However, I also find myself frustrated at times when people who survived awful situations present abusive religious homeschooling as the default. Homeschoolers are like this, homeschooling is like that. We’re always going to view things through the lens of our own experiences, and I don’t think it’s the job of people who had bad experiences to avoid stereotyping something that was, in their lives, bad. But the picture they’re painting looks nothing like what I lived. Their background is so wildly different that it really brings home how “homeschooling” as an umbrella term is largely useless when it comes to describing the details of our different educational experiences. In my life...
I didn’t miss out on pop-culture, or fashion, or anything else like that when I was growing up. I listened to top-forty type stations as a child, and I can still sing along to more Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears than I would like to admit. I watched Shrek about a hundred times (and can sing along to the entire soundtrack, too). My first solo-concert as a teen was Linkin Park. And though we got our gaming consoles when they were older instead of right when they were released, me and my sister spent plenty of time in our teens playing Mario Kart and Mario Party with friends, on first the Nintendo 64 then Gamecube. I wore clothes that were at least roughly in style. I waited in line for the midnight release of the latest Harry Potter book. In short? I was pretty plugged into pop culture as both a child and teenager!
One of the (many) reasons it makes me uncomfortable when parents entirely cut off or severely limit “screen” access is because of how valuable it is for interacting with and discovering shared culture, shared media, shared interests and communities. I’ve seen many people who grew up with bad homeschooling backgrounds talk about feeling like strangers in their own culture, having never been allowed to have access to the wide range of media available to most people. That stuff is important, and has been something that’s allowed me to bond with people from a wide variety of childhood backgrounds.
I wasn’t isolated as a child, and I don’t have trouble fitting in with my peers now. I might be “weird” in some ways, and I might not fit in terribly well with groups that are too “normal,” but the points of difference and of commonality rarely have anything to do with educational background, now that I’m an adult. If I’m hanging out with people who are queer or feminists or radical leftists or geeks who share my specific geekery or yes, unschoolers, I feel perfectly at home. I often felt out of place in my teens, but that’s a feeling almost universal to teenagers, regardless of background, and I often found myself on the sidelines with fellow outcasts who did go to regular school, meaning I never really thought my education was to blame. That point seemed further proved by my unschooled sister, who was very outgoing and seemed to always find or make a friend group wherever she happened to find herself. Some kids find it easier to make friends than others, but as long as they have the opportunity to be around other kids, I don’t think it has much to do with education.
On the other hand, right-wing Christian homeschoolers are often extremely insular, interacting only with others of their faith and politics, and seeing the broader culture as being filled with bad influences. Children raised to fear the other, raised in isolated surroundings, who don’t get to spend much time with other children (or at least children that aren’t exactly like them), are unlikely to be happy or emotionally healthy, and will be at a disadvantage when it comes time to merge with the broader culture. Isolation, whether from other people or from pop culture, is a bad thing.
I think everything I’ve mentioned here can really be broken down between the two major groups of homeschoolers: those who want to give more of the world to their children, and those who want to restrict their children’s access to the world. This cuts across homeschooling approaches (though unschoolers obviously by majority fall into the first category), and seems from what I’ve witnessed to be the biggest indicator of whether a homeshooler has a good experience, or a bad one. Was it their parents’ intent in going school free to allow them more freedom, more exploration, more meaningful relationships, more engagement? Or was the purpose to isolate them from the “wrong” influences, “wrong” ideas, “wrong” people?
Homeschooling shines when it’s embedded in the world, suffused with an excitement for discovery and learning. When it’s instead just a way to exert even greater control over children? Then it’s better labeled simply as abuse.