Gifts and Wound: ElenaLee’s Story

ElenaLee blogs at Our Place.

A blogger I very much respect once spoke of events in her life bringing both a gift and a wound. A gift and a wound—I carry this imagery with me like a familiar piece of jewelry or some small memento, some reminder of where I have been and of where I hope to go. The simple acknowledgement that both exist, at the same time, is healing. After growing up in a subculture often trapped by a black and white view of itself and the world, I relish the freedom to carry both truths in my hands. For me, being homeschooled was a gift. And it was also a wound. Both strands revealed themselves as I moved from a very home-centered existence to the larger experience of college and adulthood.

College unfolded a new world for me, one filled with the stimulation of interacting with more people more frequently than I had before, a chance to know and be known in new ways. After a high school education taught largely by textbooks (but with careful oversight by my mother, who assigned each day’s lessons and made sure I did the work), I found flesh-and-blood teachers exciting. I liked when they knew and respected me—when an art professor noticed I had a question during lecture just by the look on my face, when my history professor shook my hand after I finished his final test. Looking back, part of me hates that I knew how, and was eager, to excel in relationships with authorities. There is, perhaps, an element of “working the system” involved in it. And yet, I am grateful for the richness that interacting personally with these good men and women added to my life.

I have never excelled socially with peers. I suppose excelling isn’t even the point of peer relationships—but certain elusive social skills are helpful in bringing people together. I made only one lasting friend in community college, and she wasn’t a fellow student but an older employee in the library. Though on cordial terms with classmates, I commuted into town and never “hung out” with others, a skill I still feel uncomfortable exercising. In college, I continued to be dogged by a perception of myself which began with the (to me, unaccountable) distancing of one of my few close friends as a tween and solidified during my lonely high school years as a relative newcomer in a rural area: I wasn’t good at friendship. “I don’t expect to make friends,” I declared to my mother as I contemplated my transfer to a college in another state. “If I do, that’s fine, but I’m not counting on it. And that’s fine, because I’m really just going there to learn.” Viewing college as a job instead of an opportunity to develop friendships was my defense against the humiliation of social failure.

Thankfully, my predictions didn’t come true. I made a few real friends and a number of lovely acquaintances during the two years I spent earning my bachelors. The comfort of companionship which I had primarily experienced in family situations, I now enjoyed in spontaneous games of Dutch Blitz with the girls across the hall, in watching a movie with friends the first night back from break (soothing the jar of transition with back rubs and “mindless entertainment”), in having someone to sit by in chapel and (sometimes) the safety of a group in the dining hall. But, at least in my own mind, I didn’t exactly fit. I seldom felt secure in relationships with others, never fully relaxed.

During that time, I did experience a whole new joy in the realization that my written words could resonate with others and forge a connection. My professors challenged and encouraged me, creating an environment where things stored inside of me could come to life on paper. Interactions with fellow students in small peer-review groups delighted me—I could hear the warmth in their voices, enjoy the sense of discovery when something one of us had written became something that somehow belonged to all of us. Shared imagery wove into each of our lives. This joy, this gift of shared words, flowered in college—but it began long before that.

My parents, my mother in particular, raised me in a home rich with words. Mom read to my siblings and me nearly every night, even into our preteen years, and we each read eagerly on our own, as well. She placed a wonderful writing curriculum in my hands, thrilling me with the realization that words provided another outlet for my artistic passion. She even helped me like the physical appearance of my handwriting, teaching me a whole new kind of cursive when the first method wobbled and globbed from my left hand. Writing, especially poetry, has become a key way that I navigate life—a solace for myself, and sometimes even for others. When I trace the path that ushered me into that world, following it from my keyboard, today, through professors and fellow student writers–it begins with one woman, my teacher throughout my whole childhood, my mother.

I carry the gifts Mom gave me—the many benefits from her conscientious, extensive, and loving efforts on my behalf. In some ways, exposing some negative results from my upbringing feels disloyal and ungrateful. But it is not my job to be the justification of a lifestyle. I am no one’s lifework. I am a person. And along with a love for the sharing of life through the sharing of words, who I am includes the wound of a social limp which I carry today. I still tend to default to isolation or interacting with others through meeting their perceived expectations of me, but it is my hope that I will continually grow more honest with others and with myself.

 

First Week of University to my Master’s in Education: Ellen Martin’s Story

In May of 2014, I graduated with my Bachelor of Honour’s Degree, with a major in Sociology. As I prepared to walk across the stage to receive my degree, I reflected on my experiences that had brought me here to this moment — from kindergarten through my final project in my fourth year of my undergraduate program. This was an accomplishment I never expected to achieve. Along my educational journey, I had family question the home education method, and occasionally I had even questioned it myself. The result of my home education was a success. As I walked across the stage to receive my Bachelor’s Degree, I realized that homeschooling did provide me with success. It provided me with the success I needed to succeed in post-secondary education. The following narrative will tell of my experiences and challenges that I had in order to get where I am now — currently completing my Masters of Education degree and beginning my career. After graduation, I hope to gain employment as a School Administrator or within the alternative learning spectrum. My ultimate goal is to eventually operate my own private alternative learning school to provide children with the individualized attention similar to that which I received during my education years. I hope to reach underprivileged students who do not have the resources or encouragement to be successful in school.

I was homeschooled from kindergarten through grade twelve. I never set foot in a public school classroom until I volunteered in one during my first year of university. Growing up, I was often asked “do you like being homeschooled?” I did not know how to answer, since I did not know anything other than homeschooling. I always answered “yes”, since I did love it and was not aware of anything else. I was a very self-disciplined child and completed the majority of my work independently.

My parents never pushed for me to attend college or university. My parents made it clear that it was my choice. Most of the pressure to attend stemmed from my extended family. I did not know what I was going to do after I graduated high school, so I applied. Obtaining acceptance to university was easier than I anticipated, although I did not know what to expect. I simply had to submit an essay and the transcripts my mom wrote that stated all of the high school courses I took. My dad was not entirely happy about me attending school, but grew to accept it once I was enrolled. My mom was happy I was going and dedicated much time to editing my essays.

My first week of university was extremely overwhelming. The feeling I felt when I walked into orientation is indescribable. Although it is a small school, there were still more people than I was used to. I found my seat amongst hundreds of other first year students in the gymnasium, and the program began. Orientation was very informative and I became less anxious and more excited as the day went on. The administrative aspect of university was explained along with what to expect in the classes. The following day was my first day of classes. Because I had spent some time exploring the campus on my own the previous day, I easily navigated my way to class. I enjoyed my classes and easily made friends with a few people. One friend in particular I made during my first week of university was in three of my five classes. I remember her frequently saying “I’m going to socialize you.” She did. She made the transition to university easier in that we quickly became good friends and provided me with companionship on a daily basis. At the end of my first week of classes, I felt extremely overwhelmed but confident that I would be successful.

My first semester was enjoyable, although burdensome. I learned how to be successful in university. One new experience university brought me was writing tests, as I did not write tests during my homeschooling years. I did poorly on the first two tests I wrote. After this, I researched different ways to study and figured out which methods worked best for me. Since this was a new experience to me, learning how to study for tests was one of the biggest challenges I faced. Being amongst several other students, up to 80 in some classes, was a huge change. After the first few weeks, it became normal. The adjustment was not as significant as people assumed it would be for me.

I feel that I was prepared for university because I was accustomed to learning and studying independently. Although homeschooling provided me with a sense of responsibility for my learning, part of my self-discipline comes from my personality. Throughout university, I knew what needed to be done by what date. I made efforts to complete the work in advance. My parents through home education helped to instill this into my character by encouraging me to set my own goals and routes to achieve them. Because of this, I became very self-disciplined from an early age. This transferred to my post-secondary studies in that I would become determined to complete the assigned work when it was given, rather than waiting until a later date. I did not feel as prepared as I should have been for the social aspect. I quickly adjusted to the many people in my classes, however.

I am currently completing my Master’s thesis before graduating with my Masters of Education. The transition to university from being homeschooled was very overwhelming. I adjusted more quickly than I anticipated. I felt that I was on par with my peers in terms of academics. Although my homeschooling experience was not entirely positive, it did provide me with the skills I needed to be successful in university.

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.