When I was a freshman in college, I wrote a sociology paper on what it was like to be a displaced Midwesterner going through sorority rush in the South. I was thrust into a subculture that was as foreign to me as Pygmy mating rituals. But thinking I would get a sociology paper out of the experience, I went undercover in a madras skirt, espadrille shoes, and an Add-a-Bead necklace. I slunk through the sorority houses, learning the language, trying to fathom the rituals. In the end, it proved a valuable experience. I eventually settled into life in the South, and when I graduated, I migrated north (all the way to Virginia) and found myself a nice southern gentleman with whom to spend the rest of my life. So the whole experiment didn’t end too badly after all.

Now I stand at the threshold of another alien subculture - the sorority of home-school moms. Although I’m pretty sure there’s no secret handshake, there is much for me to learn. You see, I fell into home schooling overnight, making the decision just days before my son’s first tuition payment was due. Now with one year under my belt, I’ve decided to research the home-schooling phenomenon with all the dedication of a college freshman dissecting sorority rush. And I have found some surprising similarities.

1. There’s a new language to be learned.

I learned a lot going through sorority rush, not only about the Greek system, but also about the South itself. I learned what it meant to "pitch a fit," and I started saying "I swanee" whenever I was incredulous. The home-schooling subculture has some interesting lingo of its own. For example, is it "home schooling," "home-schooling," or "homeschooling"? Can an "unschooler" also be a "deschooler"? Who exactly is Charlotte Mason, and what in the world is a Beechick?

It can be awfully confusing. Sometimes you just get letters. Are you a member of HSLDA? Are you using LLATL? Did you subscribe to HST yet? Are you a SAHM? How am I supposed to KNOW?! It’s a daunting task, and I’m sure some cutting-edge marketeer will come up with a lexicon. In the meantime, do what I do (it works equally well for sorority rush or home-school conferences): Nod your head knowingly and smile. Everyone will think you know what’s going on, and pretty soon you will.

2. There are subgroups within the whole.

I noticed that sorority sisters often broke off into subgroups. There were the serious scholars, the serious athletes, and the serious partyers. Home schooling has subgroups as well. There are the traditional home schoolers. There are the unschoolers. There are the deschoolers. There are even the school-at-homers. There’s the pajama crowd, and then there’s the desks/flag/globe/chalkboard crowd. Some use canned curricula; others are "eclectic." There’s the mother-cooking-dinner-in-the-background approach. Subgroups can form around educational philosophies, geographic regions, or shared curricula. But as in the sorority system, these subgroups never seem to lose sight of the fact that they are a part of something greater, the bigger picture.

3. There’s an optional dress code.

I’ve already mentioned that I dressed the part when "researching" sorority rush. One of my roommates helped to dress me, making me kick off my clogs as she searched for something on the preppy side. Clothes say a lot about a person. One day last summer I looked in the mirror and realized it had finally happened. I had become a stereotype. I was wearing a short-sleeved denim shirt and khaki shorts (did I mention the bob haircut?). Without knowing it, I had become a Kool-Aid mom. (I’m not kidding. Next time you see a commercial featuring a mother with young children, check out what she’s wearing.)

This summer I attended my first statewide home-school conference. I noticed a common thread (pun intended) there, too. I walked in the conference hall and stood amazed, awash in a sea of 4,000 denim jumpers. Okay, I’m exaggerating - some of the jumpers weren’t denim. And yet, like the madras skirt and espadrilles of sorority rush, the denim jumper seemed to be the apparel of choice. And why not? It’s comfortable and versatile. But I’m not the one to judge. Those who wear denim shirts and khaki shorts should not throw stones. Still, from what I understand, the dress code IS optional.

Conclusion

After I had gone through sorority rush, I made the decision not to pledge. But researching the microcosm of home schooling has brought me to a different conclusion. Despite the sometimes confusing jargon, the numerous subgroups, and the apparent dress code, I’ve decided to sign up. I’ve found the overwhelming majority of home schoolers to be a compassionate, encouraging, and inspirational people. Do a bit of your own research, and I think you’ll find the same. And by the way, welcome to the sisterhood.

Amy Hollingsworth received her B.A. degree in psychology and English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her M.A. degree in Education/Counseling and Human Services from Regent University. Amy teaches psychology at Mary Washington College while continuing to home school her two children, Jonathan (9) and Emily (7). She and her husband Jeff, a pastor, live in Fredericksburg, Va. She has written extensively on home schooling and parenting issues for The American Partisan, Christianity.com, Home Education Magazine, Reconciliation Press Online and numerous educational Web sites. Her article, "Behind the Mask: What the Phantom of the Opera Taught Us," was recently featured in the book Christian Unschooling.

You can email Amy at amyhollingsworth@yahoo.com.

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