I’m used to be being different.
We started homechooling in 2005. And as I’m sure you well know, homeschooling families are often perceived as “different.” Our choice — to home educate our children — is not the easy, simple, default choice, so we are often labeled as “odd.” But somehow, the general public seems to assume that all homeschoolers are the same. Say the words “homeschooled kid” and most people conjur an instant mental picture of a stereotype: a socially-awkward, borderline brilliant child who can’t play well with others. If said child is female, many imagine her wearing a long, denim skirt.
But that’s not reality.The homeschooling community is actually incredibly diverse. There are Charlotte Mason homeschoolers. Unschoolers. Crunchy granola back-to-the-land hippie homeschoolers. Devout evangelical Christian homeschoolers. Homeschoolers who shy from any contact with public or private schools and homeschoolers who eagerly sign their children up for activities offered by their local school districts. Prodigy-type children who perform complex classical music to packed concert halls before the age of six, kids who don’t read until well into their teens and kids who, well, look and act like typical kids.
Like all families, homeschooling families tend to gravitate toward those who are similar to them. That’s why some homeschool conferences feature yards and yards of denim while others are rambling free-for-alls infused with a decidedly liberal spirit. And that’s OK; there’s a lot to be said for finding your tribe.
The trouble comes when we use those differences to create distance and division.
Right now, I am a single, work-from-home parent of four children who take classes at our local public school. I’ll be honest: I don’t always feel as if I fit into the homeschooling community. There are some who argue that those who participate in school activities are selling out, that their participation in school undermines everyone else’s homeschooling freedom.
I get that. But I also get the fact that each family must decide — for itself — what works best for the members of that family. I’m also beginning to see that homeschooling families of all colors, stripes, beliefs and creeds share some common characteristics.
Think about it. Homeschooling families:
- Value learning. In the end, it all comes down to learning. We may teach and value different things, but if we didn’t truly care, deeply, about our children’s education, we wouldn’t be homeschooling.
- Are responsible. Yes, I know: the stereotype of the lazy homeschooler still persists. (Pull your kid out of school so you don’t have to get up in the morning!). But overseeing, monitoring and tweaking your child’s education is a huge responsibility, one gladly assumed by homeschooling families.
- Love books! Show me a homeschooling family, and I’ll show you a family with books in every room of the house.
- Are passionate. Homeschooling isn’t done half-heartedly. Either you put your heart and soul into it — or you don’t homeschool. Whatever your reason (or reasons) for homeschooling, odds are that you feel passionate about that issue.
- Think independently. Seems self-explanatory, right? If we did what everyone else did, our kids would be in school. But they’re not. They’re at home. And while we’re teaching our kids to separate and evaluate fact and opinion, we’re doing the same in our own lives. That’s why so many of us hold unique opinions about vaccinations, birth, politics and religion.
- Are curious. It’s pretty hard to be a successful homeschooler without a healthy sense of intellectual curiosity. Homeschooling families get into things! We’re the ones who read a book on the Civil War, only to check out a ton of Civil War movies before re-enacting the Battle of Bull Run in our backyard. A homeschooling family can spend an hour or more at a simple creek, discussing and observing everything they see.
- Possess strength. It’s not easy to stand outside of the mainstream. But we do it because we feel strongly about education. That strength often leads us to become homeschooling advocates.
I’ve learned that the similarities between homeschoolers are far more significant than the differences. Yes, my children attend classes at school. But we are most definitely still a homeschooling family, and I am a strong, proud Homeschooler.
Jennifer L.W. Fink lives and works in southeastern Wisconsin. Her four boys are now 13, 10, 8 and 5. Jennifer blogs about boys, education and parenting at Blogging ‘Bout Boys. Her writing can also be found in Home Education Magazine, Scholastic Instructor, Parents and other national publications.