The most common charge made against homeschoolers is, of course, that they are socially backward. They aren’t prepared to cope with the real world. They’ll never be able to make friends. By now, these accusations are so common even mentioning them feels like spouting clichés.
That these charges are common and easily refuted by both anecdotal experience and more systematic research doesn’t keep some people from building their lives around them. Take, for example, an pseudonymous blogger whose story was recently published at Homeschoolers Anonymous.
Homeschoolers Anonymous is a mixed bag. At times, they offer a corrective to the cult-like currents in the homeschooling movement. Many of the narratives they publicize are from childen whose families that were part of the Gothard-cult or similar weird groups.
The people behind Homeschoolers Anonymous, however, have the same problem all moral crusaders have. They paint with too broad a brush. Writers there talk in broad terms about the homeschool movement, obscuring important lines and distinctions in approaches and styles. For example, they routinely identify people they claim are “very influential” and “admired” in the homeschooling movement, but whom I, and most homeschooling families I know, have never heard of. The editors of Homeschoolers Anonymous have a perspective problem.
That perspective problem includes a tendency to accept without question the assertions that homeschoolers are bound to be socially inept. The testimonies of formerly homeschooled students are designed to reinforce these specious claims. The recently posted story by “Casey” makes the point.
“Casey’s” story opens by displaying the exaggerated sensitivities that characterize her attitude throughout the piece. She begins by complaining that her mother, when dropping her off at college, told her she didn’t have to go and that she was welcome to return home any time. This comment “stung” Casey’s pride. Casey then reports she “no privacy or separation between” herself and her mother.
All this closeness, she says, hurt her, because while she excelled in college academically. She was afraid to make friends. The key to getting over this was her being invited to drink with some other girls in the dorm one night.
The extent of my book smarts became as apparent as my lack of street smarts. I can still remember my first experience with alcohol (as can my social club sisters, as they like to remind me every chance they get): When asked to “pregame” with them one Friday night, I brought over a curling iron and makeup, thinking that term was synonymous with primping before going out (or as I so eloquently put it, “doing each other’s hair and stuff”). They laughed (with me, not at me, which was nice), shook their heads and handed me my first drink.
“Casey’s” journey continues throughout college.
She goes on:
With each new year of school I made leaps and bounds in my personal growth, learning so much about myself in such a short span of time that from sophomore to junior to senior year, it was like becoming a whole new person four times. Developing “street smarts,” and with them my own personal tastes and interests. Becoming more cultured through experience and associations. Swearing when angry, and not feeling bad about it. I like to think of it as making up for lost time.
My purpose in quoting these two passages is to point out what “Casey” sees as the marks of a mature, well-socialized young adult: recreational drinking and swearing without feeling bad about it. My point in this post isn’t to urge readers to be teetotalers or to inveigh against naughty words.
My point is that people who charge that homeschoolers are going to be socially incapable of connecting with their college peers make the same mistake “Casey” has made, namely, assuming that college students are mature and well-socialized. The underlying assumption in the argument that homeschoolers will be at a disadvantage because they won’t be like their classmates when they go to college is that their classmates will be people worth being like. That assumption, as anyone who has spent five minutes on a college campus in the last thirty years should know, is mostly wrong.
In order to determine whether homeschoolers are poorly socialized, we have to have a standard by which to determine what being well-socialized looks like. Almost no one who makes this criticism of homeschoolers ever points to an example of what they consider a well-socialized person. The reason is that what they mean by “well-socialized” is really “just being like everyone else.” Being like everyone else is a chief value of the public education system, and a willingness to accept that value is seen as the biggest indicator of being “well-socialized.”
In “Casey’s” story, what we see is not so much a young person whose social development was stunted and who was therefore unable to connect with her peers. Instead, it is the story of a homeschooled student who felt uncomfortable being more serious and self-disciplined than her peers. Then, probably because she felt lonely and unaccepted, she capitulated to her peers’ lower standards of behavior. Living down to the expectations of peers because you’re lonely is not a sign of maturity, of growth, of progress. It is a sign of slipping backward.
Stories like “Casey’s” do nothing to show that homeschooled students are poorly socialized. Instead, they show that some homeschooled students and their parents can be, like anyone else, naïve. They trust that “what most people do” is a good standard by which to judge one’s “socialization.” They trust that what is normal for college students is good for college students. They trust that when there is a discrepancy between what is normal for most people and the way they behave the fault is theirs.
The truth is that if homeschooled students have trouble making social connections at college, it is because the average college student is painfully immature, confused and self-indulgent. Homeschooled students may sometimes be the same. But when there is a disconnect, we ought not assume that the problem is on the homeschooler’s end as some of the editors at Homeschoolers Anonymous seem to do. It could be otherwise. It could be that instead of homeschoolers being undersocialized, their non-homeschooled peers are socialized by institutions that never ask children to grow up. Homeschoolers are right to feel weird about this. And as for making friends, who wants to hang out with those people anyway?
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