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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Are You Afraid Homeschooling Will Make Your Kid Weird?

Answers to some questions I was recently emailed in regards to nonreligious homeschooling:

Home-schooling is great in theory, but aren't you afraid your child will end up weird?

The reason some home-schooled kids seem weird to other kids is that they spend more time socializing with adults than children i.e. they get along better with adults. Which means they will get along with their peers just fine--once their peers are adults. The adults I know who were homeschooled as children--who I thought were weird when I was a kid--do not seem weird to me now. And vice versa, my adult friends who seem a little weird to me now, were not homeschooled as kids.

Which is to say: homeschooled kids don't end up weird. And people who are going to end up weird, are not "fixed" by going to school.

Aren't you afraid your child will be weird (as a child)?

First, what is "weird" about homeschooled children? I knew quite a few homeschoolers when I was a kid and, like I said above, I did think they were weird. They were all extremely different from one another i.e. they were weird in their own ways, but thinking about it now, what made them weird to child-me was how authentic they were: they weren't afraid to like really random things, they were very honest, and very themselves. No one had taught them about not being themselves and playing a socially acceptable role and liking only socially acceptable things.

They also got along way too well with my parents. As a kid, that bugged me. As an adult all I can think is, "Children who get along great with adults sound great!"

Second, is it truly horrible to be considered "weird" as a kid by the other kids? It's probably more horrible to be "weird" and at school than to be "weird" and at home. I was a "weird" kid. But I wasn't home schooled. I went to pubic school but I was being raised by hippies out in the hills. I had no access to most "normal" foods, or radio, or television.

On Facebook the other day a friend of mine noted that she had to rent Frozen for her child so he could understand how to play with his friends. My parents would never have done that. I was the kid who never saw those movies, who never quite got the game, the joke, what people were talking about or why certain things were considered cool. I was always an outsider studying my peers. But as a kid, I never concluded that I was the one who was "weird." I thought the other kids were weird.

When I was a senior in college, Netflix and my laptop enabled me to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sex and the City, and Friends. It was a revelation. Everything that had never made sense to me about my peers in high school and college suddenly made sense--why my girlfriends talked about school and sex the way they did, why my friends thought friendship meant sitting around making fun of one another.

I am really glad that I watched these shows later and understood how they influenced my friends. Rather than shaping me, watching them (and any television I watch today) feels more like an anthropological study than anything else. I love that.

Which is to say: I am not afraid of my son being his authentic self instead of playing roles he learns in school and on television.

Aren't you afraid regular Americans will think your child is weird?

What is this desperate need for approval from this imagined judge who doesn't actually exist? Who is this "regular American" running around telling people if they are normal or weird?

How many friends do you need? How many people have to like you for you to love your life? Do other people's judgements of you matter at all if you like yourself? Would you do business with someone if you liked their product, but thought they were a little weird? Does being weird stop you from having an amazing life? If people meet my son and think he is weird--what will that do? What's the problem? What is it stopping him from achieving? What needs will it prevent him from meeting?

The three "weird" home schooled girls I knew as a kid grew up, found jobs, and are all married now. They married men who went to public school. Two of them have kids. They are functional members of society. The two I interviewed before writing this piece both plan to home school their own kids.

Assuming your child does end up weird, do you think he will resent being weird?

In order to resent being weird, my child has to look out at regular Americans and think they are super cool and wish he were more like them. I have a hard time imagining that happening. 

Or he has to think that being weird or different is bad in some way. Which is not how it went for me at all--if you don't watch television, you don't know that being weird is bad. You don't know that you are supposed to be deeply ashamed of being different or unpopular. You miss that memo. For example, when I was in 10th grade a girl made fun of me by saying that she was "Tommy Hilfiger", her other friend was "Calvin Klein" and I was "Kmart." What passed through my mind when she called me Kmart was not shame but confusion, "No. No. I shop at Walmart. They don't have a Kmart where I live," I said. She was confused for a minute and then she said, "No, I just mean your clothes are cheap," and I said, "What?! Walmart is so expensive!" Because I normally shopped at Goodwill. 

Like me, neither of the women I interviewed for this piece thought she was weird when she was a kid. Weird kids don't necessarily conclude that they are weird. They often conclude the opposite--that you are weird.

That being said: If my son was feeling unhappy about something, I would always try to help him solve the problem.

Don't you think your child would rather go to school?

LOL. Ummmmmm.... no.

That being said, from what I have read about homeschooling, I expect that at some point Anders will ask to go to school. I expect him to go and flee in horror in less than three months. This is what I have read is the norm among most home unschooling families.

Don't you think your child, once he is an adult who realizes he is weird, will wish he had gone to school?

No, because he won't be weird any more by the time he is an adult. And also--

I went to school. I graduated valedictorian from my elementary, junior, and senior high schools and did very well at Wesleyan University. I memorized everything I was supposed to. I jumped through every hoop. And I enjoyed the experience a little. But, looking back, I think they were a total waste of my time, damaging to my intrinsic motivation, and my authentic self. 

School, until I knew what I wanted to do, was fine. I didn't mind it that much. But when I was thirteen and fell in love with the stage and decided that is what I wanted to do with my life, being told to wait ten years was torture. At the time, I didn't mind all that much. So much life seemed to stretch before me I thought, "Sure, I can learn all these other things for ten years to make my parents happy." When I was 22 and finally free, it hit me that: I was ten years behind children who had had the support of their parents in pursing their dreams, I was $40,000 in student-loan debt and needed to get on the work-treadmill to pay that off, my fertility would drop 50% in 8 short years so if I wanted to have kids I would have to climb my career ladder impossibly fast or not have kids or accept the risks of having them later. My father told me the other day his only dream for his kids was that they went to college and didn't ask for money afterward. That was how he defined "successful parenting." No wonder he couldn't see me, the child in front of him, no wonder he couldn't help me meet my needs to create a life I wanted. He was just doing what it took to be a "Good Parent."

In The Case Against Adolescence and Escape from Childhood I learned that historically most people started their first business between the ages of 12 to 22. If you keep a child in school until they are 22, they are more likely to be an employee than an entrepreneur. I learned that we reach our peak of energy and brain performance between the ages of 13 and 16. I learned that most revolutionaries are 16-22. If you keep kids busy and distracted in school until they are 22, there will be a lower likelihood of political unrest.

I am not going to home-unschool my son and push him to have a career at the age of 13. I am going to listen to Anders and support him, to take him, and his dreams seriously.

If your child child did want to go to school, would you support him?

Would you support your child doing crack?

Like I said above, I expect my son to go to school and I expect him to not stay all that long. If he announced that he loved school and wanted to go forever I would ask what he loved about it and see if he could get those needs met in a way that would meet my needs as well. But I don't use force on my son and I don't plan to.

Moreover, I will always make every effort to see the person in front of me and listen.

What do you think are the disadvantages to being homeschooled?

Learning in a group can be easier and more fun than learning by yourself--but there are endless classes and camps for kids these days, especially in Los Angeles so I am not overly concerned about this.

I am a little concerned about the selection of kids that will be available for Anders to have as friends. However, I am insanely happy with the selection of adults Anders already considers his friends and since home schoolers tend to make friends with adults and get along better with their parents--I'm not overly concerned about this either.

My husband and I are very different from "regular Americans." It is frustrating at times to be so different from most of the rest of society. But in order to fit in, we would have to feed our bodies poison every day. We would have to think poisonous things and do poisonous things to others. We often joke that if we had it to over again we would take the blue pill but as time goes on we're finding our people and creating quite a life for ourselves. I am pretty excited about the path that we are on and I am unconvinced that mainstreamers are actually happier and less lonely than we are.

The main disadvantage I can see is for me, not my son. I am still trying to figure out how to "bring my son to life with me" rather than make my son my life. That is very hard to do in the time and place that I currently live. Ideas are welcome!

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