I thought I would post an addendum to my previous post addressing youth culture and church, and address a question my wife and I frequently receive.
You see, as parents, we are true, cultural subversives. Counter-culture to the core.
We homeschool our children.
I remember one Saturday afternoon standing around outside our condo complex with our neighbors. We were all young parents who had children starting kindergarten soon. One of the mothers asks my wife about which school we were going to send our oldest son. My wife replies, “Oh, We’re going to homeschool him.”
Silence and blank stares.
Like looking into the eye of a chicken.
After about eight seconds, one guy pipes up, “What’ya gonna do for their social skills?”
I answered, “Nothin.” The looks of dismay were precious.
And to be honest, that is pretty much what we have done for the social skills with all five of our children since then. We learned early on that kids don’t need any special social skill training. They do it naturally by themselves. In fact, we have a more difficult time getting them to NOT utilize their finely-tuned social skills than to use them.
Over the years that I have recounted that story, I have had parents pull me aside and earnestly inquire about the social skills comment. Many of the homeschooled kids they have encountered were a clan of heavily sheltered rubes struggling terribly when they experience the real world for the first time apart from mom and dad. They have panic attacks when they hear profanity for the first time and they have no ability to engage in conversation with non-homeschooled, unchurched people. Their concern is helping children adjust to the world while at the same time protecting them from it.
I certainly understand that sentiment. Homeschoolers, especially those of the religious stripe, have a reputation of being awkward weirdos. They appear to be wildly out of touch, often times dressing funny and living life unsynchronized with the rest of society, as well as obsessed with winning spelling bee competitions. Sometimes when you see homeschooling families out in public, like out at the mall, they have looks of bewilderment on their faces. It’s as if Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family fell into a wormhole that opened up onto the Vegas strip.
While those stereotypes have a ring of truth, overall, I think they are largely exaggerated. The primary reason is because people have an inaccurate perspective of what it means to be “sheltered.” When people think about the idea of sheltered, they are thinking smothering over-protection. They have in mind families whose kids aren’t allowed to have any fun except what you see on Davey and Goliath. They never participate in anything falsely believed by our modern, pop culture as contributing to the maturity and well-roundness of children in our society.
I would like to think my wife and I do our best to shelter our children, and yet we don’t think our children are smothered in any way whatsoever. They socialize just fine. In fact, we often get the stink eye from those helicopter parents in our town who see our kids with way too much freedom riding their scooters down to the end of our block without adult supervision, lest a creepy guy snatch them into his molesting van. Adults out in public are stunned our kids are polite and can actually hold a respectable conversation with them. Judging by their reactions, I would say it scares them.
Obviously our take on what it means to “shelter” our kids is radically different than what is commonly held in society. Maybe we are controlling prudes, but we really don’t think it is necessary for our six year old to know about gays or transgenderism. Certainly not in the vivid detail activists insist they should be told at school.
We also don’t believe our kids are deprived if they never know what the Game of Thrones is or that we switch the channel during the Super Bowl when a highly inappropriate commercial comes on. Their lives are not stunted because we don’t have them involved with organized sports that cost tons of money and requires us to carry them all over our town for practices and games. They are not ruined because my wife and I refuse to let them surf the internet alone or that we refuse to buy them an Ipod like their neighbor friend down the street. And I think they will be Okay if we never have season passes to Disney Land or Six Flags Magic Mountain.
What helps us with understanding the proper socialization of homeschooling children comes down to how we define the concept of “sheltered.” What exactly does “sheltered” mean; and additionally, what do we have in mind when we talk about the “real world?”
I believe those definitions, as well as their practical application, take shape in the matrix of the family’s theology, and that theology plays out best when it is biblically accurate in it’s articulation. That accuracy and articulation will also act as a gauge for evaluating the spiritual health of the family.
Let me provide an example as to what I mean.
I had a friend growing up who came from a Pentecostal family. The first thing I noticed about him was that he had lots of brothers and sisters. I don’t recall the exact number, maybe three or four. But for myself, a kid from a family with one little brother who was nearly six years younger, they were like an early version of the Duggars. One brother who was around 18, and right out of high school, had just gotten married.
The entire family seemed to wear what I saw as drab, Soviet era style clothes, and the sisters all had long hair that they wore up in beehive hairdos. His mom and dad always looked like they were dressed for church, even on a Tuesday afternoon. His mother wore dresses and his father had on a suit and tie like he was Ward Cleaver or something.
But the most bizarre thing I remember about my friend and his family: They didn’t have a television. The horror!
As a kid who had a colored TV in his bedroom, and who maintained an A and B average throughout school in spite of it, I thought my friend lived the cruelest life imaginable. I remember inquiring about why they didn’t have a TV and he said something like how God didn’t like it. I wondered what God could possibly have against the Brady Bunch, the Munsters, and the Dukes of Hazzard.
At some point the family finally acquired a TV, but viewing it was heavily regulated. I recall there was an evening when I was invited over to watch one of the Charlie Brown specials with my friend, and immediately when the credits began rolling, the dad turns off the set and says, “Okay Freddy, you need to go home, it’s our bed time.” Time for bed!? It’s like 7:30 pm and it’s still light out! How can you people live like this!?
The funny thing about remembering that TV story is that my wife and I do the exact same thing. We own a rather large TV. We just don’t have cable and we only let our kids watch selected programs off Netflix or other pre-approved DVDs and for limited amounts of time.
Now, even though there are some striking similarities with our convictions regarding TV and those of the parents of my friend, there is one significant distinction. Our convictions about TV is shaped by our theology, whereas considering my friend’s family, their convictions against TV seemed to be self-imposed, superstitious legalism. They perceived the achievement of personal holiness as mastering an organized system of “can and can’t dos.” Television may have bad stuff on it. God doesn’t like the bad stuff. The bad stuff will wreck your salvation. Hence, don’t even own a TV to begin with.
My wife and I understand there is bad stuff on TV, but not all of it is bad. We understand a big part of maturing in Christ is learning and exercising discernment. We also may have varying degrees of what we think is “worldly” as opposed to what is “godly.” In other words, we don’t make our kids watch reruns of Davey and Goliath all the time.
Just so I am not misunderstood, let me clarify what I am stating here. I don’t want to disparage Christian families as holding self-imposed, superstitious legalistic standards if they have tighter convictions than I do regarding watching TV. That’s not my point. The parents may have a compelling case as to why they affirm such convictions.
However, if they plan to “shelter” their kids with those strict convictions, that shelter had better be built upon a solid, theological and biblically accurate foundation or it risks being toppled by the real world when the kids leave home. Rather than believing a child’s faith is at risk of being stolen by the “real world” especially when kids go off for college, parents should see the real world as exposing the reality of their faith.
If a Christian homeschooled kid becomes an atheist during the first semester at college and abandons everything his parents believe, that doesn’t mean he or she lacked social skills or was overly sheltered or that homeschooling is a terrible option as some former homeschoolers want people to believe. Their defection only demonstrates the soundness of the material in the so-called “shelter:” It was made of sand.
BTW, if you want to hear Len Pettis and myself discussing public schooling vs. homeschooling, we wallow down the ground in this BTWN Episode.