Social Issues

an average homeschooler: college

lyceum

The night before I left for college, I was a gigantic mess. I was all packed, all ready to go, when I about had a meltdown and my mother stayed up with me late that night trying to talk me out of my tree. I was panicking– absolutely positive that college was going to be nightmarish, that I was going to fail every class, and that I would never be able to adjust to a classroom environment.

Turns out, most of that worrying was for nothing. I did well in the general education courses– although I strongly suspect that it was almost entirely due to the fact that the 101 classes at this college used the exact same textbooks as what I’d used for 12th grade, so we were literally going over the same exact material. When all the review questions from the textbook are the same, turns out the tests and quizzes are largely the same, too. Also, because I was at a fundamentalist college, the classroom environment is completely unlike what you’d see at most other colleges. I believe, looking back, that if I’d tried to enroll in a private or state school, I would have floundered. I might have been able to keep my head above water, but it would have been a struggle every day.

At this school, all seats are assigned– from freshman level all the way through graduate courses. I never experienced a class discussion the entire time I was there. Almost every class was lecture-based, with a few exceptions for “lab” classes that were essentially nothing more than homework review. Given that the environment was this structured, rule-following me actually fit in quite well. I didn’t have to guess at anything, or figure anything out. As far as class was concerned, there wasn’t any protocol that wasn’t explicitly stated.

Socially, my experience was . . . interesting. My freshman year, all of the friends I made were fundamentalist homeschoolers (well, one of them attended an ACE church school). However, even though we were all from similar backgrounds, shared similar beliefs, and were all at this college for pretty much the same reason, we discovered that interacting with other people our age independent of adult supervision is freaking difficult. There was constant bickering and in-fighting, and none of us knew anything about conflict resolution, which led to me abandoning them because I couldn’t stand having a relationship like that anymore. I thought these particular people were just “drama-filled,” but it really wasn’t that. They were struggling just as much as I was, and we didn’t know anything about how to form friendships that weren’t inside the homeschool paradigm. There was certainly fun times– there were reasons we tried to be friends– but in the end, it became too difficult to keep ourselves together. We splintered off, and kept touch with each other, but having a relationship failed.

We also didn’t know basic human realities like it’s impossible for some people to be friends, or that basing a relationship on “iron sharpeneth iron” would probably ruin it. There is some interplay happening between fundamentalism and homeschooling– I won’t deny that– but our homeschooling background was a contributing factor in our relationship difficulties; I would argue that being homeschooled exacerbated problems we were already guaranteed to have from our fundamentalist upbringing.

In conservative religious homeschooling (which, like the rest of homeschooling, is certainly not monolithic, but, again, there are over-arching patterns and commonalities), even for homeschoolers involved in co-ops and groups, socialization doesn’t just mean “interacting with people.”  It doesn’t mean “have friends.” In an incredibly basic sense, “socialization” is the process of learning how to act in your culture. If I’m operating inside a fundamentalist religious culture, then I am incredibly well socialized. I know exactly how I’m expected to behave, what role I’m supposed to fill, what “language” to use, and what the societal expectations are. When it comes to interacting with American culture, though . . . I’m lost. And it’s not just that pop culture references fly over my head, that I’ve never seen an episode of The Simpsons and that I’m just now learning about things like hip-hop and Andy Warhol. It’s that I’m still struggling to understand what pluralism means, that Truth is largely  inaccessible, that freedom of religion and freedom from religion are just as important..

I also don’t understand how to behave around my peers. I don’t know what constitutes “dominating a conversation” verses merely participating in it, and what the regular give-and-take of conversation looks like. I, like Sheldon Cooper, have no idea what the social protocol is for many situations. Conflict resolution? No idea. I don’t know how to establish and maintain healthy boundaries.

And, on top of that, I spent almost all of my life interacting with people who agreed with me about everything. I did not have the experience of having a conversation with a real-life person where we disagreed about anything significant until I was 23 years old. I was not exposed to people who had substantively different life experiences, who had different understandings of the Christian religion– let alone anyone who wasn’t a Christian. I didn’t meet an out gay person until I was 21. I still haven’t actually met someone who I knew was an atheist or agnostic in real life. I’ve yet to have a conversation with someone, in person, who doesn’t believe in some form of biblical creation. The most dynamic experience I’ve ever had was having a conversation with someone who is Neo-Reformed. After we joined the church-cult, I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t white, and nearly everyone around me was horrifically racist and Islamaphobic.

That’s what we’re talking about when we say that socialization should be a concern for homeschoolers. It’s not that homeschoolers are completely isolated (which they absolutely can be), it’s that socializing your homeschooler has to be intentional, and it is not easy or automatic. Going to church is not enough. Going to a co-op that’s basically the same environment as church is not enough. You have to go out of your way, parents, to make sure that your children are being exposed to ideas–political, philosophical, religious ideas– that aren’t the ones you believe in. You children need to grow up knowing Democrats if you’re Republican, and vice versa. They need to know someone who isn’t a member of your denomination. They need to understand pluralism from first-hand experience.

Because, the second they’re not a homeschooler anymore, the second that they’re struggling to survive in a world filled with multi-culturalism and reasonable arguments for virtually every idea conceivable, they might not be able to deal with it. They could give up on everything they were taught to believe. For many homeschoolers, that typically means Christianity and conservatism.

For many conservative religious homeschoolers, one of the primary reasons to homeschool is to isolate their children, to make sure that they’re not exposed to ideas that the parents find unhealthy or dangerous. You can’t try to do that and make sure that your children are well-socialized, too. They don’t go together.

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  • I graduated public high school in 1969 (before homeschooling) and sent my son to public school. For one who was never involved in home schooling, this series continues to be very interesting.

    • Agreed. It’s like another world. I’m a 1988 HS grad and everyone in my extended family went to either public school or Catholic parochial schools (which are pretty pluralistic nowadays!). I really had no idea.

      This post about socialization really strikes home though. I wasn’t homeschooled, but I did spend my formative years in a homogeneous fundamentalist environment. I’m seeing now how harmful that environment was to my development. And yes, it is absolutely true that I never learned any of that conflict resolution stuff in the context of maintaining a real friendship. I’m wondering now if that’s why I lost all my friends when I deconverted; none of them seemed to know what to say to me, and without the prop of religion, none of us had the faintest idea how to continue being friends. These weren’t homeschooled kids; this was in the 80s and 90s and none of us had any idea there was even such a thing as homeschooling; however, most of those girls were in our church’s little private school or in our denomination’s “Bible College” (which was just like the private school–one long Sunday School session that attendees had to pay through the nose to attend). I had to learn all that stuff the hard way when I left the religion. Boundaries were another tough issue for me as well, as was losing that sense of rigidity and black-and-white thinking that marks a fundamentalist. There is hope: I did learn those things. But it took some time.

      One of the cruelest things fundamentalism does is not prepare its kids for reality. They saddle these poor kids with unrealistic ideas, invalid arguments, and tons of junk science and pseudo-history, and they do their best to keep those kids from finding out how wrong all that stuff is–but they can’t do that forever. Those kids go all bright-eyed up to the first atheist they meet, convinced that atheists eat babies and are just one click away from murdering and raping everybody in sight, and parrot these arguments expecting a slam-dunk and a “soulwinning” experience, and it is downright sad to watch them get dismantled. Fundamentalist parents set those kids up for this brutal showdown. Then they get angry and upset when the kids end up choosing to leave religion when they discover how much of their upbringing was packed with lies. Can’t win for losing, sometimes, can they…

      • And it’s not just that the kids have their arguments dismantled. When they discover truth exists outside of the Fundie mindset, there is often a real sense of anger, a feeling that they have been shortchanged and betrayed. I went through this myself. I thought I was a pretty liberal Christian when I was raising my own two children, vowing not to do to them what had been done to me. But even my less than Fundie views were challenged when they went out into the real world. Fortunately, I did gain the understanding about how important it is to dialogue, and I am not at all concerned about what my children have chosen to believe or not believe. Interestingly, my older child (daughter), who really bought into liberalism hook, line, and sinker, remains a devout Catholic convert, as am I. My younger child (son) still has not decided on all of the God stuff. But they are independent thinkers, who don’t swallow things without reasoning through, and for that, I am grateful. At some point you have to let your children make their own chioces in life. The best way for that to happen is to expose them to various viewpoints, and trust in their good judgment.

        • Oh my gosh you are totally so right, and that’s what happened to me, too. I discovered the truth about a lot of things I’d been told when I was in my early 20s and I went through a phase of intense anger over finding out just how deep the rabbit hole went. And I, like you, wasn’t even a totally literalist Christian at all on a lot of points, even though I went to a very fundamentalist church. I think that it’s important not to lie to young people or to feed them junk science/history. When they get older, it’ll be all but impossible for them not to wonder what else they were fed that wasn’t true. Whatever happens to your kids, they will value integrity and trying their best to figure out what’s right and wrong and true and false, and isn’t that what parents should want the most? 🙂

  • This post is really hits me. I was luck enough to go to a very strange tiny college, neither ‘normal’ nor fundamentalist. It had a mix of homeschoolers and some weirder public school kids and almost all of the classes were discussion based. It saved my neck in a lot of ways- but I still struggle with the things you are describing- and often its just easier to avoid people than have to do the work of figuring out every little thing interacting with them.

    I think I have a lot of fear of.’what-will-happen-if I don’t-‘succeed’-at this interaction with an outsider’ as well- leftover from having to proselytize for homeschooling/religion. If you ‘failed’ at the interaction- horrible things could happen- like the government coming to get you, or the person you’re talking with going to hell forever.

    Thank you for writing this.

  • It’s funny. I grew up in public school, homeschooling was never really a consideration. However I knew a lot of homeschooled people from my church, and my family was (and is) very conservative and evangelical. There have been several times where I’ve considered whether I’d homeschool my own kids. Though I enjoyed school the fact was that I did face my share of bullying, insults, and general nastiness. I mean homeschooling has it’s problems, but you’d never get your behind grabbed by a musclebound senior during shope class, nor get punched firmly in the nuts for the crime of being kind of quiet and reading a lot of books (actually, I still don’t know what inspired that exactly. The physical pain was bad, but the fact is that it still hurts to this day emotionally because of it’s sheer senselessness). Homeschoolers don’t have to sit on a bus for an hour listening to local boys regalling each other with stories about their rampant drug use lined with more f-bombs than an average George Carlin performance either. My wife had an arguably much worse time in public school in regards to bullying and being taken advantage of by other students. I figured that it might be worth it to take my own kids out of that mess. But I must say that your story has reminded me of the good things I got out of school: namely exposure to people who held just about every kind of creed possible that was different from mine. My two oldest best friends were a Catholic and an agnostic/atheist/pagan respectively. I think you’re right: if you aren’t exposed to people with different worldviews than your own then you’re likely to doubt everything, instead of recognizing that intelligent people can come to different conclusions.

  • My best friend home schooled her children. She made certain that she took them out on adventures with other home schoolers. She persuaded me to home school my daughter, who was in third grade at the time. I found that my daughter was really smart, and that the A Beka books bored her to tears. Then I enrolled her in an ACE Baptist school. The supervision was so poor that my daughter spent the entire marking period only working on math. She didn’t do any other “Life Pacs.” We put her back into public school, where she thrived, and is now a math teacher at a charter high school in Philadelphia. Anyway, one of the reasons given by home schooling moms like my friend was that it was a parent’s duty to clear the road ahead of any dangers, just as one would remove poison ivy from the backyard. As the years went by, I saw how home schooled children and also children in the local Christian schools ended up paralyzed by the real world. My friend ended up with eight children altogether, and five of them seem to be thriving spiritually. Two of the children ended up not so fervent in the faith. The last one married a man who doesn’t hold down a steady job. She has five children, and they don’t own a home. They rely on “Providence” to feed their children. Often money is just randomly given to them. They are very strict, with no tv, no celebration of Christmas (because of its pagan roots), the girls all wear dresses, and the husband calls the shots. It’s very sad. This young woman excelled in college, then dropped any plans for a teaching career when she married. She is even more conservative than my friend, who is very puzzled by the whole thing. I’m so glad I kept my children (I also have a son) in public schools. They use their brains to reason out issues. I don’t always agree with them, but they are dynamic and interesting people. I’m proud of them.

    • “One of the reasons given by home schooling moms like my friend was that it was a parent’s duty to clear the road ahead of any dangers.”

      This has been the thing most on my mind throughout this series.

      I can think of only one good reason that you might want to homeschool and that is if your child either struggles academically or is so good that the public school is not able to cater for them. If there was a bullying issue, I would look to change schools, not remove them entirely.

      it seems to me, and do correct me if I’m wrong, that the main reason for homeschooling in an overwhelming number of cases is FEAR. Fear of the world, fear that you won’t be able to control your kids (which ultimately you can’t anyway), fear that they’ll make wrong choices, basically fear that they won’t turn out to be just like you if you give them any choice at all in what to believe. A lot of the textbook content seems to be more interested in indoctrination than education. Fear is really not a good reason on which to base your decision-making. It also teaches your kids to fear things that are ‘other’, rather than engage with them in a healthy way.

      What reading Sam’s blog has shown me is that there might be value in homeschooling in the early years, but any older and you are left woefully short-changed for dealing with the real world.

      • You made my point exactly. It is fear of other ideas, fear of seeing different types of living, fear of having one’s child walk away from faith, that drives the home schooling moms I know. I totally agree that it is the problems in public schools that need to be addressed. Fleeing the schools is not the answer. It leads to fleeing throughout one’s life. Excellent points.

        • Ruth

          Over on Julie Anne’s Spiritual Sounding Board you get a real taste of that fear. They really describe public schools as throwing your children to the wolves and the equivalent of child abuse. To which I have to say, gosh, keeping children at home in these environments is no guarantor of their safety and emotional health either. And the lies. Gosh, the lies. Public school kids can only relate to their peer group. Public school kids won’t get along with their siblings. Never mind the lies that are built into the curriculum.

      • I liked how you put that and I think you’re right. I’ve thought myself that when I hear about why most parents homeschool, fear seems to play into it a lot. They’re scared the kids will be exposed to naughty things, or that the kids will do something wrong when away from the parents (or worse yet meet non-Christians or see non-fundie material that doesn’t maintain the fundie lies parents tell their kids about Biblical literalism and start questioning their faith). That’s not a good way to raise self-sufficient kids though, is it? I don’t have kids, but hovering over them 24/7 to strong-arm them to do the “right things” doesn’t seem like a fantastic parenting technique guaranteed to produce kids who can exist on their own.

      • JR

        No, there are lots of other reasons for homeschooling. One of the reasons I considered homeschooling my children is that I was bored to tears in the public school system. Though I was highly successful socially, when I looked back I saw that negative socialization (peer pressure, etc) far out-weighed positive socialization, and I thought we could do a better job than a teacher with 30 students. So far that is exactly how it has turned out. My high-school aged daughter socializes better than most of her peers (things that have been commented on by non-homeschoolers who have observed her), is self-confident and able to deal with conflict within her social circles, etc.

        We teach our children what dominating a conversation looks like at the dinner table — and as a public-schooler myself, I can tell you don’t learn how not to do that through peer socialization!!

        I think the author of the blog doesn’t realize that public schoolers also struggle when they go to college. Living with people outside your family culture is a struggle for everyone. It often doesn’t go well. She ascribes to the evils of homeschooling much that could just as easily have happened if she were public schooled.

        It’s hard to make generalizations about homeschools in the same way that it’s hard to make generalizations about families — they are all so different even if there are some commonalities.

  • notleia

    This makes me extra thankful for my public college education. In many ways, I was isolated despite my public high school education because I live in the middle of nowhere and we’re pretty homogeneous around here. I have grown to be okay with, and even frolic in, pluralism. I haven’t abandoned Christianity yet, but I’ve pretty well abandoned conservatism because I’m not satisfied with it anymore. I am mentally hugging all my awesome literature professors, who where particularly involved with this development.

  • Adding to your ideas about conflict resolution…..it gets really “fun” after you get married and are (gasp) having to work together with someone for the first time in your life. It gets even more interesting if one was homeschooled with little socialization and a lot of isolation and the other was not, as in my case. Talk about a clash of cultures. This might be the topic of my next blog post

  • Wow, glad I clicked here, definitely opened my perspective to where some people come from! Now I understand why some atheists are as dead-set against Christianity as they are knowing that such controlling environments exist! It’s a shame that some parents focus more on protection than on opening up understanding.

  • Reblogged this on Christianity Simplified and commented:
    Ok, I think I am coming to a better understanding of why some Christians I encounter seem so out of touch with reality and why some atheists are so dead-set against Christianity.
    On that note, parents, please focus a little less on protecting your children and a little more on helping your children find understanding in the world. Please!!

  • Hello Samantha.

    As a side-note, I have had a very secular education in France but I was also constantly worried by the possibility of failing in a new environment. I think it is an universal human experience.

    The pseudo-education (indoctrination) you describe corresponds very well to what many other people told or wrote me.
    On behalf of Jonny Scaramanga, I have written a post calling the attention of progressive Christians to the misdeeds of fundamentalist homeschooling , especially ACE.

    It is my hope that many people having suffered under this wicked system will give their testimony.

    It truly breaks my heart to read stories such as yours, whereby young adults do not know how to behave in the normal, real world.

    I would feel really honored to interview you, one day in the future.

    The real vital question is: what can we do to change this? .
    Being a Continental European, I have no idea what steps should be undertaken to change this tragic state of affairs since it is largely an American problem.
    Since fundamentalists view me (in general) as a pseudo-Christian, they won’t listen to what I have to say.

    I wish you all the best.

    Lovely greetings from Lancashire.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience. I was lucky enough to go to public school all my life. Perhaps a silver lining is that you can now experience so much more than you ever did back then. I hope that gives you strength and encouragement.

  • Courtney

    Thank you for writing this series. I spent my first few years of elementary at a private Lutheran school, but only attended public school after that. Homeschooling is a pretty foreign concept to me. I only knew one homeschooled kid growing up, and honestly I felt kind of sorry for her. Her parents homeschooled her to “protect her” from different ideas, and they weren’t qualified to teach more advanced subjects so she was always behind academically. To this day she’s never left the conservative Christian bubble she grew up in.

    Also, as an aside, I’m an atheist who does not believe in any sort of Biblical explanation for the creation of the universe (though I did grow up in evangelical Christianity). If you ever want to chat or ask me any questions, I’d be more than happy to have that conversation. 🙂

  • I really enjoyed reading this series. Thank you for your point of view. I’m an atheist who grew up as a Catholic (with a mainly secular upbringing, though) in great public schools and went to Boston University for college (undergrad). I never knew any home schooled children well, although I did talk to this one girl enrolled in public school for high school who had been homeschooled previously. I pitied her, because of how socially awkward she was. She seemed to have no friends and latched onto me when she was just a freshman girl while I was a senior (also female) in high school. I let her eat lunch with me, and sit next to me on the bus.

  • I went to a high school with over 3,000 students. I got a full scholarship to a small Baptist College 40 miles from the nearest known sin. I started dating in junior high and it came as a shock to me that many of the young women at the college never dated before coming to school. For the first semester the students boys as well that had been sheltered went wild. They went to the disco (drinking age in Texas back then was 18), and even though the women had a curfew, there wasn’t much that you can’t do before midnight than after it. Every year there were a number of hastily arranged marriages. Those that survived the first semester settled down and pretty much stayed with their beliefs. They sowed their wild oats and figured out Mom and Dad were right. I taught with a man who was a Mormon Bishop and he said the same thing happened at Mormon schools.

    • Oh wow, I think we went to the same high school. Mine had 3200 kids in it and a graduating class of roughly 800. And we probably graduated about the same time, because the legal age had just been raised when I got close to 18 (GEE THANKS, Texas)! It was just mind-blowing for me to meet young people at church who’d been raised in our denom’s tiny church schools as well, and that’s even as sheltered as I’d been at my huge public school (honest to goodness, we had an old-fashioned ice-cream shoppe with red-and-white tiles nearby where boys took girls on dates before going to the movie theater). I’m just realizing lately with the rise of more honest homeschooling information what I was seeing back then; back then I didn’t know why these kids were acting the way they did and chalked it up to overly-protective parents or something. And these kids weren’t even homeschooled, though the similarities are striking now that I’m looking back at it.

  • I only homeschooled for two years – my parents were on the road to fundamentalism when I was growing up, but hadn’t crossed to the “dark side” yet. It didn’t work for me. The isolation – having known public school all my life – was suffocating. I left home at 16 and completed high school at my grandparents district.

    While I struggled with many things, slowly unraveling all my conservative beliefs over the years, I’m so relieved now that I got out. My siblings were not so lucky. They cracked down hard after I left, making sure the younger ones weren’t rebellious like I was. None of them made it in college. They all married too young and have different levels of disfunctional relationships now. It’s awful what was done to them. My parents used those infamous ABeka books. I suppose I had been in public school too long at that point – I remember refusing to do a couple lessons because I thought it was too sexist. (There was an English lesson about female submission – I tore it out of the book and threw it away, among other lessons that I just couldn’t do).

    In college I never admitted to homeschooling and never hung out with homeschoolers. It was like I buried those years. It’s only recently that I have been digging into it.

  • Larkin

    It’s so weird to me how similar our life experiences were, even though I’m quite a bit older. My college days at a conservative, but not necessarily fundamentalist, university were very similar to yours in a lot of ways. I spent one year at a public university for financial reasons and it changed me in ways I can’t quite describe, even now. The ideas I was exposed to and all the different people of so many varying faiths changed how I viewed the world to the point that, when I returned to my original university, many of my friends from freshman year were not comfortable remaining my friends.