Home sweet homeschooled

The big rap against homeschooled kids seems to be that they aren’t “socialized.” I asked a longtime member of a big-city school board about homeschooling, and he shook his head and rolled his eyes.

“Those kids are nothing but problems,” he said. “They’re not socialized. We had one boy who wanted to go out for football because that’s something you really can’t do at home, and when he got to the locker room, the other kids found out he didn’t even know how to snap a towel or give a wedgie. That’s the problem with homeschooling.”

Yes, why can’t homeschooled children act as if they’ve been raised by wolves like socialized children? What were their parents thinking?

I can always tell if children are being schooled at home. They call me “Mr. Mullen” instead of “dude,” or “yo,” or a couple of words that we can’t print. Homeschoolers are usually smarter and more talented than I am. Regularly schooled children may be smarter than I am, too, but since they are socialized to be uncomfortable speaking to anyone outside their age group, I will never know.

Many people pooh-pooh the idea of homeschooling on the grounds that it is just a way for controlling parents to be even more controlling – as if uncontrolled parenting and conventional schools were working out fine and dandy.

Some parents homeschool for religious reasons, some because they think they can do a better job than conventional schools, some because they don’t want their kids contaminated by the kinds of brats who are idolized by MTV execs and their teenage viewers. One MTV show, “My Super Sweet 16,” is a documentary of how wealthy parents overindulge their children. The show seems to have two main purposes: to give horrid, spoiled children a chance to be on TV without having to learn how to act or dance or be personable, and to make less well-off teens insane with jealousy.

It’s a lose-lose program. One scene shows a soon-to-be 16-year-old screaming, “You’ve wrecked my life!” at her mother as she hands the child the keys to a $68,000 Lexus. It seems the girl wanted to get the car the next night, the night of her birthday. What I especially liked about the screaming fit was that the teen was wearing a diamond tiara while she turned blue with outrage. How wonderfully socialized she was.

ˇYeah, Mom, you have wrecked Little Miss Sunshine’s whole life. Not for giving her the car, but for letting her get away with that kind of behavior. The present you may have actually given her is a string of future ex-husbands; years of ineffective, self-indulgent psychotherapy; a nice addiction to some classy prescription drugs; and screaming fits for the next 40 or 50 years about how you wrecked her life. Her children will be even worse. Congratulations, Mom, she couldn’t have done it without you.

Homeschooling is, of course, not for everyone. I personally believe in the upper-class English system where the parents have the baby, then bundle it off to boarding school as fast as humanly possible with the loving send-off, “Oh, do come visit us – when you’re 18.”

I’ve just started to hear a new homeschooling word (well, new to me): “unschooling.” Most states require that homeschoolers study the same curriculum as conventional schools. Unschooling, however, is the philosophy that children should be unfettered and should learn naturally, jumping from interest to interest as they grow, the hope being that they will learn how to learn as they follow their own non-curricula. They will learn on the job. This strikes both conventional schoolers and most homeschoolers as a bad idea, but how will we know until the experiment bears fruit?

Parents and teachers know that what works well for one child may not work for another. How old were you before you found out what you were meant to do in life – if you ever have? Was it something you found at school or on your own?

Maybe the best education is a combination of conventional schooling, homeschooling and unschooling – or something we haven’t thought of yet. But what isn’t working is socialization.

Jim Mullen’s latest book “Now in Paperback!” is now in paperback. You can reach him at jimmullenbooks.com.

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