In Praise of My Homeschool Homies

Oh No I forgot to socialize the kids t-shirt on ZazzleI used to be one of those annoying, know-it-alls about education.

“School is the only place for a child to learn what it is REALLY like out there in the world.”

I’d sneer.

Well, then, what happened was:
I actually MET people who homeschool.

I spent time around their kids.

I learned more about how children learn, in general.

AND, I then I got a big dose of how schools are today (versus the cushy experience I had at St. Paul the Apostle growing up).

And I met some of the actual students who have emerged from actual schools and entered the college system.

And I cried and cried and cried.

Homeschooling – You Can’t Handle the Truth!

…because the truth might be that most public schools are letting our kids down. And the truth might be that even though we all are branded with fear that if we homeschool, our kids will be weird, underneath it all we find, ALL KIDS ARE WEIRD.

My friends who homeschool are amazing. They do use curriculum from websites but they also have a great deal more freedom.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Let’s be real: that’s like saying “working from home and owning your own business is SO much easier than showing up to a desk someone picked out for me, working on a computer someone bought for me, writing emails through a complex IT system (with firewall and virus software) that is supported just on the other end of that really nice phone someone gave me.”

In fact, homeschooling to me sounds really hard. Sure there are curricula to work from, but you still have to create an entire learning system for your OWN kids. And it has to be done (to a certain extent) from the confines (yes I do intend to make that sound like prison) of their home.

Homeschool sounds HARD.

And like madness, torture, and some kind of Pilgrim experiment created by people ALOT smarter than me who are of the ilk who would say something like: “I don’t LIKE being persecuted for my religious beliefs! Come on, family. Let’s all take this boat and sail across the ocean to unbroken land and build our own colony and be free! How bad could the winters be?” And then do it.

And I think, maybe, because it sounds really hard — and kind of “different” — some people who don’t see themselves as wild, maverick-y pilgrims of educations are much more comfortable making fun of homeschooling.

Rather than learning about it. Ironically. But perhaps not surprisingly.

They, like me, like living in La-La land Utopia of what we imagine “school” is — that happy place where everyone gets treated fairly, everyone learns at the same pace, and the rooms are filled with the hum of brains growing.

Because at best, “good” schools are culturally unbalanced and performance driven. At worst, the bad schools are nothing short of Thunderdome.

But that’s off the subject because….

Today,  I am praising my often maligned and usually misunderstood homeschooling homies — the moms who spend ALL day, ALL week, MOST of their time with their kids, not just shaping their values and wiping their snot, but teaching them about metamorphosis, derivatives, class and race issues surrounding the Civil War, how to play the steel guitar and basket weaving.

Oh, and about the whole socialization thing... I feel confident these homeschool kids can learn intricacies of what they are missing —  bullying, techniques for making out with your tongue, and how to text my Facebook status from my phone.

These kids seem pretty smart. And self-motivated. If they don’t figure it out by college, I KNOW they will look it up.

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Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth writes literary non-fiction, haiku, cultural rants, and Demand Poetry in order to forward the cause of beautiful writing. She teaches and speaks about the rhetorical impact of beautiful writing. A recent transplant to Connecticut, she calls London, Kansas City, and Iowa home. 

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  10 comments for “In Praise of My Homeschool Homies

  1. Suzannah
    March 22, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    I have a friend who home schools one of her kids. This while she’s going to school to be a teacher! She finds it really rewarding and wouldn’t have it any other way.
    Are you pondering it with your brood???

  2. Lori Soderholm
    March 22, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    As a teacher, albeit an unconventional one, I never expected to be part of a homeschooling family. I also never expected Katlyn to be a fluent reader by her second birthday, to have ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome, or to stump a Yale Psychologist on a vocabulary word (when she was only six) during a testing session! Things change. Life throws us curve balls. We have to learn to roll with it and change, too. After three and a half years, we still love homeschooling and we will continue on the present course as long as it makes sense for our family.

    Your post today exemplifies the ability we all have to step back and reconsider what we think we know. It takes courage to admit it, but we are all guilty of making assumptions about things of which we know so little. My notions about homeschooling could well have kept us from exploring it as an option had we not been in such extreme circumstances. Although it is often challenging, I am so glad we chose to homeschool our children!

    Thanks for your support and honesty!

  3. Lisa Hill
    March 23, 2011 at 3:40 am

    There’s that broad brush again, painting homeschooling in a rosy pink. I know some of these exceptional homeschoolers- those with amazingly dedicated parents and bright, socialized children. I know some who are facing educating kids with challenges they are uniquely able to meet from home where the schools are not so well equipped. But I’ve also met some who use homeschooling to insulate their children from ideas, from “evil influences”, from anything but what they say. (Dare I say brainwashing?) I have no doubt parents can educate their kids about a lot of things, but the daily experience of immersion in the fractious, unequal, chaotic world of school teaches them something valuable as well. The world isn’t populated by people who think like us, care like we do, or process the world like we do. And we will need to know them, and understand them, and love them, and learn from them, because they have something very big to contribute too, not all of it bad. I, for one, would never choose to be the main lens through which my children experience this world.

    • Lori Soderholm
      March 23, 2011 at 5:26 am

      Lisa, There are absolutely those who isolate their children as you say, but in this part of the country more and more people seem to be choosing homeschooling due to a dissatisfaction with their local schools. Some families are clearly trying to isolate their children through homeschooling, for religious reasons or otherwise, but as in any population there are subgroups. There seems to be a shift happening as more people choose homeschooling and those who want to keep their kids away from the influences of traditional schools may well become a subgroup rather than the main group.

      All of the homeschoolers I have met in the last four years have children who spend lots of time socializing with other children as well as adults. There are a number of homeschooling groups that meet specifically for that reason. In fact, most of the parents I have spoken to are searching for other groups for their children to join, so that they have experiences with all kinds of people. Our kids, for example, have weekly playgroups and participate in extra curricular activities such as yoga, soccer, gymnastics, and swimming. We also take weekly field trips, so we are often learning away from home.

      Homeschooling is a complex situation, and early on I was very worried about socialization, too. However, my bigger concern has become the fact that there is no support from the schools for these kids. As a certified, experienced teacher, I know what sorts of things my kids need to know to function in this world. I’ve written curriculum and designed educational programs for schools. Parents without this experience can be overwhelmed at the prospect of teaching their kids and the simple act of offering state guidelines to families would make sense, especially if those families ever decide to reintegrate their children into the schools.

      Homeschooling has gotten a bad rap, but if you look at the number of kids in the national spelling bee each year, you will find that a large number of them are actually homeschooled. Those kids have the freedom to delve deeply into the world of language in a way that they would otherwise not be allowed. They can study foreign languages at an earlier age than their local public schools would offer such things. They can spend days on end reading, if they choose. Homeschooling affords them the opportunity to explore their passion for language in the same way an Olympic gymnast may use private tutors while they train. No one complains about elite athletes having a substandard education and lack of socialization, although that lifestyle is no doubt isolating.

      The point is, there are no cookie cutter kids, and our schools are designed to teach the average child. For those kids, who tend to be the majority, public schools are usually a fine match. Those that don’t fit the mold, are often not well served in traditional schools, so homeschooling is a valid option for those kids just as much as private schools are a valid option.

      I would love to see public schools change to become more inclusive of all children, but I am not the person to make that kind of change. I am not an administrator or a politician. I am a teacher, and any teacher will tell you, they don’t have much power to effect change in the classroom. They must work within the confines of the system. I chose to work in charter schools, where my ideas were more valued, in the hope that the model would one day be adopted by more public schools. Having worked as a student teacher for two years, in five different school districts, I learned early on just how many kids fall through the cracks in our schools and how little we are doing about it. Sadly, not much has changed since then.

      To say that homeschoolers are brainwashing their kids is using just as broad a brush as painting homeschooling as rosy pink. Let’s not tip the scales too far in the opposite direction, in an effort to even things out. There are pros and cons to any educational system, homeschooling included.

      • Lisa Hill
        March 23, 2011 at 6:21 am

        Wow. I did not say that all homeschoolers are brainwashing their kids. I acknowledge that there are some very good reasons for homeschooling and some good outcomes. No doubt parents are making an effort to socialize their children. However, they are choosing the people with whom their children interact- others who are likely in similar situations and with whom they most likely have quite a bit in common, limiting their exposure only to people and experiences that are positive. This may help a child thrive intellectually, and allow them to feel safe and comfortable socially, but I think this will eventually increase their disconnection with the rest of their world once they reach adulthood. How will they learn to cope with angry, or difficult, or unfamiliar-thinking people (or bosses?) if they are not given the opportunity to learn those coping behaviors as children?

        I am also concerned that people with the intellectual and financial resources will opt out of the public schools instead of working with them to provide the quality, diverse learning experience that will benefit all the children. Their abandonment of the system will never improve the system, so children who aren’t so fortunate to have that sort of individual care will be left further behind, and the people who could improve their education will never even see them. They’ll be at home, with their kids.

        • Lori Soderholm
          March 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm

          I didn’t mean to imply that you said all homeschoolers were brainwashing their kids–sorry about that. As both a teacher, and a mom who has had to defend my choices about my special needs child for most of her life, this is a topic that really hits home, and I quite literally could talk about educational issues for hours! (I didn’t even realize how long my reply was until I had posted it!) I just meant that we need to be careful to keep things balanced rather than bringing up extremes to make a point.

          As to socialization, there are plenty of people that kids will come in contact with who are shall we say, less than pleasant, when they engage in any type of social activity. Just because a playgroup is made up of homeschoolers doesn’t mean they are necessarily like minded. Also, kids are often in groups with non homeschoolers when they play on sports teams, join scout troops, etc. so I don’t really worry about them being segregated in that respect. For example we have had to deal with plenty of kids and parents who just don’t get the fact that Katlyn has autism and she will sometimes have a meltdown, even at eight years of age. Some parents even threatened to pull their kids out of gymnastics unless my kid was kicked out!

          Because we are dealing with a child who has trouble with social skills to begin with, we teach explicit lessons on social interactions. Although it sounds contradictory to homeschool a child who has such a deficit, the public school would not be able to provide her with instruction in social skills, which is vital for a child with autism. Simply placing her in a classroom filled with children would never help her learn to talk to them.

          As to people leaving the schools instead of fixing them, I agree that this is a problem and there are many kids who don’t have the option to leave. However, I don’t think that keeping our kids in a school that doesn’t meet their needs is fair either. I believe that for the average kid, public schools are usually a good choice, and that constitutes a large majority of kids, so I don’t think that parents making other choices will negatively impact them.

          As to working with the schools to change them, I spent six years working in the public school system, and change is hard to come by as a teacher. As a parent, I spent over a year working with the schools to find an appropriate placement for my child and found that despite my educational background (and Karl’s–he’s a school psychologist) as well as independent evaluations from preschool teachers and a child psychologist there was nothing the school could do for us. I couldn’t let my child suffer the inevitable anxiety of being in a place that simply couldn’t address her needs with people who were unwilling to make accommodations for things that we knew would trigger extreme behavior. (Katlyn has a diagnosed sensory processing disorder and something as simple as a loud toilet flush or an automatic flush toilet could set her off.)

          I honestly don’t know if we would have decided to homeschool if it were not for Katlyn’s special needs, but I am very happy we did. If there comes a time when it seems like the school is a good fit for our family, who knows? We could wind up back in the mainstream! For now, this is the best option for us, and I think the most important thing is for all of us to have a choice.

          Sorry for the long post again! I do appreciate your reply, though. Your concerns are valid and I think the future of educational change relies on these types of conversations.

    • March 23, 2011 at 6:14 am

      Lisa, I didn’t mention it in my post, because I feel like it has changed some since then, but in 1990s there was a ultra-conservative Christian family that lived next door to us that homeschooled. I thought the kids were VERY odd and they never ever seemed to leave the house (unlike many of the homeschoolers I know now). So of course there are exceptions.

  4. March 23, 2011 at 6:12 am

    Suzannah, I am not considering homeschooling… I love the experience of school too much. But I support it as an option, and certainly we do a great deal of schooling of the kids outside of school, when we travel, when we go to cultural events, at church, with friends, and in every meaningful chance we get!

  5. Lisa Hill
    March 23, 2011 at 6:33 am

    @E- I have known some of those families that want to isolate their kids, and I feel so badly that they will never know another viewpoint or experience the diversity that makes this world so interesting. How can we ever know how prevalent that sort of narrow-mindedness is if the children aren’t required to attend school with others and there’s no mandate to provide proper socialization? There is no license required to be a parent. There are some seriously messed up parents. Is there any sort of requirement or licensing to homeschool?

    I think every good parent supplements what their children learn in school once they are home. That’s where you get to stress your values and focus on those things that matter to you as a person, a parent and a family.

  6. Colin
    March 23, 2011 at 8:55 am

    The parents that would be inclined to home school their kids in order to isolate or “brainwash” them would find a way to mess their kids up whether or not home schooling was an option. That’s a product of poor parenting not of home schooling.

    Conversely, great parents find a way to raise great kids whether they go to public school or home school.

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