Homeschoolers threaten our cultural comfort

Sonny Scott of the North Mississippi Daily Journal shares an interesting perspective on society’s mistrust of homeschoolers. After identifying us at the grocery store by our stereotypical dress and behavior, that is.

It’s a big family by today’s standards – “just like stair steps,” as the old folks say. Freshly scrubbed boys with neatly trimmed hair and girls with braids, in clean but unfashionable clothes follow mom through the store as she fills her no-frills shopping list.

There’s no begging for gimcracks, no fretting, and no threats from mom. The older watch the younger, freeing mom to go peacefully about her task. Daily Journal

He obviously isn’t talking about our family. But we won’t get into the details of our last trip to the store. The image portrayed, however, is used more as a literary device, setting the homeschooler at odds with society. And it isn’t used to cast aspersions on us, as odd as we may be. Instead, the central question is one for society.

Why do we hate (or at least distrust) these people so much? Ibid.

Not because we are religious, wear out-of-date clothing or have particularly well-behaved children. It is because we are a direct assault on the values of society.

Their very existence represents a rejection of our values, and an indictment of our lifestyles. Those families are willing to render unto Caesar the things that Caesar’s be, but they draw the line at their children. Those of us who have put our trust in the secular state (and effectively surrendered our children to it) recognize this act of defiance as a rejection of our values, and we reject them in return. Ibid.

This isn’t a conflict between the religious and the secular, however. The lifestyles being indicted are not those living outside of Christ, but those consumed by Materialism. With a capital “M” in his essay. A lifestyle consuming its “seed corn” as he says. Relationships, philosophies and values are sacrificed at the altar of stuff. And then it is conveniently rationalized.

While I don’t think most people who question homeschooling do so truly out of selfishness or jealousy, he may have a point. The most common reaction I experience after revealing to a stranger that we homeschool is one of defensiveness. You would think that by the mere mention of our educational choice, I had accused them of something. I never have figured out what and always assumed the reaction has more to do with yet more stereotypes, ie., I have rejected the public school system and thus must look down on all who choose that option.

But maybe there is more in that reaction than I have previously pondered.

When we advocate for acceptance of homeschooling, we are advocating for a philosophical shift in the nation. We are asking good parents who make decisions in the best interests of their children to reconsider that decision. Not directly. At least not those of us who advocate for homeschooling as opposed to evangelizing the practice. But we bring to the forefront the fact that other options are available. And as much as many of us have second-guessed ourselves, wondering if maybe our children are missing out on something somewhere in our choice to homeschool, remember that this is a trait of a good parent, not of a homeschooler. Meaning that even parents who send their children to public school at times question if this is the best option, if they should be doing something more.

I said in my article for Heart of the Matter:

I believe homeschooling has benefited society by the mere existence of a successful alternative to public education. Not only do involved parents have an alternative, but the presence of homeschooling in the national education debate forces people to consider what education really is and who should be in control of it, as well as some pretty fundamental questions about the role the government should play in the private sphere.

But maybe society doesn’t quite see it that way. I’m not sure, but it is an interesting thought. When we advocate for homeschooling, we are challenging more than the educational establishment. We are challenging some pretty fundamental beliefs about how children should be raised and how families should be structured. We are questioning the frenzied pace of American life and putting a higher priority on a value most Americans share: family.  Maybe that is a little too…uncomfortable.

0 comments
  1. Nance Confer

    A lifestyle consuming its “seed corn” as he says.

    ***

    That struck a chord with me.

    And the whole article had a lot of truth.

    Especially in this day of foreclosures and repossessions. A lot of people have to be questioning themselves: “What were we working so hard for again?”

    Nance

  2. Sunniemom

    It seems to me that in the past, education was something that was valued, and those who were successful in life were respected and emulated. Today, more often than not, those who are successful are despised and viewed with suspicion. After all, they couldn’t possibly accomplished what they have without cheating, right? Or they got lucky- yeah, that’s it. They got lucky, and it’s not fair! 😉

    Then look at what is admired in our schools- athleticism and appearance, NOT academic excellence.

    IMO this translates into a hostility towards homeschoolers- people who dare to swim upstream and endeavor to succeed without the cool kids giving us permission. And parents with kids in the system who demand higher standards are considered troublemakers, overprotective, and whiny. So it isn’t just about HSers- it is directed at anyone who isn’t satisfied with the status quo.

    And most significantly, we claim “our right” to pursue a career for our own “self-fulfillment.”

    I hear that one all the time- a mom with young children who says “I have done enough- it’s my turn” or “What about what I want”, or “I deserve blahblahblah”. Sister, you ain’t done enough until those little fledglings can leave the nest under their own power.

  3. Nance Confer

    But not all of us are sitting around “demanding higher standards” of our kids or pushing material success as a marker of meeting those standards.

    Homeschoolers include people who are in direct opposition to a materialistic culture — even when we have some of the “stuff,” many of us don’t measure our success by how much we have.

    Nor are we interested in “higher standards” involving any god or religious-type commitment.

    Tests scores don’t matter to many of us. Education isn’t valued here so much as learning and thinking and seeking to understand are.

    And I don’t think we’re alone. I think the whole country is going through a bit of a reevaluation of what it means to “succeed.”

    Nance

  4. Renae

    Excellent point. We definitely cross the line of accepted norms. That is why as a Christian homeschooler I feel the tension even in church. But unless we all put a higher priority on family we will continue to need substitutes and those cost society a great deal.

  5. Traci

    Excellent article! I agree with your summation that those who don’t homeschool somehow believe we are accusing them of something. I almost always get the “I could not do that” response when I mention that we homeschool; as if by my merely mentioning it, I was suggesting that they must also homeschool.

  6. Kathryn Louis

    Well said. Actually it’s kind of chilling. I feel as if lately I’m living in the former Soviet Union or some other such place. Would you mind if I use your article? Of course I would give proper credit.

    KL

  7. Kerry

    I think you and Mr Scott have distilled many people’s argument with homeschooling down to it’s source. Amazing that in an age of “tolerance”, there is none for those who aren’t the right kind of different.

  8. Susan

    Dana –
    I discovered your blog thru Heidi (Mt. Hope). Her glowing recommendation does you justice, indeed. Many thought provoking ideas in this post to ponder further. Thank you. I look forward to reading more.
    Blessings…

  9. Shawna

    Whew **wipes brow** I was afraid I was doing something terribly wrong after reading that first quote LOL

    I have noticed some of those attributes to homeschoolers, but often it something else in their lives and not homeschooling that plays to those attributes. As you mentioned, Materialism has become expected, revered almost and anything less is looked down upon.

    And when someone can tell me how to get that homeschooled kid to behave in the store and not ask for this and that the whole blessed time, please let me know… I don’t want to distort our image 🙂

  10. Hercules Mulligan

    Homeschoolers, especially Christian homeschoolers, are very much like the salt and light of society, because it is through the homeschooled generation that morals and genuine education are preserved.

    But salt irritates and stings, and just like when you turn the lights on after you’ve been in a dark room for a while, the light hurts your eyes and it takes time to adjust.

    This seems to be what is going on here, with the way in which modern society has distanced themselves from homeschoolers. They don’t feel uncomfortable with homeschoolers because they just hate the idea of kids acting decently or being smart. They feel uncomfortable because the smashing success of homeschooling has smashed the comfortable zone of those going with the flow of society. It makes them feel responsible for their own lifestyles. It makes them feel obligated to do better, and yet they are so used to going with the flow that they shrink from the obligatory feeling to strive against the tide of lethargy.

    It’s not necessarily homeschooling and homeschoolers that they hate. Rather, it’s the feeling of responsibility and obligation that makes them cringe. Homeschooling is the message that runs totally against our culture, because homeschooling says that discipline is better than laziness and indifference, that virtue is better than rebellion, that taking responsibility in the home and in your child’s education works FAR better than leaving it to the public baby-sitters.

    Industry and self-responsibility and hard work pay off.

    Good post!

  11. ChristineMM

    I had not seen this essay by Scott, so I thank you for linking to it and it was interesting to read your comments on it.

    The last paragraph in Scott’s essay is unbelievable. I am surprised Dana that you didn’t comment on it. To me it was the best part and to focus on just his stereotypes to me is focusing on the wrong think. It was brave of him to realize that despite doing all the things that he thought was right, that mainstream society thinks is right, many are maxxed out with credit cards and fighting depression, not living the “American Dream” of guaranteed happiness if one does X, Y, and Z.

    I will add to that there are many homeschoolers fighting materialism that are not even Christian or religious at all. In my local HS community I find many non-materialistic people some who I know are Athiests or not practicing any religion (i.e. lapsed Catholics) and others are even Pagans. They all too also value family highly and want the close bonds rather than putting both parent’s careers first and material wealth as the definition of success and what is to be strived for.

    The mistake Scott makes is lumping all homeschoolers into being Christians, and lumping all into dressing in the Little House on the Prairie style, and all as having large families. A good number of homeschoolers have two or even just one child.

    The thing I get most often is surprise and dismay that our family homeschools as people assume we are just like them, using public or private school, and some are surprised to hear I’m not working at my career right now either. They tell me that based on how we act, dress etc. they never thought we’d be homeschoolers, meaning our kids are just ‘normal’ to them, and me and my husband too.

  12. Julie

    Well, I think perhaps some of the defensiveness people feel against homeschoolers is legitimate. I started homeschooling only after the public school failed my daughter. She had specific needs that were not being met be an educational program designed to teach a child with typical brain development and normal learning needs. I started reading homeschool blogs shortly afterward, there are quite alot of entries that more than imply that the only acceptable educational choice is homeschooling.

    BTW, my kids do not behave well in the grocery store. Both of my daughters are extremely stylish. Only David will wear whatever I put on him. And, sometimes Marissa or Beverly pick out his clothes. They think I am incapable of such an important decision.

  13. Doc

    Huh.

    Scott would be mighty confused if he’d met MY family at the grocery store. Big van. Large family. Well behaved. Not very trendy. No frills shopping list. Wait… is that TWO moms?

    heh heh heh.

    Stereotypes slay me.

  14. Nance Confer

    Homeschoolers, especially Christian homeschoolers, are very much like the salt and light of society, . . .

    ***

    Ack! I hope not. No wonder people hate/mistrust us if that’s the approach any of us are taking.

    Nance

  15. Dana

    Thank you everyone for the discussion! First off, I want to make clear that I am not actually applying any of this to anyone…I don’t pretend to know anyone’s motivations for liking or not liking homeschooling.

    Christine, you are right. And actually, I was not bothered by his stereotype. I think it was used more as a literary device than a critique of homeschooling so I didn’t go that direction. The Materialism has become the God of our culture.

    Our culture is destroying its “seed corn.” That really has little to do with homeschooling, except that many of us have very different values.

  16. Dana

    Nance, you said:

    And I don’t think we’re alone. I think the whole country is going through a bit of a reevaluation of what it means to “succeed.”

    And I think that is very true. I really do believe that one of the greatest benefits of homeschooling to society is by offering an alternative.

    Homeschoolers are across the map as far as why they do what they do, whether religious or not, whether for academic “success” or for family reasons or whatever. But no matter what the reason is and even when the homeschoolers in question have pretty similar goals as those who use the traditional education system, they have chosen an alternative means of achieving that goal.

  17. Dana

    And Julie, I know what you are saying. It is hard to be passionate about something without coming across as judging others. And there are enough who judge those who are not homeschooling to go around. We can be our own worst enemy at times.

    Actually, I think I’ll get around to posting on that later. I have been batting around some other thoughts around for awhile as well.

  18. Lynn

    I just found your blog and would like to tell you how much I appreciate your thought-provoking comments. I don’t have any children yet, but am definitely considering homeschooling someday. I find it odd that society in general thinks that the proper and “best” way to teach children is to send them off to be taught by someone else. Thanks for sharing the article and commentary.
    -Lynn

  19. April

    Good discussion, Dana. I must admit I get a little worried whenever the “perfect homeschool family” stereotype is trotted out. I’ve known some materialistic homeschoolers. What do we do, kick them out of the club for having the wrong motives?

  20. April

    Yeah, I get that it wasn’t the point. I really like that “eating the seed corn” bit. And I completely see (and have experienced) the hostility that homeschoolers experience because we reject some aspects the culture. I know that seem people think our choices are condemnations of their choices. I just get a little tired of the never-ending portrait of the stereotypical homeschooler. Maybe I’m just hostile cause I don’t measure up. 😉

  21. Dana

    She’s a mythical being. No more sense in chasing after her than in chasing after unicorns!

    But I think even a materialistic homeschooler is challenging some basic assumptions merely by choosing something that is so far outside the norm.

  22. Dana

    Thanks, Hercules….my phone service went down while I was reading comments earlier, and I just noticed I never responded to yours.

    Homeschoolers, especially Christian homeschoolers, are very much like the salt and light of society, because it is through the homeschooled generation that morals and genuine education are preserved.

    The salt metaphor is an interesting one. Yes, it stings. But it is also a preservative, and a flavoring. I think perhaps sometimes we focus too much on the stinging. Like Julie noted, however, there are enough homeschoolers out there who are putting people on the defensive by attacking them rather than simply demonstrating the virtues of home education.

    I do not believe homeschooling is a commandment, but I do believe that every child has not only the right but the responsibility to direct the education of their children. In Jesus’ day, children were not homeschooled. They were educated in the synagogue. So I do not really understand the adamant religious connection to homeschooling as the only godly way to educate children. It is certainly a way, but not the only way.

    I am all for supporting families who choose to home educate in any way possible, whether they are doing so for religious or secular reasons. It is about promoting families. But to trap people by making them feel that somehow they have to homeschool to be good parents, Christians, etc. is not good for anyone.

    I think I just went off on my own tangent…I don’t remember what I was trying to get to any more. 🙂

  23. Crimson Wife

    I think part of the defensiveness on the part of employed moms has to do with the unfortunate “holier-than-thou” attitude that certain SAHM’s project. It used to absolutely drive me up the wall back when I was an employed mom to hear certain SAHM’s of my acquaintance go on and on about the financial sacrifices they were making- driving 1 economy car, modest home, no cable/satellite, wearing 2ndhand clothes, vacations only at relatives, etc., etc. because I was doing the EXACT SAME THINGS and we STILL needed my salary just to pay for the basics. They weren’t any less materialistic than I was- they simply had richer husbands!

    Some moms are in the workforce for selfish reasons, but others are simply trying to keep a roof over their kids’ heads, food on the table, and medical care to keep them healthy.

  24. Dana

    True. And I think there is sometimes the perception there even when it isn’t intended that way. There are a lot more SAHMs out there than homeschoolers, so it is difficult for me to believe that everyone that has reacted defensively to me stating “Oh, we homeschool” has had previous experience with judgmental homeschoolers. But the SAHM conflict seems to be at the heart of the culture wars and I think particularly in churches we see the conflict.

    I don’t know. Maybe it is just me, but prior to homeschooling, I never thought about it all that much. I knew some people at our church homeschooled, but I didn’t really know them and it never came up in conversation.

  25. Amy B

    Hi! I just found your blog, I think from Heart of The Matter, and I really enjoyed this article. This hits right on some things I have been pondering lately. Thanks for your response to the article.

    Amy B

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