Homeschooling and the Parent-Child Socialization Divide

Lana over at Wide Open Ground has been hitting it out of the park lately with her posts on homeschooling. The most recent two, one by her and one a guest post, both bowled me over, because they put words to things I have long felt but never fully articulated.

In the first, Lana explains that, no matter how hard they might try, first generation homeschool parents can’t actually know what it’s like to be a homeschooled kid. Here is how she explains that:

I am so often amazed at the similarities between homeschooliing and third culture experiences. Here’s another example!

Rachel, who blogs at Djibouti Jones, wrote a post called 15 Things I Want to Tell My Third Culture Kids. The post is a tear jerker (and so, so sweet), but this has got to be one of my all-time favorite parenting quotes.

I don’t know what it is like. I know what it is like to parent a TCK but I don’t know what it is like to be a TCK. I’ve read books and listened to talks and attended seminars but you are forging a path I have not walked. I’ve got your back and I’ve got a box full of Kleenex and an ache in my belly from our shared laughter. I do not know what your particular journey is like but I will hold your hand, fierce, until the very end.

Can I say I wish more first generation homeschool parents would say this?!!

… my mother knew what it was like to be a homeschool parent, but she did not know what its like to be a homeschool kid. She did not know what its like to grow up in a sub-culture her peers were not apart of, nor what its like to enter that culture all her peers had grown up in.

A while back I wrote a post on Potential Drawbacks to Homeschooling. Some people misunderstood this as an attack on homeschooling in general. I have never said that homeschooling is invaluable or not enriching. Far from it, homeschooling is enriching, and I love the fact that I spent more hours of my life running free than in a desk. I said that homeschooling comes with a struggle, a struggle that is not inherently bad but exists. I have said that, like the third culture kid, many homeschoolers are suspended as the foreigner in her own land and often struggle to come to grasp with their place in mainstream culture. Time again, I have tried to convey that first generational homeschool parents don’t know what its like to be the kid in that struggle. My mother has no idea what its like to be the homeschool kid. She grew up mainstream, went to school, and had friends. Then as an adult she was sucked into a sub-culture. Yet Mom continued to have the ability to relate to mainstream culture because she grew up mainstream.

Mom and I just had this conversation tonight. She was talking about church camps she attended when she was a kid. “You guys never wanted to attend church camps,” she said, “it just wasn’t in your personality.” I have no idea whether my personality would have enjoyed camps or not (I never went to one), but I do know that by the time I was in middle school, I had no way of relating to any kids at church because I did not go to school or have any regular activities (other than church) with school kids. And so my life was an enriching adventure, but it was very different than the road others walked.

I wish my mother had been like Rachel. Her post made me cry because that’s what I always wanted my mom to say.

That’s all, really.

I’ve written before about going to a public high school to take the SAT when I was a high school junior. I was terrified, shaking in my boots upset stomach flight or fight terrified. It wasn’t taking the SAT that scared me, it was the other kids. See, I was only socialized with other homeschooling  and as a result, public school kids literally frightened me. We’re talking real, visceral fear. This is really hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it. And that, quite simply, is why my mother responded to my fear the way she did: she laughed at me.

My mother wasn’t trying to be mean when she made fun of my fear of public school kids, but as Lana points out above, she simply could not understand how I felt, or why. She grew up in mainstream culture, so even though she had chosen a different path she still had the ability to relate to and understand it. Because my mother was raising me very intentionally outside of the mainstream, I didn’t have any of that. And for some reason, mom wasn’t able to see that. Like Lana, I wish my mother had been like Rachel, able to say “I don’t know what it’s like” and to really understand what that meant.

Next, let me quote from the guest post that Lana most recently posted, written by a young woman named Sophelia who grew up in a secular unschooling homeschool family, and whose parents minimized, ignored, and dismissed her socialization struggles:

One of the things that happens when you are homeschooled or unschooled is that you are placed in the position of advocate for your parents’ decisions about your education. You hear the homeschooling adults talking about how socialisation is a made-up problem, and you regurgitate the same lines when you are asked, because that is what children do. As my family was particularly high profile and unschooling was particularly unpleasant for me, I frequently found myself in the schizophrenic position of tearfully begging to be sent to school immediately after appearing on a television current affairs program as an example of a homeschooling success story. My ability to engage comfortably and articulately with adults was held up as proof of my well balanced socialisation, even as I went through an excruciatingly lonely and isolated childhood devoid of friends my own age. After leaving home I was driving with my mother one day when I noticed a girl who had been in the same circle of homeschooling families walking down the street with a large group of friends.

“Did Eliza end up getting sent to school?” I asked.

“Yes, in the end they did send her to school. How did you know?”

“She wouldn’t have a big group of friends like that otherwise” I replied. My mother looked at me in horror.

“Come ON, you know better than that!”

“Yes,” I said, “I know.”

I was the one who lived the reality behind the media spin. I was the one who experienced it firsthand. Neither of my parents had been homeschooled, yet they assumed that they knew what it was like. They had no idea. Their refusal even now to acknowledge my experiences is in some ways worse than the experiences themselves. I know that they did what they honestly believed to be the best for me, and that they were motivated by love for me. Even though I think they made the wrong choices, I can live with that. What I can’t forgive them for is continually denying the reality of my experience, and of minimising or dismissing the pain I experienced and continue to experience as a result of my lack of socialisation.

You don’t have to go far to find blogs by homeschool alumni detailing their struggles and regrets regarding socialisation. Many were homeschooled in a religious context, but that doesn’t mean that all of their experiences are a direct result of religion and that secular homeschoolers are immune. Homeschooling parents often comment on these blogs saying things like “your parents just didn’t do it properly” or something similar. The thing is, I guarantee you that all of the parents of these homeschool alumni genuinely believed that their children were being well socialised. Of course, some homeschooled children have a great experience and some schooled children have a bad one. However, it is frustrating for me when homeschoolers assume that all homeschooled children have a good experience and all schooled children have a negative one. Socialisation is incredibly important and needs to be addressed thoughtfully by all parents, homeschooling and schooling. As someone who struggles with the aftermath of poor socialisation it is upsetting to hear advice that is dismissive or seems to be saying “just don’t worry about it, it isn’t a big deal”. It is a really big deal. Again, let me say that my parents were convinced that I was well socialised.

[read the rest]

Once again we see homeschool parents ignoring the actual experiences of their children, dismissing and minimizing rather than listening.

There’s something else here to highlight, though. Like many—most?—homeschooled children, I grew up surrounded by homeschool propaganda—and by that I mean I was surrounded by people who argued that homeschooling was the perfect panacea for all the world’s ills, and that there were no drawbacks or potential problems, and that the idea that socialization might be something even a few homeschoolers might struggle with was laughably ridiculous. Like the author of this post, I uncritically regurgitated this, even when it didn’t fit my lived experience.

The homeschooling propaganda I grew up on was so strong that it took years after leaving my parents’ conservative religious beliefs for me to actually be able to begin looking at homeschooling critically, without the rose tinted glasses. And when I finally looked at it critically, I realized that it was complicated. There is much potential good in homeschooling, but there are also many potential pitfalls and plenty of drawbacks. It’s not black and white. This is something I wish more homeschooling parents could realize, but I think that many of them, like my parents, feel too defensive about their choice to homeschool to admit that there could be any potential problems whosoever. And their kids grow up hearing, over and over, about how perfect and ideal and without flaw homeschooling is, and conclude that if they are having negative experiences the problem must be them.

I plan to send my children to public school, but I’m most certainly not laughing off the criticisms I hear people make about public school—especially when those criticisms come from people who attended public school. I will readily admit that public schooling isn’t perfect, and I’m aware that my kids will likely at some point face issues with bullying, or peer pressure, or bad teachers—and I’m sure that’s just the start. The fact that I think public school is right for my family and my kids does not mean I have to believe public schools are flawless or perfect! Why should it? Rather, as I raise my children and send them to public school I plan to work to offset any potential disadvantages of public schooling, and to help my children deal with them as they come up. Ignoring criticism of the educational option I’ve chosen for my children, and arguing that this option perfect and has no drawbacks, would be incorrect, unhealthy, and dogmatic—and also a disservice to my children. So why is it that so many homeschooling parents do just that?

If the homeschooling movement today is going to mature, homeschooling parents need to be willing and able to listen to their children, including those who are now adults, and willing and able to give a fair hearing to criticism of homeschooling. If they are willing and able to do those things, they can then make an effort to avoid the pitfalls that accompany homeschooling, and minimize the drawbacks. Otherwise, you can expect to read more posts by people like Lana and Sophelia.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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