Homemade education: intergenerational stigmas on homeschool

Wang’s childhood learning room in 2020, after several rounds of book donations throughout the years.

Michaela Wang—

My hands struggle through the thick cornstarch and water mixture, glop sticking to my hair and the tabletop underneath. Solid blends with liquid, stabilizing and destabilizing as my sister repeatedly punches the surface. She won’t stop, and my mother won’t stop her until we comprehend the non-Newtonian fluid theory: viscosity can change, when under force, to become either more liquid or more solid.  

This was the vernacular of Thursday afternoons: the once-a-week opportunity for scientific enlightenment either involved expired cornstarch or four-bottle food coloring. My mother firmly believed that the best education came with a bit of mess and a box of washable markers. Knowledge did not require hefty expenditures; we could receive sufficient––if not better––education through library late fees and the clearance aisle at Walmart. More importantly, she believed that schooling should never restrict students through punishments, reading levels and seating charts. Teachers inculcate intellectual curiosity in their students only by embracing the liberty and self-discovery of a hands-on education. Until second grade, I created, wrote and read as an intrepid pupil. 

While homeschool curriculums have been stigmatized by recent generations as an off-the-grid, alt-right or alt-left lifestyle, the first stage of every American child’s education is at home. As soon as you come out of the womb, your home begins teaching you––how to get what you want by guilt-tripping others, how to protect territories against siblings, how to pronounce vowels and slide your tongue through consonants. Psychologists argue that birth to the age of three are the most crucial years for cognitive development, where you acquire practical and intuitive life lessons. During this period, there is no teacher or sticker reward system; just your parents, the world and a didactic picture book alluding to food to teach phonics. You acquired these concepts by experiencing and trying without boundary. Every child was homeschooled.

For Gen X and millennial parents, it is at the age of three to six when children attend pre- or primary school. But for baby boomers, who parented during a historical period of massive suburbanization and low female employment, children stayed home. Men won the bread for their families, allowing mothers to nurture their children’s first budding intellectual interests at home. At the same time, Evangelical Christian values more than ever fortified, parents fearing an unrighteous school culture and homeschooling their children. According to the National Home Education Research Institute, U.S. homeschooling rates first boomed from approximately 93,000 students in 1983 to 275,000 in 1990; the first spike in homeschooled households arose with baby boomer parents. The most recent federal data on homeschooling demonstrate that from 2012-2016, the number of homeschoolers declined by 4.7 percent nationwide, while K–12 public school enrollment increased 1.6 percent. Thus, as Generation X and millennials parented, with female employment and household styles evolving, more children were sent to school. Societal perceptions shifted from revering homeschool education to leaving it, and, as a result, stigmatizing the lifestyle.

I was just like any other child, bred in a matriarchal Asian household fundamentally supported by Evangelical Christianity and Sunday Costco food court pizza. Picture books, enlivened by my mother’s recitation, introduced complex philosophical concepts such as morality and altruism. Handmade crafts piqued my artistic talents. As neighborhood friends lamented the inefficiency of the American public school system, my mother decided to continue homeschool education and to hold me back from the conventional succession into Kindergarten. 

My intellectual interests were fulfilling and being fulfilled, seven-volume books on European colonization encroaching on my five-year-old mind. I attended co-ops––a Christian homeschool congregation where parents would teach language arts and sciences twice a week to children––socializing with other homeschooled students my age and engaging in active discussion. 

Fearing that I lacked exposure to the melodrama of second grade, my father enrolled me into second grade at our local public elementary school. I only spoke when the teacher aggressively called on me, suppressed my homeschooled background and relished recess in the library. I learned that the world could be a beautiful and dark place; that embracing your differences was a liability; and that though loneliness looms when you are alone, it strikes when you are surrounded by a room of people. But I continued to educate myself beyond the classroom, completed assignments in the textbook beyond the ones just assigned and proposed intellectual quieres without boundaries. While attending public school, I was still, in effect, homeschooling myself. By charting my own curriculum, I could authentically engage, challenge and gain intellect.  

Recent generations view homeschool lifestyles as an unproductive and inefficient excuse for parents to let their children play on the grass like free-range chicken. Some argue that homeschooling isolates children from practical life skills, such as socialization and obedience sitting on square-drawn rugs. Others argue that homeschooling is riddled by Evangelical propaganda. Homeschool––just like any education system––encompasses flaws and receives criticisms, but the issue lies not in homeschool itself but recent generations’ failure to truly understand it. Regardless of generational differences in learning style, one cannot trivialize homeschool as peculiar and futile when it has undeniably shaped who they are and what they know.

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