Friday, June 27, 2008

Confessions of a Home School Survivor

These days, you hear the term "child abuse" batted around quite a bit. "No Christmas presents? That's child abuse! You didn't have a dog? That's child abuse!" Many of these uses are obviously hyperbolic, but there's always a grain of truth in them - the person who declares "abuse" simply can't imagine growing up without (fill in the blank).

In a world where children are physically and sexually abused on a regular basis, the concept of emotional abuse is always a gray area. One would think that being told that you're worthless and evil is more damaging than a smack on the behind, but who gets to decide this? Whose job is it to judge what is and is not abusive?

When it comes to issues of culture, things get even more complicated. The regular use of harsh physical discipline has been shown to be damaging and ineffective, but just try to explain that to parents who believe in spanking. And what about those cases where there is no science to back you up? How hard is too hard to push your kids to succeed? How tough is too tough? How distant is too distant?

Can you even trust yourself to make the best decisions for your child?

A surprising number of people out there would say "no."

As a graduate of home school, I grew up in a community of 600+ homeschooled kids from every background imaginable. Most were Christians, but then again so is 80% of the U.S. population - self-reportedly. Parents with teaching credentials and/or education in a particular area gathered and formed classes, making a weekly "school" for the kids to learn together and benefit from the knowledge of the community. I attended, signed up for classes, ate lunch with my friends, and pretty much did everything a normal school kid would do. I never thought of myself as weird.

I often had to explain to people that I was homeschooled. Since the Seattle area had always been a hub of home education, few people batted an eye, though I was always asked questions like "how do you like it?" or "do you wish you could go to school?" My standard answers were "fine" and "no."

I was an only child on top of it, so as I got older, people admitted that they'd expect me to be stuck-up or socially retarded. While I was always naturally shy, I didn't feel that the experience of public school would have been any more beneficial than the community I already had. In fact, forcing me to integrate with "peers" I didn't like would probably just force me further into my shell. But hey, what do I know? Apparently, I was a child abuse survivor.

Oh yes. It was the internet that introduced me to this fantastic point of view. When the topic of California banning home school came up on a forum I'd been visiting for years, suddenly anti-HS posters came swarming out of the woodwork. People I'd known (and sometimes liked) for years were suddenly frothing at the mouth, explaining that EVERY HOME SCHOOLER I KNOW IS BACKWARDS AND HAS ROTTEN TEETH AND WANTS TO KILL "THE GAYS." When I explained that I knew 600+ homeschoolers and most of them were lovely, I was either ignored, or implied to be suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome.

Me, I've suffered real emotional abuse. I've been called lazy, evil, useless, worthless, and told to kill myself. Undoubtedly, the woman who perpetrated all this had ulterior motives of control when she decided to home school me. But, aside from a probable Borderline personality, my mother was also a certified teacher with eleven years of experience, a Master's degree, and the time and ambition to be a full-time stay-at-home teacher/mom. She made efforts to integrate me with the home school community, as well as my would-be public schooled peers through programs like Girl Scouts. I was not isolated in a compound. I was not forced to enter the spelling bee. I was simply taught, at my own pace, choosing which subjects to learn on my own and which I wanted to take classes for. I had both freedom and guidance.

I can honestly say that home schooling was one of the few positive aspects of my childhood. While I won't default to home school for my own kids, if they start to fall behind or have problems integrating with public school, you can bet I will consider unorthodox options. It's not abuse; it's a choice.



Anonymous said...

I completely relate to where you are coming from on this! I was home-schooled by my mother until I went into 7th grade and had a wonderful experience. I don't feel I missed out on anything, and in fact feel I may have been helped by my experience. Thanks for sharing!

Liz McD said...

anon - Thanks for your comment. I think home school can be great under the right circumstances, but it can be really hard to convince people who've never experienced it and just can't imagine what it is like.

Anonymous said...

Sure, home schooling can be dreadful, and scar kids for life. However, so can ordinary public or private schools. (I would know! I was scarred for life by both a public AND a private school!)

As it happens, one of the most fabulously well-adjusted people I know was home-schooled. I also know some fabulous parents who are home-schooling.

I think people in different areas tend to have extremely different motivations for homeschooling--the people I know who have been involved lived in Vermont and northern California. They were doing it not because they were wingnuts who were afraid their kids would learn about evolution and "the gays," but because they thought they could do a better job than the other options available to them.

May said...

I have been contemplating Homeschooling my son ,who is currently 2, in the future and you would think I was personally effecting gay marriage, abortion and global warming by peoples reactions !

I just wanted to thank you for sharing your thoughts on Homeschooling and somewhat reassuring me I wasn't merely creating some "blight" on society. lol