Generational Observations: Jeri Lofland’s Story, Part One

Generational Observations: Jeri Lofland’s Story, Part One

Jeri’s story was originally published on her blog Heresy in the Heartland. It is reprinted with her permission. The second part of Jeri’s contribution to HA is “Of Isolation and Community.”

Someone asked me about the long-term effects of homeschooling vs. public education, and it got me thinking. I won’t consider secular private education in this article, mostly because I don’t have firsthand experience.  I have enjoyed teaching my young children at home, but we have decided to send them to public school while they are still in the elementary grades because of our observations over a generation of homeschooling.

Effects on Society

Certainly homeschooling promotes elitism. Even without religious motivation, announcing that you can get a better education from your mother than from certified degreed professionals has an air of snobbery. Socially, the kids can hardly escape the inference that they are too good (or smart, or rich) to rub shoulders with the inferior proletariat, especially when they are repeatedly told their home experience is superior. Latin for kindergarteners, anyone?

Public school introduces children to others who are like, yet unlike, them at the same time. It broadens their understanding by allow them to work and play alongside real people of other races, other religions, other languages and backgrounds. When conflicts arise, involved parents have an opportunity to encourage cooperation, sensitivity, and compassion, as well as personal boundaries. My children are learning to respect diversity in a way that would be impossible if they only played with kids from their own neighborhood. And they see that excellence is a personal choice independent of circumstances.

Our public school welcomes parental involvement. Teachers are thrilled to have parents volunteer in the classroom and the principal has always had an open door when I stopped in with a question or concern. When I spend an hour helping my daughter’s classmates practice multiplication, I multiply the teacher’s efforts and support the cause of education far beyond my own children. Our school truly belongs to the community and it is what the community makes it.

Government policies and education budgets now affect my children directly, so I have heightened interest in the issues. I better understand what educators do, helping me relate to a much larger group of society. When teachers and professors in my book club begin to discuss particular stresses on public education, I can participate. Rather than supporting divisions based on class and ideology, I can connect differing perspectives to broaden people’s view of the big picture.

Effects on Students

I maintain that it is neither normal nor traditional for boys to spend their days under the tutelage of their mother after they reach double digits. In the days of the pioneer, a boy might grow up isolated and self-taught. He was prepared to explore the frontier, self-reliant and independent. Those are hardly the skills needed by adults today.

It would be interesting to hear from men how they think homeschooling affected them emotionally. My hunch is that all that time at home with Mom often stunted their decision-making and negotiating skills and either increased their susceptibility to manipulation or their ability to manipulate, or both.

Boys–and girls in contemporary society–need to learn goal-setting and negotiating skills. School exposes them to a range of leadership styles and personalities and varied levels of accountability. It helps them build a portfolio of social skills (and coping mechanisms) that can serve them in the work force when they have to deal with cranky managers, lazy teammates, and charting their own professional course.

Even in modern homeschooling, with its drama groups, advanced math co-op classes, and sports teams, families tend to be overly flexible, to lack commitment to schedules, and to make sacrifices for one child at the expense of the others. In spite of its flaws, the school system does allow for a more level playing field that offers individual choice and rewards accordingly.

Effects on Family Dynamics

Family dynamics are the primary reason I decided against long-term homeschooling. Put simply, my daughter appreciates me much more when she doesn’t have to spend all day with me! Though we spend less time together, we use that time more efficiently, deepening our relationship and helping her develop emotionally and socially. Homeschooling strains the parent-child relationship unnecessarily. It is unfair to a teenager for one or two adults to hold the keys to his education and grades as well as his: social life, access to transportation, food choices, access to employment, daily schedule, recreation, healthcare, and moral guidance. This absolute power tends to corrupt parents, or simply exhaust them.

How many moms have “burned out” on homeschooling, devoting themselves to their children’s needs or success while ignoring their own? If she has her own dreams, the teaching parent may resent the inefficiency of spending so many years as a caregiver and educator for a handful of children, when she could be pursuing a satisfying career while sharing the educational responsibility with professionals who chose the job. The early homeschool movement seems to have coincided with an era when technology and a stronger economy had recently reduced the load on stay-at-home moms. Homeschooling may be a healthy alternative to watching soap operas, but it can be a real financial hardship for some parents–contributing to marriage and family stress.

Adolescence is a time for widened horizons, a time to experiment with choices and learn specific cause-and-effect sequences, with the home as a physical and emotional safety net. When teachers reinforce what parents have been telling their kids, the whole family benefits. Feedback at regular intervals gives kids a chance to test different approaches to learning and meeting goals. When they struggle in one area (academics, social relationships, or family issues, for example), they can lean on other networks for support and hopefully build confidence by succeeding in something else.

As the product of homeschooling, and a homeschooling parent myself, I think the benefits of homeschooling are usually overstated. Certainly religious motivations have driven the movement’s growth, but weighing the social and educational results does not convince me that homeschooling prepares people to better thrive in their society.

21 comments

  • Most of your arguments seem to apply more to homeschooling through the high school years. Is conventional homeschooling a problem for you too, or just when it’s extended like that?

    • It has nothing to do with age and everything to do with method. The homeschoolers I know that really liked their homeschooling were the children of usually upper middle class two parent families. They went to private colleges and their parents paid their tuition.

      But their parents also gave them a lot of freedom in high school. I think the angst my cohort still feel is because they were given very little freedom and had their social opportunities stunted. Usually in the name of god and/or purity.

  • Many great points! The paragraph about elitism made me cringe because it is too true. And the belief that anyone can teach with no training must be insulting for teachers and sound nonsensical.

    I had not thought about how home-schooling affects boys differently than girls. I hope more will be written about this topic.

    Finally, even though some flexibility is good, I agree over-flexibility is harmful. It was hard for me to adjust to college where deadlines were deadlines and assignments were assignments no matter what emotional manipulation, arguments, or excuses I had in my arsenal. I’m sure other home-schoolers have had the same trouble adjusting to jobs.

    • I’d be happy to share my experience on this. Perhaps I’ll share my homeschooling story on this site.

  • This is wonderful, thank you. The only point where I might raise a small issue is where you imply that there are greater problems with mothers homeschooling teenaged boys than teenaged girls. It doesn’t ring true in my experience, as the boys in my large homeschooled family fared better than the girls, and that has also been the case in other families I’ve known. But more than that I feel your comments reflect and reinforce some of the problematic gender stereotyping that abounds in homeschooling communities, where women’s abilities and leadership skills are consistently questioned or denied, particularly if they are leading or teaching males.

    But I don’t mean to pick apart your post. There is great wisdom and experience here, and I appreciate it.

    • You have a valid criticism. I think there is another dimension to the author’s comment. And I know this is true in my experience. I am great at domestic tasks, listening to problems, grocery shopping, and generally tasks that are considered “nurturing” of feminine. I’m a feminist now and our marriage is very non traditional.

      The author is right too observe that homeschooled boys are often sensative or “feminine.” I was harrassed often for being gay – even got a nickname as gay nick.

      • That happens in Public schools too, boys who are disliked or are not sports oriented are often accused of being gay.

      • Homeschoolers Anon actually got called homos a few weeks ago. I wrote this piece on how people have been calling me gay all my life. It’s definitely a society-wide problem, one of aggressive heteronormativity. The best way to solve these sorts of problems is to “normalize” homosexuality through mass media. As I see it, the “Gay Agenda” is just to humanize themselves. How dare they! (sorry for the tangent)

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  • My boy begged me to homeschool him starting from the third grade. OF COURSE I didn’t want to homeschool. Why so much work? He was very social, and I knew that after a week he would be begging to go back to school. So I wouldn’t have to say no, right? Well, he homeschooled through graduation. I would intermittently threaten to punish him by making him attend school. During the day, he was a ball boy for the Houston Rockets and for the San Jacinto College Ravens. He put in a 6-8 hour day basketball practice and led his AAU basketball team as a point guard. He now works as a promoter for celebrities and sports figures, signing them to China and Saudi Arabia. He produced a television show in California interviewing professional athletes.

    From small, he didn’t like being treated like a baby and being told to sit in his chair. He wanted to make decisions for himself, and he wanted me simply to be his wheels to make his dreams come true. At 16, he began organizing promotions and signings for his athletes. I say let a kid decide his schooling. Every kid knows his own heart, and we need to listen and help make his dreams come true (with mature guidance, of course).

  • I was a public school teacher for several years and, though the author seems to view the system positively (appreciated), I am torn as to whether or not I want my children to attend public school because of my inside knowledge of how the system really works. As a trained and experienced teacher, homeschooling would be a breeze. But the overworked, emotionally manipulated, lack of resource or time having, and often thrown under the bus teachers my children would have may be hanging on to their sanity by a thread, all the while trying their best. These people truly like kids, but it’s amazing anyone makes it past ten years due to emotional strain. May as well take my kids out of their case load.

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