I read an article the other day that made me roaring mad. It was written by a former teacher, titled: “What Homeschooling Gets Wrong About Socialization, According to a Former Teacher.” It admitted that homeschoolers were doing ok with socialization on one hand, then patronizingly pointed out that we are unable to fully meet a child’s socialization needs. It’s not just about making friends, it’s about learning to work well with others.
Why did it make me so mad? Because parents who are already undecided and fearful about homeschooling would read this mess and assume that it’s the final word on homeschooling. After all, this teacher is experienced, she couldn’t be wrong, right? It adds to the already huge burden of expectations that society places on homeschooling parents. It’s a crushing level of guilt – you can’t possibly do better than we can unless you copy us!
I hate this Us vs Them mentality. If you look at the recent GHF study US Public Education Policy: Missing Voices, it’s pretty clear that a huge amount of homeschoolers have experienced private and public schools already, or plan to attend at some point in their education. As a collective group, we may not be in the system right now but we have been there and we might rejoin at some point. So I think that public school teachers like this author really need to hear the truth about homeschoolers instead of taking a few anecdotal experiences and painting us all with the same brush.
I don’t claim to speak for all homeschoolers, obviously. I can only speak from my experience and our unique set of needs. And because we have both gifted and special needs, our perspective is probably quite a bit different from most. That said, I am a homeschool graduate. I grew up around homeschoolers, I’m raising my children around homeschoolers, and I successfully attended college without ever setting a foot in a public school. I’ve probably met every type, stereotype, or classification of homeschooler – certainly more than this former teacher has.
If my son was headed into your public school class, these are some very important things that you need to know. Not just about him, but about his background, his experience, and his learning style. These are commonalities across the homeschool community and not just specific to my son.
1. He needs time to adjust to an institutional setting.
Did you know that veteran homeschoolers strongly recommend deschooling to new homeschoolers? What is deschooling, you might ask? It’s the process of NOT doing school: of figuring out that learning doesn’t always mean schooling. It’s ditching the textbooks, the worksheets, and the kill-and-drill to just focus on true learning. Field trips, hands-on science projects, haunting the library and reading everything they have, and so on. For students traumatized by traditional school, deschooling is particularly important because they emotionally reject any semblance of the torture they endured. Make no mistake, it truly is torture in many cases.
We homeschoolers are accustomed to a certain kind of freedom. Of being able to go to the bathroom when our bodies tells us to, of eating and drinking when we’re hungry and thirsty, and the ability to learn the way we learn best. Put us in an institutional setting and that freedom is taken away. We have to adjust to what feels astoundingly like a prison setting to us. We don’t know all the unspoken rules like where to sit at lunch, which side of the hall to walk on, or how to get from class to class in the fastest possible route. We’re usually fast learners, but the social pitfalls during this learning process can make things really difficult.
We aren’t always accustomed to the common lecture mode of teaching. Sitting still and listening without the ability to get feedback or ask questions can be a big adjustment. And honestly, most of us don’t consider it an improvement. If you’re used to freedom, losing that freedom doesn’t feel very good.
2. He loves asking questions.
Some of the more hilarious comments I’ve heard from tour guides is their astonishment at how many questions homeschoolers ask. I’ve followed public school tour groups inadvertently (because they were so darn huge and we couldn’t get around them) and I can tell you from my experience that homeschoolers probably sound annoying compared to the public schoolers. We want to know ALL about the things, and the other things, and those things loosely connected to these things! Tell me more!
If you’re trying to manage a classroom with 20-30 kids, you cannot possibly have the time to answer a lot of questions. And homeschoolers aren’t used to that. It’s a big adjustment: they may feel slapped down, they might feel upset that what they’re interested in is ignored, or they may feel lost and confused because it’s not their normal.
My son lives and breathes questions. It’s how he learns. If you take that away from him and expect him to do well then you’re going to have an upset, frustrated, angry child on your hands. Would you label that socially maladjusted, or would you understand that you just ripped the framework of his life apart and invalidated his world?
3. We are not isolated. And I resent you spreading that myth.
My child is in first grade. I am a social introvert. And we STILL have to plan days to stay home. Specific, this-is-when-we-do-schoolwork days, reserved for quiet learning and rest time. I know many other homeschoolers who have activities EVERY day of the week. Classes, sports, co-op, forest groups, playground meet-ups, scouts … the list goes on and on. Homeschoolers spend far more time out in the world learning than they do at home, isolated and chained to the kitchen table doing school work. What an outdated, ignorant belief!
We are not isolated. Sure, there may be a few homeschoolers out there who never step foot out of their door – those are the ones who make the news when CPS gets called or some horrible tragedy occurs. They do not represent us. The few bad apples do not represent us any more than the few predatory teachers represent all teachers.
4. We are not all religious fundamentalists (edited for clarity.) Please don’t assume that he didn’t learn science.
When I was growing up, most homeschoolers we knew homeschooled for religious reasons. Today, NONE of the homeschoolers I know homeschool for religious reasons. Many do, sure, but they are no longer the face of homeschooling. They may be the loudest voice but they do not speak for all of us. Yes, I teach my kids evolution. Yes, we learned about the big bang. No, we do not copy bible verses for schoolwork, or use creationist science textbooks.
I get very angry about this subject because I am tired of being stereotyped. Almost everyone we meet assumes that we are super religious. We’re not! Sure, we’re people of faith, but that has nothing to do with the education we’re giving our children. If my children were plopped into public school today, I’m betting that they know more about epochs and eras than kids their age. They know more about the many different world religions than most kids their age. And they’re socially aware and determined not to hurt anyone’s feelings because they might be different from us.
And please note – even if my children were from a super religious background, please don’t assume hurtful, discriminating things about that background on top of assuming things about homeschooling. Double blow there – and then you wonder why the children are “socially struggling?” Might it possibly have something to do with the negative and hurtful assumptions?’
5. Some of us homeschoolers struggle socially. It’s called “disabilities.”
My son is “borderline” ASD, according to his doctors. He can pass for neurotypical at times, but for others it’s clear that he has some difficulties dealing with people and situations. He may sometimes fit the stereotype of “weird homeschooler,” but guess what? If he was in public school, his disabilities would still exist. He would still struggle. In fact, he would struggle more, he would require an IEP or 504, and he would probably face a good bit of bullying.
My son does not have social difficulties because of homeschooling. He struggles because of his disabilities. He struggles because his brain doesn’t work the same way that neurotypical children’s do. We teach him that’s ok: that different is interesting, different is good. In public school, the message he would get is that different is bad. Different is a problem. HE is a problem.
We have the weird no matter what. No matter what type of education, what kind of social setting, or what kind of teacher. The difference is that in homeschooling, we chose to accept that and work with him, to teach him to cope and succeed. Public school teaches them to adapt, to cover up who they are, to hide their differences or risk bullying.
6. Homeschoolers learn to work with people of all ages, personalities, and backgrounds.
The main point of this article is that homeschoolers fail to create a collaborative kind of learning experience. To experience working with people they don’t like, repeatedly. Because that’s life – that’s what they should expect in the workplace. (holy crap is that a depressing outlook!)
Have you ever had to do school with a sibling? No? Then you have no clue what you’re talking about.
This particular argument fails so hard that I want to toss it out the back door just to see how hard it hits. Homeschoolers excel at working with all kinds of people. We have to. We deal with people our age, younger or older than us, of many different backgrounds, personalities, religions, and affiliations. We do not live in a bubble of peer-only collaboration. Instead, we experience working together as a community.
The article points out that the repeated exposure of working with the same people over and over makes for a different learning environment. Homeschoolers do this too – in team sports, scout groups, volunteer groups, 4-H, karate class, music class, ballet class, co-ops, art classes, band, swim team …. and the list goes on and on. Unless the homeschooler is one of those “never-steps-foot-outside-the-door types that are so super rare, they encounter group and collaborative settings. They probably do more of it, because the average public school student has less time for extra-curricular activities than homeschoolers.
And I might add – my experience of collaborative projects in college showed me that the biggest lesson public school students learned about collaboration is how to push the work off onto someone else. Which will not help them in the work force at all.
Please, teachers who might be reading this: don’t take this as a personal attack. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’m fed up with the lies being spread about homeschoolers in this article, because I’ve heard them a thousand times. If my child enters public school at any point, I hope that you will treat him with the same respect and caring that you show all of your students. I hope that you would help him adjust, rather than pointing out all the ways that he’s different. I hope that you would appreciate the depth and richness of his prior schooling while assisting him to move forward in a completely new environment. His experience isn’t less, it’s just different.
And different is ok, right? Different is diverse. Different is wonderful – that’s what he know, what he believes.
Don’t crush his world and tell him otherwise.