Friday, August 03, 2007

What Are Homeschoolers Really Like?

Shawna over at The Homeschooling Experiment has a good post on "The Perception of Homeschoolers". She recently read a book by a group of unschoolers who believe public perception of homeschoolers is that they are of the wealthy upper class. She took issue with that, saying she thinks most people perceive homeschoolers as "minimally educated . . . lower to lower middle class socioeconomically, or maybe considered a bit 'crunchy.'"

This is an interesting issue - how do most people really perceive homeschooling families? And maybe more significant yet, what are homeschooling families really like? I've had the opportunity to know MANY homeschoolers over the 11 years I've been homeschooling my own daughters. My estimate would be that between the enrichment programs I've taught in, the co-op groups I've been a part of, and the online communities I've been involved in, I know at least 1000 homeschooling families and perhaps twice that many. (Of course, I don't remember all their NAMES . . . !)

In my experience, perceptions of homeschoolers come in almost as many varieties as the people who hold those perceptions. I know those who perceive homeschoolers as rural, religious, reclusive, somewhat controlling, with a large family. My social worker husband works with some who think homeschoolers are abusive for keeping their kids out of school, no matter how good the education they provide their children. I've read articles by those who think homeschoolers must be wealthy in order for Mom to stay at home from work to homeschool. Many of the people I meet think homeschooling parents must be saints or have some sort of superhuman powers - "I could never do that!"

In truth, I think homeschoolers come in every variety. I know of urban, suburban, and rural homeschoolers. Some homeschooling friends of ours have 8 or more kids, others homeschool only children (and everything in between). There are homeschooling families we know who are wealthy; homeschooling families who make great sacrifices so Mom can be at home; homeschooling families where Mom works part-time (LOTS of those!); homeschooling families where Mom works full-time and Dad homeschools; even homeschooling families with single, working parents (Moms and Dads). I know incredibly lax homeschooling parents, who let the kids decide what they're going to do each day (and in many cases the kids still turn out better educated than their peers), and very strict homeschooling parents who make their kids sit at a desk and fill out workbooks. Some homeschooling families use textbooks; some use workbooks; some use "real" books; some "unschool," and many do a combination. I know homeschooling families who had great experiences in school themselves, and those who had terrible ones; those whose kids have been to school and later been pulled out, those who never send their kids to school, and those who keep them at home a few years and then send them to school. My kids have homeschooled friends who are years ahead of their peers, some who are a little ahead, some who are about the same, and some who are behind and would be labelled "special ed." There are highly educated homeschooling parents (in some cases both have Ph.D.'s), and those with minimal education (no more than a high school diploma, and I've heard of some with even less). I know of religious homeschoolers (Christian, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Wiccan - I've even heard of Buddhist and Hindu homeschoolers) and strongly atheist homeschoolers.

If homeschooling families ever DID fit any kind of stereotype, they certainly don't today. The only similarities I've found between pretty much every homeschooling family are a profound love for their children, and the desire to provide their kids with a better education than they'd get in the public schools. And I'm convinced that the more you get to know homeschoolers, the more you'll be amazed at the tremendous variety of people who do it.


Shawna said...

I really didn't have a lot of exposure or ideas to homeschooling prior to a 4th grade student I recieved in which mom accompanied him to class and helped out, and my interest was piqued...and then thge numerous conversations I mentioned in my post.

I never really formed much of an opinion one way or another, but what again piqued my interested was a woman who joined a mommyboard I moderated at who unschooled and she had a Ph D and was an enginner and another who was a dear friend and homeschooled her 11 children and was a college grad and had taught secondary science. So I began to form an opinion that countered a lot of what I had been hearing, the concerns that I had been considering and forming due to the conversations that I had been hearing and participating in.

I was interested enough that I began to check out books (The Teenage Liberation Handbook was the 1st) and began to read and that was about all it took--I was convinced. It was everything I had felt as a high school student myself and everything I had felt as a teacher during my short career as such...I just had to build up my confidence as funny as that sounds coming from a former teacher who taught at least a 150 students a day.

No we are not rural, a tad semi-rural on the out skirts of our city but within walking distance, we do have a big family but my other six children have been and are being publicly schooled--3 in college, 3 in their last year or two of highschool, we are anything but reclusive, not religious by a long short although there is a religious base somewhere within our family, we are anything but controlling--more like controlled half the time LOL--no bad school experiences that lead to our decision, well my husband had one bad experience his senior year, but this wasn't his decision, just one he jumped on board with when I presented it.

Marcy Muser said...

Shawna, I'm so glad you were able to learn about homeschooling from non-stereotypical homeschoolers. It's funny to read newspaper and magazine articles about homeschoolers - you can pick off the ones who know very few homeschooling families in a heartbeat! They're the ones who write about homeschooling as if those who do it fit the stereotype. The people who know lots of homeschoolers usually write far more balanced articles.

It's great that you had the drive and interest to pursue the issue for yourself. I was actually homeschooled myself for first grade, sixth grade, and all of high school, so I approached homeschooling as a relatively natural thing to do. I hadn't really committed to doing it myself, but it was definitely an option for me.

As for my family, we live in a small city on the outskirts of Denver (basically a suburban environment). We have only two children who have both been homeschooled since birth - well, at least since I figured out that what I was doing with my then-2-year-old actually had a name: interest-based homeschooling! We are absolutely NOT reclusive - we are gone from home doing something interesting almost every afternoon. We are fairly religious, though that's not our primary reason for homeschooling. Some days I definitely fit the mold of "somewhat controlling," but overall our household mostly functions on mutual respect and responsibility, not on power plays.

We are not committed to homeschool forever, though I would not be surprised either if we did homeschool both kids through high school. We homeschool mostly because my older daughter is amazingly gifted and succeeds at almost anything she tries; she's a strong leader and we were reluctant to send her to preschool at 3 when she already knew all they were teaching even at the K level. So I started homeschooling her then, and she continues to gain on her public-schooled peers; it makes less sense now to put her in school than it ever did.

Thanks for sharing your experience. Once again, you demonstrate my point about what tremendous variety there is among the homeschooling community. Glad you are trying the experiment!

Crimson Wife said...

You should consider submitting this as a "vignette" to the Diversity page at Life Without School.

When I first brought up the subject of homeschooling to my DH, his response was skepticism: "Homeschooling? Isn't that for hippies and superfundamenalist Protestants?" That may have been mostly true when we were growing up in the '80's but the homeschooling community is way more diverse these days!

Marcy Muser said...


Thanks for the tip. I'd never seen this page, but I will definitely submit it to them. I'm glad you stopped by!

Alasandra said...

Love your post.

Marcy Muser said...

Thanks, Alasandra!

jugglingpaynes said...

This is a wonderful post. In my 10 years of homeschooling I haven't yet met the homeschooler that fits the stereotypes I've heard. We certainly don't.

Thanks for the nice review of my comic strip. I hope you find time to read more of them.

Peace and Laughter,

Marcy Muser said...


I've met a few homeschoolers who fit the stereotypes, but not many. They are certainly not in the majority when it comes to homeschoolers! :)

I'll definitely keep an eye out for your comic strips.