Many of our thoughts and conversations around here — with both the kids and between Eric and I — are about gifts, receiving and giving them. There are various lists being written and secret emails and whispering and furtive shuffling of packages into hiding places. They aren’t quite brown paper packages tied up with string, but they could be.
The customs, behaviors, and traditions around gifts and gift giving are likely fertile ground for anthropologists attempting to learn and quantify the values of a given culture. One community that we recently observed (I’m not actually an anthropologist, I just play one on this blog) had the charming tradition of setting up a small gift shop in which children could buy Christmas gifts for their parents. The gift items were donated and then the money earned was then put back into the community.
This ritual seemed charming, but upon further observation, it became obvious that it was unsubstantial and conveyed few values or meaning beyond those of commerce. For example: some of the donated goods were home-made “slime.” The organizers expressed that they were aware that no parent actually wants slime (or in some cases MORE slime) in their homes, but still made this item available for children to buy as gifts ostensibly for their parents or other care-givers.
Organizers rejected donations (such as art kits or projects) that a child would in some way “make” or at least “put together” for their parents. The reason given was that this would require too much supervision of the children, who were 5 to 12 years old.
Our decision to homeschool our children is based on countless factors. We consider “Education” is not just the transmission of academic subject areas but also of values, of living thoughtfully in a community. We want our children to know that gift giving is not just about spending money but also about showing care and thinking about the recipient. We found that in some of the more traditional educational settings we observed were not conveying the same values that we held. Sometimes, as above, they were even working against us, teaching them the opposite of what we wanted them to learn and how we wanted them to interact with and think about the world. This time of year, the dark and cold of consumer culture seems to grow with the longer nights. I find myself drawn to the warmth of the counter-culture of family and food and friends and togetherness. In these dark days, I’m grateful that homeschooling give us all of those.