Sunday, June 08, 2008

Why Do People Dislike Homeschoolers?

In today's Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Sonny Scott has a surprisingly frank, and fascinating, article entitled "Homeschoolers Threaten Our Cultural Comfort." I don't know much about Mr. Scott, but I found his article enjoyable, if a bit unrealistic about how well-behaved homeschoolers are. Normally I prefer to encourage you to click over and read the article on the original site; however, this is a short article and it's hard to give you just a taste of it. So here it is in its entirety.

You see them at the grocery, or in a discount store.

It's a big family by today’s standards - "just like stair steps," as the old folks say. Freshly scrubbed boys with neatly trimmed hair and girls with braids, in clean but unfashionable clothes follow mom through the store as she fills her no-frills shopping list.

There's no begging for gimcracks, no fretting, and no threats from mom. The older watch the younger, freeing mom to go peacefully about her task.

You are looking at some of the estimated 2 million children being home schooled in the U.S., and the number is growing. Their reputation for academic achievement has caused colleges to begin aggressively recruiting them. Savings to the taxpayers in instructional costs are conservatively estimated at $4 billion, and some place the figure as high as $9 billion. When you consider that these families pay taxes to support public schools, but demand nothing from them, it seems quite a deal for the public.

Home schooling parents are usually better educated than the norm, and are more likely to attend worship services. Their motives are many and varied. Some fear contagion from the anti-clericalism, coarse speech, suggestive behavior and hedonistic values that characterize secular schools. Others are concerned for their children’s safety. Some want their children to be challenged beyond the minimal competencies of the public schools. Concern for a theistic world view largely permeates the movement.

Indications are that home schooling is working well for the kids, and the parents are pleased with their choice, but the practice is coming under increasing suspicion, and even official attack, as in California.

Why do we hate (or at least distrust) these people so much?

Methinks American middle-class people are uncomfortable around the home schooled for the same reason the alcoholic is uneasy around the teetotaler.

Their very existence represents a rejection of our values, and an indictment of our lifestyles. Those families are willing to render unto Caesar the things that Caesar’s be, but they draw the line at their children. Those of us who have put our trust in the secular state (and effectively surrendered our children to it) recognize this act of defiance as a rejection of our values, and we reject them in return.

Just as the jealous Chaldeans schemed to bring the wrath of the king upon the Hebrew eunuchs, we are happy to sic the state’s bureaucrats on these “trouble makers.” Their implicit rejection of America’s most venerated idol, Materialism, (a.k.a. “Individualism”) spurs us to heat the furnace and feed the lions.

Young families must make the decision: Will junior go to day care and day school, or will mom stay home and raise him? The rationalizations begin. "A family just can't make it on one income." (Our parents did.) "It just costs so much to raise a child nowadays." (Yeah, if you buy brand-name clothing, pre-prepared food, join every club and activity, and spend half the cost of a house on the daughter’s wedding, it does.) And so, the decision is made. We give up the bulk of our waking hours with our children, as well as the formation of their minds, philosophies, and attitudes, to strangers. We compensate by getting a boat to take them to the river, a van to carry them to Little League, a 2,800-square-foot house, an ATV, a zero-turn Cub Cadet, and a fund to finance a brand-name college education. And most significantly, we claim “our right” to pursue a career for our own "self-fulfillment."

Deep down, however, we know that our generation has eaten its seed corn. We lack the discipline and the vision to deny ourselves in the hope of something enduring and worthy for our posterity. We are tired from working extra jobs, and the looming depression threatens our 401k’s. Credit cards are nearly maxed, and it costs a $100 to fuel the Suburban. Now the kid is raising hell again, demanding the latest Play Station as his price for doing his school work … and there goes that modest young woman in the home-made dress with her four bright-eyed, well-behaved home-schooled children in tow. Wouldn’t you just love to wipe that serene look right off her smug face?

Is it any wonder we hate her so?

Sonny Scott a community columnist, lives on Sparta Road in Chickasaw County and his e-mail address is


Kimmer said...

Interesting, if somewhat romanticized, view of homeschoolers. Not all of us fit into the neat mold of serene, with perfectly behaved children.

Not all of us condemn those who don't homeschool. We are doing what works for our family. I generally assume that other families do the same.

Recently, my sister sent her kids back to public school, after a few years of homeschooling, and they're thriving. That's what is working for them, and I'm happy that it does.

The article makes us sound like holier-than-thou snobs, and everyone else is secretly jealous.

Melinda S. said...

It's a very good article, as you said. Though I must say I have a couple of problems with it:

1. The homeschooling families I know do not wear unusual clothing or have large families. (OK, unless you call 3-4 kids large! :) I know only a few with more than 4.)

2. Our kids aren't that good, either! :) Though they may be better behaved than some. This guy only sees them some of the time.

3. I don't think materialism equates to individualism. I see the current mentality as very much "everybody fall in line," get the same stuff, keep up with the Joneses. Particularly, public schools have a one size fits all mentality, so that we often homeschool for the sake of individuality as much as anything.

4. One would sincerely hope that she does not have a smug look on her face. Most homeschoolers I know would be horrified at such a description. I think that's more of a reaction from the author than a fact.

All that said, I think he has a major point that what we are doing shows that there IS another choice. Not that everybody needs to take it, but that it ought to be thought about, and not just blindly done.

I also liked his "eating the seed corn" phrasing, especially regarding our broader culture, though I know many parents who public school without this mentality, as well.

Marcy Muser said...

Melinda and Kimmer,

Yes, I agree it's a bit unrealistic. Most of us who homeschool do have far more discipline challenges than Sonny can see. However, I will say that when I occasionally see the large homeschooling family in the grocery store - I'm talking about the ones with 5 or 6 kids, or more - they often ARE pretty well-behaved. (The moms with that many kids who aren't well-behaved don't take them all to the grocery store, KWIM?!) And at the homeschooling conference this weekend, I saw several such families, prairie dresses and all, with kids just as he described. Those people make ME uncomfortable!

But maybe part of the reason they do is that I, too, have bought into much of the materialistic mentality, and my family relationships reflect that. I do have a bad tendency to spend too much time online and neglect my kids - even though they are at home, and even though I'm homeschooling.

As for the "smug look" - I went back and re-read the article, and it doesn't say she has a smug look. It says, "Wouldn't you just love to wipe that SERENE look right off her smug face?" The implication I read into this is that we have a tendency to ASSUME she is smug, because she does have a serene look on her face, rather than the harried look most people have when they take their kids to the grocery store.

Kimmer, I don't think he's implying that we are holier-than-thou snobs, either. At one point he says, "Their motives are many and varied." But the section that got to me was the one where he said, "Their very existence represents a rejection of our values, and an indictment of our lifestyles."

Even those who homeschool for entirely secular reasons, even those who are atheists, have rejected the majority values, and our existence DOES represent and indictment of the majority lifestyle. Most homeschoolers hold values such as these: Children are very significant, worth sacrificing a good job, peace, time, and money for. Education is more than sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher. Having more stuff is not the most important thing in life. The government is not worthy of being trusted with our children.

Our attachment to these values, whether we intend it to or not, points out the difference between us as homeschoolers and the rest of society. And I tend to agree with Sonny that one of the primary reasons so many Americans dislike and distrust homeschoolers is precisely that truth.

Anonymous said...

I think you are right in your analysis of there being an implicit difference in values--even in those who eventually send their kids to a public school. They have still said, "there is something more important than what I want, than my career, than what I can buy." Many public schoolers have the same attitude, they would give and are giving a lot for the sake of their kids, but it isn't so obvious.

I must admit I have family members who feel judged by what I do, though I have said very little (but they think I have said a great many things, which I have never even thought.) I don't know what I might have said, but obviously, they feel judged. I think it is very easy to see someone who is choosing differently, and feel that they cannot possibly approve of us, then.

attorneymom said...

Off topic:

I saw your comment over at The common room and I wanted to say thanks to your dh for being a good social worker. I am actually flying to Denver this weekend to advocate for a friend of mine who is being investigated based on a laughable allegation (a neighbor called the police and CPS. The police said don't worry about it. CPS wants a home visit). Anyway, I'm going to spare the details but thanks to your hubby for being one of the "good guys" in Denver!

Marcy Muser said...


Isn't it strange how people who don't homeschool often feel like we've said much more than we actually have? In dh's family, there are a couple of people who feel like we are criticizing or judging them, even though we've never said a word (in most cases, we've never even thought it!).

Great points!

Marcy Muser said...


It seems to me we have given far too much power to CPS. Unlike other violations of the law, in child protection issues, the parent is guilty until proven innocent - a recipe for disaster for families.

Thank you for the kind words!

Dana said...

Interesting comments. When I read it, I took the stereotyped view of homeschoolers more as a literary device than an actual description of real homeschoolers. The article just doesn't work if you replace it with a description of someone who is "just like us." And his real point is in challenging American consumerism. Here is this whole group of people who seem to have opted out, and they seem to be doing fine regardless.

Marcy Muser said...


Yes, I agree - it's more a criticism of consumerism. Maybe that's why I like it! :)

And while I do see it as a stereotype, I have to admit I have seen a fair number of homeschooling families out in public - often with many children - whose kids are remarkable in how well they behave. I am often intimidated, at homeschooling conferences, at some of these families - 8 kids, girls in long dresses, boys with hair neatly combed, attending this adult event and behaving respectfully and quietly, sometimes for hours. (I will say, though, as my girls get older and are better behaved in public, I begin to feel more satisfied myself.) :)