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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