Wednesday, December 22, 2010

homeschooling 101

Yesterday I tweeted Marc Cardaronella about my formula for producing non-awkward homeschoolers and it's slightly more than 140 characters so it ends up here.  I should clarify that I have tremendous respect for parents and think they have the hardest job in the world.  I don't believe there's a definitive answer for where or how to school your children, as long as it's not in the Hitler Youth.  I truly think that the only universal method of parenting is frequenting the sacraments and eating together as a family as often as possible.

However, as a product of homeschooling, I am quick to both defend my upbringing and harshly criticize the lifestyle when I think it's going awry because it gives everyone a bad rep (example:  raising kids in tents with nothing but a bible as a text book).  My parents didn't originally homeschool for religious reasons (I was struggling in school and was too shy to speak up to get help.  If you can believe that.  The quiet thing was a short-lived phase) but then we were learning so much as a family from Seton- the curriculum we used- that they just never stopped.

Now, I could go on and on about how brainy my siblings are (I was never "that kid" at the National Spelling Bee or editing Encyclopedias, but I do credit the attention I finally received at the kitchen table with giving me the skills to balance my check book and write a thesis statement) but what I think is a real success is general social awareness.

A lot of people are quick to defend the social awkwardness of some homeschoolers with, "if they're awkward at home they'd probably be awkward at school too".  Maybe.  However, my friends and I did an informal survey among our college classmates and discovered that of all who had been homeschooled-- the ones who appeared the most "normal" were the ones who....  (drum roll)...  got their driver's license at the same time as their traditionally-schooled peers.

Laugh all you want, but this has turned into an extensive study by my friends who asked every homeschool alumni they've encountered since this theory was devised on a train to Venice in 2002.  We've developed some theories on this.  First of all, it is an expression of why you are homeschooled in the first place.  Homeschooling is an opportunity to engage the world and culture through the family-- not be sheltered from it.  For example, as kids we used to talk openly about current events at the dinner table, my parents listening to us as we shared our thoughts and solutions about the problems of the world.  No topic was taboo.  This is engaging the world-- but through the family.  We were also active in our parish, community service and pro-life activities.  All of this allowed us to encounter lots of different people and understand that was how the world was.  "Sheltering" would be refusing to acknowledge the challenges of the world or interact with anyone different so that students are completely unprepared when they encounter it, brute force, when they leave the nest.

Allowing kids to get their driver's licenses gives them a common milestone with their peers (they have so few others-- no lockers, pep rallies or freshman hazing) and gives them a little bit of independence to begin exploring the world on their own.  It involves taking  a test from someone who isn't related to them and answering to authority that isn't their parents-- and important step.

I have other theories about how homeschoolers can be well-socialized, but my friends and I have determined that the drivers license is the first way.  Even if you're rolling in a 13 passenger van, it's your first taste of freedom and gives you an experience to share with your peers.


  1. Hmmm... that is interesting. So, let me ask you - since you and a lot of your friends were homeschooled through high school do you feel that you missed out on the shared experience of school? I mean are you sorry you did? My son is six and we have years and years but I constantly debate what to do in the high school years. Thanks!

  2. Great post Alison! Thanks for these insights. We're homeschooling our kids who are now 9 and 7. My wife always wanted to homeschool so that was the primary reason we did. However, a secondary reason was exactly what you described in your childhood. My oldest was at the Catholic school for kindergarten but he was having problems keeping up relationally. He was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at an early age. It was like all the interactions were too much for him and he couldn't learn. Once we took him out, he flourished in the home environment.

    But still, there's that problem of appearing normal when he's with the rest of the crowd. He's come a very long way. The change in him is miraculous really and you can barely tell he's on the spectrum now but I think he'll always be a quirky kid. He'll need help with that.

    I would love to see a series of posts on your other ideas for socialization of homeschool kids. The ones you talked about above were fabulous! I especially like the idea of the "universal method of parenting." Very insightful! Thanks for the post.

  3. Great post! That is a really interesting milestone. We will probably require that our sons attain Eagle Scout rank before getting their licenses - if they're still doing Scouts at that point.

    Marc, I didn't realize that y'all homeschool.

  4. I enjoyed the post. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks for the feedback (and re-tweets), y'all.

    Upstatemamma- Good question. Short answer: no. And, the more time I spend with high schoolers, the more convinced I am that this "shared experience of school" is getting worse by the year. Quality of education alone, there seems to be a lot lacking in their day to day experience. I feel for teachers and think they do a tremendous job given the challenges they face, but even the best teacher looses a lot of time in typical class day. I'm really saddened by just how poorly the average student is being educated by *ahem* my tax dollars. There are exceptions, but this is just my observation. Then, what passes for socialization in high school is just a mess. But your kid's only six? Get through cursive and phonics and don't sweat it until it's time... Who knows what your options will be then?

    Mark, that's really interesting. I've often wondered how homeschooling works given challenging situations like your son's. That's awesome that it's given him an environment he can flourish in. (I find Asperger's to be a comical diagnosis-- not to mock a serious situation, but I've found that the teens and young adults I've met who have been diagnosed with it actually function better than some of their peers because of the skills they've learned to help them cope-- unlike their peers who are just socially clueless and don't realize it. Does that make sense? I think it was Sister M.J. who said all kids are normally abnormal...) Thanks for the suggestions. I'll pontificate a bit more about my ideas about homeschooling again.

  6. I love this entire post! I often get funny looks when I say I want to homeschool...and have been asked once "what's wrong with public school?"

    Maybe the teachers are great, but the influence of other students and the culture we live in? Much rather would have that be discussed "through the family" first. Well...when I have a family that is! Haha. And to confirm Alison's response: Upstatemamma: Many of the things I experienced (culture norms) in high school, now looking back, I wish I didn't have the "opportunity" for and wish I could have been sheltered from!

  7. Great post--and yes, please pontificate more about this in the future! I feel like I can never find posts like this one. I wasn't home schooled, but would like to do it for my kids, even though I really enjoyed the social aspects of my upbringing. This is so interesting! I love "engaging the world--but through the family".