When Homeschooling Gets Crunchy: Darcy S.’s Thoughts

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Darcy blogs at Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. Darcy is a wife and mother to two girls and two boys and lives in the mountains of central Montana.

So I’m a bit of a hippie.

I believe the popular term nowadays is “crunchy.” I’m a huge supporter of Attachment Parenting, I birthed my babies at home, breastfeed toddlers, harvest my own herbs, make my own house-hold cleaners, have lived off-grid, can milk a goat and make kefir out of the fresh milk. I don’t eat placentas, though. I have standards.

I’m a non-conformist, even among the non-conformist community.

I follow a lot of hippie/crunchy pages and blogs. I have many friends that live this lifestyle, including a great local Attachment Parenting group where I’ve enjoyed hanging out with other parents similar to me.

I’m seeing a movement, a push maybe, toward homeschooling and “unschooling” that is making me feel unsettled.

These are not religious people and most aren’t homeschooling for religious reasons at all.  I completely support responsible homeschooling and the right to homeschool, and I support the right for children to have the best education possible. But I’m seeing homeschooling completely and utterly romanticized by people in my generation who were not homeschooled, not a part of the culture of homeschooling pioneers that I grew up in and experienced firsthand. These people paint homeschooling as the best most awesome experience, many of them never having experienced it, and they all read each other’s blogs that only talk about how great it is and how bad and “unnatural” public schools are. I see people being drawn to homeschooling for reasons that seem…..off to me, and unrealistic and downright misguided. I often want to ask “Are you sure you know what you’re getting yourself into?” but many times from the sound of the conversations, it doesn’t seem like they do.

Many of my crunchy mom friends have expressed surprise that my own kids are in public school.

They just cannot fathom that someone who was so “blessed” to be homeschooled would not “give that gift” to their own kids.

I’m at a loss what to think or say because these are not the fundy homeschoolers of my past. They’re hip, tolerant, non-religious, very nice, educated people, who have been given a pretty picture of homeschooling from blogs that only paint half the picture. I realize that the concept of homeschooling is new and exciting for them while it’s old news to me. But I feel like the picture they have of homeschooling from all these blogs is very unrealistic, and they may be setting themselves up for a harsh dose of reality.

The ideas that are flying around on crunchy virtual hang-out spots about homeschooling also sound suspiciously like everything I was taught about homeschool versus public school. There’s a lot of fear and misinformation and lines being draw in the sand. I’m seeing our schools being demonized, painted as the enemy of our children, the enemy of education and free-thinking, “social experiments” — and don’t forget to throw in a few Hitler references to make it complete.

Then there’s the dogma.

Which really baffles me because I’m used to dogma coming from religion. This meme was posted by a non-religious, progressive parenting page I follow on Facebook:

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Now, this meme is old news for me.

My fundy homeschool buddies have been passing it around Facebook since Facebook began.

The fact that this is now being passed around by proponents of homeschooling and “unschooling” who are not religious and considered “progressive” is concerning. It seems that there is a new hatred of public school that is beginning to take root, and it has nothing to do with Christians. All the illogical, misinformed, sensationalist arguments against public schools that I’ve seen for years, is being repackaged, regurgitated, and spit out all over the websites of people who think they are some kind of pioneers, that this “rebellion” against formal education is all their idea. They ridicule other parents who put their kids in school, saying we must not love our kids if we send them to “government brainwashing centers” (sound familiar?). Which, of course, usually makes me laugh out loud because I’m pretty sure the homeschooling leaders of the conservative movement of the ’80’s invented that term.

Really though, all they’re doing is perpetuating the exact same dogma that has turned so many of us first-generation homeschoolers away from homeschooling.

You don’t have to be religious to be bigoted or to promote propaganda. A young child of non-religious home-schooling parents just told my daughter “Oh I don’t go to school. School is bad.” Now where have I heard that before?

I feel that I am in a unique position.

My past is colliding with my present. Alumni like me have a lot to offer to the conversation of “new wave homeschooling,” but I feel that often our concerns are brushed aside since “oh, well, we aren’t religious so we won’t have the same problems you did.”

But they already are showing signs of the same problems the original homeschoolers had, just from a completely different point of view.

Ultra-sheltering of children, polarizing, dogma, misinformation, and fear are present in this new generation as much as they were in the old. I’m worried about where this might be going, feeling like I’m watching history on repeat, a helpless bystander as some very familiar insanity is marching by me.

I guess what I want to communicate to my hippie homeschooling friends is this: by all means, homeschool your children. But let me tell you what kind of commitment that’s going to require if you want your kids to have a good education. Because all those blogs you’re reading aren’t telling the whole story. Your kids aren’t going to learn what they need to excel in the world by cooking and painting and playing outside all day. Let me tell you how my mom devoted 27 years of her life to doing nothing but educating us because in order to give us a good education, she had time for nothing else. Allow me to tell the story of how sheltering children in the name of “protection” can utterly backfire. Can we talk about what kind of attitudes surrounding homeschooling can damage the children you love and how to raise healthy kids? Perhaps I can offer the perspective of someone who was raised the way you’re dreaming of, only without the rosy glasses you seem to be looking through. And can we not hold to an “us versus them” mentality? Been there, done that, did its damage. Homeschooling can be awesome. But it can also be horrible. Can I tell you my story and the stories of my friends?

Maybe together, the alumni and the neo-homeschooler parents, we can keep some of the disastrous results of the first homeschooling movement from repeating themselves.

Learning To Leave My Son With Others

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Latebloomer’s blog Past Tense Present Progressive. It was originally published on August 15, 2013.

I am a chronic worrier, a bit of a pessimist, an over-preparer, and prone to occasional panic attacks.  And since becoming a mother a few years ago, all of these tendencies are now focused on my son and his soon-to-be baby brother.

Growing up, I heard so many times, in so many ways, how unsafe the world was.

As an adult, reflection has made me realize how the “safe” isolated homeschooling world my parents confined me in was actually incredibly damaging to me and many of my peers, while my adult experiences in the “dangerous” outside world have been very positive and affirming.  I have been able to overcome my deeply ingrained childhood perceptions for myself, and feel like a functioning and happy member of the big outside world.

However, I am unexpectedly having to go through the same process again, now that I am in the role of a mother.

All the progress I made for myself, I am having to do again, this time for my son.

Hours, days, weeks, and months of continuously caring for his little infant needs really affected me.  I had never felt so needed and so intensely protective before–my entire life was about him, his happiness, his well-being, and I couldn’t spare any attention for myself or my marriage.  After all, no one could take care of my little baby boy as well as my husband me–we knew him better than anyone and loved him more than anyone!

It didn’t help that I had a huge falling-out with my mom and my mother-in-law at around the same time that my son was born.  And it also didn’t help that we were living in a relatively new area with no long-term friends around.  No local family, no close established local friendships, plus drama with both of my son’s grandmas–that situation made it easy for me to continue for a long time in my hangup without ever acknowledging to myself that I was deathly afraid to leave my baby with another person besides my husband.

As my son got older, I saw other parents that I respected leave their babies with babysitters, or in daycare, or with family and friends, and I thought nothing of it.  It seemed like the right choice for them, and once they got through the initial adjustment, it seemed like their choice really benefited the whole family.  But when I tried to imagine myself in the same situation, I would be flooded by panic attacks and vivid imaginations of what might go wrong.

My old fears were coming back to haunt me–not for myself but for my son.

With a lot of encouragement from my husband and my friends, and a realization that I was going to either fade from existence or crack under the pressure, I left my son with someone I trust and went out on a quick lunch date with my husband.  I sobbed, I thought about my son constantly, and I was in a rush to get back to him.  It really wasn’t much of a date, more of a milestone, because for the first time I saw that my son could be fine without my husband and me–he didn’t cry at all when we left or while we were gone!

Since then, I’ve gotten more and more comfortable leaving my son with a small group of people I know and trust.  And he has helped a lot by never crying when we leave, not even once!  However, I’m now stuck on the next step–finding and using a babysitter.  Once my second little one arrives, it will be a far bigger imposition to ask for babysitting favors, and much harder to return the favors as well.

The time has come to find and learn to trust a babysitter.  

The thought absolutely terrifies me.  But I will eventually push through this fear as well, and enjoy the benefits it will offer to me (sanity!), my marriage (better communication and more affection!), and my kids (more social confidence and self-reliance!).

I want to always be there for my little boy and his soon-to-be baby brother; I don’t think that will never change.  But I can balance that desire with my other desire, to see my sons learn to navigate the world when I’m not around and gain confidence in themselves.

And I need to give them space, little by little, for that to happen.

Growing Kids the Abusive Way: Auriel’s Story, Part Two — Isolation and Ideology

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Trigger warnings: references (sometimes graphic) to emotional, physical, religious, and sexual abuse.

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Auriel” is a pseudonym. Auriel blogs at Drying My Wings.

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Also in this series: Part One: Growing Kids the Abusive Way | Part Two: Isolation and Ideology | Part Three: Mini-Parents | Part Four: The Sound of a Sewing Machine | Part Five: The Aftermath of Childhood Abuse

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Part 2: Isolation and Ideology

 At 16 years old, I was not allowed to cross our property line without another human being with me.

Like a caged dog, I paced back and forth, crying at the injustice of it all. The bonds that held me weren’t physical. I was chained by my sheltered life. The isolation came from homeschooling.

Until high school, I only had three close friends outside of my siblings, and I only saw them once a month. Although I was involved with many extra-curricular activities, I was not allowed to be friends with boys, non-homeschoolers, nor kids whose families my parents did not know.

So, no friends.

Pop and rock ave evil beats, movies with kissing or language — let alone violence — will make you copy them, gyms make you compare people’s bodies, TV shows are so sexualized they’re evil, iPods hurt your spiritual life, and so on. At least, that’s why I was not allowed. My siblings and I snuck around, listening to Christian music here, pop music there, watching TV when our parents were gone.

I’m still trying to get caught up on movies, pop culture, and music references.

Courtship was introduced as the only method of finding a spouse. We read books like the Courtship of Sarah McLean, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Boy Meets Girl, The Princess and the Kiss, and so many more. It was like my dad was supposed to own me, and any potential mate would have to ask for my father’s permission both to be near me and to eventually own me.

It’s so damaging to think of oneself as property.

Now, I want to date to find someone to marry, but my father does not own me. I do not need to be under his “vision” for my family. I have my own vision, which does not include abuse.

"Girls were to have babies, homeschool their kids, and be dominated by men."
“Girls were to have babies, homeschool their kids, and be dominated by men.”

Mom held a sexist view of girls: they should not work outside the home. Girls were to have babies, homeschool their kids, and be dominated by men. Many Vision Forum books cemented this view in her mind like So Much More, What’s a Girl to Do, the Beautiful Girlhood books, Mother, and Joyfully at Home. Mom taught me needlework like a good Victorian girl, but I hated these activities! Just because I’m a girl does not mean I have to knit and drink tea!

I’m a person! I’m not a gender stereotype.

I was taught to be afraid of gays, Islam, and black men. It’s tough to grow up in a homophobic, Islamophobic, racist, sexist environment and come out unscathed. While it’s a struggle, I have learned to love everyone as made in the image and likeness of God.

The modesty teachings were awful. Modesty was focused more on covering skin than on ensuring the dignity of each person. I learned to watch my back for guys who would lust after me.

I heard that what I wore made me a rape target.

At first, Mom dressed me in denim jumpers or Easter and Christmas dresses from the local stores. Eventually, she forced me to sew my own dresses and skirts. When I was 9 years old, she told me that having my hair down made me look like a “lady of the night.” Even though I was a shy, modest girl, Mom constantly told me that something I did or wore was sinful, displeasing to God, and might turn on my dad or my brothers.

I was so scared that I was going to lead my brothers or dad into sin for lusting after me.

If that’s not twisted thinking, I really don’t know what is. Bleh.

I cried so many tears over how ugly I thought my body was, thanks to the baggy clothes I wore. Looking back, I was a healthy weight and my body was great. But shirts had to have sleeves and couldn’t come below the collarbone. Pants were forbidden after age 6. Swimwear was culottes that puffed full of water. The lifeguards even chided me for not wearing appropriate swim attire. I wanted to scream, “It’s not me!” My skirts had to be several inches below the knee, or else I was “showing some leg,” and that would “give guys a little jolt.”

When I finally turned 18, I had to beg a friend to help me pick out my first real pair of pants since Kindergarten. Of course, Mom called me a “slut” and a “whore,” declaring she could see intimate parts through my pants that would have been impossible for her to see. It was just to shame me.

Oh boy, here comes the scary part.

Sex.

No one in my homeschooling community talked about sex. I got the talk at 12, earlier than any of my homeschooled friends. However, I only knew about one type of intercourse. I didn’t even know people did it lying down, lol. Because puberty, sex, and all related words were so hush hush, I stopped asking my mother questions.

The first time I heard another girl even mention her period, I was 16.

I stared at her in shock! “Did she just speak of her period?” I wondered. When I turned 18, I succumbed to searching dictionaries to learn the rest of the words and meanings.

I was also incredibly afraid of CPS. Through HSLDA and my parents, I learned that foster homes are terrible places that abuse children by burning their hands on stoves, and more. Well, it worked. I didn’t call hotlines, tell the speech moms who cared about me, or beg my few friends for help.

When CPS showed up at our doorstep, my siblings and I lied for fear of being separated from each other forever.

The community that attended our very conservative Catholic church supported the sheltered, so-modest-its-frumpy, sexist views of my parents. I even was bullied at church for failing to meet up to the standards of the kids my age. In the midst of all this, I got comments asking if I was part of a cult, Amish, or Mormon. It hurt deeply that people thought I was a freak. “IT’S NOT BY CHOICE!” I wanted to scream. But I couldn’t.

When people think you’re part of a cult, they tend to ignore you or avoid you.

The few people I told about the abuse after I escaped looked at me with shock and said, “I had no idea.” The isolation of homeschooling added with the isolation of a cultic appearance equals an ideal environment for abuse to continue.

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To be continued.

Visualizing “The Myth of the Unsocialized Homeschooler”

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on July 7, 2013.

I googled “homeschool” to see what pictures came up. Many of them had to do with socialization and the messages that homeschool parents get and give about it. So I figured I’d talk about homeschooling and the issue of socialization today and use some of the cartoons I found in the process. Some of them are a little disconcerting in the way they point out issues I see, just maybe not quite in the ways the cartoonists intended.

What is This “Socialization Problem” You Speak Of?

So first a bit about what socialization is and how it relates to homeschooling. This diagram explains socialization pretty simply and it comes from a site that talks abut stopping cycles of discrimination that are often passed on intergenerationally.

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I think the site the diagram comes from – Parenting for Social Change – makes an excellent point – that this is generally how socialization is done but socialization can sometimes be bad. You can absolutely be taught harmful things as well as positive things in the course of your socialization and most people are taught a mix. What homeschooling parents often become inclined to do though is try to eliminate or greatly reduce these “bad” things by winnowing their child’s socialization opportunities down to only parentally vetted and approved sources and quite often those approved sources are fellow homeschoolers, religious leaders, highly edited texts and media, other “likeminded families,” and sometimes, when the parent is particularly controlling or inept at socialization themselves, nobody at all except for the immediate family.

Yes, this last one is a real big problem because terrible things can happen when families get isolated like that and it is a big risk factor for all kinds of abuse, neglect, and poor mental and physical health. Thing is, this social isolation problem happens in homeschooling much more frequently than it should. In fact, even in Brian Ray’s wacky (and so methodologically unsound that I am stopping myself from going on a rant about how many problems it has) “Strengths of Their Own” study included something I found interesting about it. See if you can catch it.

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That’s right. The third bar from the bottom. The yellow one. If 87% of the children in Brian Ray’s highly self-selective study play with “people outside the family” (and I will leave you to ponder right along with me as to why this wording is not “other children outside the family”) then that means that 13% of children in Brian Ray’s study do not play with others outside of their own family, which I would most definitely define as a socialization problem. If Brian Ray, excellent fudger, misconstruer, self-quoter, and ideological spit-shiner of homeschool data extraordinaire, has almost 15% of the kids in his rather cherry-picked study having this issue, how common must it actually be in real life and how do people in homeschooling react to this issue? Well, let’s see…

Socialization Sarcasm

This cartoon makes fun of the concept that socialization problems exist in homeschooling. To me it implies that socialization happens so naturally that it simply isn’t something a homeschool Mom could forget. Why? Well, I’m honestly not exactly sure. Socialization is a component that definitely can be ignored or accidentally left out and it has openly (and wrongly) been discounted as being unimportant by many prominent homeschool leaders. Because it has been ignored and dismissed as a necessary part of many homeschool curriculums is the main reason why homeschoolers have gotten the reputation for being unsocialized in the first place.

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Most homeschool kids don’t like being stereotyped as unsocialized or feeling like they are unsocialized (I mean really, who would?). So there’s also some memes and jokes that have been spread by teenage homeschoolers implying how inherently dumb or inappropriate they think it is when people make socialization an issue. Most of these involve poking fun at the “myth” that socialization is a problem in homeschooling. There is this YouTube video by a homeschooled girl who is trying to do this by distinguishing “the homeschooled” from “the homeschoolers” and while I find it funny, I’m quite sure that her pie chart is wrong and she perpetuates elitist stereotypes she has likely heard throughout her homeschooling experience.

This blog had a post by a homeschool graduate complaining about people asking what’s become known as the “socialization question” and in her post she uses a picture I’ve seen fairly often. There’s even t-shirts with this printed on them that you can buy.

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Socialization is Fishy

So what do homeschooling parents think about the socialization issue when theydo actually address it? Let’s start out with this cartoon, as it’s used a lot. It claims that a lack of socialization in homeschooling isn’t just a rare problem, but an outright myth. It implies that homeschool kids are not only actually in diverse environments as part of a natural ecosystem but are thrilled about it. It also implies that children who are socialized in public school are like half-dead sardines in a can rather than the school of likeminded fish they are expected to be.

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This cartoon is a direct dismissal of there being any merit to the “socialization problem” and it is compounded with a public school counter-stereotype. This is unsurprising to me as the argument that homeschool socialization problems are an outright myth is quite often included with something disparaging about public school or insulting to teachers (and this cartoon is no exception). Notwithstanding how insulting it is to imply that most people who go through public school are like dead fish, is this depiction of homeschool versus public school in any way accurate? Well, I imagine for the occasional situation it is, but in general, certainly not.

Oddly this cartoon was actually almost the exact opposite of my experience. In the CHEF homeschoolers group I was in it was all white Christian families and our parents had to sign a statement of faith to join. It was absolutely a school of fish all swimming the same way and because we got together infrequently, I generally felt like that fish in the fishbowl. Also, when I went to public school in 9th grade I was certainly no canned sardine, even if I wasn’t exactly the manic fish thrilled at the ecosystem in the upper righthand corner. The teachers often tried to corral us into all doing things the same way but we didn’t make it altogether easy for them and generally I expect it was a bit like herding cats. We were all individuals, as were the teachers. I had favorite teachers and subjects and ones I didn’t like and I made friends of different races and beliefs and political persuasions, many of whom who are still my friends and acquaintances to this day.

The Dark Knowledge of Teen Degenerates

Here’s another cartoon about homeschool kid socialization from a slightly different angle, and this one does address the idea that kids don’t always do what you want them to do and by invoking the dreaded “peer pressure,” implies that its all bad. Which one is it – are they lobotomized sardines in a can or are they violent and rebellious ingrates? Make up your mind! Also, how realistic is this, do homeschool moms actually think public school kids are like this? Where are the public school kids who are not “at-risk” of being part of the school to prison pipeline? Why aren’t there any of those at the bus stop?

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Also, in this little dystopian cartoon, gang members with knives read books on values (morally relativistic ones, no doubt), evolution, meditation, and “new age” religion (if that isn’t a culture wars, fearmongering buzzword, I don’t know what is) and pregnant girls read about sex ed and still don’t know what made them pregnant. This cartoon is crazy stuff. People don’t drink beer and shoot up heroin (yeah, there’s a needle on the ground in the cartoon) while waiting for the school bus (although some do smoke cigarettes). People who read a lot don’t typically join gangs. People who know about comprehensive sex ed aren’t any more likely to have sex than kids who don’t and they are much less likely to accidentally get knocked up. Honestly, if this is what anyone actually thinks the world is like then they are not fit to educate other human beings and they probably need some mental help themselves.

Sweet Homeschool Girl in the Ghetto

This cartoon is similar to the previous one in that it also indicates that public school socialization is all bad, but it depicts the expected reaction of the homeschool girl in the public school and implies that if your daughter goes to public high school (obviously radiating her feminine purity with a big hair bow and below-the-knee church skirt) that she will soon be shocked and horrified to encounter people dressed immodestly, young people openly dating, tattoos and piercings everywhere, vandalism and crime, blatant teenage rebellion, and big scary black boys that look more like grown men. So obviously the answer is to just have her at home not knowing that people who are different from her exist, and make most of the people her age out to be disgusting, immoral, and scary, right?

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I followed this cartoon to its site, a blog called Heart of Wisdom, trying to get a higher resolution picture. The blog talked about how homeschool kids should only selectively socialize with other Christians and claims this is biblical. Yep, this is just the type of homeschooling “socialization” I am familiar with. It’s a form of social isolation and indoctrination called “sheltering.” This stuff is all about parental fear and desire for control and helicopter parenting to this extreme is very unhealthy for your child. It will mean that in adulthood that they won’t know how to function at an optimal level. You cannot shield your kid from all “bad influences” and indeed there is nothing in the bible that says your kids cannot play with the kids of people who have different beliefs. That is quite a stretch and it is insular, cultish thinking.

My Homeschool Kid is Smarter than Your Honors Student

That same Heart of Wisdom blog had this other cartoon about homeschooling, so I followed that link and it was to a page dedicated specifically to homeschool cartoons. When I see stuff like this cartoon I have to once again ask – is this supposed to be funny? Do these people actually think this is accurate? My main question, though, is why the elitism and negativity? Even if your kid is getting a much better education in homeschooling, why talk trash about children who through no fault of their own don’t have as good of an education? Why make it into a competition, act like homeschool kids in general are “better” than other kids? It shows me some immature and defensive parenting, really. If you revel in it when someone else isn’t doing as good as you it shows you are 1) being a jerk and 2) secretly worried that you’re no good at what you’re doing. Nobody should ever be excited about other kids having a sub-par education, thinking it makes them and their kids look better. That’s just gross.

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As it is, I find that there is a grain of truth in this cartoon but perhaps not quite in the way the cartoonist intended. I’ve known a lot of homeschool kids who do use big words in conversations and they soon realize that it comes across as awkward when they socialize with other non-homeschool kids. Admission: I was that kid myself. I read a lot of classic literature and became familiar with words that simply aren’t used in everyday speech anymore. Trying to use them in peer-to-peer conversations didn’t reflect on me being smarter. It reflected on me not having a modern day frame of reference as to what is appropriate. It reflected on me being socially backwards. Lots of public school kids who are bookworms like I was know many big words. They also know the right words to use for their audience. Context is everything. An unsocialized homeschool kid doesn’t have that context and very well might find that using 18th century literary terms in a conversation about basketball will indeed get people looking at them sideways. If homeschool parents want to be proud of that, think it makes their kid (and by extension them) “better,” it shows they truly don’t understand the issue at hand.

Parental Fear & Social Anxiety

That’s where I think we hit the crux of this whole thing. I think the main issue is parental angst and fearfulness. Too many homeschooling parents socially struggled in school themselves and/or got into drugs or unhealthy sexual relationships. Instead of taking a broader view today, they expect that they need to hide their kid away from these settings or the exact same thing will happen to their kid even though their kid is in a different school district in a different generation and *gasp* a different person. These parents become scared of or hurt by the society we live in, withdraw, and then use homeschooling as an excuse to be separatist, snooty, and helicopter over their kids. These are not positive reasons for homeschooling and these are the exact kind of fearful and overbearing attitudes that lead to socialization problems for homeschool kids.

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Because people with strong views often find themselves in positions of leadership, those with exclusionary, separatist, and elitist attitudes often end up running things and then set this negative and divisive tone for the homeschooling group and the community it serves. It’s so pervasive that even some “second choicers” who start homeschooling simply because the other educational options in the area aren’t up to meeting their child’s particular needs (which is an excellent reason to homeschool, in my opinion), can get sucked into this culture, an “us versus them” mindset where homeschooling represents everything that is pure and good and healthy for children and public school and the people and structures that support it represents everything bad. This creates a parallel society of sorts and then you see people start calling public schools “government schools” in a pejorative sense. All this “us versus them” talk fans the fear that homeschooling parents are vulnerable (although still superior) outsiders who are or soon will be discriminated against and this in turn leads to easy exploitation of these scared people.

Why does widespread homeschool participation in things like the fundamentalist-led HSLDA, which capitalizes on these fears and requires dues money (that then goes into their cultish culture wars arsenal) for unnecessary “legal protection” exist? Because many these people are too freaked out to do anything more than cling onto a protector, ignoring all evidence that their “protector” just wants to use them – financially and for furthering a disturbingly anti-democratic agenda. This fear grows and leads to the kind of mindset that spawns ridiculous cartoons like the one below.

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Put in prison for homeschooling – really? Of course in this cartoon there’s that same (expected) depiction of scary people with piercings, this time instead of a shocked daughter (projecting much?) it’s got a dejected homeschool Mom being shunned by hardened criminals who sarcastically note that her “crime” was homeschooling.

Homeschooling parents who follow these “leaders” (often starting because their local homeschool support group requires or recommends HSLDA membership) hear these divisive messages and become scared to death of being framed, exposed, persecuted, worrying that they will land in jail just for homeschooling. It may be a wacky and unrealistic fear given what’s actually going on, but if people hear it often enough they often come to believe it, along with the bogus stats and stories claiming that homeschooling is as close to perfect an educational option one can get in such a messed up society, and the myth that there is no evidence to the contrary because homeschooling is just so awesome.

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Because homeschoolers test scores aren’t made public and often not even expected, registration isn’t even required in many states, and most people don’t pay much attention to homeschooling unless their kids are being homeschooled. Homeschool movement leaders have been able to get away with exhibiting the cream of the homeschooling crop as representative of all homeschoolers. This has painted an inaccurate picture and hurt the vulnerable kids by leaving them ignored as they fall through the cracks.

Saying “our homeschool kids are socialized but socialization doesn’t matter and in fact it generally sucks if it isn’t coming directly from parents” is a very unhealthy attitude to go into educating with. Responsible homeschooling parents really need to do a bit of soul-searching as to why they tolerate these inaccurate depictions of what socialization is and isn’t, why there is this the across-the-board maligning of all public schools within many homeschool communities, and why so many participate in this ugly (and frankly in my opinion undeserved) elitism, and contribute to such extreme (and inaccurate) stereotyping and putting down of children who have had to attend lower quality inner-city schools, all in order to inflate the merits of homeschooling.

Two big question:

(1) Does this kind of attitude help do anything beyond artificially boosting homeschool egos?

(2) Is there any need for this behavior if homeschooling is really so awesome?

Also, if there is no good data on the problems of homeschooling then instead of celebrating the cobwebs we need to be collecting more data. Every single education method in this world has problems and the places where the problems are denied is where child maltreatment can and does flourish.

The Truth Between “Stereotype” and “Myth”

I get the message that not all homeschoolers are cloistered and don’t know how to talk to people their own age, but the fact is that too many are and we need to recognize that it is a real problem affecting a sizable percentage of homeschool kids. Also, homeschoolers are simply not the most brilliant people in the world or inherently “smarter” than other kids, and as such they shouldn’t need to feel pressured to achieve perfection, perform as child prodigies, or that there’s a black mark on them if they mix up “asocial” and “anti-social” in a conversation.

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This “myth of the unsocialized homeschooler” is an issue in homeschooling but the prevalent idea that the socialization problem is a myth is the real problem, not the legitimate questions and concerns about socialization that homeschool parents keep being asked. Those questions actually need to keep happening because social isolation and ostracism in any setting (including homeschooling) often follows a person into adulthood, and can leave people struggling with social anxiety, a small social network, low levels of social capital, mental health issues, and an unnecessary amount of sad and lonely memories.

The least we can do is stop making fun of people, stop being in denial, stop pointing fingers elsewhere, and acknowledge that it is real, it happens too often and it should be assessed and addressed as the serious problem that it is.

Here’s To My Fellow Homeschool Alumni: Ruth’s Story

Here’s To My Fellow Homeschool Alumni: Ruth’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Ruth” is a pseudonym.

"Here's to my peers, you fellow homeschool alumni (and wow, does it ever feel good to be connected)."
“Here’s to my peers, you fellow homeschool alumni (and wow, does it ever feel good to be connected).”

This is my own consumer review of homeschooling. I want to share my story simply and directly, so you can understand the results, both the intended results and the side-effects (as someone put it). I was homeschooled all my life until I graduated from high school. So was my older sister and four of my ten younger siblings. The youngest six are still being home schooled.

So first the intended results: I was raised to get A’s. An A practically stood for Acceptable and anything less was handed back for corrections. Because of this rigorous focus on excellence, I am very strong academically. I graduated college with a 3.87 GPA, was inducted into two honor societies and received several other awards.

I’m smart. OK. I’m smart, and I’ve proved it.

Now let me tell you about the side-effects.

At age ten, I moved with my family to a rural area in a new state. From age ten to age twenty, I had no friends. I went to church on Sunday and to piano lessons every other week. My mom was so busy having and caring for my younger siblings that my high school courses consisted of me by myself plowing through one textbook after another. My mom was frequently unhappy with the amount of time I spent on my school work because she needed me to help with my siblings. I was free childcare, and while I loved my family (they were all the life I had), I completely missed out on any experiences that would have allowed me to develop my own identity as an individual or develop any independence from my parents.

When my older sister left for college, I was devastated. I didn’t know how to live without a big sister. We had hardly ever been separated, and I didn’t know anything about how to maintain a relationship with someone long distance or during times of separation.

When I graduated from high school two years later, I was completely at a loss. Since losing my older sister had been such a blow, I was sure I would die if I left the rest of my family, and I was terribly confused as to why my parents suddenly expected me to go to school after sheltering me so carefully all my life. I had never thought seriously about a job or a career because home and family life had always been so glorified, and besides, it was all I knew. I had often been told that I was going to be just like my mother when I grew up (twelve kids and all). So there I was, clueless, clutching very hard at whatever was left of the life I had known.

The years I was eighteen and nineteen are very dim in my memory. I helped my mother care for my younger siblings. I practiced organ three days a week at a local church. I went on homeschooling myself rather secretively.

When I was twenty, my dad told me I needed to get a job. I got a job in a fast food restaurant and was very blessed because my boss was a young woman three years older than me, and I immediately adopted her as my new big sister. She patiently, patiently, patiently loved and supported me as I adjusted to the big, wide world of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It was her love, care, courage, ambition and confidence in me that made it possible for me to finally leave home at age twenty-five and attend college several states away. I graduated four years later, and while my college years were incredibly healing (I got to go to counseling regularly for two years and dealt with a lot of anxiety issues, and I was able to cut ties with my parents and become fully self-supporting with my own independent life), there were many, many times when I would have traded some of my academic success for some social skills.

In my life today, I honestly have to say that I am extremely lonely because I still don’t know very much about making friends. I still feel very confused about my age because I am a blend of the neglected child whose needs were set aside for her family or crowded out by the needs of her many siblings and the old (almost grandmotherly) me who knows way too much about childcare and has changed more diapers than many parents. I still feel less than other people because I still hardly know who I am as an individual, and I still find it difficult to realize that I am an adult now with a job, a career to tend to and money to earn and manage. I’m still in shock at my big, wide world, and I’ve been quite depressed for the last few months because I find myself so paralyzed, overwhelmed and confused as I confront it.

So here’s to my peers, you fellow homeschool alumni (and wow, does it ever feel good to be connected). If hearing my story can make even one of you feel less alone, less frustrated, or less like a freak than I’m glad that I shared it.

And to those who want to know how homeschooling can be improved:

1. Parents, please take into account a child’s age and level of development and don’t put more responsibility on her than is appropriate (either too much responsibility for her own education or too much responsibility for contributing to her home and family). And please, please don’t push parenting responsibilities off onto older siblings. They aren’t ready to be parents and being forced into that role deprives them of energy they desperately need to do their own growing up with, and it deprives younger children of the quality parenting that only adults can give.

2. Parents, please remember that each child is an individual person and a future adult, not just a member of your family. Too much isolation is not healthy, and a lack of friends and peers to share and compare experiences with deprives a child of validation, identity-building experiences and knowledge of social roles which are all extremely important to a satisfying adult life. Too little independence is not healthy. The process of becoming independent takes time  (in reality, it starts at birth and is what all the growing-up years are about) and while you can certainly hinder this process and make your child’s normal development one hundred times more difficult than it has to be, you cannot stop her from growing up, so let go. Support her need for independence, and let go some more.

Teaching My Son the Lessons I Didn’t Learn

Crosspost: Teaching My Son the Lessons I Didn’t Learn

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Latebloomer’s blog Past Tense Present Progressive. It was originally published on May 12, 2013.

"Watching my naturally shy little boy become comfortable and have fun with other people is incredibly satisfying."
“Watching my naturally shy little boy become comfortable and have fun with other people is incredibly satisfying.”

Much to my surprise, I’m finding motherhood to be incredibly therapeutic.

Part of it is certainly that I have felt far more socially connected since my son’s birth than at any other time in my life.  Ironic, I know, but true.  I feel incredibly supported by my friendships with other parents, accepted for who I am, and inspired to grow.  Finally experiencing the social connection that I desperately craved for my entire childhood has increased my self-esteem and has decreased my issues with depression, which in turn helps me feel like a better mother.

But more specifically, as a mother, I feel like all the kindness and love that I pour into my son’s life is somehow healing my own childhood wounds.  I see him learning the lessons that I wish I had learned myself as a child, and I feel at peace.

He is learning, right from the start, that his feelings are important.  As a toddler, he has so many feelings, which often appear suddenly and catch both of us off guard.  My job as a parent is to help him learn to recognize his feelings, to validate his feelings, and to direct him toward an appropriate action to manage his feelings.  For us, that means when he’s expressing an emotion, I get down at his level and say things like, “Sweetie, are you feeling sad/upset/angry because _______? Awww!” And then I suggest an appropriate comforting/distracting/calming activity.  The most amazing thing to me is that, even as a toddler, he usually quiets down in order to listen to me name his emotion,  and seems incredibly relieved just to be understood.

He is also learning that his opinions and desires are are worth expressing, even though at this age they sound like nothing more than him shouting, “No! No! No!”  It’s up to me to help him phrase his opinions and wishes more clearly, because his “no” could mean anything from, “Don’t do that!” to “I don’t want to do that!” to “I want to do what you are doing” to “I want to have what you have.”  Once we understand each other, we can decide how to proceed.  But most importantly, I always try to praise him by saying something like, “Good job asking!” even when I have to delay or deny his wish.

Finally, he is also learning, along with me, about the importance of social connection and the joy that others can bring into our lives.  He is not yet in pre-school, so as a stay-at-home mom I have to make a conscious effort to teach him this.  We leave the house at least once every day, either for a playdate, coffee date, mommy & me class, park, children’s museum, library, or errand.

For myself, I know that I need to be around other people daily to avoid emotional flashbacks to the isolation of my youth.

For my son, I know that he needs to have a lot of early positive experiences with others and have a lot of opportunities to observe social interaction so that he can build his confidence for later social success.  Watching my naturally shy little boy become comfortable and have fun with other people is incredibly satisfying.  It gives me hope that my personal social weaknesses will not greatly limit him.

Seeing my son learn these three lessons has made my motherhood experience wonderful so far.  I only hope, as Baby Boy #2 joins that family this fall, and as my boys get older and start school, that we will be able to continue building strong family relationships on this basic foundation.