If You Meet a Homeschoooler

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on December 3, 2012.

If you meet a homeschooler, be patient. If you meet a homeschooler, be a trusted friend. Help her. Don’t gossip.

I remember, when I was in college, a homeschool graduate girl was taking a human sexuality class. She  asked her  roommate what “ejaculation” meant.  The roommate told one friend about the conversation, who told another friend, who told another friend until the whole campus knew. (Small college.) The gossip? “Sheltered girl doesn’t know anything about sex.”

When the gossip reached me, it hurt me at a personal level because I had been clueless about human sexuality when I first started college, too. But as an introvert, I just educated myself privately. When friends brought up stuff I had no clue about, I withdrew inwardly and would go home and look it up online and feel like screaming.

And I hid the fact that I had been homeschooled. Because I didn’t want that kind of gossip against me.

I speak of patience, not sex education. Of course, some homeschoolers were given a sex education. (Though on a forum for homeschool graduates, the overwhelming majority of females had the same experience as me.) But if we take  “sex education” and replace it with any number of things a homeschooler might not know, well, then have a good idea of what I mean when I say be patient, and don’t gossip.

Homeschooling is a sub-culture. If you’ve never been homeschooled yourself (that includes homeschool parents who weren’t homeschooled themselves), it’s difficult to understand what it’s like to step into the world, and have no clue about American pop culture or all kinds of jokes and American-isms. In fact, it’s so hard for some homeschoolers to ever belong in the “real world” that some just stay at home until they get married because doing the whole college — working in the real world as I did — sucked.

Listen, it sucked.

Because no one ever understood.

If a homeschooler doesn’t know the name of a popular TV show, popular movie, or the works of evolution or a joke or anything else under the sun? Answer the question, and then keep it to yourself.

You don’t need to tell anyone. It’s not going to help.

15 comments

  • justmamakoolaid

    Not all homeschool kids are like that though. My kiddos could give many public school kids the same reaction of feeling like they were sheltered. I went to PS and was still overly sheltered not knowing what a BJ was until I was 7 mos pregnant and my dr explained it. My kids on the other hand hang out in the LGBT circles, know all about sex, watch R rated movies etc. how about we start clarifying that these posts talk about a subsect of the homeschooling community that is growing smaller % wise as other religions and secular homeschoolers are on the rise. Just because they are the most loud mouthed homeschoolers does not make them the majority.

    • You’re so right! We’re secular unschoolers, and are part of a secular homeschooling group and a Unitarian Universalist church, and our older daughter decided she wanted to start public school last fall at age 13. Public school has, thus far, been the only place where someone told her she was going to hell for being a lesbian.

      That said, public school has been a very good experience overall for her, and she’s really looking forward to going back this fall. She does, however, say that she feels socially awkward in a lot of situations. She does stand out as being different — I think it’s mainly because of her enthusiasm (as well as possibly her decision, practically from day one, to be openly gay); she participates a lot in class discussions and is willing to jump up and try to work out new math formulas on the chalkboard. She gets lots of participation points and positive feedback from her teachers, but some of the other kids just don’t get her.

      I’m happy that she does now have a little circle of good friends, and, of course, I don’t want her to feel awkward. But at the same time, I’m not so sure that she’d feel less awkward if she’d been in public school since age 5. I went that route and was still very socially awkward for a long time. I had a lot less social success in all those years of schooling than she has had in just this one year; 8th grade was absolutely the most miserable year IN MY WHOLE LIFE — but I actually think it’s been one of my daughter’s happiest years.

      While I realize that the loudest group of homeschoolers seems to be the group that wants to shield their kids from liberal ideas, there is definitely a growing group of liberal homeschoolers who actually want their kids to experience a much more wide-open world during their most formative years, than what they’re likely to experience in a public school, at least here in the Midwest where a significant number of people seem to believe that people who don’t think like them are going to hell.

      I guess you could say that we’re trying to shield our kids from bigotry until they’re strong enough to shrug off comments about hell and damnation. While I can fully understand my daughter’s perfectly natural desire to blend in with her peers, I’m also glad that she’s a lot better able to deal with being different than I was. And maybe it’s just her personality, and she’d be just as empowered and outspoken if she’d been in school all her life — but maybe, just maybe, the years of freedom have enabled her to stay free and keep embracing who she is, even now that she’s encountering some who insist that who she is is NOT okay.

    • It really doesn’t matter whether they are the majority or not (although I have yet to see solid stats one way or the other). It’s pretty hurtful that homeschooled parents who are “not like that” are more concerned with arguing that they don’t do this to their kids than speaking up for kids that were very victimized by the “minority”. Are we only supposed to care about a vulnerable population being abused, aided by homeschooling as a powerful tool for abuse, because “not all homeschoolers are like that”? Would we not do things to minimize abuse a small minority of public school teachers commit against children, because “most teachers aren’t like that”? No, we have a lot of regulations, systems to increase accountability, and ever changing laws to continually combat the abuses by the few. Because children should NEVER be abused, and we as a society need to do everything in our power to minimize child abuse to as low of levels as possible.

      This argument is also exactly the same as women being told their experiences with rape or sexual harassment don’t matter because “not all men are like that”. We know not all of “anyone” is like anything. That doesn’t mean abuses don’t exist or that survivors shouldn’t share their painful stories or that we shouldn’t do things as a society to minimize abuse, regardless of whether it’s by a minority. I’d believe there were more homeschoolers who are “not like that” if they would spend their time standing up for kids who were abused and/or sheltered to damaging levels and suggest ways to make homeschooling safer, rather than rushing to defend their reputation when they see someone share their painful story about how homeschooling was used to more effectively increase abuse/intentional social isolation.

      If you’re a homeschooler who is not like that, then show it by condemning the homeschoolers who are like this and being a part of the solution to make homeschooling a safe educational option rather than a perfect tool for abusive parents. As a survivor of spiritual, emotional, and verbal abuse, as well as intense/damaging social isolation, that could not have occurred to the extent it did without the lax views on parental/homeschooling “rights”, I will believe someone is a homeschooler with the best intentions of children at heart when I see them focusing on what they can do to make homeschooling more like the good things they claim to use it for. Rather than complaining about survivor stories or calls for increased homeschooling accountability as a perceived slight to them as a group the second a part of the group is criticized for very real child abuse/damaging social isolation.

      • The problem with homeschooling accountability is that you could destroy the good parts of homeschooling in an attempt to stop the bad. Abuse is wrong, yes. But forcing a child to suffer in a bad school environment is also wrong. When I was homeschooled, I had to be unschooled because that’s the only kind of teaching I could tolerate after years of school abuse. I would literally have a meltdown if asked to do a single worksheet. If my parents had been required to prove they were following a curriculum of some sort, then I couldn’t have the freedom to learn how I learn best. If they had to prove I was getting opportunities to socialize with kids my own age, I couldn’t have gotten the isolation I needed to feel safe after years of bullying. Any talk of restricting homeschooling must take into account the good that often comes from homeschooling too.

      • basically you are saying that since not all homeschooling is bad, that we don’t need regulations?

        regulations will ensure the safety of every child. every child matters, not just the ones who’s lives are being saved by homeschooling.

        why don’t the other children matter? is it because their stories aren’t as important as the ones who need homeschooling?

        and who gets to decide who needs homeschooling and who doesn’t?

        regulations and accountability will help keep all children in the community’s eyes, so that no one can fall through the cracks, disappear, and be horrifically abused.

  • >> how about we start clarifying that these posts talk about a subsect of the homeschooling community that is growing smaller % wise as other religions and secular homeschoolers are on the rise. Just because they are the most loud mouthed homeschoolers does not make them the majority.<<
    Yes!

  • Clarify away, Jacki. HA has not, to my knowledge, made any statement concerning the percentage of ex-homeschoolers that have chosen to tell their stories here.

    I think you’d be hard-pressed to prove that it’s a shrinking sub-set, however.

  • What Jacki said…..

  • Just thought I’d chime in to say that this post hits home for me. I too am introverted and tend to google things before asking my friends to explain them, but this still (and I’m 30 now) comes into play with pop culture. When I meet new people, I’ve started just prefacing with, “Remember, I was raised in a bubble and didn’t go to school”; hyperbole of course, but it’s easier than trying to explain over and over why I don’t know many pop culture references. I know that people don’t mean to hurt my feelings when they act so incredulous about my lack of pop culture knowledge, but it gets so, so annoying.

  • Hi, Jacki and justmamamakoolaid. I’m a homeschool graduate from a more moderate/secular home. I wrote about my positive experience being homeschooled — along with my thoughts and advice for parents like mine — for HA a couple months ago:

    https://homeschoolersanonymous.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/dear-moderate-homeschoolers-this-ones-for-you-arielles-story/ .

    Having been on the periphery of this community for a little while, trying to be an ally where I can to my friends/peers who had less positive experiences, I *still* am tempted to say “not all homeschoolers” in response to some statements I read and hear in these circles. So I can imagine how strong that inclination is for homeschooling parents, who invest so much and whose identity can be so strongly intertwined with homeschooling. The thing is, nearly everyone here recognizes that “not all homeschoolers are like that,” even if there’s sometimes some slippage in the language. So, personally, I try to back off in those moments where I’m tempted to say “not all homeschoolers” unless I’m worried that the statement in question will directly harm someone (e.g., it gives inaccurate or discouraging advice about how hard it is for homeschoolers to go to college). Instead, I try, however imperfectly, to listen and focus on how I can help.

    Furthermore, I’d encourage more secular homeschooling parents to be introspective about the problems and potential pitfalls our own families face, which sometimes do parallel the issues facing more religious homeschoolers. For instance, many secular homeschooling parents still have very strong political or social views and countercultural impulses (often part of the reason they homeschool!). As wonderful as these things can be, they can also permeate homeschooled kids’ educational and home environment more strongly than intended, making it harder for the kids to individuate re/ their own beliefs or fostering an “us against the world” mentality that can be harmful. Knee-jerk defensiveness of homeschooling — understandable as it is if you regularly encounter hostile or uninformed skeptics — also can rub off on kids, making them ambassadors for homeschooling and thus making it harder for them to reflect honestly on their educational experience and less able to offer feedback to their parents about how it can be improved. Again, not all homeschoolers (religious, secular, or anywhere in between) face these issues. But thinking of these sorts of problems as only plaguing “those fundamentalists over there” can make it harder to improve homeschooling in our own, less religious homeschooling circles. So I’d encourage you to read Homeschoolers Anonymous with an open mind, consider how you can help, and take advantage of the opportunity to identify some pitfalls that cross the boundaries between homeschooling subcultures. Best of luck on your journeys!

    • Clearly the people who comment in virtually every comment section here about how we should ban homeschooling haven’t gotten the memo that not all homeschoolers are like this. So it still needs to be said.

  • You are no doubt correct in your statistical assumptions, Jacki and Mamadrankthekoolaid. You may not have provided any real numbers, but I can tell what you want the conclusion to be. And that’s enough.

    And, even better: once we’ve shown that an oppressed group is in the MINORITY, we NO LONGER HAVE TO GIVE A SHIT about what happened to them! Rejoice!!

    /sarc off

    Arielle you are a consummate professional. Good for you. I think I’m going to drop out of this particular conversation. There’s only so much willful blindness I can handle in one life time.

    Any more and I’ll go stark, raving snark.

    • I do give a shit about them. But should we make the majority suffer on behalf of a minority? Homeschooling probably saved my life. Doesn’t that count for anything?

      • ettinacat,

        are you saying that only your story matters? that these other survivors who’ve survived horrific abuse don’t matter? because it sounds like that from your comment.

        if your story matters, so do those of us who have survived abuse.

        if your story matters, then mine does too. insisting that homeschooling is not all bad is like saying ‘sure some people get hurt, but not everyone does. so don’t change anything’

        changes must be made in order to ensure safety for all children.

        i am glad it saved your life – let’s save the rest of the children too.

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