I didn’t see the friendly stranger approaching us. Instead, I was distractedly walking with my family through Mesa Verde National Park, talking about the amazing homes built right into the rock and helping my kids think through the questions on the Jr. Ranger Badge worksheets. This curious tourist meandered up to us and casually asked, “You homeschool don’t you?” At first I felt a twinge of pride. “Why yes,” I purred, “We certainly do.” Secretly my ego puffed: We must look thoughtfully engaged with our children.
But then I began to wonder, do we have a look? –and I don’t mean blue denim jumpers (That homeschool fashion statement has come and gone, thankfully, since at my height I simply looked like a pup tent with feet.).
The subject of a homeschooler type has been raised before, and usually with some controversy. The image of a nerdy or socially awkward kid or one who shows signs of perpetual isolation is the typical negative stereotype we’re sometimes assigned. (Although that “isolation” one always makes me chuckle. For most of the homeschoolers I know, isolation isn’t the problem; finding a day when you’re not going to be out with a large cluster of other homeschoolers is. Most of us are struggling to put the “home” back in homeschool.)
Our image has been evolving over time. Just when I thought maybe the less-appealing images had passed, I see a Connecticut Magazine article with the title, “Homeschooling: Not Just for Social Outcasts Anymore.” Aren’t you relieved? But be prepared, there’s sure to be a stampede since now all the cool kids will want in. Big cynical sigh
There truly are homeschooling families who are indistinguishable from any typical American family. I’ve seen kids perfectly trendily dressed, pop-culture-lingo-spouting, heads down, texting away over their handheld devices, even in homeschool circles. So I know it’s possible to have a homeschooler who looks “mainstreamed”. But I must also admit to you that there are times when I’ve casually nodded toward a family and said, “I bet they homeschool.” There are just some characteristics that you almost never see anywhere else but in homeschooling circles. Things like. . .
- five year-old boys holding hands as they run off to play because they’ve never heard it wasn’t cool
- fifteen year-old girls who exude not the slightest bit of awareness of how or why to flirt
- a decided lack of cynicism that gives way to a range of expressions that would be out of the question in an environment that puts great value in being cool
- teenagers with a willingness to play board games, act in skits for fun, and dress up in period costumes.
- comfortableness talking to people in their 80’s, 20’s, 50’s, and even preschoolers with an untarnished belief that everyone has something interesting to say
- having only seen movies because their family doesn’t have cable
- and of course, anyone who names their pet “Gandalf”, their treehouse “the Shire”, and looks intently at any object saying, “My precious. . .”, is likely to have a homeschooling background.
I’m not saying all homeschoolers exhibit these qualities. I’m just saying that when you do see lovely qualities like these, they often come from within a homeschooling dynamic. I’m glad that those who want to combine homeschooling with a more mainstream life can do so. In fact, I love the one thing that homeschooling does so well: provide choices. But I’m also glad that it allows another choice, one in which little boys can walk hand in hand, just because they’re friends, and no one even thinks a thing about it.
What do you think? Is there a type? Have those days passed? Do we want a type?
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