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Why It’s So Hard To Come Out of the Homeschool Closet

Yesterday Rod Dreher wrote a blog post about Jennifer Kulynych, a Washington-area lawyer who decided to homeschool her daughter. She herself had written in the New York Times,

The biggest challenge I’ve faced is owning this new identity as a homeschooler. I told no one at work, preferring to stay completely in the closet about teaching my daughter at home. My corporation values diversity, but somehow being a home-schooling corporate lawyer felt beyond the pale — a topic simply too taboo to discuss.

In response, Dreher writes, “Come out, come out, wherever you are, homeschoolers! Kulynych is certainly right that homeschooling is not for every parent, nor for every child. But it might be for you—and you might have fun doing it.”

Why aren’t more people open about homeschooling? When people ask me where I went to high school, I usually have to take a deep breath before I reply. Here it comes. “I was homeschooled,” I’ll reply. And depending on the person I’m talking with, this answer may prompt raised eyebrows, short laughs, skeptical looks, or all of the above. The person may comment half-teasingly about my style, overall appearance, or “socialization skills.”

Honestly, I’m thankful and proud of my homeschooling background. From first grade to graduation, my mom taught me the classics, art, math, science, philosophy, theology, and languages. I took seven years of piano and 13 of violin. My mom encouraged my love of books, allowing me time every day to devour 19th century literature and write novels. I joined one local homeschool co-op’s volleyball team, and another’s weekly British Lit classes. My younger brothers play golf with the local high school, and have taken math classes at our local community college.

Homeschooling drew my family closer together. My sister and I studied alongside each other, sharing textbooks and competing over spelling exams. When my brothers reached elementary and middle school grade levels, I helped my mom homeschool them: assisting with science experiments, reading books aloud, teaching them rudimentary piano lessons, and helping grade their writing assignments.

If I hadn’t been homeschooled, I don’t think I would have read so many books, or written all those short stories and novels. I wouldn’t have looked into journalism as a potential major. I wouldn’t be sitting here, now, blessed with a writing career that I love. Homeschooling made me who I am, and I’m very thankful for my mother’s sacrifices and hard work.

But the general public does not see homeschooling in such a positive light. Most hear rumors of its fundamentalist, confining traits, and avoid it (or its adherents) like the plague. Far be it from me to dismiss their concerns: I know that, for some children, homeschooling was characterized by horrible abuse. The American Prospect recently published a piece on this topic, justly exposing some of the terrible practices permitted via homeschooling. But I would suggest that such abuse could be found amongst private and public schooled families, as well. The problem is not, at root, the institution: rather, it is the people who use and abuse an institution with malpractice.

Nonetheless, many view homeschooling as a way to foster nerdy, ill-socialized human beings, at best—at worst, as a sort of cultish and abusive custom. As a homeschooler with loving, kind-hearted, and smart parents, my experience was a far cry from all this: indeed, I would venture to say it’s a far cry from most homeschoolers’ experience. Yet to avoid the constant mislabeling, many keep quiet and stay in the homeschooling closet. Like the mother described in Dreher’s blog post, the shame and blame associated with homeschooling encourages parents to teach in the shadows, without support from their local community.

Homeschooling is not for everyone. But neither should it be the leprosy of the educational world. Its practitioners should be judged on their merits and manners, and its benefits and disadvantages should be weighed fairly, as with any other institution.

about the author

Gracy Olmstead is a writer and journalist located outside Washington, D.C. In addition to The American Conservative, she has written for The Washington Times, the Idaho Press Tribune, The Federalist, and Acculturated. Follow Gracy on Twitter @GracyOlmstead.

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