Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Are we depriving our homeschooled children?

My wife and I homeschool our two children.  We're pretty open about it even though some people feel the need to share their disapproval with us.  This is, of course, something I don't do when talking to other people about how they choose to raise their kids but whatever ("Hey Bill, how come little Courtney dresses like such a tramp?").  Anyway, yesterday someone mentioned something about homsechooling that has now come up at various times from three different people at my job (people who work in higher educations).

It seems that we're depriving our children of the experience of getting the shit kicked out of them by bullies.  Evidently this is character-building and teaches kids how to "take care of themselves."  I think back to my experience in public school.  I was a shy, thin, kid who liked to read and did well on exams.  I was made fun of for that by many of my peers.  Starting around 4th grade, and extending up until 8th grade, I was not just picked on mercilessly, but also physically beaten up at times.  The useless advise from my mother - "Ignore them and they'll leave you alone" is complete bullshit in the Lord of the Flies world of young boys.

It's only when I was about 13 years old that, one day, in the hallway, I slammed one of the bullies into a locker in a violent rage and truly wanted to kill him.  I grew large enough, and had endured enough, and finally fought back.  Generally I was left alone after that except for the verbal taunts and general ostracism.  One of the reasons I dropped out of high school at 14 (16 officially, but stopped attending pretty much in 9th grade).  I can truly understand teen suicide from bullying.

You know what?  Ever since I left high school I have never, ever been in a physical fight (and I used to hang out in a biker bar years ago).  Given my size, and the fact that I regularly lift weights at the gym, I think I could handle myself today but don't feel any macho bullshit reason to do so.  Now maybe I'm projecting my bad experiences onto my kids, but I don't think so.  My nine-year-old son is much like I was at his age.  Shy, a little odd sometimes (in a good way, in my opinion), and he reads more and better than most adults.  He would be bullied at school.   Maybe he'd learn to handle it, maybe he'd learn to hide the fact that he's smart and likes "nerdy" things, or maybe he'd get bitter and drop out of school like I did.

This doesn't mean we raise our kids in a vacuum, far from it.  Between Aikido, history class, Muset orchestra, choir, library programs, Numeracy Club, local nature programs, homeschool co-op and other things we participate in, our kids associate with both homeschooled and public-schooled kids of a variety of ages.  Sometimes kids get into arguments and even a shove or hit on occasion although parents quickly step in and defuse the situation.  What doesn't occur is mob cruelty and repeated physical and mental abuse of the children.

When I hear of other people's kids crying and telling their mothers they don't want to go to school because they get picked on all day I think we're making the right decision (not just for this, but for a myriad of reasons).  I don't think learning to fight is an essential life skill (although they do take Aikido lessons - which is more for self-defense).  And, like I said, I've never had to physically fight with anyone, and have not been mercilessly tormented, ever since I left public school.  And I don't think it's character-building (at least not in a good way) to be bullied for years of your life.

Perhaps my wife and I should do the following...


  1. Great essay! Thanks for sharing your experiences. We homeschooled for several years, when my daughter was age 7 to 12; she is now in a charter arts high school, after a year in a regular public high school where fights and bullying were common. One year of that was enough. (She skipped middle school entirely). One of the great things about our homeschooling years was the opportunity to engage in arts-related activities like theater, dance and choir. It made for a more healthy and balanced life.

    For boys and fathers dealing with school bullying, your essay should be required reading.

  2. I just came across your blog and I'm so glad I did! One; because I homeschool my 6yr old son and two; because of his sudden interest in rocks.
    My son has never been to school, mainly because he is "odd" in a good way too and was reading at 3yrs old. I look forward to searching your posts for teaching material. I'm pretty sure you have already taught your children "how to take care of themselves" just fine.

  3. Well put. My husband and I had similar experiences to yours in school and our kids are wonderful, intelligent & quirky. Fodder for The Pack. So, for this and many other reasons, we've home schooled that last two years.

    Prior to that the boys attended Montessori school where bullying was dealt with promptly but did exist. My boys have had plenty of practice - enough to train them for that vicious adult world where we all bite off each others ears and give each other swirlies.

    I liked the way you covered the topic of bullying so much that I've linked to your blog on our home school web page - I hope you don't mind. You are at the bottom of the page "Reason #4". Best of luck to you & your family.


  4. A co-worker described the horrific bullying she encountered through middle school and high school which resulted in her being committed to a psychiatric facility. She then told me I really needed to send my homeschooled daughter to school because those experiences made her the person she is today. Of course, she is highly neurotic and on medication, so I decided I might not take her advice. :-)

  5. Bravo! Next time tell them if less kids were bullied, our world would be a better place. It's the bullying by both kids AND adults that teaches people empathy is a sign of weakness and hurting each other is ok, a message learned more by the bullies and those observing the bullying than by the bullied. Tell them to do the world a favor and take their kids OUT of school!

  6. Oh goodness. I love your blog. Several things in comments made me cringe, as well as that link you provided!

    Adults don't all give each other swirlies and bite off each other's ears. Well, normal, law-abiding citizens anyway. Bully an adult, it's an assault. Bully the kid, it's character-building.

    I don't think so. It's detrimental and abusive. That's also like saying if a child gets raped, the child should be grateful for the opportunity to build his/her character through the trauma. That's the intuitive leap I make between all the abuse done to children -- either from each other or from adults.

    Whew, a lot on my mind there! I like what you wrote, Steven.

  7. Excellent blog. Thank you. I'm sure your children will someday thank you for not sending them to school. I know mine have.

  8. Least of your worries. My three homeschooled kids are now in college and doing fine, despite the fact that no one ever kicked the shit out of them along the way. My eldest is applying to a PhD program in engineering. He was 100% hs'd. My second is at a public ivy, and altho he did go to three years of "real high school", I think those three years are still holding him back. My youngest is kicking a** at one of the top univs in the nation, despite 4 yrs of "real school" and 8 years of home school. Do what you think you need to do. Educate, ecudate, educate.

  9. It's odd that anyone would bring up how character building bullying is. I seem to remember reading numerous articles about the efforts of several local schools that were trying to put a stop bullying. If it is so character building, why would the schools want to get rid of it? Or is it only character building for nerdy homeschoolers?

    Great article!

  10. I just found your blog from the Carnival of Homeschooling. What a great post! I never was bullied, not even in a mean-girl way (or if I was, I wasn't aware of it), despite being a nerd, but I hear so many stories of other people who were or kids who are today. My oldest son has Apserger's and I especially hear horror stories about kids with Asperger's being ruthlessly bullied. One has to wonder why humans feel the need to bully. If we didn't have public school, would bullying still happen I wonder? Maybe not to the same degree...

  11. Dropping by from the Carnival of Homeschooling / No Fighting, No Biting. I enjoyed this post. I had to take my boys out of public school for the same reason. I'm glad we're not in this alone. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Great article. I just hope you are kidding about the part at the end "Perhaps my wife and I should do the following..." I read the article and find it unnecessary. Even in your post you said that after leaving high school you've never been in a physical fight.

  13. I really liked this article. I was bullied as a jr high kid pretty mercilessly. I was small, smart, and outgoing which apparently makes some people very angry! I went on to have a great high school experience but I remember well those days in junior high. I homeschool my kids and I am glad that they don't have to learn to deal with bullying in that way. It was very scary lending itself to years of troubled sleep, etc. I was fortunate that my bullies moved on before I got to high school but not everyone is so lucky. Protecting our children and allowing them the space to learn and grow is a blessing. If others would prefer their kids to learn to "duke it out" well, let 'em! It's not what we've chosen for our kids and I sleep peacefully every night knowing it.

  14. I have another good one: it seems we are also depriving our children of the experience of walking in a straight line, waiting in a straight line, and following arbitrary rules. My 5 year old daughter came home from her first day in kindergarten at the public school (we were set on homeschooling, but thought we would give the school a try), and she said in no uncertain terms, she didn't like it. I asked what she didn't like about it, she said "They made me walk in a straight line, and I couldn't pass the person in front of me, and I had to follow the rules and be good, and I had to listen to the teacher." Now, a lot of people I tell this to say, well, society has rules, she needs to learn this. Well, I thought about this. She probably has to walk in a straight line at least 8-10 times a day in kindergarten. Now, if she was entering the military this would be good training. But, when, as an adult do we ever need to walk or wait in a straight line? Well, yes, at the post office, for errands, maybe, but not 8 times a day. And walking in a straight line? Never. And as to following the rules, as an adult, how often do we need to do exactly what an authority figure says, immediately? When a police officer pulls you over, once a year? Well, yes, in the military, sure, but everybody else? Service oriented jobs, maybe, right? But even there, you have control.... and you are getting paid. Am I wrong here? I don't think that being subservient or walking in a straight line are skills that we need to live a life that is good, as an adult. And for being good, how many rules do we really need to follow? Sure, the ones that keep us out of jail. No killing, stealing, etc. But shouldn't we be deciding for ourselves what the important rules of life are?