Homeschooling to counter the culture of consumption

I came across a Washington Post article titled “Spending More for a Little Solace,” which explains reasons that people buy “features they do not need and may never use,” the bells and whistles on their DVD player, SUV, digital camera, etc. As a parent who taught her children consumer awareness from their toddler years on, and who views mainstream American culture as largely driven by Madison Avenue, I made note of a particular passage. It stated that interviews with children and parents show that “low-income parents do not splurge because they fail to understand the importance of delayed gratification or because they are impulsive,” but because “they are acutely sensitive to how certain consumer products influence their children’s ‘search for dignity.'” The researcher said that, even among famlies that were extremely poor, every 8-year-old boy in her sample “had a Game Boy or Nintendo.” This is because “parents, especially poor parents, tend to buy products they cannot afford because they are acutely focused on whether their children are fitting into peer groups.” The parents “were choosing their child’s psychological desires over their own material needs.'” That is a sad indictment on mainstream cultural identity in the US, and it gives good reason to resist assimilation.Because consumer awareness has been a consistent part of my children’s home education, Caitlin [now 20] and Laurel [now 17] are keenly aware of the psychological effect of advertising, as well as the lack of real value in most things heavily advertised. As a result, they are not materialistic; they don’t feel the need to have whatever product is “in.” Instead, when making consumer choices they follow their own hearts, and even then, they tend to set aside instant gratification, often spending time researching the product and reading reviews online before making the decision to spend.

Unbeholden to Madison Avenue’s commands to “Collect ‘Em All!” and “Get the New Improved!,” the kind of things my children buy reflect a different set of values. The goods they desire are thoughtfully chosen books, music, and movies–all things that enrich them on well beyond the temporary rush of obtaining something new, and on levels deeper than the simple brief amusement from items bearing little “play value.”

Although many of the myths about homeschooling have been dispelled in recent years, our educational choice is still considered by many to be a “fringe” activity, practiced by oddballs from either end of the extremist spectrum. While I will continue working to clear those stereotypes in my own way, I also embrace the oddity of my educational choice, feeling comfortable being outside the mainstream, and so do my children. While Caitlin and Laurel are still sometimes looked at askance because of their unique educational paths, homeschooling has given them something of infinite value. Their desires are their own.

Originally published at the Life Without School Community Blog.

(C) 2007, 2010. Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved.

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