The Washington Times
December 9, 2002

New Culture Taking Hold Within Larger World of Education

The Washington Times
December 9, 2002
Page B4

During my adolescence, I was fascinated by anthropology. I loved reading Peter Freuchen's "Book of the Eskimos," Margaret Mead's "Coming of Age in Samoa" and Ruth Benedict's "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword." Recently, I became aware of a brand new culture, right in my own home.

My son was wearing a simple pair of sweat pants and a T-shirt proclaiming "School House Rocks." I was wearing jeans and an oversized sweater. One daughter was wearing baggy pants and a fleece top. The other was in her pajama pants and a shirt. Suddenly, one of my daughter's said, "We look so home-school."

I was shocked. "What do you mean? How do we look home-school?"

The three of them described the look to me: comfortable, uncaring about fashion, no makeup, natural hairstyle, bookish. Evidently, home-schoolers have a look, one that is obvious to others. This was my first clue that we are part of a new culture developing within the larger society. This inspired me to analyze home-schoolers from an anthropological perspective.

Time: Home-schoolers have a different sense of time. They aren't frantic about getting children to bed or getting them up according to the clock. With families who aren't home-schooling, I notice their consciousness of schooldays and holidays and how that affects decisions about activities.

Home-schoolers, on the other hand, seem to control time better, in terms of getting things done. I have worked with mixed groups of children, and it surprises me how hard it is for non-home-schoolers to meet deadlines. In home-schooling, you get used to setting goals and meeting them. Children really like creating their own schedules and sticking to them. Children in schools, however, live by someone else's schedule. Thus, they don't get to experience the satisfaction of using time well.

Conversation: Non-home-schoolers spend a lot of time talking about things home-schoolers find boring: complaining about one's body shape, hair or clothing, for instance. Discussing the antics of people others don't know. Recounting the trials of living with one's parents. Critiquing people's looks. Complaining.

Home-schoolers tend to talk more about plans and ideas. They discuss things relevant to all people present in a conversation. They don't spend a lot of time discussing appearances—theirs or others'—unless it pertains to a larger discussion. If they complain about their parents, it's usually in he form of good-natured ribbing, and they know and expect they probably will get it back.

Food: Non-homeschoolers usually eat one or two meals outside the home each day and only one in the home, at night. Lunches must be prepared and taken to school, and a forgotten lunch is a major hassle. A missed breakfast can result in a difficult morning.

Dinner is the major thing on everyone's mind they all get home together. Stressed out, hungry people are not prime candidates for peaceful, calm interaction.

For home-schoolers, the refrigerator is always there. Lunch can be leftovers from the night before, a meal cooked from scratch or a quick sandwich. They can snack if they want. Dinner is a calm affair, without a whole lot of emotional content. There's a lot less drama surrounding meals.

Social relationships: In most schools, learning is secondary to the constant need to deal with the pecking order. Schools are tension-filled places, so there is a need to protect oneself from a host of possible threats. Teachers and administrators are an enemy group, as are children with different strengths or interests.

Children create alliances with others for mutual protection and friendly interaction. The alliances and enmities create a certain geography to one's day. At lunch, you sit with your friends and apart from your enemies. You cultivate loyalty to the group and antagonism toward those not of the group. The group gives you safe haven and an identity. You are defined by who you hang with, not just who you are.

Among home-schoolers, there is a different perception of who people are. Because each person is an independent unit and is seen as individual, there are no groups or other identities to assume. No enmities or alliances are necessary, and no points are scored by making fun of one another.

Home-schoolers, therefore, tend to view each new person as an individual, and they judge according to that person's words and actions. For this reason, the child who is used to being treated a certain way in school finds out that among home-schoolers, his carefully crafted persona is just seen as fake and a bit irritating. Without a need for antagonism or alliances, most of the high school behaviors just seem strange…

The home-school culture, therefore, is a lot less stressful. Tensions of all kinds are dimin- ished, and supports are stronger. Students control their own time, food, activities and goals. Appearances and group identities are less important. Following one's own agenda is more central. The home-school culture, therefore, would seem to enhance personal and family strength and to be less volatile than that of institution-based schooling.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer living in Maryland.

Copyright 2002 News World Communications, Inc.
Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times.
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