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I am not a homeschool anarchist

I read with interest this piece in the New York Times: My Parents Were Homeschooling Anarchists. It’s an interesting piece that is so resonant of the era in which it took place. I enjoyed reading it and learning what the kids are doing now as adults.

However, articles like this reenforce the idea that all homeschoolers are eccentric weirdos who don’t care if their kids learn to do math.

So, I’m wondering, can we just call off this idiotic conversation, already? You know the one: Homeschoolers are right-wing separatist Christian child-abusers whose kids don’t know how to talk to other people and are learning only the parts of the Bible that their parents agree with. Alternately, homeschoolers are left-wing anarchist child-worshipers who don’t discipline their kids and let them run wild with flowers in their hair.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not telling you that there are no homeschoolers who fit these descriptions. And I’m not telling you that homeschoolers are normal. In fact, fierce pride in bucking societal expectations is pretty much a necessary ingredient in homeschooling parents.

However, I am here to say that homeschoolers, just like everyone else, are not stereotypes. Stereotypes are amplified from the most shocking, unusual, and outrageous examples within a community. When white actors put on blackface, they didn’t make themselves up to look like Denzel Washington. When anti-Semites talk about money-hungry Jews, they don’t hold up Elie Wiesel as their example.

I urge you to read the New York Times article, and then flip back here for a few rebuttals:

OK, I admit that this much is true: Some homeschoolers prefer the company of goats to humans. But really, can you blame them?

1) We are not anarchists.

OK, we’re also not card-carrying members of the middle-of-the-road club. My husband and I are both people who are willing to go against societal norms when it’s important to us. We’re both big believers in an open society in which people should be allowed to be themselves, as long as it’s not harming other people. So yes, we support gay marriage though we are heterosexual. Yes, we support religious freedom, though our household is largely secular. And yes, we support every person’s right to wear whatever outrageous clothing that makes their heart flutter with joy!

But we also believe in a society with laws, behavioral norms that allow us to live closely and comfortably, and reasonable ways to dissent.

This description would fit hundreds of homeschoolers I have personally met.

2) We parent our children.

Our children are not running wild. Although one of them has behavioral difficulties that might make it seem like we don’t teach discipline, we do in fact believe in discipline. Hopefully, if we’re doing the job we think we’re doing, we’re teaching our kids self-discipline. Because discipline imposed for no obvious reason teaches kids nothing. Teaching them to understand themselves and other people, to think about how their actions affect the world, and to work to change themselves when they see room for improvement is an integral part of our parenting.

On the other hand, we are not stifling our children. We do allow them lots of free play time. We do allow them to make their own choices even when we know that it’s probably not the right choice. We allow them to make decisions about their own bodies, which is how we ended up with a boy with long hair for four years and now a girl with short hair who wears boys’ clothing.

This description would fit hundreds of homeschoolers I have personally met.

3) We believe in education.

We are homeschooling because we believe in education, and when we looked at our child’s needs, we decided that homeschooling was the best choice for now. We are not anti-school, and we fully hope and expect that our kids will seek advanced degrees at university. We want our kids to be exposed to all the knowledge that they would in school and more. We want them to master all the math they’ll need to pursue a technical degree at college, all the understanding of geography, history, and society that will help them understand world events that happen in their lifetimes, and all of the science that will allow them to pursue college level science and at the very least, understand what a scientific study really means and question people’s assumptions about scientific truth.

On the other hand, we don’t believe that kids need to be bored in order to learn. We don’t think that doing well on standardized tests is a full measure of a student’s achievement. We don’t think that our kids should be force-fed anything, should ever have to deal with a teacher who doesn’t respect them and their intelligence, or spend their time doing nothing while waiting for other people to catch up.

This description would fit hundreds of homeschoolers I have personally met.

4) We want our kids to be socially adept.

On any given day, our children deal with a wider range of people than any school child ever could. They have five very different and very wonderful teachers in their homeschool program, each of whom inspires and challenges them in a different way. They work with other homeschooling kids and parents on projects almost every week. They count as their friends people from a few months old to eighty years old. My son volunteers in the community. My daughter works with therapists and other teachers to learn correct social interactions, which are difficult for her. Our children see how the world works while other kids are in school.

On the other hand, we don’t think our kids should stay in situations where they are being abused. We have taught them to speak up when there’s a problem and to respect themselves. When they go off on their own, my hope is that they will never suffer through a badly taught college course, because they will vote with their feet as soon as their professor proves herself inadequate. They will not be sexually abused because they will seek out loving relationships. They will not put up with abusive social groups because they know that there are great people out there who will someday be their friends. They will know how to be alone with themselves and enjoy the company.

This description would fit hundreds of homeschoolers I have personally met.

5) We are not homeschooling in order to insult you.

Lastly, homeschoolers do not choose this path in order to insult parents who have chosen school, in order to insult teachers, or in order to insult schools. We chose it each for our own reasons, but our choice is ours. Just as my choosing to wear black leather boots doesn’t offend your sneakers, our choosing one method of schooling does not make any commentary, negative or positive, about yours.

So let’s get this straight: Homeschoolers, like all people, are not stereotypes. We are people who care deeply about our children and believe that we are giving them a good education. We do tend to veer a bit off the beaten path, be divergent thinkers, and choose a more interesting over an easy route. But in general, I think we’re a pretty tolerable bunch. So when you read articles like this, uninformed opinions like these, see nutty homeschoolers on reality TV, or read books in which we’re stereotyped over and over, remember that stereotypes, by their very nature, can never tell the full story.

Posted in Culture, Homeschooling.

5 Responses

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  1. Anjie says

    Thanks for this…..these thoughts I often wish I could blurt out at individuals who look at my husband and I like we are trying to cut our children out of society and start some freakish cult.

  2. shell says

    You did a great job here. I read that article in the New York Times last week and felt a bit disappointed because I knew many people would get a negative impression of homeschooling from it. I think it was more about that particular family and now the parents did not prepare the kids well for entering public school at THAT time in their lives.

  3. Suki says

    I agree — as an article about the times they lived in, it was lovely. However, given all the press homeschooling is getting, in which they always feature the most outlandish families, it just feeds into these stereotypes people have. I wish the writer had focused a bit more on how great it must be to have this piece of their lives.

  4. Pamela Jorrick says

    I particularly like your rebuttal # 5. Too often, people take offense at homeschooling as though it were a personal insult. Really, it has nothing to do with them and is about my own family and the lifestyle we choose. I wish everyone blessings on whatever path they take, but am really glad we are on our own journey.

  5. Suki says

    Hear, hear!

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