I read a blog post the other day by a well-meaning woman, a college English professor, who was contemplating her reasons for and against home-schooling. She talked about a college senior who was unable to articulate a thesis statement vs. the perfect grammar of a freshman boy with terrible social skills and “no clue about basic classroom etiquette.” Apparently, this kid monopolized class time and was intolerant of other people’s opinions.
I truly believe that this woman was simply trying to illustrate what she saw as the primary pitfalls of two very different methods of education, but the comments soon snowballed into a gross mis-characterization of a legitimate portion of the population. I mean, really. If every home-schooled child was “excessively dependent on adults and completely unable to relate to their peers” wouldn’t people stop choosing that method of education? My favorite was “All of the adults I have met (family, roommates and friends) who have been home taught for an extended period of time have had big problems in their social and educational development.”
Okay, so I’m sure we all know someone who seems a bit socially inept who was home-schooled. But don’t we also know at least one big-talking, center-of-the-world’s-intelligence public-schooler? I know I do. I had class with some of them. But you know what, I think that the majority of the time you probably don’t ever know which of your aquaintances were home-schooled, especially now that homeschooling has been legal in most states since the early 80’s. There are now a good number of us who were home-schooled who are your peers in the adult world, who are your colleagues in grad school, your companions on the bus, or your coworkers. And you don’t know that we were home-schooled at all, because it never crossed your mind, and no one asks where you went to high school once you’re actually out of high school. (Because it doesn’t matter. Really.)
I tell people that I was home-schooled for the first 18 years of my life, from birth until I went to a private college. After graduating with honors, I attended a grad school where I graduated with an M.A. (also with a very respectable G.P.A.) So now that we’ve established that I am educationally well-adjusted, I should add that I have lots of friends, am generally liked, and the normal response to the discovery that I was home-schooled is “Wow. You seem so socially well-adjusted!” (Don’t even get me started on how ridiculously condescending and rude that is. I don’t respond to your childhood by announcing “Wow! And you’re not addicted to meth and living in a trailer. Yay, public education worked for a change!”) I also am very close to my three siblings, talk to my parents often, and have very relaxed childhood memories. I didn’t understand the social structure of school, and I still, for a large part, don’t.
Most confusing of all to me about people’s reactions to my childhood is the fact that public education was never established for social reasons, but for education. So why is it that our culture has so adapted to the twelve years of school paradigm that we are concerned about the social repercussions of not taking advantage of it? I will agree, home-schooling up until college gave me a different understanding of my friendships and relationships than that of many of my peers. I was not as shell-shocked by the transition between dorm life and having my own apartment in grad school as some of my friends, because I had grown up in a culture where friendships required forethought and planning. When you did not grow up seeing your friends everyday in the hallways between classes, you find it easier to adjust to having to make an effort to stay in touch and hold onto closeness.
Home-schooling also gives you a different perspective on your role in your own education, and often a better understanding of your learning style. I spent 17 years of my life learning in a large part my own way, guided by my parents. When I got to college, I knew I was a highly visual learner, and amused all of my roommates with my charts and posters of verb forms and conjugations of every language I was studying. I made flash cards, but knew that color coding was not as helpful to me as associating vocabulary words with English equivalents. I also enjoyed directing my own studying and budgeting time for homework in college, because that was essentially what I did for three out of my four years in high school at home, juggling a job (sometimes two), college courses and general school-work. (Don’t ask about that fourth year of high school, which was the despair of my math schoolwork and the crowning glory of my over-preparation for college English classes.)
I’m sure it can be argued that these were both also due in part to temperament, but I think they were honed by the educational paradigm I grew up in. Home-schooling worked for me. It more than worked, it shone. I suspect that this is the case for a lot of kids out there whose families chose this lifestyle. I don’t think that home-schooling works for everyone, but neither does public school. Don’t punish all of us with the stereotype of some of us.