Of Homeschooling and Cohort Effect

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on November 22, 2013.

Sometimes I feel like I’m from another country. Or maybe another era. I’m a child of the 80’s, yet I know nothing about being a child of the 80’s. I can’t relate to pop-culture references and feel awkward when people my age laugh about something I’m supposed to know about but don’t. I see funny posts entitled “You Know You Grew up in the 80’s and 90’s When….” and I get maybe 2 references in the entire article. Sometimes it’s funny and I laugh at myself. Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes I sit in a group of people and wish I knew what they were talking about, wish I had that camaraderie they all seem to have, wish I didn’t feel like an oddball, like I will always be an oddball. Sometimes I like being an oddball, when it’s of my own choosing. Sometimes I wish I had a choice in the matter.

I’m studying all kinds of fascinating things as I’m finishing the last half of my BA in liberal studies. The psychology and sociology-related classes are my favorite. I came across this word and concept a few weeks back: Cohort. And suddenly, things started falling into place in my head; ideas with a lot of gaps and holes and flashes of pictures started forming and making sense, like pieces of a puzzle that were missing but aren’t anymore. Cohorts…..cohort effects……and it hit me:

Homeschoolers are basically their own cohort.

No matter what part of the country we are from or how old we are, we experience a cohort effect that other people in our age group do not. Even though all people from our generation are technically in the same age cohort, homeschoolers are actually in their own cohort with their own sociocultural-graded influences that the rest of our culture did not experience. We often joke among us that we were our own sub-culture. But I think it’s deeper than that.

I was asked as an essay question for a class to write a couple paragraphs on how cohort effects have shaped my worldview on things like politics, gender, science, and religion. And I thought, where do I even start? I’m not just in the cohort that was born in middle class white America in the 80’s. Matter of fact, I have very little relatability with anyone in my birth/generational cohort because I basically grew up in a completely different cohort.

Oxford Reference describes “Cohort” as:
“A group of people who share some experience or demographic trait in common, especially that of being the same age …”

The Psychology Dictionary defines “Cohort Effects” as:
“The effects of being born and raised in a particular time or situation where all other members of your group has similar experiences that make your group unique from other groups”

This is usually used to describe a group of people born at the same time, who experienced similar history, and their similarities in development. Like Generation X. Or Millennials. Or Baby Boomers. People born in the same time and the same place. Though it can also be used to describe sub-cultures within cultures.

The cohort effect is something that must be taken into account when studying developmental psychology or lifespan development, because something could be erroneously attributed to an age group that actually describes a cohort, a group of people that shared specific happenings, demographics, or historical events. This article has a very good, simple example of this effect in studies, and why it matters.

Those of us who were part of the pioneer Christian homeschooling movement, no matter how extreme or not, no matter where on the spectrum of conservative to liberal we were, we relate to each other in ways we cannot relate to the rest of our age cohort. In reality, we experienced history differently. We had our own culture and our own leaders and our own historical events that the rest of America knew nothing about, but that were very important to us. They defined us and we were proud of that. It’s not the fact that we were all home educated that creates this dynamic. It’s the fact that we were all part of a home education movement that was not just counter-cultural, but *anti* cultural.We were raised in a movement with varying degrees of the same teachings and varying degrees of sheltering, for all the same reasons. We were, most of us, raised under the influence of the same leaders.

Find me a religious homeschooler from the 80’s and 90’s that doesn’t know who Josh Harris is. Or has never heard of courtship. Or HSLDA. If you don’t, you are the exception and your parents were probably hippies that didn’t want government interference in their families so they homeschooled you in a bus on a mountain somewhere (like my husband. Heh.) Think about these concepts for minute and the pictures and memories they conjure up: Ken Ham, Abeka, Rod and Staff, homeschool conventions, the Pearls, modesty, denim jumpers, fear of going outside before 2PM, Bill Gothard, courtship, parental rights, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, evils of rock music, submission, Saxon math, biblical manhood and womanhood, women’s roles, keeper at home, “what grade are you in?” “I have no idea”, Creationism, ATI (either you were in, or you thought that at least you weren’t as weird as the people that were), R.C. Sproul, Howard Phillips, quiverfull/huge families/ “are they all yours?!”, Mike Farris, government brainwash centers (aka public schools), evils of dating, head coverings, fear of child-snatching CPS, evils of feminism, evils of sex ed, evils of Halloween, evils of pagan Christmas, evils of kissing before the alter, evils of peer pressure, homeschool co-ops, culottes, endless questions about how you get socialization and whether you do school in your PJs, skirts-only, Biblical Worldview, Republican conventions, government conspiracy theories, 15 passenger vans, no TV, Mary Pride, family bands with matching clothes, and King James vs. NIV. To name a few.

Not included in that list are the major historical events that we *didn’t* know about or experience the way that most people in our age cohort did. The killing of John Lennon, the Challenger disaster (which I didn’t know about until I was an adult), the fall of the Berlin wall, the massacre of Tiananmen Square, the Rodney King trial, Princess Diana. Not to mention the lack of knowledge of entire segments of history such as the Civil Rights Movement or the Suffragette Movement. We knew nothing of pop culture: music, movies, art, except that they were “worldly”. These were deemed contemporary, products of a relativistic worldview, and thus worthless, while we studied the Reformation period or the Founding Fathers or the Civil War instead.

We are the products of a pioneer movement; the good, bad, and ugly. A movement many of us have grown up and left behind, some of us floundering in the world we are trying to be a part of now but were never prepared for because we were told we were not supposed to be “of this world”. We have similar memories, both positive and negative. We look back on our own lives and we relate to one another, even if we’ve never met in person. Thanks to the internet age, we who thought we were alone and weird and oddballs have found each other, found people that are as oddball in all the same ways as we are. We have found that we are not alone in a culture we don’t understand but pretend to anyway. We may be in similar or vastly different places in life right now. But no matter where we are in life, and what we believe now, we have a shared experience that no one else in our generation has. 

This can be a difficult concept to share with other people. Last night I was out with some new friends and they were exchanging stories of their first kiss and getting in trouble for sneaking out or smoking or drinking or playing hooky, and when it was my turn, I said “Well, I got in trouble for wearing pants”. The silence and stares were deafening. Had I said that in a group of ex-homeschoolers, there would’ve been laughter and rolling eyes and sympathy. Because we *know*. We get it. We lived it. We can laugh about it together.

“The effects of being born and raised in a particular time or situation where all other members of your group has similar experiences that make your group unique from other groups”

Perhaps I’m using these terms all wrong and someone smarter than me can correct me. I just know that for better or for worse, the definition fits. And it really explains a lot.

9 comments

  • Hmm. I totally get what you mean. It’s funny, but when I was a kid I used to think how boring things must be for the ‘real’ people. That’s what my brothers and I called people who went to school, had working mothers and ate Modern Food. I thought that the Real must have very dull lives because they had no other group to gawk at and gossip about. Like the animals in the zoo not being able to see the people who come to look at them. For this, at least, I am grateful to home schooling, because I truly had the most unique childhood. I do think this is partly down to the particular personalities and ways of my family, for we never really got along with other homeschoolers, and now that my younger siblings are all in school, we are still quite different. It is a source of pride and sorrow, in which we take great amusement. It’s also an adventure – there are more remarkable things about the Real World to be discovered every day. Just recently I entertained a group of Real friends with the tale of how I never drank full strength orange juice out of a bottle until I was 14. I was at a function for my first job and nearly choked. It was like taking a shot.

  • What an excellent article! I was partially home-schooled (mid-80s), Christian-schooled (early 80s) and public schooled (late 80s), but I can fully relate to what you are saying. You’re right–we are our own co-hort! As a public school teacher now, I try to work with those students transitioning from home-schooling to the public school, because no one else can fully understand the issues and “trauma” physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I’m still working through my own issues with it 25-30 years later! (My husband is often dumbfounded by what I don’t know/understand culturally due to my up-bringing.) Thank you for sharing–this group makes me feel incredibly normal! 🙂

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    This is called “Growing Up Martian”.

    When you come from a reality so different you may as well be an alien.

    “I reject your Reality and substitute my own!”
    — Mythbusters

  • sarafoxpeterson

    Um…I don’t relate. I was born in the late ’70’s, homeschooled in a religious (Catholic) family in the ’80’s and not one item on the list in your post was a part of my childhood – well, I did get lots of questions about whether I had homework even though I was homeschooled (kinda sorta like the socialization question?). In fact, even though I am now homeschooling my own children, there are still a few things on that list that are unfamiliar to me (ATI? Ken Ham? R. C. Sproul? Howard Phillips?). You are most definitely describing a cohort, but it isn’t as broad as homeschoolers of the ’80’s.

  • I just want to point out that you can feel like you are not a part of people your age/culture and attend public school your entire life. My neighbors growing up are Chinese and their daughter my age was not aloud to play with the rest of the neighbors (or anyone that I know of) because she would be corrupted by our culture. I liked her (knew her in class) and knocked on her door many times and was always sent away by her parents. Also, another girl in my class was Jehovah Witness, and she was not allowed to participate in anything or have friends. She always looked so lonely and sad in not being about to celebrate birthdays, Christmas parties, etc.

  • I was knew some of the homeschool culture you mentioned, but also all the modern things you mentioned were a huge part of my life. We were very into staying informed though and did not run with typical homeschoolers until later in life. There are a lot of homeschoolers that are not like that, especially now.

  • Wow! Incredible! I’m finishing up a B.A. in Social and Criminal Justice with a minor in Psychology, and I have come into situations in my college classes that I have to talk to “go read a book” on references that they make!
    After I left the Mennonite/Amish/Homeschooling community, I joined the Air Force. I felt like I was living in a completely different universe! I missed all the TV shows that I should have known, musicians, concerts, etc. Thankfully my fellow Airmen took me under their wing and showed me all the classic movies, and helped me find good old (much to the horror of my old friends) 80’s rock music.

    As I continue to find my way in this new world, and I study psychology, I find so much that I missed growing up. This world is amazing!

  • Mine wasn’t as severe, both my parents worked in the film industry before I was born, so Dad’s insistence on our education has always been relating these events to our worldview, and Mom was very involved in school activities years back like dance and cheerleading, so she did her best to get us into team sports or classes. But there is still that absolute societal difference between my family of nine and the rest of the world, no matter how thorough our parents were in trying to keep us grounded and sane. We were part of a co-op community when I was four to eight, and it was a really shocking impact when my mom was asked if I always wore jeans, or if I just didn’t have any clean skirts for our Keepers At Home meeting, and my family even ended up wearing uniforms for a few years so Mom could keep track of us when we lived in the bigger cities or traveled. Most public schoolers still had the reaction of “so you don’t have any friends” when they found out, and I just laughed. Getting school done in two hours and being free to do whatever and play with other homeschoolers was beyond their comprehension. Even after high school and in the workforce, I found I knew immediately who was home schooled because it was like finding a kindred spirit. My family never tried to raise us to be our own society, but to be a light to the rest of society. Still can’t help feeling some days that we have our own world with keywords and handshakes and it’s nothing short of fantastic, having a world to come home to where our kind lived through and experienced the same things. I don’t feel like I missed a lot, but I do know we are a kind unto ourselves.

  • Andrew Forlines

    I know that alienating feeling.
    Assimilation is hard. It’s like moving to a foreign country and pretending you’re from there.
    I’m at the point stuck between the two. Unallowed to acknowledge the absurdities.
    I was isolated even from other homeschoolers for the most part.

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