Share your thoughts on the disadvantages of homeschooling
Fast-forward to a Monday morning 10 years later. What am I doing? I'm sitting on the couch, reading out loud about Cyrus the Great seemingly ignorant of any disadvantages of homeschooling.
Whoa! Talk about major paradigm shift! How did I go from being against home schooling efforts, due to the many perceived disadvantages of homeschooling, to embracing them?
I grew up in rural Iowa, in a small graduating class of 80 students pulled out of four separate towns. The concept of schooling at home was completely foreign.
I never even heard of at home schooling until I went to college, which is where I met my first homeschooler.
I wish I could tell you that this meeting was a crossroads for me, where I came up to my "true calling" as a future homeschooler.... That I gave up on institutional education right then and there and homeschooled my way through a Bachelor's of Social Work and Political Science. (THAT's devotion!)
But wishes are just...wishes.
There was a group of homeschooled kids at my little college (that was in 1996). Megan lived on my floor. Yes, I was clearly impressed with her ability to knit anything. (I can't sew a button.)
And I was even more impressed when she managed not to burn a single bag of popcorn in the dorm kitchen. (I believe she got her name on a plaque for that...)
However, when it came to the subtle flows of normal conversation, she was like a brick wall. Her comments caused rifts of uncomfortable silence and left me scrambling for a subject-change.
And it wasn't just her. The whole group, of around 10 students, was a black-hole of stimulating conversation. It left me with a sour taste in my mouth.
So when my husband and I realized that we'd NOT be moving from our home as planned, and that our oldest was going to be going to one of the highest incident elementaries in the area, it hit hard.
What's a parent to do? Send my five-year-old to an elementary school with metal detectors? Or try at home schooling and doom her to a life of awkwardness?
Over the years, I've noticed basically three social categories of adults who used at home schooling as their education.
Category #1: The Wallflower. This homeschooled individual seems unable to interact, at any level. They're shining examples of the disadvantages of homeschooling. They look at you blankly when you ask a question, as if they are unsure how to answer. There doesn't seem to be any confidence in them to have any opinion, and you, being "outside" the walls of their home, are officially in the danger zone.
Trying to engage them about anything in a conversation is about as pleasurable as getting a root canal. The process of "conversing" is exhausting, since you have to think fast of questions that don't involve a simple Yes, or No answer. They seem perfectly content to stare at you in awkward silence. If you had any thoughts about the disadvantages of homeschooling, after talking with one of these homeschoolers, you're totally convinced.
Category #2: The Wannabe. This homeschooled individual wants to be interactive and interesting, but doesn't really know the subtle art well enough to do a good job. They can't pick up on non-verbal signals and will often say things that can be easily misunderstood.
The disadvantages of homeschooling show up in this group as restraint. Rather than sit back and let the conversation flow, asking questions and seeing where it goes, this group seems the need to prove they can be "social" and so are shoving topics faster than you can keep up. They can easily offend people without even realizing it.
Do these types exist in normal schools? Yes. However, the boot-camp environment of traditional schooling effectively trains many of these habits out of most kids.
It's kill-or-be-killed kind of social environment at public schools, and kids naturally learn how to navigate between those two extremes with trial and error. It's amazing what shame and bullying can do in teaching social skills (Could the lack of bullying and such be thought of as one of the disadvantages of homeschooling?).
But, I digress. What about Category #3?
Category #3: The Hidden Homeschooler. Here is where he disadvanatages of homeschooling disappear. Several years ago, I had my good friend Danielle over for coffee. We were discussing this dilemma - whether to send Lauren to our public school or to try homeschooling (private wasn't an option).
After listening, she gently interjected with some shocking news.
"You know Heather," she said,"I was homeschooled."
WHAT? I nearly choked on my biscotti.
My good friend Danielle, who makes me laugh, is a good listener, is amazingly intelligent, and is all-around-normal, was homeschooled??? It rocked my world to the core.
Come to find out, I actually had a handful of homeschooled friends, and I didn't even know it.
Obviously, this is the category I want our children to fit in. Yes, I want them to be extremely well-educated. I want them to be able to spell long words. I want them to read like a fiend. (and know what a fiend is…)
But I also want them to be able to interact with others in meaningful ways. From a deep friendship with their college roommate to a simple conversation with the check out lady. A good conversation touches the soul of another persona in a profound way.
The art of conversation is a gift, it can be an amazing source of encouragement and blessing towards others. And I want my kids to know how to wield it.
So as we are working hard at home schooling our kids, we're also taking notes and figuring out how this third category exists, and how to make sure our kids are in it.
Since our children are not learning how to socialize with their peers (which is, in my opinion, not a bad thing), this means that they will be watching us, to learn these skills.
Looking around at my "hidden" homeschooled friends, it's very clear that they had good examples to watch. In every single case, their parents were socially adept at interacting with others.
From connecting to the lady bagging the groceries, to showing interest in the lives of the random mother at the library, they saw their parents handle social situations well.
It is not uncommon for me to encourage Lauren (the oldest) to watchher father closely in a situation. If we're going out somewhere, I will lean over to her ahead of time.
"Lauren," I'll say, "watch how your Daddy is interacting with that man sitting over there." (Daddy is unaware that we're discussing this.) Then I'll point out facial expressions and body language "hints" to guess what they are discussing.
She sees it as a game, I see it as a great opportunity to teach her how to "read" others. And by listening to her father converse with the older gentleman, she's learning how to ask questions and offer comments in an enjoyable way.
Not only did those parents show good social skills by example, they incorporated conversation skills into their at home schooling experience.
For example, we like to play the "conversation game" over the dinner table. I start out asking my husband a question about his day, which he answers. I reflect that answer back to him and ask another question. He answers and then "tosses" the ball back to me, asking me a question about my day, etc.
One of the best things my father taught me (among many) was this: If you want to have friends, ask a lot of questions. People don't care about you, generally. But if you ask questions and give them an opportunity to talk they'll think you're the nicest person on the planet.
Finally, I've learned, through our at home schooling experience, to give my children opportunities to be social. This may come through our local co-op, where they have class with other homeschoolers doing art, choir, gym, and science activities.
It may be through a sport, or dance class. It may be by requiring them to order their own food at restaurants, looking the waitress in the eye, speaking clearly. Or it may be in helping them learn to "interview" their grandparents on the phone, asking questions about their lives and not just talking about our own.
The more opportunities I give them to practice good social skills, the better those skills will get. I hope my children will be able to prove there are no disadvantages of homeschooling.
So there's my public confession. My meal of "humble pie". I was wrong about the whole "schooling at home experience", home schooling socialization and disadvantages of homeschooling.
Am I glad that we're doing at home schooling? Without hesitation: YES. I'm teaching them things I never learned. We are bonding together as a family more than I could ever wished.
And, darn it, our kids will be able to carry a conversation, ask thoughtful questions, set people at ease, and interact with others in a meaningful way. They won't be examples of the disadvantages of homeschooling.
So I guess that leads me to my ultimate at home schooling surprise: homeschooled children can be socially adept.
And if that's the case…why wouldn't I home school?
Author Heather Gaither has been homeschooling now for three years and uses, primarily, the classical approach laid out in Susan Wise Bauer's book The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Third Edition).
Besides being a thankful homeschooler, Heather Gaither is also the founder of The Essential Infant Resource for Moms, (EiR) a website started in 2007. The EiR is dedicated to providing solid, researched information to parents in a fun-to-read, humorous format on every first-year topic imaginable.
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