What to do with Grandma and Scooter

Scooter goes for a spin

by: Jackie Orsi
Posted: February 12, 2005

This article originally ran in the Feb./Mar. 2005 issue of CHN News a monthly publication by California Homeschool Network.

Making preschool mandatory for all America's tots makes about as much sense as making nursing homes mandatory for all America's elders.

If Grandma is spry and spunky, then we all know the best place for her is in her own home, comforted by the mementos of her life, with her family and friends in frequent contact. So, she stays physically active, puttering around in her kitchen and putting up strawberry jam each June. She stays mentally active because she goes out to lunch every Wednesday with "the girls." She lives her life. Warning: Don't you dare phone her when Jeopardy is on, if you know what's good for you.

If Scooter, just turned three, is happy and healthy, we all know the best place for him is home-with all the love and attention of his family. He is in perpetual motion, calling out, "Look, Mommy. Look!" as he jumps and tumbles for the one person whose opinion matters most to him now. He points his finger and wants to know, "Whazzat? Whazzat? Whazzat?" until his parents sigh and roll their eyes. He lives his life. Warning: Don't you dare change a single word when you read his favorite book to him for the 348th time, if you know what's good for you.

Read it again grannie!

If Grandma tumbles or has a stroke, she needs some help. In a crisis or in the slow decline of old age, her health and happiness depends on keeping her at home (or getting her back home as soon as possible.) Family and home are as important as any medicine in this time of her life. If family members can't do it all, a nurse or homemaking assistant can come in as needed. In such a scenario, Grandma might mend and get back to making jam-- or perhaps she will not fully recover--but everyone agrees, a network of love, help, and encouragement in her home is the best prescription. Everyone works hard to see that every day is still her life, as much as possible.

Now, suppose Scooter has a problem. Perhaps he has some developmental delays. Mommy and Daddy do all they can to help him along, but he needs some extra help. His parents take him to a therapist or to a special program for a few hours each week, and continue to work with him at home. Because Scooter has to overcome some challenges, everyone agrees that a network of love, help, and encouragement in his home is the best prescription. Everyone works hard to see that every day is his life, as much as possible. After all, Scooter doesn't know there is anything wrong with him-and no one plans to tell him otherwise!

Teachers will be mandated to knock some learning into their little students.

Or suppose Little Scooter's family has a financial setback, and there's no getting around the fact that Mommy has to go back to work. Where is the best place for Scooter? His parents list their options and decide that they want Scooter in a place most like his home. Best-case scenario: Grandma, still going strong, will take care of Scooter. Second best: that nice woman two doors away who keeps watch over a handful of tots along with her own. Scooter needs his home and family-or the closest approximation thereof-if he is to go on living his life.

Back to Grandma: It is only when Grandma becomes grievously incapacitated that the next step is institutional care. Only 5% of our nation's elders are in nursing homes. That's good because nursing homes are horrible places. They are horrible because all of them, even the cream-of-the-crop facilities, are not "homes" at all. They are assembly lines in which three shifts of strangers coordinate the mass management of human bodily functions. Lights on at 7:00 a.m. Out of bed. Into chair. Medicines given. Meal trays delivered. Bingo time! Bed pans and catheter bags emptied. Back into bed. Lights out at 8:00 p.m. For Grandma, it is an unfamiliar and unfriendly world because the only way to manage a hundred weak, sick, confused, and incontinent people is through coercion. Oh, yes, Millie, you do want to go to hear that nice Mr. Buckles who plays the accordion every Tuesday afternoon, says the aide in a sing-song voice as she releases the brake and pushes Millie and her wheelchair down the corridor. Grandma has no days that are her days any more.

Scooter's parents (unless they have been deluded by "experts") know that the worst place for him is in a preschool because nothing in the life of a three-year-old could be further from home. Preschools are institutions engaged in the mass management of tender young personalities-and the only way to manage fifteen or twenty bouncy, noisy toddlers is through coercion.

Preschools are institutions engaged in the mass management of tender young personalities-and the only way to manage fifteen or twenty bouncy, noisy toddlers is through coercion.

Sit, boys and girls. Quiet, boys and girls. Heads down. Heads up. Line up. March. Oh, yes, Scooter, you do want to sing, "The Wheels On the Bus" and go through all the motions-or you can have a time out in the corner.

Daycare is a lot like this-but mandatory preschool promises to be worse. The mandate will work both ways, and the teachers will be mandated to knock some learning into their little students. If Scooter doesn't learn on cue, who do you think will be to blame? Certainly not his teachers. It'll be Scooter's fault, of course. Now see what they do with Scooter's days: They notch up the coercion, and add big doses of praising and shaming. Scooter, say your ABCs. Scooter, how many triangles do you see? What? No. You knew this yesterday! Roscoe, what color is this? Scooter! I asked Roscoe, not you.

Scooter, the former spontaneous child, roughly has three choices:

  1. Shut down, little by little, day after day, until he fits in and obeys
  2. Withdraw into the Underground Boy, a dreamer-neither here nor there
  3. Spit in the eye of authority, as much as he can, for as long as he can.

Scooter has only two days a week that are his, Saturday and Sunday-but Mommy and Daddy are increasingly perplexed: What happened to Scooter? He's changed.

Just as 1.6 million of our nation's 35 million elders regrettably must live in nursing homes, so, too, a very small percentage of our nation's infants and toddlers are in urgent need of help. Their parents can't/won't/don't know how to care for them. Unless society intervenes, the social, physical, and intellectual impoverishment these children suffer will diminish their potential throughout their lives.

Surely we can meet the needs of our youngest citizens as we have learned to meet the needs of our eldest citizens:

Why would we choose confinement and coercion for people who are happy, healthy, and safe? No matter how much we try to delude ourselves, nursing homes and preschools are rarely the best places for the ones we love.

Jackie Orsi is a veteran homeschool parent, long-time homeschool activist, and one of the original founders of the California Homeschool Network. For over a decade, Jackie has been a prominent voice in the California homeschool movement.

She is a contributor to the book, The California Homeschool Guide, and has written for numerous homeschool publications including The Link National Homeschool Newspaper, Homefires~The Journal of Homeschooling, and The Independent Family. Jackie continues to speak out on topics of importance to families and alternatives in education. She is currently a featured columnist for The California Homeschool Network News.

© 2005, Jackie Orsi, All Rights Reserved.