Skepticism

Ask Skepchick: Homeschooling Skeptically

We here at Skepchick get a lot of email.  You, our dear readers, are excellent at sending us links for quickies, as well as great questions that help us create content that will be helpful and interesting to you, and we deeply appreciate it.  So keep ’em coming!

Recently, presented with a question we thought many people might find relevant, we decided it might be fun to use it to kick off a new “Ask Skepchick” column for the blog. So here goes.

Amy writes:

I’m thinking of homeschooling my 5th grader but am a little
put off by the religious overtones of home schooling. Any ideas of
non-religious, free-thinking approaches to homeschooling? I
appreciate any input. Thanks.

To help answer this question, I contacted Jenny Wadley, secular homeschooler extraordinaire, and she very kindly obliged me with an interview.

Why did you choose to homeschool your child?

A combination of my son’s personality and needs, my husband’s negative experience with the public school system in Florida, and a philosophical problem with some of the methods of public schooling in Florida, including its emphasis on standardized testing. My son is a seemingly-intelligent, energetic and inquisitive child. He also has a lot of energy. He learns best when he can talk, move his body around, and experience things first-hand. Those types of learning experiences are difficult to achieve in a classroom of 20 children, with one teacher trying to make sure all students learn to a minimum standard.

My husband has a high I.Q. and ADD. His public schooling experience was frustrating, to say the least, and it led to a rejection, on his part, of formal schooling. Having noticed some similarities in our son’s early learning styles and behaviors, my husband was concerned that our child’s natural love for learning would be replaced with a resentment of the restrictions placed on his body and mind in a large classroom.

Finally, although I am a satisfied product of the Florida public school system, I have major philosophical problems with the current climate of education here. There is a huge emphasis on testing, and on teaching students to pass the test, not to think critically and learn organically. My experience in public school was improved by my inclusion in the Gifted Program, so I had the small group, critical-and-creative-thinking experience I would prefer for my child.

At this point, our homeschooling experience has been rewarding for our child. We plan to continue. However, we constantly evaluate whether this is the best method for his education, and we keep ourselves open to other options as he grows and his needs change.

What type of homeschooling do you use? Is there an organization that oversees what you’re doing (setting curricula, administering grades, etc)?

Homeschooling requirements vary from state to state and sometimes by county within states. We live and homeschool in the state of Florida, in Seminole County, and our requirements are few. When I chose to homeschool my son, I had two choices – I could either register him with the county as a homeschooled student, and comply with all requirements put forth by the county/state to ensure successful completion of each school year, or I could enroll him in an “umbrella school”. Umbrella schools are largely online private schools. They vary greatly in what services they provide, from a full curriculum complete with teacher-supervised testing and tutor sessions, to a simple tracking and reporting structure that allows you to submit you child’s “attendance” and grade records.

Many secular homeschooling families I know choose to use an umbrella school so that they do not need to bother with the state requirements. However, I did not choose this path, because according to the state, my child would be a private school student, not a homeschooler. That meant he would not have access to the resources of the public school system (special education testing, special needs accommodation, extracurricular activities). But, more importantly, it meant that my son wasn’t counted in the ranks of homeschoolers. I’m proud of our decision to homeschool in a secular manner, and I want to be counted as a successful secular homeschooling family.

Since I chose to register my son as a homeschool student, I must meet the requirements each year to demonstrate his successful completion of a year’s worth of progress (note that he does not have to achieve all of the state standards for each grade and subject area, but he must show appropriate progress). The State of Florida requires that I do one of three things: 1) Keep a portfolio of work samples, academic achievements, list of books read or used, field trips, etc., and have the portfolio reviewed by a certified teacher at the end of the year to prove progress; 2) Have the student successfully pass a standardized test; or 3) Have the student evaluated by a licensed professional (psychologist, etc.)

I chose option 1. I keep work samples, a list of our activities and materials, and a diary of sorts, of the homeschool work we do each week. At the end of the academic year, I have a certified teacher review the portfolio and interview my son briefly, then she fills out an evaluation form I submit to the county.

Within those guidelines, I am able to freely choose what and how I teach my child. I can use any curricula, or none at all. I have no requirements as to hours spent on schoolwork or subjects covered. In my case, this freedom is essential, as I generally use a child-led, eclectic, unschooling method with my first grader. We do not use a complete curriculum for any subject, though we do have a curriculum for math that we supplement with other materials. We use some workbooks, but more often we use literature, reference materials, and resources available at the library or in the community to develop unit studies around the subjects that interest my son. For example, when he was fascinated by mummies, we found some internet sites that showed the steps of mummification, read several books about Ancient Egypt, did a science experience that involved making an apple mummy, did a couple of art projects involving mummies, and I led a co-operative class on mummies for our local homeschooling group.

I look up the Sunshine State Standards online, which clearly state what the State of Florida thinks each child should learn in each grade. I use that list to make sure we’re not missing big things. We also take a lot of field trips, and we do a lot of life learning – Allowance math, grocery store sorting, LEGO play, reading signs, cereal boxes, and everything we see. We read books every day – my son reading independently and parents reading aloud. We read classic literature in addition to comic strips and children’s books. This week we’ve read The Wizard of Oz, Calvin and Hobbes, and Bunnicula, to list just three.

We also participate in local groups. We are active members of a secular homeschooling group in our county that organizes weekly co-operative classes and frequent and field trips, organized by parents. Our son also participates, through that group, in a program called Odyssey of the Mind, which has students use critical and creative thinking skills to solve long-term and short-term problems.

I realize that a great deal of my response to this question is specific to my geographical location, so it may not be helpful, but I give you the information as an example of our situation.

Are there any good secular homeschooling organizations out there?

There are, but I have found that they are often a bit hard to find. It really depends on where you are located. Our area has at least four local secular groups, organized by parents, and at least one statewide organization (SHEAF – Secular Home Educators Association of Florida). I’m aware of national organizations that are secular in nature, such as Unschooling America, but I may not have all of the latest information. Since my son is still quite young, and we have excellent local groups, I have not sought out all of the resources I will likely need as he grows. However, a quick google search for “secular homeschooling” brought me to some interesting resources.

Thanks again, Jenny, and thanks to Amy for the great question.

Some relevant links:

List of state by state legal requirements

Atheist Homeschoolers on Yahoo Groups

secularhomeschool.com

Secualar Homeschooling Magazine

Advice on finding secular curricula

Secular Homeschool reference/blog

As always, readers, you are encouraged to share your knowledge and advice as well. You are a great resource.

If you have a question for “Ask Skepchick”, please submit it via the comment form, under the subject heading “question”.

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40 Comments

  1. I was home schooled until 2nd grade when I started school as did my little sister (preK program). I didn’t start behind the other kids at all (the only thing I really had to learn that year was cursive which apparently was a Really Big Deal and they admonished my mom strongly for that and the fact that I raised my hand to answer like every single question because I thought that was what you were supposed to do, silly me, apparently girls were supposed to know their place better than that).

    I knew kids who did home schooling until they were jr’s and then they came to school for some of the chemistry and biology classes which they did well in, they were also always able to go to our school dances and all that they lived in the tiny town.

    I knew a kid who home schooled until college at which point he got into a very good one and did very well. He was by the time he was in 8th grade outpacing both his parents educational levels but it was never an issue.

    (These are the non-religious folks I know who did home schooling for other reasons, including being to damn far away from the nearest school to attend, 4 hours is not acceptable transport time!)

  2. Homeschooling can be great, my college roommate was homeschooled through highschool because her local school just wasn’t challenging enough. I also know a few people who were homeschooled who haven’t been well served by it because their parents didn’t make sure they were participating in enough activities with other kids so they had few if any friends. They don’t work well with others because of this, they never learned those skills until they were in college if ever.

  3. You should be wary of the umbrella school approach. While I am sure there are many fine such schools, many of them are just a sham used by religious homeschoolers as a loophole to get out of the state regulations on curriculum. Some states are re-examining this loophole and attempting to close it.

  4. Sorry if this jumps around a bit, I should probably have put my thoughts down somewhere besides this comment box and edited them first… ah well.

    We’re an odd family of homeschoolers. My wife is the primary teacher and still x-tian. I’m the supplemental guy. While my wife does work some of her beliefs into their school day (and I work mine into the supplemental work with Sagan, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Scientific American Magazine, and philosophy) it was never our reason for homeschooling. The initial reasons we started were A) experiences with my wife’s class mates as she got her degree in Early Childhood Education, and B) our eldest (only at the time) teaching himself to read and write at 4, and C) his health issues.

    While a majority of the homeschoolers in this area, and most areas I think, are xtian, there are also quite a few secular homeschoolers. There are in fact people “of faith” who homeschool who specifically identify as secular homeschoolers BECAUSE it’s about the education and what works for their child and not about their faith. That Atheist Homeschoolers Yahoo group is a good resource, and one of the members puts out the Secular Homeschooling Magazine which is a also good resource for somebody interested in homeschooling without religion.

    You can’t get into it with any delusions that homeschooling is going to be easy… you’ll have the job of both parent and teacher (and you’ll note that almost nobody claims EITHER of those are easy on their own). But, if you’re committed to your kid and it works for you (because it doesn’t always work for every parent, every child, or every family) it can be a fantastic experience. There are certainly people who half-ass homeschooling, just as there are people who half-ass the rest of parenting, but if you’re taking the decision seriously you’re probably not a half-assing type person.

    Oh, another resource is: http://www.hsfreethinkers.com/

  5. Homeschooling is a very good approach to education for the child who learns differently. The flexibility and possibilities for tailoring curriculum to the needs of the individual allow each child to follow their own interests and to maximize their own potential, without all of the difficulties inherent in a system of mass education which is aimed at helping the least common denominator meet an arbitrary standard.

    For more information on homeschooling your gifted or twice-exception (gt/LD) child, visit: http://giftedhomeschoolers.org

  6. I homeschool my middle child and do it through the public school system here in Washington state – http://www.wava.org. The Bellevue public school system is, unfortunately, feeling the underpinnings of the “no child left behind” act. This meant my bright little girl who simply had organization issues was going to be placed with those students who have drug issues and are precariously close to dropping out.

    It is an advantage to living in Washington state that I don’t have to go through a lot of red tape nor register her with any private school. If you live in Washington state and are contemplating homeschooling for your own child(ren), I highly recommend checking out WAVA.

  7. It’s hard for me to submit my glib drunken “don’t do it!” response after all this thoughtful input from people who have actual experience.

    I’m just not certain how to control for this situation. Who’s to know that exceptionally bright home-schooled kids wouldn’t excel in a school environment. It’s ultimately up to whether or not you allow your kid to thirst for knowledge or not.

    I went to a private middle school and a public high school. I was a little above average academically but below average socially. In many ways I suffer from near crippling shyness. Many homeschooled kids I knew chose to leave the school system because of their social anxiety, but I feel like I needed to enter the lion’s den to find out what real friends are and what real enemies are. If I had been allowed to stay in my bubble I would have invariably suffered for it. Being gay complicates things a lot. I really feel that going to a school filled with people I wished death upon every day acclimated me to acting like a normal human being. Suffering is a beneficial part of life and struggling against peers and against a not-perfect curriculum has made me the well-rounded skeptical person I am today.

  8. What a great new feature! :)

    I read these responses with interest, from my experiences growing up in Australia, attending school was mandatory. There was the option of correspondence school for actors, sick children, kids in remote areas, etc.

    I was surprised to discover that homeschooling has religious overtones. too.

  9. I skipped 7th grade and did the Calvert Course for 8th grade, in 1978. They didn’t call that homeschooling then, they called it a correspondence course. Definitely secular. The work was mailed in and graded by an actual teacher in Baltimore. My grandmother administered the tests, but I pretty much handled reading the lessons and doing the work myself. Easily got into a private highschool the next year.
    http://www.calvertschool.org/calvert-school
    A very positive experience, and one we considered for my oldest daughter when she was having problems due to her Opposition Defiance Disorder (ODD). However after family counseling, she was able to get a handle on her emotions. She has continued with public school and is doing very well.

    I sometimes wish I had been diagnosed for my ODD when I was young and my parents and I received the same counseling. I think the year out of regular school let me mature enough to face highschool, even though I had skipped a grade.
    http://www.calvertschool.org/calvert-school

    A very positive experience, and one we considered for my oldest daughter when she was having problems due to her Opposition Defiance Disorder (ODD). However after family counseling, she was able to get a handle on her emotions and continue with public school, which she is excelling at.

    I sometimes wish I had been diagnosed for my ODD and gotten the same counseling, when I was young. However, the year out of regular school help me mature enough to face highschool, even though I had skipped a grade.

  10. My wife and I decided to take our daughters out of the public schools and homeschool them because they were being taught that math and science is not fun or important, and that girls are not any good at them. That was not okay with us, so we pulled them from the school despite the fact that both of them were excelling in terms of grades at that time – we knew that the attitudes they were learning were only going to undermine them later in life. Our now 14 year old was pulled out of public school after her 3rd grade year. Last year she became interested in attending a somewhat exclusive private school, and she is now in the 8th grade there – and getting straight As, which is NOT the norm at this school. Truth be told, I think that this is as much because she is dang smart as because of our quality homeschooling, but it is also true that preventing her from getting a frankly sexist treatment from the public school helped too.

    Secular homeschooling can be hard, and most folks assume that you are all Jesus-y if you homeschool, but it was well worth the challenges for our family.

  11. I feel like homeschooling is tricky – as a teacher I certainly know that many of my students would benefit from one-on-one instruction and would probably thrive in that environment.

    However, I’m not sure how much the average parent knows about teaching, child development, and strategies for teaching children in different situations and subjects.

    While I’m certainly not arrogant enough to say, “oh, you didn’t study education and therefore you have no idea what you’re doing”, I also know how much I had to learn in order to teach. There is a lot that goes into educating anybody, and I think experience and training go a long way toward being an effective educator.

    I kind of wish there was some minimal training homeschooling parents went through. On the same token, however, I have extensive training on wonderful methods that I never get to use because in a class of 18 6-year-olds, who has the time to create great lessons every day? This is especially difficult when I have to be on x page of y book on z day, or else. And paperwork – gods, the paperwork. I want a secretary.

    I’m sure there are wonderful things going on in many homeschool programs. Perhaps the social issues generally associated with homeschooled kids are a myth… I’m sure some programs deal with them better than others.

    Mostly I just wish there were more options. Homeschool (you need a parent with the time), private school (which most can’t afford), or public school (which are far from perfect and lack any kind of variety). There are far more varieties of children than there are varieties of schools, and access to the better ones is limited.

  12. I home schooled for the early years of my children’s education (up to 2nd grade). If it weren’t for my online communities, we might not have had such a rewarding experience. Although I was already decidedly independent of religion, I was introduced to the freethinking movement through FreethinkingUnschoolers ( a Yahoo group), aka “FU.”

    Out of this came a group of us in the local area who were also freethinking parents and home schoolers.

    It was great while it lasted, and I am lucky to have been able to give my full attention to them through those years. It was wonderful to take them places they wouldn’t be able to explore so easily in school groups. They interacted with kids of various ages, which was a wonderful way for them to find their own way without having to conform to the age standards that are so popular. It was great for building their social skills, which flies against the stereotype. They’re also very comfortable talking with adults and asking questions.

    Most of my former group choose to home school as needed. It isn’t a permanent decision, and for some people, a particular school situation won’t work for that year, or even a semester.

    When you rethink schooling, it can lead to rethinking just about every area of life.

    I feel they benefited even from the short time we did it. I know I did, too. There is a huge wide world without religion, and the key was really finding a group that I could relate to.

  13. @“Other” Amanda: I’d have to disagree with mandatory training of some kind.

    There are plenty of ways to learn how to teach and work with one’s own children that don’t make the same assumptions and are not built on the same foundations as educating groups. I was a former teacher who had worked with many age groups and in two languages. My experience and training only went so far (not very), and I had to relearn what I did in the context of family and lifelong learning.

  14. I homeschooled my then-sixth grader while we lived overseas (we’re a military family). Finding a secular curriculum was challenging. I think that, because home-schoolers were originally doing it for religious reasons, curriculum creators are still targeting a religious audience. They are, in essence, behind the curve.

    I can tell you from the start that there is no way I could have homeschooled before the advent of the internet.

    While I was able to use a standard curriculum for things like math and language arts, finding an acceptable science or history curriculum was enough of a challenge that I had to, essentially, make it up on my own. I followed the “Well Trained Mind” as my spine, so I had some guidance.

    Basically, it was as if I tutored my son for a couple of years. We always intended that he would go back into the public school system, and worked toward that end. Overseas DoD schools are extremely accomodating in that regard. Now he complains about his classmates goofing off and making noise when the teacher is trying to explain something.

    If nothing else, my son has learned to appreciate education. And he’s only in eighth grade.

  15. “Being gay complicates things a lot. I really feel that going to a school filled with people I wished death upon every day acclimated me to acting like a normal human being. Suffering is a beneficial part of life and struggling against peers and against a not-perfect curriculum has made me the well-rounded skeptical person I am today.”

    Uhhhh, yeah it COULD have that effect on you if you happen to be one of the, idk, 20% of exceptionally well adjusted, thick skinned adolescents in that situation with the fortitude to endure such usually teacher-ignored (or worse, endorsed) daily harassment. Or, you know, it could more likely drive you to abject misery and potential multiple suicide attempts. But, ya know, it’s character building! …yes?!

  16. I homeschooled my kids for 10 years and it was a great opportunity. My DS is a college sophomore at a nationally top ranked college and my DD is a high school sophomore.

    Being an atheist in the homeschooling population can be an interesting experience with some of the religious nuts that homeschool, but that shouldn’t keep you for trying it if that’s what your child needs. I was able to find a secular local group for activities and networking, and even better there are a LOT of atheist homeschoolers online.

    One way to find many of them is the Evolved Homeschooler Wiki – http://www.odonnellweb.com/wiki/pmwiki.php?n=Main.HomePage

    Dale McGowan had a post about homeschooling a bit ago that you might find helpful – http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/?p=1238

    Good luck. I blog over at: http://getinhangon.wordpress.com/ and over the years have talked about homeschooling in my rambling.

  17. @MacarthurSoup: Oh, come on. As someone who was bullied a LOT as a child, fuck this, “It builds character!” bullshit.

    That shit still affects me TO THIS DAY. And not in a good way.

    It’s great that things turned out fine for you, but I’m really tired of people telling me that it was ~good~ for me that I was heavily bullied.

    No, it wasn’t fucking good for me, and bullying isn’t good for anyone. It doesn’t build character. Bullying breaks people down. That’s the entire fucking point of bullying.

    Can you tell this attitude pisses me off?

    Who’s to know that exceptionally bright home-schooled kids wouldn’t excel in a school environment. It’s ultimately up to whether or not you allow your kid to thirst for knowledge or not.

    This also rubs me the wrong way. It’s condescending. What’s to say that a bright student wouldn’t do really well if he or she were homeschooled? What’s to say that an exceptionally bright homeschooled student would still do well in a regular school?

    I’ve known people who came out of homeschooling wonderful, well-rounded people. A friend of mine homeschools her child. Part of that is making sure he gets plenty of time around other kids and does plenty of activities outside of the home.

    I’ve also known people who didn’t get homeschooled, went to regular school, and didn’t’ fair so well at all. Going to a regular school doesn’t suddenly guarantee that you’re going to be an upstanding citizen. Nor does being homeschooled, for that matter.

  18. @Magnus H.: Yeah, that rubbed me the wrong way, too.

    As someone who was heavily bullied, I really don’t like this, “It builds character! Bullying is a good thing!”

    I’m sorry, but being ostracized from my class mates from Kindergarten until 8th grade* (I went to a very small school, 200 or so students, K thru 8th grade) was horrible, not “character building”. Being called cruel names on a daily basis was horrible, not “character building”. Having teachers essentially “in” on the bullying — knowing it was happening, and not caring, or sometimes even encouraging it – -was horrible, not “character building.” Not having one single fucking friend through most of those 9 years was lonely and horrible, not “character building.” I can still remember the shame, loneliness, and hurt I felt all those years. I still have dreams about it.

    Bullying is not character building. It is cruel and causes lasting damage. It creates bullies. It causes pain and loneliness. I would not wish it on anyone.

    *It got better in high school, but it certainly didn’t stop.

    And let me tell you, I faired pretty well, all things considered. My two sisters? Not so well. We were all three essentially tagged as easy targets in kindergarten, and it never let up Particularly my younger sister, who was also bullied. My younger sister now deals with anxiety, very low self-esteem that results in her ending up in one abusive relationship after another (among other things), anger toward any kind of authority, an inability to hold a job, and she’s possibly bi-polar.

    And it all stems back to her being relentlessly bullied.

    But sure, it builds character. Just tell her that the next time she has a major panic attack. I’m sure she’d love to hear it!

  19. And you know…this kind of attitude pisses me off because I really wish parents and teachers took the time to address bullying. But they don’t. They ignore it, or call it “character building” or “part of growing up.” That’s bullshit.

    My parents were probably not aware of how awful it was, because no one told them (I was certainly too ashamed to, and my teachers all thought it was “normal” and “part of growing up” so no one ever said a word). Perhaps if a teacher or two had spoken up, something could have been done. Instead, I and my sisters were made to suffer in silence for 9 years.

    That’s not character building. That’s fucking hell.

    My sisters started doing meth and other drugs at 14 to escape from it all.

    That’s not character building. That’s fucking hell.

    When a parent recognizes that a regular school isn’t conductive to their child’s education and personal growth, for whatever reason, it’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. It means they are paying attention and are willing to take action. Whether they choose to take action and talk to the teachers, or move their child to a different school, or take on the challenge of homeschooling, that’s a good thing. It means they are paying attention and don’t find bullying “part of growing up”, but rather a horrible, unnecessary evil.

    Perhaps if my parents had been able to homeschool, I would have actually paid attention and enjoyed my education. I’m not saying they could have (they probably couldn’t have), but as it was, I HATED school. I didn’t pay attention. Ever. I didn’t do my homework. I read and I wrote, and I didn’t cause trouble, but even through to high school, I just didn’t give a shit. Because it was clear to me that no one gave a shit about me.

    That’s not character building. That’s fucking hell.

    Aaaand, I’m done with my rant.

    Clearly one thing that gets my goat like nothing else is the claim that bullying is TOTES AWESOME.

  20. It’s really refreshing to see that so many people have had a positive secular homeschooling experience. I’ve been spending too much time lately on the blog of a former “quiverfull” mom who got sucked into that cult-like lifestyle when she innocently started homeschooling her first daughter, because she was so advanced for her age. It’s kind of scary to read how they suck families in one tiny step at a time.

  21. @Skept-artist: Thank you.

    Bullying is used as a way to push people to conform to societal norms. This isn’t acceptable, or character building. It’s horrible.

    I wish people would stop claiming that it’s ~part of life~ and ~normal.~ It’s not. It’s cruel and horrible.

  22. Great idea for part of Skepchick and a great interview Carr3d2.

    My son and I have a similar story to Amy and her family. My wife and I started home schooling my son in 7th grade and we used a combination of classes at a private school, on-line courses and purchased curriculum. We did our home work and tried to set up a program that worked and met our sons’ needs. In high school we set up a plan that had him going to high school half time, doing home school half time, and taking classes at a local community college. I think what we did was successful and the main motivation involved dealing with a child who was bright and challenged when it appeared that staying in school was going to lead to a series of failures the school was not going to take any responsibility for or provide an adequate solution.

  23. @marilove: Agreed, however dealing with the bad behaviors of peers is an important social skill children need to learn. That some children behave badly is common and should be expected; I don’t think words like normal and useful help the discussion. And school administrators and teachers should never tolerate bullying, and punishment should be swift and firm at the earliest grade levels.

  24. LOL Don’t let Greg Laden see this. He hates all homeschooling parents . . . it’s why I quit reading his column, as much as I agree with him on other things. I homeschooled my kids and I get tired of his attacks on parents who choose not to let their children be destroyed by public education.

  25. @James Fox: Oh, I agree with that! But there is a way to balance that while making it clear that bullying is not acceptable.

    Ignoring bullying, promoting it, calling it “a normal every day part of growing up” or claiming that it “builds character” or claiming that “it’ll only make you stronger” is all bullshit and only makes bullying seem acceptable.

    “I don’t think words like normal and useful help the discussion. ”

    I’m not 100% sure if you are talking about my usage of “normal” or the “pro-bully” crowd, though. :)

    “I really feel that going to a school filled with people I wished death upon every day acclimated me to acting like a normal human being.”

    And see, this is what bothers me the most. Bullying is just a way to force people to conform to societal norms, and to force people to suppress who they really are, for the sake of being “normal” (whatever the fuck that is). For example, kids bully gay kids because it’s seen as icky or strange.

    That’s not healthy.

    Don’t we, as skeptics, fight against this kind of stuff every day?

  26. @marilove:
    I agree, bullying should never be called “character building” or something to accept willingly.

    Personally I think I developed a lot of positive traits as a result of bullying (empathy for others, willingness to stand up for myself, learning how to defend myself), but only after many years of shit. I’d much rather have learned all that (and who’s to say I wouldn’t have) without the crap. Among other things, having an ulcer at 13 really isn’t fun.

    Unfortunately, bullying exists everywhere. That’s why I plan to teach my daughter some means to deal with bullying – hopefully before she’d ever encounter that sort of treatment. She’s only two now, but developing in ways almost identical to myself – smart but socially awkward. I want her to have every tool I learned to handle bullies, and if nothing else, know how to defend herself (I have over a decade of martial arts experience) if things go wrong. But most importantly, make sure she knows we’re there to support her.

    One of the hardest things about being bullied (aside from the bullying itself) is feeling helpless and alone and having no one to turn to.

    One other alternative to homeschooling that I didn’t see mentioned above was computer-based charter schools. There are many of them in our state.

  27. @slightlymadscience: Bullying is abuse. Period.

    The Cyle of Abuse is very real. Many people who are bullied grow up to be bullies.

    Many people who were bullied but don’t turn into bullies still rationalize the abuse, like the commenter I was replying to did (it’s also a way to cope, I’m sure, so I don’t want to be TOO hard on him). They rationalize it by saying they deserved it (“it forced me to be normal”), or that it is apart of growing up. But no one deserves to be abused, and abuse should *never* be apart of growing up.

    That’s why the acceptance of the bullying (aka abuse) bothers me so much. It just promotes violence (physical, verbal, and emotional), and it just creates yet more abusers.

    You are a fantastic parent and handling bullying exactly the way it should be handled. :)

    And I agree about the computer-based charter schools. I wish something like that had been available when I was in school (I’m from a very small area, and it was back in the 90s anyway), because I think I would have benefited from that kind of program.

  28. Ah, a subject near and dear to my heart – we’ve homeschooled our kids since, well, forever. I will admit to always taking a look around when I check out a new homeschool site to see if there is a religious angle. And hitting my head against the wall in frustration when some nutty homeschooler makes the news.

    We basically homeschool to encourage life-long learning, education as a process that never ends, and a focus on intrinsic rewards as opposed to externals like grades. (That means Mom and Dad get to learn new things right along with the kids! It’s really quite fun.)

    And the “toughening them up” angle – the thing is, there are (unfortunately) ample opportunities for learning to deal with assholes in everyday life. (Like the kid on my daughter’s hockey team who thought she was dumb because she’s homeschooled- which we all laughed at as we asked her how many books she had read that week, and that she ‘couldn’t skate well because she’s a girl’ which my husband laughed at A LOT when she told us because she’s one of the stronger skaters on the team and this kid, well, isn’t.)

  29. I know 6 homeschooling families. I know them well enough to know the students are really missing a lot. A LOT. School is about way more than education. It is about learning to get alone socially and reacting to the many different teachers and teaching styles. The parents do it because they think their children are gifted, but honestly, they are projecting their own social awkwardness on their children. (I know this is anecodotal and viewed through my own lens, but I feel like it needs to be said.)

    I carpooled a family to choir for a year, and one of the homeschooled teens COULD NOT SPEAK. Even to tell me I went the wrong way. Her mother writes on a national homeschool blog about how successful her children are. It’s total bullshit.

    A better way may be a combination of traditional school with supplementation.

    Bullying is not tolerated in my
    children’s school system, but the children need to bring accusations forward, which can be hard when they are already intimidated. I DO think there is awareness about it that didn’t exist a few years ago.

  30. @jdhmsmith:
    I am genuinely sceptical that there is much school students gain from this kind of socialisation, especially at the high school level. Here’s a quick list of the social lessons I learned in school:

    Don’t think for yourself.
    Most people are indifferent to you or actively dislike you. You can only trust your close friends.
    If you express an opinion or idea outside the mainstream, expect to be derided or attacked.
    If you show initiative or ability expect to be derided or attacked.

    These lessons might be valuable to me if I lived in a prison, but otherwise they are actually the opposite of what children should learn socially. I have had to spend many years unlearning the lessons I learned in school.

    Bear in mind that by historical standards socialisation is schools is very unusual. We sequester children (and young adults) in age groups and let them form their own societies, which are based on arbitrary criteria since their social structure has nothing to base itself on.

    For most of human history, children would socialise with children of different ages, as well as adults. That model seems easier to do with homeschooling, than the flawed model of public schooling that persists throughout the West.

  31. The only home schooled people I’ve known have been a little weird, and a little naive. There were little social things they missed out on, like saying “my mom thinks…” every time they had an opinion. They were always home schooled for religion though, so I think their experiences were geared for making sure the child wasn’t smarter than the parents, and for making sure they were naive when they reached the “real world,” which, hopefully, they never would. There was one case where a parent took their child out of school because the lesbians were supposedly sexually harassing her. I went to the same school, and I promise, no one would have ever come out as a lesbian–they would have been bullied too much. That something inappropriate happened, I could sympathize, but to claim the gay conspiracy was ruining their daughter was ridiculous.

    *However,* I’ve been working with a very small sample size, and some of the stories I’ve read on the internet to explain why parents are homeschooling seem perfectly reasonable. Gay conspiracies aside, I don’t think I would let my child keep going to a school if they were constantly bullied. I was bullied for two years, and I definitely did not gain anything from it but more social awkwardness. Some special-needs children, whether through mental or physical handicaps, may also be better served being home-schooled than in an underfunded special-ed program. I think things can sound similar, but be vastly different. Everyone is teased in gradeschool, and everyone needs to learn to deal with it. But not everyone is bullied to where their life is miserable. So I’ve been changing my mind about the whole home-schooled thing, although the first thought in my mind when I hear about it is, “Is it Teh Gays?”

  32. I see someone has already suggested the Evolved Homeschooler site as a link to a number of blogging homeschoolers who are not religious and do not see home schooling as a way to saturate their children in religion.

    Make sure that if you contact any of them that you say “Greg Laden recommended you talk to them.”

    That way, you’ll find out right away how totally insane and off the wall some of them are … about half the “Evolved Homeschoolers” are nutjobs who worship a cult leader known as “Doc” who lives in a cabin in Idaho. The other half are cool, though.

    (If you mention my name and they fume and sputter and spit and attack you, those are the “doc” followers!)

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