Remembering to Socialize
Everyone has an opinion about America’s education system. Most have criticism for it, and want education reform. Few ever act on their opinions though. Instead, every year we allow students to graduate with increasingly lower skills. Some however do act, and decide to take matters into their own hands by educating their children themselves. I am talking about homeschooling: a growing trend in America.
When many people think of homeschoolers, they think of a family where an uneducated parent is teaching his or her children wacky ideas that have their root in radical religion. They think that the children grow up stunted because of the prejudices of their parents. But this is not true of many homeschoolers in America. First of all, many parents do choose to home school their children in order to pass down their religious beliefs, but they also do it because they think they can do a better job at educating their children than the government. Who, after all, knows a child better than his parents? They can tailor their child’s education to suit his needs, instead of watching him fall behind or be under stimulated in a public school setting. Most parents who home school are educated and many have seen the public education from the inside and were not impressed. Second, a radically religious parent is going to pass his beliefs down to his child whether or not the child goes to public school, so I see no point in making it a homeschooling issue.
The real issue here is that the homeschooled children are not taught the government-sanctioned way to think. Students in public schools are taught history, science, and even math the way the government wants them to be taught. In many countries homeschooling is severely limited or outright illegal, even in first-world countries. Sweden only allows it in special circumstances and it has been outlawed in Germany since 1937 when Hitler was chancellor. It is no wonder that an authoritarian regime such as Nazi Germany would place such an emphasis on creating a favorably homogenous climate of opinion.
Diversity is a popular tagline these days. The modern person extols diversity, but he does not really mean diversity of thought, only diversity of appearance. People who think differently from the popular creed are severely criticized. America prides itself on its individualism; why would we suddenly turn around and condemn a person who truly lives as an individual? Suppressing different opinions suppresses discourse, which suppresses new ideas and progress. It is intellectually incestuous: listening to its own images and thoughts in an increasingly self-creating/affirming spiral. It was once said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Perhaps we should try to be this tolerant when we hear different ideas from the standard.
A general stereotype of homeschoolers is that they are socially stunted. They must be, right? After all, they don’t spend 8+ hours a day corralled into classrooms with 20-40 other children who only have age in common, watched over by one lone adult. And if the children cannot sit still behind a desk for that long, they are diagnosed as disordered and drugged. Is that what real society is like? Even an office workplace environment is not like that: usually people are grouped together based on certain interests or skills, certainly not age.
Homeschooled children are not kept away from other children. They participate in many extracurricular activities such as sports, performance arts, scouting, and church groups, just like formal school children. They also have time for unstructured socialization, for example when they go to the park, library, or store, or even just playing with the neighborhood kids. It is generally asserted that this still is not proper socialization, because one must be exposed to people who do not share the same interests in order to be properly socialized. By this criterion, formal schools also fail to create proper socialization, because they foster cliques. People who have different interests simply have little to say to each other.
Another common criticism about homeschooling is that it does not resolve the problems of the American education system. If people are not forced to enroll their children in a formal school, then they will not care to improve the school system. It is not fair to the children whose parents cannot home school them and are therefore stuck in the failing system. But to hold everyone to the least common denominator is a perversion of equality. It is wrong and un-American to demand that my child’s education must suffer so that other children MIGHT have the possibility of a better education. It is cruel that a person would even think of sacrificing the well-being of not only his own children, but also everyone’s children by purposely putting them in a failing situation to create the pressure needed for social change, a change which has not emerged after decades of declining standards, test scores and failing
methodologies. Instead of forcing everyone into the same leaky boat, why don’t we provide more options? If the government is going to take responsibility for education, then it should encourage whatever education is most beneficial to each child rather than impose its own system. One size does not fit all. Whether public, private, charter, or home school, each type of education has its advantages that will benefit some children more than others.
Many people are surprised when they find out that I was homeschooled for seven years. They say they couldn’t even tell that I was homeschooled. When I ask them if they’ve ever met another person who was homeschooled, almost everyone admits that they haven’t. Perhaps they have, but they just didn’t realize it because we don’t stick out like sore thumbs. We aren’t radical, we aren’t socially stunted, we aren’t undereducated. In my case, my childhood was enriched by home education. I was able to work at an advanced pace and still finish before lunch, allowing me much time to play and explore outside with my siblings and friends (once they finished their homework). My parents were able to take us on field trips to Sea World, museums, and even a road trip to see most of the California missions. We went to the public library weekly and were required to read a book of our own choosing for an hour a day, which fostered my love of reading. When I started going to a formal school in the 7th grade, I was only behind in typing skills, because my mom tried to keep us away from electronics, but I caught up. In fact, most of my siblings and I have consistently been recognized for academic achievement. My story is more common among homeschoolers than the story that is most often told.
For further reading:
 Dr. Peter Gray provides a few stories of children diagnosed with ADHD who were homeschooled here, showing how homeschooling was a benefit to the children: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201009/experiences-adhd-labeled-kids-who-switch-conventional-schooling-homeschool