Thursday, October 08, 2009

That socially stunted kid's gonna be your boss one day

Homeschooling carries with it all kinds of stereotypes: women who wear their hair in buns while sporting denim jumpers, crunchy granola folks who grind their own wheat to make homemade bread, religious extremists who want to withdraw from society… there’s a reason stereotypes stick and anyone who’s homeschooled long has run into one or more of these kinds of homeschoolers. Despite the pigeonhole home school parents are shoved in there is one universal stereotype for the children: all home schooled kids are socially stunted.

I’m always amazed at that label. I mean, if you’ve spent five minutes with my kids you know they’re anything but anti-social. My kids' home schooled friends are great kids. I suppose I can understand why people might think there’s something queer about home schooled kids if they don’t know a home school family. I just haven’t had anyone come right up to me and say it out loud.

Until last week.

A neighbor friend came over for lunch a few days ago. We met when I first moved into the ‘hood but became reacquainted in the spice aisle at Sam’s two weeks’ back. I could sense we clicked on several levels and was pleased when she accepted my invitation to lunch.

She came in as Michael, Amy, Rebecca and their friend Christine were sitting down to lunch after a successful math tutoring session. My friend asked several questions of the kids like, “Have you always gone to school at home?” and “Do you like it?” The kids answered in politely and it was obvious they were having a good time enjoying the day.

Then my friend turned to me and said, “I thought I’d be able to tell if kids were home schooled but these kids seem so normal.”

She didn’t mean it in a negative or nasty or even snarky way. She was genuinely surprised that these home school kids were, for lack of a better word, normal.

I couldn’t blame her for her reaction – I had the same one 20 years ago when I met my first home school family. One of my college professors and his wife home schooled their four children. With the certainty only youth can give I said, “Well, if you’re keeping your kids at home you’re stunting their social growth.”

Pretty sure hubris is the only appropriate word for my attitude. That and stupid.

Why this professor and his lovely wife had anything to do with me after that is beyond me. But they showed grace and great patience and by the time I graduated I couldn’t articulate why they home schooled but I sure saw a difference in their kids. They were polite yet kid-like. They could play with their friends but also converse on an intelligent level with adults. They were lovely, smart, interesting kids. So when Sean and I needed to make a change in schooling for Michael after fourth grade we thought about those kids; we wanted our kids to be like them. Maybe, we thought, we should give home schooling a go. Six years later I’m still pleased with our decision and thankful I witnessed a different way to educate my children.

So thanks to Dr. and Mrs. Metts for being such great examples of kindness and patience to people who don’t know any better than to assume home schooled kids are weird. Because of their longsuffering with me I was able to laugh with my new friend and say, “Well, my kids are as normal as teenagers can be!”