Every year that I’ve been homeschooling I’ve heard someone refer to “the new breed of homeschoolers” or the “other homeschoolers” or something to that effect. The definition of this varies widely, but it has to do with homeschoolers who perhaps aren’t bona fide homeschoolers. People who are homeschooling because their kid got kicked out of school for disciplinary issues. People who are just “trying out” homeschooling for a year. People whose kids needed to go on homebound for sickness and who decided to homeschool instead. (I remember several years ago, a mom brought her two middle-school aged kids to our enrichment class program and asked the then-director, “Is this the place where you homeschool?”
But the truth is…sometimes when I hit the “random blog” button or read articles in homeschooling magazines, I start feeling like, well, the “other” homeschoolers. Don’t get me wrong: we are a homeschooling family to the core. I advocate homeschooling 100% and quite frankly am sad when friends who were contemplating homeschooling choose public/private schools instead. But I feel like the “other” kind of homeschooler when, for example, I read one of the letters in the most recent issue of TOS. The writer was chastising TOS for including an interview with BarlowGirl. I, on the other hand, remember thinking, “Cool! TOS has an interview with BarlowGirl!” In such instances, I am hit with a wave of “otherness.”
Or when I read about a day-in-the-life of a homeschooling family and think, “Geez! I am such a slacker! My kids hate narration, I don’t make my own fresh bread every day, I don’t use the King James Version (except on the occasional Sunday when I forget my Bible and have to use the pew Bible), and—to top it all off—my 4th grader doesn’t have her multiplication tables memorized.” “Otherness” has to do with anyone who does things, well, differently than “we” do: from wild, unruly unschoolers; to middle-of-the-road eclectic folks; to straight A Beka advocates; to tight-lipped tomato-stakers (important note: stereotypes listed here to make a point, not necessary a personal viewpoint!!). Pick whatever category you fall into, and the rest are “others.”
“Otherness” hits me only now and then. I am blessed with a healthy dose of self-confidence (thanks to my wonderfully affirming parents who brought me up to live with great expectation). But I worry about homeschoolers who are mired in a self-doubt that is accentuated by that feeling of being, well, atypical.
One of the things I love about TOS magazine is its column that highlights various homeschooling families. There are two purposes to these articles: first, to take a peek into the lives of homeschooling families; and second, to make it clear to readers that no two homeschooling families are alike. Unfortunately, in real life, we just don’t always get it. We look at other families and think to ourselves—hmmm. They’re a different kind of homeschooler.
Ironically, as we all know, one of the greatest beauties of homeschooling is that it is flexible education at its finest. Any educational buzzword can be actively defined within the context of a handful of homeschooling families. Multiple intelligences? Accountability? Team teaching? Educational technology? Restructuring? Teacher empowerment (gotta love that one!)? Integrated learning? No Child Left Behind? Most of us can put a checkmark by all of those (although I do know one or two who have literally left a child behind on occasion…).
Shouldn’t we be happy that people are homeschooling, period? Shouldn’t we embrace and encourage any kind of homeschoolers, regardless of their motivation, rationale, or modus operundi? Shouldn’t we take time to answer the questions of a homeschooling mom, even if she is only homeschooling for a year to get her middle-schooler “caught up”? Because after all, aren’t we all, at some time, put in the uncomfortable position of being an “other’? And for those of us homeschooling 15 years or less, aren’t we all a “new breed of homeschoolers” to those pioneers in the 1970s and 80s?
Enough deep thoughts for tonight. Maybe next week I’ll find a new homeschooler whose face I don’t know and make sure she doesn’t feel like an “other.”