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.