Homeschooler’s in general and unschooler’s in particular love to break down stereotypes. It feels really great when some busy-body who assumes your kids aren’t well read, well socialized or simply well rounded is proven wrong. But what happens when our kids fit a particular stereotype?
J breaks down a lot of stereotypes. He’s conventionally intelligent which often surprises people outside the unschooling community. He has a good command of standard grammar structures despite (or in fact due to) unlimited access to the internet. He likes lots of the same things other 14 year old boys like- video games, sci-fi, riding bikes, you-tube, and eating us out of house and home… typical teenage boy stuff. And yet, he doesn’t break down every stereotype people have about homeschoolers. In fact he feeds right into one of the biggies… he doesn’t like to socialize.
Let me back up a moment, he doesn’t like to socialize in conventional, mainstream ways. He loves chatting with his friends on Steam and X-Box Live but is fine to skip face to face get togethers with our homeschool group. Meeting new and interesting people online is something he considers fun but talking to new people in person is just awkward and uncomfortable. He self-identifies as a geek and is happy with that. He finds the socially awkward penguin meme completely relatable.
Sometimes comments have been made (or sometimes just easy to read facial expressions) that suggest school would have solved this “problem”. But guess who else doesn’t like face to face socialization. My husband. Who graduated from public school. And would you care to venture who else relates to the socially awkward penguin? Me. Who also graduated from public school. I think these tendencies are just who we are and have little to do with where we learn. The difference between schooled and unschooled children is not that one group is full of social butterflies and the other full of the aforementioned penguin but how others within each group react to those butterflies and penguins.
J was just as awkward when he attended school as he is now- and the older he got the less acceptable that was by the other kids as well as the teachers. At home we accept him no matter what. We recognize that pushing him into situations that make him uncomfortable is NOT the answer. In fact, for far too many people it exacerbates the problem. Seriously, this notion that school makes everyone more socially adept must be perpetuated by people who didn’t have outcasts at their school. Was no one in your high school regularly trying to avoid swirlies? Was no one caving in to peer pressure to fit in? Was no one constantly feeling like crap about themselves because they didn’t effortlessly fit the norm? My school was full of these people; I WAS that last one.
As we grow older we hear a lot of people make declarations that they love being in their 30s/40s/50s because as they grow older they become more comfortable with themselves. But we all started out being comfortable with ourselves. When we were five we didn’t care what other people thought. As we grow older and more aware of other people we lose some of that, no matter how we are schooled. But I think unschooling, at least for us, affords us a way to avoid losing it completely. I don’t want J to spend his twenties and thirties finding himself because social pressure caused him to push something down. Or worse yet, I don’t want him to feel that pressure so intensely that he internalizes and learns not to like himself. Right now, he’s awkward . But he EMBRACES that side of himself. He accepts it and knows that it doesn’t make him wrong or bad. He’d like to be more comfortable in new situations and is finding ways to work on it in his own way and his own time instead of having it forced upon him by others.
So, sometimes we don’t break the stereotypes. Sometimes we don’t have an easy comeback for those who might jump to judgement. But those are the times when I’m really thankful for this lifestyle.