Those of us within the homeschooling community who claim the status of “graduate” rather than “parent,” have our own unique perspective on this fascinating and fun lifestyle called homeschooling. We claim the title of “homeschool graduate” gladly, and tend to revel in the idiosyncrasies of the way of life we have come to know and love.
There’s no denying that we homeschoolers are an unusual sort of folks—at least by some people’s standards. We just seem to think a bit differently than others. I recall this being vividly illustrated to me one evening several years ago at a meeting of the local chess club of which I was a member at the time. It all started when a public schooled teenager approached Josh, a bright young homeschooled lad, with the seemingly innocent query, “What grade are you in?” It was an unfortunate question. Josh looked startled . . . a little nervous . . . even trapped. (If you’ve ever seen a deer caught in headlights, you have some idea of how he looked.) After a brief moment of silence, during which it was evident he was frantically searching his brain for an appropriate answer, he finally spluttered out, “I don’t know, but I’m ten years old and I’m doing sixth grade math!” I doubt the hapless public schooled questioner really understood the answer, but it made perfect sense to me. We homeschooled students and graduates just don’t fit the traditional mold, and the usual answers to the usual questions just don’t work when you’re approaching life and learning from a different paradigm.
Two of my fellow homeschool graduates who understand our uniqueness in the modern world are cousins Rachel Thomson and Carolyn Currey. They recently co-authored the newly released book Tales of the Heartily Homeschooled, a collection of humorous glimpses into their lives as homeschoolers. An interesting additional twist is that, in addition to being homeschooled, Rachel and Carolyn both have the distinction of coming from unusually large families (which brings to mind another stereotypical question asked of many homeschoolers: “Are they really all yours?!”)
Speaking of questions, I recently had the opportunity to interview Rachel and Carolyn, and you can be sure I used the occasion to ask them some real stumpers.
Jonathan: I know the two of you were homeschooled, but I just have to ask you—didn’t you miss real school? I mean, what about things like sports and all that? What about seeing your friends every day, hanging out with your peers for hours on end, and learning how to fit into society like normal people? In short, what about socialization?!
Carolyn: What about socialization?
As homeschoolers, we weren’t raised in classrooms with twenty-five kids who all matched us in age. We were raised in a home where we had regular contact with babies and grandfathers and young mothers and toddlers and teenagers. I spent a lot of time in ballet classes and also now teach ballet—I started when I was thirteen! When I was fifteen I was asked to direct our church’s Easter production. That included bossing all kinds of people around—from ages eight to eighty! I felt very socialized.
Rachel: Really, the idea that children are best socialized by spending all their time with people their own age is a weird one. There are twelve kids in my family—I’m twenty years older than my youngest sister. That means we all get to practice relating to people of many ages. Of course, we also interact with a host of friends, church people, and work colleagues. We run a chocolate business, so our oldest kids have all spent full days on the sales floor. We get to socialize in fun cross-generational ways that are also great preparation for the rest of life.
Jonathan: Perhaps someday those oft-answered questions will cease to be asked. But until then, I suppose we’ll continue being confronted with unusual questions and opinions about homeschooling. I imagine that each of you, coming from large homeschooling families as you do, have experienced your share of odd questions and comments over the years. What are your most memorable experiences in countering critics or trying to put to rest the odd notions people sometimes have?
Rachel: I recently talked to a new mother who wanted to know if the youngest children in large families are always less intelligent than the older ones. I had to laugh, because our little ones are way smarter than I was at their age! They pick up a lot of vocabulary and habits from the “big kids.” Mom’s gotten that question before, but I’d never had to answer it myself. The questions can get a bit exasperating, but I’ve realized that being from a big family (and this is quadruply true if you homeschool) is like being from another culture. People honestly don’t understand what life is like. The best way to counter the critics is just to keep being ourselves, forming relationships, and letting people see the answers in the way we live.
Carolyn: It’s rare that we actually get a brand new, original question. One of the queries we run into most often, as a family of seven girls and one boy, is, “Oh, that poor boy! Do you spoil him or bully him?” Mom sometimes asks, “Why ‘poor’? Didn’t God know what He was doing?”
Then there are the people who can’t believe we all belong to the same family in the first place. Last year we attended a church potluck for newcomers. As our family of ten squished around one table, we heard a curious whisper from a lady at another table. “Do you think that’s a group home?” she asked her friend.
Yes. Definitely. A group home for long-haired girls. Except for the one boy. And we just happen to have a high percentage of redheads. As the question was whispered from one giggling sibling to the next, it was hard for us to contain our mirth until we got home!
Jonathan: Well, I’m glad most of us homeschoolers are able to laugh about those kinds of questions rather than getting angry or offended. After all, it’s better for everyone concerned if we can answer with a smile instead of a glare! (And I’m glad to learn that younger siblings are smarter; I’ll have to remember to inform my brother of that fact the next time we disagree about something!)
Speaking of older and younger siblings, I know both of you are the eldest in your families, which I imagine has provided you with some interesting experiences and opportunities to learn and grow. What is life like as the eldest in a large homeschooling family?
Carolyn: I consider being the eldest in a large family to be the best thing that ever happened to me! It does involve a lot of work: chores and babysitting, making meals and changing diapers. The responsibility I’ve learned has stood me in good stead as I started my own business. I’ve watched my mom hand out tasks to my younger siblings and I see them feel needed and important. When they know appreciation accompanies responsibility, they live up to it.
As I’ve watched the effects of this in my life and others, I’ve realized that a child with responsibility is a much happier child than one who has none. It equips them for real life—for caring for others and managing a household and business. As the oldest child in our family, I gained responsibility and the accompanying privileges first. I often carried the biggest load, but I don’t remember ever feeling hard done by. I was needed by my family. That in itself was a privilege.
Rachel: I concur. Being the oldest is a lot of work, but it’s also a very big privilege.
It’s been interesting to be the first one to navigate various new waters in life—moving away for a time, educational choices, relationships. But the great thing about a big family is that even if I do things first, I never do them alone. Our family community is always there. I’m very aware that things are not about “me” so much as they’re about “us.”
Read the rest of the interview next week on Homeschool!
Jonathan Lewis is a homeschool graduate and enjoys working with his family on Home School Enrichment Magazine. In his spare time, Jonathan can usually be found reading, mowing the lawn, or spending time with his family.
This article was originally published in the July/Aug 2008 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, and to request a FREE sample issue, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com.