The Awkward Homeschooler Stereotype | Why It’s Wrong, and What We Can Do

Earlier in the modern homeschooling movement, the idea that we could buck the system and educate our own kids was met with disdain, if it was not illegal in that state. So, homeschoolers had to be a bit more isolated during the school day—once their public school counterparts got out of school then they could also be out in public.

The reality of the time directly produced the image of the socially awkward homeschooler—more interested in solving a Rubix Cube than talking with actual people. In some cases, it was accurate, but in most…not so much. I know that many people still think that homeschoolers are socially awkward, and some are; most however, are much more capable of carrying on normal civilized conversation with people of all ages than many of their institutionally-schooled counterparts. Those few who are socially awkward now, would have been just as awkward in school, and the naysayers would not have had homeschooling to blame. Some are awkward due to neurological or developmental disorders, others are just late bloomers.

In a conversation on Facebook, Christina Opalecky brought up excellent points regarding the source of the stereotype:

It’s a mix of things. In the beginning, homeschooling was often illegal; and even if legal, much more marginal and largely confined to those who were already socially on the edges for religious reasons. They were the ones willing to sacrifice all. So in the 80’s, for example, it was true that homeschool families did tend to be much more cloistered. You couldn’t take your children to the library or zoo – you’d be seen. There wasn’t social media, so finding the far few families out there also homeschooling was much harder. There were no co-ops or meet-up clubs, etc. So that has stuck a bit, the idea that we’re all religious Quakers or vaguely Amish or something.

The second factor is, in my opinion, just straight up defensiveness. They feel guilty or shamed, so they try to think of the “advantages” of government institutions, see ‘Ah, my child is stuffed in with 1000 other children. That must be a “benefit”, I’ll call it “socialization” and use that to justify my own parenting decisions.’

I could probably put that more kindly, but I’m running slow this morning.

The third factor is another human nature one. People are very uncomfortable with going against the herd. Government school is just what is done—and it’s very much a herd proposition, ie, “socialization” in this sense is the norming of shared norms.

Christina Opalecky

To which, I responded:

I think Christina is right…and I’ll add too that the schools and teachers rarely see former homeschool students entering the school where everything went well. Often, they see just the opposite. So, like any normal person they assume that everyone else is that way too.

As an example, I have a friend who is a social worker on the west coast. She only sees kids and families where things have gone wrong—sometimes horribly. And she saw “homeschool” situations where things were not going well, so she believed that all homeschooling was bad…until she met us and a few of our friends. We completely changed her perspective.

In my opinion, it really comes down to exposure: Are the people in question exposed to homeschool families where things are going well, or the opposite? Are they afraid (as Christina said) to go against the grain? Most are…

For most families who choose homeschooling do so because they feel that they should be the primary influence on their kids—whether that influence is religious/spiritual, educational, or whatever, does not matter. What matters is that, instead of getting defensive of our decision to take education into our own hands, we simply shrug our shoulders and ignore the rude comments. The more we feed into the idea that we have to defend our decision to homeschool, the more the naysayers have a say in our lives.

Sure, we could be snarky in return (and I sometimes am), but it does not accomplish as much as allowing our kids to be the proof of the pudding—and that pudding is pretty awesome. After all, we get to spend time with these amazing humans who we had the honor of bringing into the world. We were there when they scraped a knee, and when they learned that helping a friend out is payment enough. We helped them figure out their math, science or writing assignments, and we helped them develop a passion for something in life.

Those who argue in an effort convince you of their own rightness while also trying to show your wrongness usually do so because they are not confident in their own position.
Ignore them.

Am I suggesting that homeschooling is better for all families? No. Honestly, some people cannot for a variety of reasons. My desire is we become confident in our reasons, so when we encounter those who want to put us down so they can feel better, we can shrug our shoulders and walk away without the need to defend ourselves. When you allow someome to put you on the defensive, you lend credence to their crazy accusations. Stop it! Stand tall and be confident in your choices, and comfortable in your own skin.

A recent conversation reminded me of one last truth: A person rarely argues a point in which they are fully confident. They usually find themselves faced with something that disagrees with their chosen doctrine, but because that individual has not yet fully embraced (or has doubts), feels the need to “prove” the other person wrong, and thereby “prove” him or herself right. They are always coming from a feeling of inferiority and/or fear.

Only when we become confident can we truly help people see that all educational choices are valid—when made for the right reasons. There is no shame in having to put your kids in school, any more than there should be weird glances at the “weirdos who homeschool.”

I suppose, in the end, we must follow Ghandi’s advice and, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It is not always easy, nor does it come without struggle. It is, however, the right thing to do—and isn’t that what we are trying to teach our kids?

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