Picking Things Up from the Culture, Homeschool Edition

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on April 12, 2015.

If you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed that, when speaking of my conservative evangelical homeschool upbringing, I frequently say “I was told X” rather than “my parents told me X.” There is a reason for that—sometimes I can’t remember whether my parents actually taught me some specific aspect of purity culture or political conservatism or whether I just picked it up from the Christian homeschool culture around me. After all, I read the homeschool magazines we subscribed to, listened to the speakers at homeschool conventions, and socialized with the other homeschooled children.

My parents removed my siblings and I from public schools in order to remove us from external influences. But they didn’t remove us from external influences entirely, because, short of locking us in our rooms, they couldn’t. What they did was change the set of influences we were exposed to. But in their choice of a new set of influences—that of Christian homeschool culture—we were sometimes exposed to things they may not have agreed with in a way they never never thought about.

For example, when I was a senior in high school a friend of mine tried to talk me out of going to college. She said women were supposed to serve, and that college was entirely hedonistic and self-centered. She told me she planned to spend those years as a mother’s helper in other homeschooling families, before marrying and beginning her own family. I agreed with her premises, and was left unsettled. If my parents hadn’t had such a solidly upper middle class expectation that I would go to college, I might have been swayed.

For all of homeschooling parents’ rhetoric about how “peer dependent” public schooled children are, we homeschooled children could be quite influenced by our homeschooled peers. Part of me finds this ironic. But then, the point was not so much to remove us from peers entirely as to change the set of peers we were around. My parents opted to expose us to Christian homeschooling culture rather than to the culture of the local public schools.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad my parents didn’t subject other Christian homeschooling families to a detailed theological review before allowing me to socialize with their children. I mean yes, they did draw some lines, but they could have drawn those lines much more narrowly. By way of example, I recently came upon an article titled When Catholic Homeschool Kids Get Lonely that really made me cringe. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s easy to think that if Catholic parents put their children in the Catholic Youth Group at the local parish, all will be well and this will solve the ‘loneliness’ or the ‘socialization’ issue, but my husband and I have found that sometimes this can create other problems. Simply put, our experience with the Catholic Youth Group in our particular area has been mostly negative and counterproductive in helping us to raise our daughters for Christ. When we would bring our children to some of the youth activities, we were disheartened by what we experienced and witnessed.

Many of the children who attend these functions also attend the public school. They go to these functions because their parents make them, not because they really want to be there. While there, we would hear them using foul language and witness them picking on other children, bringing that whole “public school mentality/environment” with them into the youth group activities. The parents who were chaperoning these activities couldn’t be everywhere at once, so much of the cursing and mean-spiritedness took place when the chaperones weren’t watching.

Not only this, but my husband and I were appalled at the way in which the girls who attended these functions dressed. We decided not to sign our children up for any more youth group activities in this area.

One of the reasons why I made the decision to homeschool was because I didn’t want my children to be negatively influenced by bad peers. If I keep them out of the public schools for this reason, but then put them around those same children in a youth group activity, what have I accomplished? They’re still around the bad peers.

. . .

If there is a local homeschool support group in your area, this can be a good thing, especially when most of the parents whose children are in these groups are doing what they do for the same reasons as you. However, I do want to offer you a word of caution regarding some of these groups. Not every homeschool support group is Catholic.

If you are raising your children in the Catholic Faith, it is better to be a part of a Catholic homeschool support group than a Protestant one. Experience has taught me over and over again that when Catholics join a Protestant homeschool support group (especially an evangelical one) subtle attempts are made in order to “reach out to” and “save” the Catholic’s soul. Religious tracts are distributed, and invitations are given to attend this church service, that Bible study, this Children’s Kids’ Klub, or that Vacation Bible School.

Because of this, I refuse to allow my children to participate in any of these groups. If a group of kids and parents want to get together for the sake of picnicking and playing ball, that’s one thing. But when one group tries to impose its religious beliefs on another because it does not accept and respect the religious beliefs of others, a line has been crossed.

. . .

If there are no Catholic homeschool support groups in your area, you might consider starting one yourself. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that in order for it to be successful, it has to be complex, time-consuming, and difficult. Just getting together once a week in a park for a game of kickball with hot chocolate and doughnuts could be a great way to start. Using a church fellowship hall in order to host these meetings is something that a lot of Catholic homeschool support groups pursue.

Although having companions can be fun, nothing can take the place of a close Catholic family.

If a parent chooses to homeschool to remove their children from the influence of public school children, and then chooses to opt out of both church activities and established homeschool groups again because the children involved are deemed bad companions . . . well, let’s just say that if a parent refuses to allow their children to socialize with any children who do not share their beliefs in exactitude, the children will be very lonely indeed.

But because my parents did expose us so fully to Christian homeschooling culture, I’m often unsure what my parents actually believed and what I simply picked up from that culture. Sometimes I know the answer without hesitation, because I remember this comment or that. But other times I don’t. And I find that fascinating.

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