Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What Americans Think About Homeschooling

There's a fascinating article on yesterday's MarketWatch website. It's entitled, "Homeschooling a Constitutional Right, Americans Tell LifeWay Research," and it shows that in fact the majority of Americans do believe that parents have a constitutional right to homeschool.

The California appeals court shocked the nation with its ruling in February," said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research. "We decided, as part of a broad survey of more than 1,200 adult Americans, to get their reaction and found that 61 percent strongly agreed that the Constitution guarantees the right of parents to homeschool, and another 25 percent agreed somewhat." Eight percent somewhat disagreed, five percent disagreed strongly, and two percent did not know, according to Stetzer. "Americans appear to believe that parents, not the government, should decide whether or not they should homeschool."

This is surprising, and demonstrates a profound change in perspective about homeschooling among society as a whole over the last 25 years or so. Back in the 80's, homeschooling was little-known, and many people thought it was a strange thing to do. Oh, a few people did it - the University of Nebraska, for example, even allowed kids to earn a high school diploma through independent study (I know, I got mine that way!). But mostly it was reserved to the fringes and to the exceptional situation: farm kids, missionary kids, kids with sicknesses that kept them out of school for long periods, and so on.

It speaks very well of the homeschooling community that since the 1980's homeschooling has become, not only accepted among the general population, but a constitutional right. This can only be the result of many dedicated homeschooling parents working exceptionally hard to show that homeschooling can in fact be as good a way of educating kids as any other schooling.

However, we still have our work cut out for us in demonstrating that homeschooling not only provides a good education, but also excellent social skills.

Many have expressed concern that homeschooling fails to provide adequate socialization and connection to broader society, often leading to weaker social interaction and skills. In the LifeWay Research survey, 54 percent of respondents agreed, somewhat or strongly, that "children who are homeschooled often lack social skills."

Remember, this is a perception, not reality. The general public thinks homeschoolers often lack social skills. It's up to us, as homeschooling parents, to help change this belief on the part of ordinary people, and the best way I can think of is to train our kids, very carefully and deliberately, in social skills. Manners, etiquette, kindness, consideration - these things must be taught on purpose and consistently. We spend large portions of our time with our kids; we have the chance to observe them regularly. It's critical that we observe our kids' behavior and their interactions with others, and that we correct them for inappropriate social interaction. The more we do this, the more likely it is that our kids will grow up to respond correctly in social situations.

It's encouraging to see that our culture is beginning to recognize the value of homeschooling, and the right of parents to educate children as they believe is best for them. And as we consistently raise children who contradict the general opinion about socialization, that misperception will also fall by the wayside, and people will see the truth about how good homeschooling can be for kids.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

When people find out I homeschool, they typically make an offensive comment. It is really difficult to bite my tongue and not answer back in kind. As you say, it is up to us to change people's perceptions of homeschooling. I've found that the people who make offensive comments do it in total ignorance. Once they see the reality of what homeschooling is as I explain it with a humble and kind attitude, they typically become supportive proponents of homeschooling.

Kimmer said...

Sometimes I feel that teaching my children kindness, consideration, etc. puts them out of step with their peers, especially when combined with their lack of awareness of current trends.

Marcy Muser said...

Anonymous,

I understand how you feel, and I'm convinced it's homeschoolers' gentle and thoughtful answers to those kinds of offensive comments that have already made such a difference in public perception of us.

In many places, homeschoolers get few offensive comments any more, and I'm pretty sure it's a result of other homeschoolers' interactions with the general public. I know I rarely encounter a negative here in the Denver area. My husband did have a co-worker who thought it was abusive, though even she said it was "OK for you" because I finished most of my teaching degree. (Funny thing is, I use almost none of what I learned from my teaching degree!)

So let me encourage you to keep hanging in there and giving careful responses to those who do make offensive comments. You ARE making a difference, and if we all continue to do so, we will all eventually benefit. As you say, most of the time, even those with negative attitudes can become supportive when we respond wisely.

Marcy Muser said...

Kimmer,

I know what you mean! I just figure I'm not raising my kids for today as much as for the future. Kids are mean, and being nice can put them at a disadvantage in elementary and middle school, and sometimes even in high school.

But kind responses still make our kids less likely to have negative social interactions. Consider these two exchanges:

Child A: "That's MY Happy Meal toy!"
Child B: "No, it's not! It's mine!"

Child A: "That's MY Happy Meal toy!"
Child B: "Maybe it is. Will you help me find the other one?"

Child B is more likely to get a positive result from the second response than from the first. And not only that, but even if Child A responds rudely, any adults that are watching will be a lot more impressed with the second response than with the first - meaning if Child B is homeschooled, it gives homeschooling a positive association.

I agree that kindness and diplomacy can sometimes put a younger child at a bit of a disadvantage temporarily. But somewhere between high school and college, the other kids also begin to develop some maturity, and then the social skills we've been working so hard to develop really pay off. At that point everyone begins to recognize how well the homeschooled child is doing socially.

My goal is that as people get to know my high-school or college student, they will see how good their social skills are and will remember them. I want kids who grew up with them or knew them in high school or after to think, through the rest of their lives, "I knew a homeschooler once, and she had amazing social skills - so maybe socialization is such a problem as everyone thinks it is."

See what I mean?

Melinda S. said...

It is also true that anything that our kids do that is "normal kid behavior" can be misinterpreted to be due to the homeschooling, as well. Eg, my husband is somewhat socially awkward, despite years of both private and public schooling (and being married to me, which actually has helped. :) ) However, when my daughter shows social awkwardness, it is of course due to the fact that she is homeschooled. I will believe that's the cause when there are no public schooled geeks out there.

At the same time, as you mention, there are some things we have to more deliberately teach our homeschooled kids. About 3rd grade, it has become noticeable for all of mine that they have not internalized basic school rules like "raise your hand before talking," and "only talk when the teacher wants you to," and "even then, only if it's directly on topic." This can make our kids stand out negatively in Sunday school, on field trips, etc, if we don't keep working on it. (And indeed it seems to take hours to teach it--hours which the other kids have gotten sitting in class, but we have to teach it consciously.)