As my daughter and I were preparing to attend our local homeschooling conference last weekend, she asked a very good question: “Why don’t school families have a fun conference to go to?”
It was a little hard to answer. The immediate quip that came to mind—”because they’re boring?”—wasn’t fair to school parents, many of whom are fabulously creative and fun just like homeschooling parents. And “because they don’t want to do things with their kids” isn’t fair or accurate either.
The complicated answer, I think, is that it’s harder for school parents to find their tribe. They have friends, of course, and networks of people that they connect with through their work, their creative pursuits, and their families. But few school parents have what homeschoolers have: a tribe that welcomes their whole family.
A tribe is not a group of people who all know each other. A tribe does not have to include only people who like and approve of each other. People in a tribe are not uniformly similar.
But a tribe is an affiliation that somehow transcends daily concerns: people in your tribe are not necessarily people you’d want to have over to dinner, but still, they’re your tribe. People in your tribe may differ quite a bit from you in how they run their lives and make their decisions, but still, they’re your tribe.
Homeschoolers are a tribe by choice, but once we join, we become insanely protective of each other. Dare to write a blog against homeschooling? Expect us to pass it around Facebook and inundate you with tirades about why you’re wrong. Are you a homeschooler needing support? Just get it on your local e-mail group and other homeschoolers will show up at your home, or offer you a space in theirs.
Homeschoolers vary just as widely in their social and political views as other families, yet we are still part of the tribe. The conference we went to doesn’t check your homeschooling credentials at the door—they just open it wide and expect that we’ll all be one big happy family.
And we are. Those of us who homeschool with curriculum and expect our children to meet standards hang at the pool with our dedicated unschoolers who pursue child-led learning. Those of us who homeschool with religious conviction build boxes next to those of us who teach evolution and moral relativism. Those of us who voted for Obama learned about emotional intelligence next to those who voted for Romney or even further right. When you’re a member of a tribe, you don’t have to agree.
So what makes our tribe so tribal?
For one, homeschoolers, though we homeschool by choice, feel like an oppressed minority. Sometimes we need to be around each other so that we can feel something like normal. One of the participants in my From School to Homeschool talk said that she knew that once she started homeschooling, all her neighbors would think she was weird. “You’re a homeschooler now,” I replied. “Welcome to being weird.” In our tribe, we celebrate weird together.
For another, homeschoolers are doing something incredibly difficult. Like salmon swimming against the flow of a mighty river, we look over our shoulders at each other and pant out, “Good job! Keep it up! Don’t listen to that guy who just floated by downstream on his raft!” With a daily flood of pressure to go with the cultural and educational mainstream, we form a pretty fierce bond with each other, even if we don’t agree on the particulars of how we do things.
I’m sorry that school parents don’t really have anything similar to our conference to go to. Yes, they can attend events with their kids, but there is no tribal bond with the other families to draw on. Homeschoolers at our conferences are bound together in an inspiring, creative, energetic mass. It’s a great time when we get together and re-energize ourselves, drawing on the group’s strength to keep swimming against the tide.