demo­graph­ics do not cre­ate community.

A com­mu­ni­ty is a vital net­work of rela­tion­ships between indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies. The fact that you home­school and that I home­school does not put us in com­mu­ni­ty with each oth­er. I am in com­mu­ni­ty with oth­er home­school­ers, as well as with fam­i­lies whose chil­dren are attend­ing tra­di­tion­al schools and with child­less families.

We are in com­mu­ni­ty with each oth­er because we know each oth­er well and take time to main­tain our con­nec­tions. We sup­port each oth­er. We do mod­el par­ent­ing and every­thing else about our lives because we spend time with each oth­er. We take care of each oth­ers’ chil­dren and swap skills and car­pool and play togeth­er. We care enough about each oth­er to “call bull­shit” on each other—to point out when we think some­one in our com­mu­ni­ty is mak­ing bad choic­es. And because we care about each oth­er, we stick around for the after­shock of “call­ing bull­shit” and wade through the anger and the bad feel­ings and keep the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open and we help each oth­er make con­crete changes.

I do not have the resources (time, ener­gy, mon­ey) to be in com­mu­ni­ty with every oth­er home­school­er or per­son in oth­er demo­graph­ic groups of which I am a member.

I have cho­sen not to be in com­mu­ni­ty with those who pro­duce fer­al chil­dren, any more than I would be in com­mu­ni­ty with any oth­er child abuser. Those who are vio­lent, dis­hon­or­able, lazy, or sim­ply not inter­est­ing aren’t in my cho­sen com­mu­ni­ty, either.

Our com­mu­ni­ty works because we all choose to be in com­mu­ni­ty with each oth­er, with no coer­cion or “ought to” fac­tors. When I offer to babysit for a friend’s child, it’s because I enjoy that child’s com­pa­ny. I don’t do so because I feel oblig­at­ed. If I point out a con­cern to a friend, it’s not out of any sense of supe­ri­or­i­ty, but out of love. I am will­ing to lis­ten and learn more about the sit­u­a­tion. I’m will­ing to help with my time and ener­gy. And if I am not will­ing to be around a child in my com­mu­ni­ty because he is unpleas­ant, I’ll tell his par­ents as gen­tly but hon­est­ly as I can manage.

I’ve seen chil­dren and par­ents change because of their com­mu­ni­ty. I know it can hap­pen. I’ve been incred­i­bly impressed by some peo­ple who take wake-up calls to heart and real­ly work on change. I am proud to be in com­mu­ni­ty with those people.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, there are peo­ple with whom I am no longer in com­mu­ni­ty because they sim­ply would not learn, grow, or even attempt to make changes. I am not oblig­at­ed to stick around when every inter­ac­tion is painful and there’s noth­ing good to be had of the rela­tion­ship, or it’s vast­ly lopsided.

That may sound like there’s some sort of score­keep­ing hap­pen­ing, and it real­ly isn’t. Healthy rela­tion­ships are built on healthy bound­aries, though, and since com­mu­ni­ty is about rela­tion­ships, bound­aries are vital.

Orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten 22 Octo­ber 2003 on Live­Jour­nal.

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