Monday, November 23, 2015

Does dissing home schooling make you shallow?

My title is deliberately provocative, of course. It was prompted by this silly little list, "12 Signs You Were Definitely Home Schooled" (as opposed to being indefinitely home schooled?), which happened to pop up in my Facebook feed when a friend-of-a-friend shared it with a friend. (It is thus that Facebook, while killing blogging in several obvious senses, is also a friend to bloggers by giving them material.) 

The post is by Tiffanie Brunson, who is social media coordinator for the e-zine Relevant, in which her post appears. I infer that she was home schooled and is now critical of her upbringing. She also appears to think she is a humor writer, but in actuality the list just comes across as childish.

What struck me most about the list was its emphasis on ephemeral values such as being with-it and stylish. It seems that, having missed the opportunity (at the age of thirteen) to be a pathetic thirteen-year-old yearning to be "in" and look "cool" with the other kids at school, this critic of home schooling tries to live out that essential phase of life in her twenties.


8. You Idolized Your Cool Cousins Who Went to Public School
It didn’t matter if they were Mathletes, AV club nerds or captain of the football team, if your cousins went to public school, they were the coolest. Maybe you even had cousins who got to wear one-piece swimsuits in public and listened to secular radio stations. You could have hung posters of them in your room and felt fine about it.
Tiffanie tells us at the outset that these are "12 things every home schooler experienced," though she later inconsistently (#2) says that "of course" that particular one (lots of siblings--is that a bad thing anyway?) was "not a home schooling requirement." The title, on the other hand, says that these are signs that you were definitely home schooled, which seems to imply a sufficient condition. The "every home schooler experienced" sentence seems to imply a necessary condition. Does she mean that all of these are sufficient and necessary conditions of being home schooled? The latter is certainly false, as several of them do not apply to quite a few home schoolers of my acquaintance. And of course, these are also not sufficient conditions, since it's entirely possible to have, e.g., lots of siblings without being home schooled. But never mind. One can't expect someone trying hard to be a humor writer to be logical.

As to #8, it's pretty foreign to me.

Moving on, the emphasis upon not very important things that other people get to do that "we poor home schoolers" didn't get to do gets stronger:

9. You Had No Idea What Yearbook Superlatives Were
Hardcore homeschoolers didn’t get yearbooks and didn’t have a graduating class to superlative-ize. They had to rely heavily on scrapbooking and home videos to capture sweet memories. Let’s be honest though, most of us would probably rather just forget.
I myself went to school (Christian school, but a bricks and mortar school), and I'm not entirely sure what she means by "yearbook superlatives." I edited my senior year school yearbook, which nearly gave me a nervous breakdown. (This was in the 80's, when you had to use black India ink to cover any part of the page you weren't filling with pictures if you did a collage.) So people wrote nice things or funny things in each other's yearbooks. That was cool, especially if it was a guy one had a crush on. But it wasn't that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

12. Your Fashion Sense Was a Bit Off
Denim frocks, scrunchies and similar things were cool when Bonnie Hunt wore them in the early ’90s, but they definitely were not cool when worn by 13-17 year-olds in 2006. And the list of things you weren't allowed to wear was likely too long to recount. A personal favorite: Graphic tees. Most homeschool moms were in agreement with the “no shirts with anything remotely questionable on it” policy. And it didn’t even have to be offensive.
Since I don't know what Tiffanie's mom considered "remotely questionable," I can't render an opinion on whether her graphic t-shirt bans were reasonable or not. But...the paragraph sounds pretty pathetic. The repeated use of the word "cool," for example. Actually, most of the home schooled teens growing up around me look quite normal, fashion-wise, though "normal" doesn't mean "immodest." So for the young ladies, especially, they and their parents have to do a certain amount of looking and perhaps spend some extra money to get around our current culture's determination that women dress like prostitutes.

Then there's this one:

10. You Never Experienced Prom
Since homeschoolers weren’t allowed to dance, proms were a definite no-go. But it wouldn’t be a weird subculture without creating a super lame alternative. Thus, you had prom-like gatherings where kids would dress up, get corralled into some sort of community or convention center and enjoy sugar-free fruit punch and salisbury steak. It was a little like going to dinner at your grandparents’ house, but with more taffeta and pocket squares and less fun.
Gosh, that's hilarious. Only it is, in fact, false. My local home school organization holds a prom, with dancing, each year, and has done so for enough years that I'm pretty sure Tiffanie's generation was included. I find it hard to imagine we are the only ones. Southwest Michigan isn't exactly the Hipness Center of the home schooling world.

But, again, I have to wonder if it really matters all that much anyway. Is prom this super-important rite of passage? Secular school proms are often...highly problematic, to put it mildly. I'm thinking here of getting drunk, sex-simulating dancing which any chaperones on hand have to be "meanies" and stop, and actual sex afterwards. Like a high school yearbook, prom is one of those things that a person's life can easily be complete without.

In fact, the "you never experienced prom" complaint, like "you didn't have a high school yearbook" strengthens the overall feeling that Tiffanie is taking trivial things and treating them as at least somewhat important--part of making sure a young person can make a successful transition into real life. But in all seriousness, how many people are helped in their future by having gone to prom, or hindered by not having had a high school yearbook? Or, setting aside career issues, is it really deeply personally enriching to have a high school yearbook? I suppose it might be in given cases. But by the same token, if it's personal enrichment we are talking about, there is no reason to think that relationships with siblings or other home schooled young people, or the activities carried out in those contexts (such as the co-op activities that Tiffanie sneers at in a different number), are not enriching.

This column, light-hearted as it is meant to sound, has a strangely culturally blinkered undercurrent: If you didn't have these specific activities, clothes, rites of passage, etc., you were deprived. And the specific ones in question just happen to be those common in secular American life. Isn't that a little narrow-minded? Yet ironically, the idea is supposed to be that it is the home schoolers who were narrow-minded if they didn't participate in all the "cool" stuff.

Every way of life has its pros and cons, and the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I doubt that Tiffanie would write a similarly snarky column about South American tribesmen or Amish who don't have prom or high school yearbooks and don't dress in the latest, most popular American fashions. And she might have had some much, much worse experiences if she had not been home schooled, especially if she had been public schooled. Getting an STD at the age of 17 makes salisbury steak and taffeta look pretty good by comparison.

The idea behind her criticisms appears to be that there can be no such thing as a legitimate sub-culture that is different in part from the larger culture around. If you are part of an entirely different culture from 21st-century America, that may be okay, depending on specifics. But if you happen actually to live in 21st century America (or, presumably, Europe), and you aren't actually Amish, then you have to get "with it" or your kids will be deprived through not being cool in their teens and twenties. (Where the Mennonites fall on Tiffanie's child-depriving scale of coolness, I'm not sure.) Being in the world but not of it apparently doesn't extend to not going to a high school prom night.

At this point, as new generations grow up, there is a proliferation of "I wouldn't have done it that way" blogs and groups concerning home schooling as well as for other conservative countercultural movements. Some make good and important points. The antics of Bill Gothard of the ATI movement certainly needed to be exposed. I myself have said that the Christian "courtship" culture has come at a very bad time and that Christian parents need instead to be reclaiming a smart notion of dating, including casual dating. Even Tiffanie has one point worth considering:
Homeschoolers are awkward because they are, surprisingly, overconfident. Because most of our days are spent in our homes with our families, we just assume that whatever is OK to do at home is also OK everywhere else. Most of us learn the hard way that this is not the case.
I think she's right about that as a rough generalization, at least for some, and we home schooling parents do well to bear it in mind as a danger and try to counteract it.

But too often, the useful points get mixed up with a lot of shallow nonsense or worse.

What both parents and young people need to be thinking about is the intersection of eternal values and earthly practicalities. That is (no surprise) extremely difficult. In what ways might being un-cool become being unemployable or unmarriageable? Are those things that can be changed, or do they represent ways in which the world is demanding something wrong, and we must stick to our principles? Obviously, this will vary with specifics. At what point do decisions about just staying out of this or that cultural phenomenon (be it proms or Facebook or Twitter) stymie opportunities for friendships and future career to such an extent that our children end up helpless or problematically isolated? Have we made being countercultural an end in itself, to our harm and/or that of our children?

These are serious matters, matters with which every responsible Christian parent wrestles, whether home schooling or not. For my part, I hope and pray that my children grow up to be fully committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and also able to evaluate maturely whatever mistakes I have made. I'm afraid, though, that Tiffanie Brunson's approach does not match that mature, considered evaluation.


Kirk Skeptic said...

As an homeschooling father of four, I find the original post to be tripe. My kids did prom, yearbook, EC's, and the whole nine yards; all they seemed to miss out on were drugs and teen pregnancies. As for alleged awkwardness, all four kids were successful speakers and debaters, with three of them being volunteer museum docents. None of them envied the public- or Christian schoolers. The author's homeschooling experience may have been negative, but her own naivete shines through in her assumption that all public-schoolers have it good; having done K through 12 in Moloch's School, I can attest to that.

Lydia McGrew said...

It's very surprising to me that she generalizes so broadly and misses the boat so spectacularly on some of those things. Take the "no dancing" line. Yes, there are some home schoolers of a more fundamentalist persuasion who think dancing is wrong. But there are others who don't, some of whom are positively into folk dancing and square dancing. (No doubt ol' Tiffanie would roll her eyes at those, though.)

I don't even think what she's recounting is representative. For example, take her reference to mothers who try to make clothes and are bad at it. In my experience, home schooling mothers who make clothes are actually pretty good at it! The rest of us (me, for example) admit we can't sew and instead develop our mad googling skillz shopping for what we want on-line.

The naivete was also evident. It is as though she is still inside that child envying her public schooled cousins. Did she think her public schooled cousins were happy all the time? I mean, aside from other things, I know of kids who get bullied and beaten up to such an extent that they wish they could be home schooled. And then there is the "boy" issue. More home schooled boys get to be boys rather than being educated in a way unsuited to their need for flexibility, moving around, etc., perhaps a point she doesn't appreciate as a female.

It's very weird. And I wonder rather sadly how many who think like her are going to naively send their own children to public school thinking it will be great and learn the cons of that approach the hard way.

Kirk Skeptic said...

There certainly are negatives to homeschoolong; it is neither panacea nor prophylaxis against unbelief or unchristian behavior, and both churches and homeschooling communities can be toxic environments. There are also those families that just shouldn't be homeschooling, just as there are those who aren't but should be. One must wonder about Tif's worldview if she enviews secular education; perhaps she engages in the magical thinking that an hour of church on Sundays and a lame youth group will prevent her kids from eventually calling her bluff and apostasizing.

Lydia McGrew said...

I don't read Relevant Magazine with any regularity, but from the little I know about it my *guess* is that, if its authors worry themselves at all about the orthodoxy (such an uncool word) of their hypothetical future children, they figure the best route to insuring that their children stay in the Christian faith (in some sense of that word) is to be more hip than their own parents were.

I guess every generation has to make its own mistakes for itself.

Tony said...

Examine the assumptions. Always check the assumptions. For instance:

Homeschool groups were a bright, shining star of hope in an otherwise unsocialized existence.

"Socialized". What's that? Is it when the public school turns your kid into a socialist? Didn't want that to begin with.

Or, was it when the public school - both adults and kids - turned your kids into sycophants desiring the least crumb of attention from the "cool" kids, or into bullies, or the bullied? Or turned them into narcissists who imagine that your pampered school years are forever and all the world turns on whether your senior year prom is a triumph? Who feel (not think) that the world works the way school works, setting up everyone else's schedule to satisfy your needs? Who are comfortable with people in your own grade / age, but uncomfortable around those older or younger? Who ave been trained to kow-tow to the domination by the faculty / administration not merely on matters of their proper authority, but all areas where they can lean on their official position to impose their own world-view?

Or maybe we think that "social" means "a good, healthy, adult member of society", and so "socialization" means "training for adulthood". People who feel comfortable and confident taking care of a 9-month old for 2 hours, or conversing with an 80-year old who is not their own grandpa? People capable of respectfully asking an adult to justify his opinion on the basis of reason accessible to all, without blustering nor shamefacedly being considered dumb for even asking?

You Were Always at Church

Yes, well, when you have an active interior prayer life, all things feel a lot like being at church, so maybe this one is kind of empty? If the Church matters really, an active life "in the Church" JUST MEANS doing things alongside those with whom you pray, other than just praying. It means doing things communally - that's how you get a community, by doing together.

Most homeschoolers weren’t even allowed to be alone in a room with a person of opposite gender let alone have a boyfriend or girlfriend. So, rather than having a difficult and probably nonsensical conversation about why we would be denied this right of passage

Wow, how stupid can you get? Since "having a boyfriend" she effectively means, (without saying it in so many words), "doing unchaste things that will destroy your soul", the "right (sic) of passage" is passage to Hell. One way ticket, cheap at the price. Apparently "probably nonsensical" conversation never happened in her world, or she couldn't possibly put this in the list this way.

I will admit that there are many, many parents who refuse to have this ongoing conversation (lasting years) with their teens. Or whose attempts are pathetic because they imagine they don't need to think it out, or prepare themselves for it (in part by living it). And they imagine they only need to discuss it once or twice. But THEY AREN'T LIMITED to homeschool parents, not by a long margin. In fact, I would hazard a guess that more homeschool parents (especially those who do so motivated by their Christian values) do in fact have these discussions, as a percentage.

Lydia McGrew said...

My suspicion is that she was raised in what is known as an ATI family. ATI families do have some strange and problematic rules. They often follow an extremely rigid version of what is known as "courtship," and I believe it actually is true that they will not permit any contact between members of the opposite sex without strict supervision and will not permit the development even of chaste dating relationships. At the extreme, it becomes similar to an arranged marriage culture. At a slightly less extreme level, the young man must ask the young woman's father for "permission to court" her before having much contact with her at all. One might understandably wonder how he can possibly know that he wants to court her under those circumstances, especially given the suspicious treatment even of talking together for any period of time, exchanging e-mail or phone calls, etc. I consider this an extremely good question.

Some happy marriages have been made out of the courtship culture, but it actually does present some immense difficulties in the way of all sorts of normal and chaste means for young people of the opposite sex to get to know one another.

So she probably did mean "have a boyfriend" in a broad sense that would have included chaste as well as unchaste relationships.

What is so irresponsible about this, though, is that _many_ home schooling families are _not_ ATI families, and if she does not know this, then as an aspiring journalist, she needs to come out from her cave and discover it. No doubt she considers herself liberated now from her stifling family background, but she apparently has not made use of that liberation to gain a more balanced view even of the demographic of home schooling families!

For that matter, there are even home schoolers who _say_ they "do courtship" but for whom that is merely a label for fairly intentional dating. And there are others who have no problem at all with dating. She just needs to get out more, and if she's going to write a column about "signs your were home schooled" containing broad generalizations (even a humor column), she should get better informed.

I hadn't noticed the telltale slip on "right of passage" vs. "rite of passage." Well, I guess that fits with the overall attitude? Belligerently asking why one was _denied_ this _right_.

Lydia McGrew said...

I, too, found the criticism of "always being at church" very strange. Now, it's also inaccurate as a generalization, because quite a few of my home school friends (and my own family) are by no means "always at church." Others fit that description more--they have churches with a lot of services, groups, and activities, and they are heavily involved in these.

Her use of this as a _criticism_ implies that somehow church activities _don't count_ as legitimate "socialization." Why in the world a church club, youth group, musical group, etc., should not be just as good as a school club, musical group, etc. is a mystery. Presumably she wouldn't criticize the latter or say, "You know you were a public school kid if you were always at school." In general, her approach is one of sheer bias. Whatever home schoolers do is wrong or to be treated with contempt. Hence, if they are aware of the concern that their children won't have enough activities or friendships and they involve them in many activities at church, she _doesn't_ say, "Those are the good home schooling families. They made sure their kids weren't isolated. They made sure their kids got to have fun, get out, have friends, go places." Instead, she sniffs, "Those home school kids always are at church."