By: Paula Bolyard
Many people only see the spelling bee champions, or the home schooling family who sent six kids to college by age twelve. I assure you; those kids are not the norm. Not that there is such a thing — “normal” and “weird” are in the eye of the beholder. There are, however, common threads that bind most home schoolers together: a secret language and shared experiences that only kids similarly educated can fully embrace.
Today, I will help those of you outside of our community to understand our unusual way of life by letting you in on four geek-culture experiences unique to home schoolers.
1. Public School Group Field Trip Phobia
Every homeschooling family knows this scenario: They pull up to the museum (or zoo, or park), excited for a day of learning and exploring, only to find their mini-van (or 15-passenger van if they’re a quiver full family) behind a line of school buses. Well, that ruins everything!
They know that at every exhibit they will now be forced to deal with hordes of (often unruly) children being forced to “line up!” by their teachers. Of course, being a home schooling family, they adapt. They change their strategy — instead of starting at the logical beginning of the museum, they begin at the end (or the middle, or at some random station where there is no crowd). Throughout the day they gaze sadly at the children in the lines, wondering if they will ever enjoy the freedom of roaming a museum or a zoo unencumbered by “the line.” They pity the children when the bus arrives at 1:30 and the teacher hurries the children onto the bus to get back to school on time, even though the museum will remain open for another 3 1/2 full hours (though they’re secretly glad they now have the place to themselves).
2. Something Is Always Burning or Blowing Up
I don’t know that I have ever attended an outdoor event with home schooled boys in attendance that did not at some point include fire and/or blowing stuff up.
First of all, every home schooler knows that #13 in The Home School Rulebook states that if something catches on fire, you can count that as chemistry class. And if there is an explosion with projectiles — even better — you can add a Carnegie Unit for physics. There are dozens — maybe thousands — of books on the market aimed at home schoolers that explain how to teach chemistry with everyday household items.
Many of those books, along with the vast resources of the intra webs, show ordinary families how to create incredible pyrotechnic displays using everything from toilet bowl cleaner to the family’s Thanksgiving turkey. Home schooling breeds curiosity in children. Combine that with a male child’s natural predilection toward examining the physical properties of combustion and fiery conflagrations, and it’s inevitable that home schooling moms with boys will find themselves saying many, many times, “I had no idea you could burn that.” I’m convinced that the next generation of scientists and inventors will come out of the home schooling community. They’re not used to being told, “You’re not allowed to do that — it might be dangerous!” Look out, scientific frontiers!
3. Home School Balls
Many home schooled teens learn poise and charm (and how to talk to members of the opposite sex during the awkward teen years) at home school balls. These come in several varieties: Celtic balls, contra dances, ’50s-themed sock hops, and square dances. It’s important to understand that these are not proms. Neither are they “school dances.” Absolutely not! They are carefully choreographed social events at which teens are expected to participate in coordinated group dances (think of the dance scenes in Pride and Prejudice). The girls usually dress in formal gowns — sometimes in period costumes — while the boys are attired in suits or dress shirts with ties.
The events our boys attended had rules: boys ask the girls to dance (not the other way around), boys are not permitted to ask the same girl to dance in consecutive dances, and boys are responsible for making sure all the girls who want to dance have the opportunity to dance. Even the most shy, awkward boys learn to overcome their fear and ask a girl to dance. They learn that it’s not an earth-shattering, life-altering event. It’s just an act of common etiquette. I’ll never forget one son’s first dance in 8th grade. We were driving home when he announced matter-of-factly from the backseat, “My hand smells like girl.” We all sniffed it, and agreed that it did indeed “smell like girl.” He had danced with a couple dozen girls that night, and I think perhaps he spent the rest of that evening wondering which girl smelled so good!
While to the uninitiated this probably sounds like a completely antiquated and absurd activity for modern teens, I will ask you, parents of public school kids: What have you got? Twerking and grinding at the senior prom? I will take our more civilized approach. The night we attended a wedding and our two sons politely invited dateless girls at the reception to dance (including for the waltzes), we knew that the home school balls had been a good move. They were brave and confident and knew that it was just a dance. They didn’t have to “hit” on a girl to ask her to dance.
4. High-Tech Home schooling Families
Don’t let those home schoolers fool you. Oh sure, they don’t have TVs in their homes and their kids have never seen MTV or the Disney Channel. But most of them have more technology hiding behind the doors of that average-looking home than your local university. A peek behind the couch or the desk will give it all away — you will see the massive forest of tangled power cords and network lines running in every direction, keeping the family connected.
It’s possible the kids all have shiny new MacBooks, but a more likely scenario is a family that has purchased used systems and learned to repair and upgrade them on their own. Most home schoolers are single-income families and live under budget constraints, so many save money by learning to repair everything from their cars to their garbage disposals to their computers. In the process, the children learn these skills as well and often take them to the next level. By the time they reach high school age, a high percentage of home schooled kids are extremely savvy with technology — as in, you should call that techy home schooled kid instead of the pricey Nerd Squad. When they start telling you about their family “farm,” they might just be talking about a server farm in the basement instead of a vegetable garden.
There are many more aspects to home school geek culture, but some of them would probably embarrass my kids or get my husband in trouble with the authorities. You’ll learn them soon enough if you decide to home school.