Monday, February 25, 2013

Homeschooling: revenge of the nerds?

Char at Such a Pretty Bubble has a post up today that has me scratching my head a bit:
Here's the profile of the (primarily) religious homeschooling parent, as I see it. Note that the profile is not a checklist, with one needing to meet all of the below criteria. A homeschooling parent might match up with only one of the following points, a few, or many of them. Although I believe that more than one item will apply:

-As a child/teen, teased or bullied at school and/or in their own neighborhood, and/or within their own family
-As a child/teen, maligned and/or ignored at school, in early employment situations, or within their own family
-Quiet, non-disruptive type that sits on the sidelines watching and/or hoping to not have to participate
-Extremely intelligent
-Extremely intelligent in the "absent-minded professor" sort of way, perhaps related to some sort of autistic spectrum disorder
-As a child/teen, could have been placed on the autistic spectrum, but for whatever reason, never was
-Socially awkward (i.e. geeky)
-Socially awkward (i.e. excessive shyness)
-Socially awkward (i.e. class-clown/troublemaker type to compensate for inability to "fit it")
-Abusive background (emotional, physical, sexual, or religious)
-Family of origin is dysfunctional (alcoholism, drug addiction, parent is in prison, etc.)
-Family of origin is broken (i.e. divorce, one-parent family, lived with extended family, adopted, military)
-Struggles with depression and/or anxiety
-Struggles with scrupulosity
-"Type A" personality
-As a child/teen, routinely failed academically in school
-As a child/teen, routinely excelled academically, but was never challenged and felt bored
-As a child/teen, had direct and/or overbearing relationship with parent, sibling, or close friend that was overly-successful in academic, extracurricular, career, or social endeavors
The problem I have with this "profile" is that I can't think of a family member, friend, or acquaintance of mine who does not fit this profile according to Char's parameter--e.g., that the hypothetical religious homeschooler she's envisioning may only meet one of these criteria.

And this is true regardless of how this person educates his or her children, or, indeed, even if this person doesn't have children!

In other words--it's far too broad of a list of possible traits that might identify a group, because I would guess that the overwhelming majority of Americans can say "yes" to at least one of these criteria.

I spelled that out in the comments at Char's blog (agreeing with another commenter who beat me to it) and added, in part, "I think I get what you are trying to say here: that homeschooling parents are primarily broken people who blame school for a large part of their brokenness and are trying to keep their kids from being broken in the same way...."

To which Char replied, "Bingo!"

So I think that her list was mainly an attempt to noodle out something she's thinking about but can't quite nail down (and I get that, and have done that in blogging).  But I think what she really means is: religious homeschooling is sort of what happens when the legions of picked-on, beat-down, broken kids decide to take their marbles and go home, so that at least their own kids won't have to deal with the reality that most regular school environments are openly hostile to kids who are at all different from the type who can become what the school wants to produce.

Let me repeat a part of that, because it is something I truly believe as someone who was homeschooled myself for two years in high school long before deciding to teach my own kids at home: Most regular school environments are openly hostile to kids who are at all different from the type who can become what the school wants to produce.

Now, there's nothing wrong with institutional schools wanting to produce a certain type of student; John Dewey's educational philosophies were all about that concept, and the type of student schools wished to produce back then was the type of the good citizen.  The good citizen fit well into society, knew how to complete his post-secondary education (if applicable) or how to get a good productive job straight out of high school if not, could perform the basic duties of citizenship such as voting and civic activity and also fit in well to his community, becoming a good neighbor in due time, and in many other ways was a model of what an American citizen was supposed to be.  Even in Dewey's day there were probably plenty of students who didn't succeed, but the outcome of public education was fairly clear, and even in the religious schools the parameters were only increased, not greatly changed: that is, a Catholic school would produce a good Catholic American, a religious Protestant school would produce a good Christian American (though the public schools, back then, overlapped that particular goal), and so on.

Has that changed?  In fact, it has not.  The goal of most public schools and the private schools who still accept the public schools' goals overall is to produce a good citizen.  What has changed is our notion of society, and of who and what a good citizen is supposed to be, such that the rising tension between what institutional schools wish to produce and how sincerely religious Americans wish to raise their children is already great, and will become, in the future, unbearable and unworkable for the sincerely religious person.

For example, in the public schools, the good citizen is presumed to be sexually active somewhere between ages 13 and 16, and thus the good citizen must know all about the various sex acts and sexual identities they might be discovering and how to obtain the proper prophylactics and/or birth control depending on what type of sex they want to have, and with whom.  This is because the good citizen does not believe in the myth of chastity, but does believe that he or she has a duty to mitigate the public health consequences of his or her teenage (and, indeed, presumed lifelong) promiscuity by accepting the conventional wisdom that the only two negative consequences of unmarried sexual activity are STDs and unwanted small humans.  Thus, it becomes the proper job of the school to instruct children about sex, public health STD prevention goals, birth control, abortion, and prophylactics, and to provide any form of birth control or facilitate access to abortion which parents may not be already providing or facilitating out of some religiously-motivated lack of good citizenship.

Again, in the public schools, the good citizen is presumed to be on the right side of history regarding the "inevitable" acceptance of gay "marriage," and the mechanisms are already being put in place to further shame the religious student as being a bad citizen for his or her rejection of the notion that two men or two women make up a "marriage."

You would think that Catholic schools would be a clear sign of contradiction to this stuff, but I've shared here before about my Catholic high school's "health" teacher who mocked the Church's teachings against contraception and told us all about birth control--and my parents were paying a small fortune they didn't have for that education under the belief that the school would be teaching us according to the faith.  I've asked before for proof that this situation has improved from people whose kids have gone to Catholic high schools, and I've gotten crickets.  And it's a sad-but-true reality that one of the biggest things ex-Catholics share is 8 to 12 years of Catholic schooling.

So where Char sees religious homeschoolers as broken people who blame their brokenness on schools, I see some of us as having managed to survive our Catholic school education with our faith mostly intact (or, for some of my friends, finding their way back to the faith after a few years in various sorts of wildernesses) and realizing that it doesn't make sense to pay a Catholic school to make "good citizens" of our children given what our culture and society thinks of as "good citizens" these days.  Would there have been times when I might have liked a good non-diocesan Catholic small school or co-op as a "best of both worlds" option?  Sure.  Did that option exist where we live?  No.

Does any of that make homeschooling a "revenge of the nerds" scenario?  Not really, unless it's a hallmark of nerds to be first in line to abandon failing methodologies and models and think up new, exciting, more efficient ways to do things.  Hey, wait...


Charlotte said...

Erin, you can just call me Char, since the Cheeky Pink Girl blog no longer exists. Thanks!

Charlotte said...

I should add, that in all fairness, the purpose of what I wrote is related to my very real fear that homeschooling may be the next step for our family. This is important to point out because what I wrote was NOT an anti-homeschooling manifesto, as some will surely see it. Rather, it was an out-loud wondering as to why I personally see the traits on that list in over-abundance within homeschool groups and communities (parents, not necessarily the kids).

I take issue with the idea that everyone in the world can fit in with that list. I can produce all kinds of folks who would say they don't fit those criteria, just as easily as you can produce non-home schoolers who do. Within the commbox on my blog post, that is being explore in much more depth.

Yes, the point of the post was "noodling" something out.

And yes, I still think homeschooling is akin to revenge of the nerds. If I end up homeschooling, I'll take up that mantle and wear it.

Unknown said...

Excellent post.

Charlotte said...

P.S. Your post here is largely (the part about your experience) focusing on the REASONS for homeschooling.


Which my post is most specifically trying to get away from.

Erin Manning said...

Char, I've updated the post to change CPG to Char--if I missed any, let me know! And thanks--I would have just said "Charlotte," but some of my readers know my s-i-l by that name, and I didn't want to confuse people. Well, not more than usual. ;)

I realize that there are going to be a few exceptions to that list, but let's face it: by the time you ask a room of 100 people how many of them have divorced parents or military parents, how many were shy or awkward on the one hand or type "A" personalities on the other, and how many ever experienced bullying I think you will have caused somewhere between 65 and 85 of them to raise their hands. Ask a few more of your questions and I could almost guarantee that fewer than ten people will be left with their hands un-raised. What you've listed are such prevalent social markers in our world today.

Saphira said...

I was a shy nerd but then I was a respectable/cool nerd, so I guess I can say yes to one of those. It sure does seem odd to include both those who struggle or those who were bored, because, was there anyone, really, who just fit perfectly along with what and how we were taught? Anyone who was always thinking, "oh, yeah, this is exactly what I am naturally impelled to be studying at this time, and it is also presented in such a way as to be compatible with my learning style, and it is not too hard but just challenging enough!" I would venture to say that I do not remember knowing one person in school who was not either struggling or smart and bored or both. I mostly choose to home school though because after having royally wasted so many of my young years in school, I find myself in utter disagreement with the pedagogy of typical schools, both public and private. See John T. Gatto and John Holt. Just on an academic level, I do not see that minds flourish in an atmosphere of age segregation, shaming/rewarding used for motivation, certain rigid curricula with time limits and bells and assuming everyone will be interested at the same time and learn in the same way. Having gone through it myself, coming home exhausted every day without much to show for it, it wasn't a stretch to think that just about anyone can do better than that just by allowing a child to develop in a more natural environment, around real people of all ages who do real things, with lots of freedom of action and freedom of inquiry.

Rebecca in ID

freddy said...

1. Why would someone define "military" as "Family of origin is broken?" I have several friends who are military families; some who were also raised in military families. Some homeschool and some don't. They would find the notion that their families are broken both surprising and offensive. Perhaps I'm jumping to conclusions. I'm thinking "military" means "someone serving in the armed forces of his/her country, and maybe Charlotte means something else.

2. While I think that most people could answer "yes" to at least one of Charlotte's criteria; which renders it effectively useless, I have to admit I do have a friend who could honestly answer "no" to everything on the list. She was homeschooled and homeschools her children.

priest's wife said...

I'm feeling a bit dense- she says homeschoolers cover just about every possible scenarto except the average (perhaps) non-existent student

My experience with homeschooling is that it covers every possible kind of person- except for the parent who believes they don't really have a right to be involved with their kids' educations. I see this in the public school families where my son goes to kindergarten (of course there are many families who are very involved as well)

Unknown said...

Okay, yes, I do fit at least one item on the list. So what? I also loved school. Loved it. For all years from kindergarten through college. I did not start homeschooling because I was broken. I don't think I'm any more broken than most people. I loved school, I loved learning, I wanted to teach. Now I teach my own kids, instead of other people's.

All this begs the question of what is best for kids. Home education was the norm throughout most of history. Were most parents throughout history misfits?

priest's wife said...

This list sort of inspired my latest post (please delete if you don't want links)

Anonymous said...

After further thought, one major thing that bothers me about this list is everything is either framed negatively, or negative outright. This omits traits I've observed to be extremely common among homeschoolers (most those I'm acquainted with are either not religious or religious education does not factor into their curricula), such as "places a high value on education as an independent good" or "desires greater customization in education", or even "concerned about their child's physical safety".