Having the Confidence to Ignore the Opinions of Others

Gemma-Rose is 8 years old and she still can’t tell the time. Well, that’s not quite true. If I put my watch in front of her and say, “What’s the time?” she’ll screw up her face and look unhappy for a while, and then eventually she’ll give me the correct answer. But her calculating will be accompanied by a lot of huffing and puffing, and the answer won’t arrive instantly.

Now this situation might shock some people. Can’t all school kids of her age use an analogue watch? Perhaps it confirms some people’s negative opinion of homeschooling… or unschooling in particular.

I remember an interview I once watched on TV. A current affairs reporter, Mike, was interviewing a homeschooling family. Both parents, together with their ten year old daughter, were in the studio. It must have been quite some time ago when homeschooling wasn’t so widespread, because this interview was still considered newsworthy enough to be shown on a prime time current affairs show.

It was obvious from the very first question that Mike was anti-homeschooling.

“So you’re teaching your daughter yourselves. And how is it going? Is she learning?” Without pausing for answers, he fired the next question to the daughter: “What’s 8 x 9?”

The girl barely had time to think, and no time to answer, before another problem came hurtling towards her.

“So your daughter doesn’t know what 8 x 9 is, or how to add up a few simple numbers. Doesn’t that worry you? Don’t you think you’re
disadvantaging her by taking her away from good schools?”

The parents tried to defend themselves and explain their educational philosophy, but the interviewer kept cutting into their answers. All he seemed to want to do was prove that homeschooling is a ridiculous idea. It doesn’t work. Any parents who remove their children from school are being selfish and irresponsible. And he based his opinion on the girl’s inability to answer what he considered to be a few straightforward maths problems.

I think of that girl sitting under the studio lights with cameras pointing at her, listening to the questions of an aggressive stranger. Is it any wonder she couldn’t come up with the right answers? And even if she didn’t know what 8 x 9 is, does that prove homeschooling doesn’t result in learning, that it is a failure? Probably she knew so much about other things, things the interviewer didn’t think (or want) to question her about.

But back to Gemma-Rose. She can write a novel. She can read Shakespeare and discuss a play intelligently. She can discuss history with her siblings. She reads book after book after book. She knows how to work out her times tables even if she can’t recite them quickly. She is familiar with Gilbert and Sullivan, many ballets, lots of poems and paintings and pieces of classical music. She has excellent computer skills. She can make an animated movie and design a computer game. She draws and plays the piano and sings and runs like the wind… I could go on and on… Does it really matter she can’t tell the time?

Can’t tell the time?

“Gemma-Rose, can you tell the time?” I ask her.

“Of course I can,” she replies rather indignantly.

“What do you use to tell the time?”

“My computer.”

Gemma-Rose tells the time using the digital clock on her computer. And now I realise something. She doesn’t use her analogue watch. It seems to have disappeared into our home’s black hole. We don’t have an analogue clock on the wall. Everything in our house is digital. Gemma-Rose doesn’t need to know analogue time. She has no use for it. She remembers the principles of analogue time that I explained to her a while ago but she has never had a chance to practise them.

So what do I do?

I could find some online interactive activities, involving analogue time, for her to play with.

I could buy an analogue clock and put it on the kitchen wall where she’ll see it every day. I’m sure she’ll soon start to look at it and wonder and work things out for herself.

Or I could do nothing. She’ll learn analogue time properly one day… if she ever finds she has a need for it.

I think if I choose the last option I will warn her: “Gemma-Rose, please do not go anywhere near a TV or newspaper reporter. Refuse to answer any questions.”

I think of those poor bewildered parents that were interviewed on TV, and I remember how angry I felt. They were two people doing their best for their child, and they were portrayed as fools. Did their confidence take a battering that day? Did their trust in their daughter’s ability to learn evaporate because of the aggressive opinion of a stranger? I hope not. Other people’s words and opinions shouldn’t have so much power over us. But we are human…

My daughter Gemma-Rose who is 8 years old (going on 9) still hasn’t conquered analogue time. I am announcing it to the world. Will anyone judge my homeschooling on that statement? Will they compare my daughter’s abilities with those of other children? Or will they think, like me, “She will learn everything she needs to know, when she needs to know it”?

Yes, I have confidence in my children’s ability to learn. And I think Gemma-Rose is doing just fine.

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  1. Reply

    We used to have people at Mass and strangers at the shopping centre questioning our children like this. It worried me until I realised that their system of testing was irrelevant to our achievements. But, the children were more vulnerable – they felt confused and threatened by the scrutiny. It's sad that people can be so proud of their opinions that they fail to consider the damage they can do to a child when they start to interrogate them.

    I wonder how many 'good' schools are disadvantaging their students by stifling their creativity and pushing them to meet artificial standards that are irrelevant to their current development.

    I'm getting off my high-horse, now! Hmm, I might need a ladder…

    God bless, Sue:-)

    1. Reply


      I guess there are a set of usual type questions people use to decide whether a child is learning or not, the same sort of ones they use at school. Yes, their system of testing is irrelevant to us.

      I think it is rather rude to question other people's children. I am quite certain that the parents interviewed in that TV program had no idea their daughter was going to be grilled in that aggressive way. Would any parent agree to put their child through that? I am sure a lot of damage was done both to the parents and the child.

      'Good' schools are those schools which have high marks in the Naplan tests. They are also the ones that spend a lot of time coaching for these tests. I imagine there's not much time left over for the non examinable subjects like the arts which the authorities don't consider so necessary for a good education.

      Thank you for getting on your high horse. I always enjoy hearing your thoughts!

  2. Reply

    This sounds similar to shoe lace tying in our home. Campbell only learned how this year at the age of twelve. How shocking! He never had a need until then as he didn't have lace up shoes, and with his low muscle tone it just wasn't worth the stress!

    I remember when dh told me (before children of course!) that he hadn't leaned to tie his laces until age 10 I was horrified. What was his mother thinking! I vowed that the same timg woould NEVER happen in our home! I've since learned to be very careful with the wrod "never" as I always find myself doing that which I vowed never to do.

    Thankfully our children have never been quizzed about their learning. However when and if it were to happen I would love them to answer "Don't you know the answer?"

    1. Reply


      I am smiling over the shoe laces! You have just said the same words I used when Gemma-Rose finally learnt to tie her own laces only a few months ago: "He never had a need until then as he didn't have lace up shoes".

      I spent such a long time trying to teach some of my other children how to tie laces when they were the 'right' age. It took only a few minutes to teach Gemma-Rose. I bet it was the same with Campbell. I am quite relieved I missed all that teaching stress.

      'I would love them to answer "Don't you know the answer?"' I am going to remember that. That's a perfect answer.

      I heard a story (a bit off track but funny) about a tiny girl who was perched on a piano stool waiting to start her first piano exam. The examiner asked her if she was feeling nervous. He wanted to be friendly and make her feel relaxed. The girl replied, "No. Are you?"

      God bless!

    • Anonymous
    • October 29, 2012

    My oldest probably knew how to tie a boy scout knot before he really learned to tie his shoes! He always wore Velcro shoes and didn't need to know. However they do not make men's shoes with velcro so he needs that skill 🙂

    My pediatrician is a very good doctor but she has asked my kids multiplication questions at their checkups and the nurse told me I needed to work on the alphabet with my three or four year old one time.

    One other comment I wanted to make is a lot of public school children do not know how to tell time, multiply well, etc. I think, as homeschoolers, we are just scrutinized more.

    Sue, my children are sort of the opposite of yours. They do not like to write and have a hard time with language arts but do well with math, science and art. It doesn't surprise me since their dad is a chemist and I have degrees in math and science, and we live in a town where many parents have Ph.D.s in science and math 🙂

    1. Reply

      Yes, I agree that school kids don't necessarily know their multiplication tables etc either. My husband is a primary school teacher and I have a very good idea how my girls are achieving compared with his students. But as you said, we are scrutinised more closely. Maybe we also want to prove what we are doing works because they are a lot of critics of homeschooling out there.

      I have been pondering why some children have writing skills, others artistic, others scientific… Does environment and example and someone else's passion influence their interests? Or is it all in the genes? Are my kids writers because they have seen me write and get excited about it? Or were we all just born to be writers?

      Do you think your children love science and maths because they are surrounded by people passionate about it? Or do you all have the same make up designed for scientific thinking?

      I also did a science degree (botany, biochemistry). I have shared science with my children and although they like it, they are not passionate about it. I wasn't passionate about it either, though I was quite a capable scientist. I found my passion later!

      I know all that sounds very confusing. I can't find the right way to say what I mean! I could delete all those incoherent thoughts but I won't!

      Thank you for stopping and sharing. I appreciate it!

    • Amy R
    • October 30, 2012

    I enjoyed this post!

    I always (proud, I know) thought my children were not like those others, who couldn't tie their shoe laces and had to wear velcro. (I simply never, or almost never bought any shoes that had Velcro.)

    Ugh. To my pride AND to Velcro!

    But then, they've had their struggles with things that Velcro wearers didn't seem troubled by.

    Ages ago I heard a talk at a homeschool conference. The speaker's wife was a doctor…who didn't know her Times Tables.

    Somehow she managed to get through school, college, medical school, residency – All of it – not knowing her times tables, like, what is 7 x 8, or whatever.

    That gives me hope. Sometimes this stuff really doesn't matter in the future happiness of our children's lives as much as THEY, whoever they are (or we) think it does.

    (And hey, my own 15yo doesn't know them, either…she was Moth in Midsummer Night's Dream with dozens of complicated lines to remember. She can dance anything. She's a good writer and knows the mechanics of it, too. And she's musical, to boot!)

    Back to the interview you recalled…I absolutely hate it when people are set up like that. It's abusive. Hopefully the family talked about it, and took it in stride…but I know (being human and all) that if it had been my family, my husband…we would have lost all confidence, and it would've taken us a long time to recover.

    (I wonder if those homeschoolers are still around? On Facebook or somewhere…wouldn't it be neat to contact them?!)

  3. Reply


    You have made me smile! There is always something we are proud of concerning our children. If it's not their ability to tie real shoe laces, it will be something else.

    I like the story about the doctor and the times tables. She was obviously very clever despite her lack of memorised tables. I was once told that the ability to spell also doesn't indicate intelligence. Many very clever people have to use spell check or employ a secretary. Actually, it was our homeschool registration authorised person who told me that. I'd been expecting him to criticise my homeschooling because one of my son's had very poor spelling. He surprised me when he told me not to worry about it. There are other indicators of intelligence just like you said.

    Amy, I have never done any homeschooling interviews and I would think carefully before agreeing to one. When we started out, homeschoolers were big news, and I could easily have been interviewed except for the fact I steered clear. After seeing that TV program I realised how interviews can be manipulated in unexpected directions. I am sure that the interview didn't go as that family anticipated. It made me so angry that the media had such power over unsuspecting people.

    I imagine that family has long ago finished homeschooling, if they ever did continue. This was when Felicity was little. I'm not sure they had a big family like us with younger ones coming along behind. I don't remember their names, only the distraught looks on their faces.

    God bless!

    • Ruth
    • March 11, 2013

    I know a ten-year-old government-schooled girl who can't tell the time.

    1. Reply

      Hi Ruth,

      I've been thinking about you. It's lovely to see you on my blog!

      I am quite sure there are many school kids who can't do such things as tell the time. It doesn't seem right homeschoolers get criticised just because they are choosing to educate in a way different from the norm.

      How's your homeschooling going? I'd love to hear your latest news.

      God bless!

  4. We had an odd situation this past March while traveling from Colorado to California. A man began to quiz the children on math facts. I hadn't told him we were homeschooling, but we were all in the same place, waiting our turn in line for something….I think he felt awkward and wanted to chat w/the children, and this was the only way he knew how. Sadly, he assumed my children would feel shy and nervous, and while they didn't seem to want to be quizzed, they were quite comfortable chatting about books and things. When one paused to think of an answer, he said, "You can't get nervous! Don't spend so much time thinking!" as if that would help?! 😛 I did tell them later, you don't need to talk to people if you don't want to. You can just smile and tell people you're not interested in discussing whatever the topic is. Thing is, my 12 year old LOVES all math, science, and engineering things, so he thought it would be a fun and interesting conversation. Too bad the man in question was more intent upon intimidating the kids…. 😛

    1. Reply

      I love how your kids were willing to chat! It sounds like they had so much to share. Such a pity other people don't know how to have an interesting conversation. That man missed out on a really great conversation while waiting in that line.

      Maths facts… I wonder why people think they are an indicator of intelligence. Memorisation of number facts doesn't mean a child actually understands the concepts. Gemma-Rose is still digging her heels in as far as memorising her times tables goes. However, she can work out a multiplication problem the long way given time. "Don't spend so much time thinking!" Kids need time to think!

      Your children sound delightful. Thank you for stopping by and sharing their story!

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