Thursday, April 9, 2015

Socialization, Part 2: Assumptions

I was talking to my kids about the "socialization" issue, and they reminded me of some experiences they've had that we'd like to share. It's an interesting phenomenon. 

All three of them have reported having this same experience.

My middle kid told me that when he was around 12 or 13, he noticed this happening, and it changed how he chose to relate to people. He said that as long as homeschooling never came up in conversation, things were FINE. But as soon as a non-homeschooled person learned that he was homeschooled, they instantly changed how they behaved around him. It often became uncomfortable at that point, sometimes functionally ending the friendship, because the other person could no longer deal with him as a person, but had, instead, created an erroneous image of him that overwhelmed any actual relationship.

The question is, what is going on?

People often ask, or have concerns, about homeschooling making someone be a social outcast. Typically, the assumption is that there is something about homeschooling that creates a person who does not share in the larger social experience, or have the same cultural knowledge, as does someone with the more common experience of having spent much of their time in school. In other words, they "stick out" as "different." They don't get the same jokes. They don't share interests. They wouldn't have anything to talk about.

But in our experience, it hasn't worked quite like that.

Instead, my kids have had plenty to talk about with other people that they meet. Lots of shared interests. Much joking.

And then…

Homeschooling is mentioned, for some reason.

And at that very moment, the other person suddenly believes that they no longer share interests or have anything in common? 
They nearly instantaneously bring a whole slew of assumptions into the friendship. Often, it comes out as a bunch of the same set of questions that homeschoolers and unschoolers are used to hearing, over and over and over.
Oh, so you must be religious? What do you DO all day? How do you find friends? Is that legal? Are you allowed to watch TV? What about college?

There are a few different flavors:

1. You must be brilliant and have been taking college classes from the age of 8 and are a prodigy and therefore way too weird to associate with normal people. Do you do school all the time? Don't you ever get any vacations? Don't you ever wish you could do whatever you want instead of schooling? This ones gets derailed big time if unschooling is mentioned, to the point that people often don't know what to say at all!

2.  You must be stupid and uneducated and don't know anything, like have you ever done long division? What's the capital of Nebraska? This version comes with a long list of quiz-type questions.

3. Don't you ever get out of the house? WHAT ABOUT SOCIALIZATION?

Well, that socialization thing was going along JUST FINE, until you freaked the hell out about the fact that I didn't go to school.

All three of my kids, independently of each other, made the decision to stop telling people that they never went to school. As long as it isn't brought up, it makes NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL. No one has ever ASKED them, based on any perceived differences in their knowledge base or behavior.

What I find the most interesting about this, and potentially the most useful, isn't about homeschooling at all.

It's that I think most people do this very thing about almost every difference they perceive between another person and themselves: they load it down with THEIR OWN ASSUMPTIONS, rather than being open and aware of THE ACTUAL PERSON. There are many, many things that people choose not to share with others for this reason. They don't want the relationship to get suddenly shunted into whatever assumption-path that information will lead to.

What are yours?
What things about yourself do you not share, because you don't want to get asked the same damned questions, again?
What things do you not talk about because you are tired of how people react to it, especially when it's something they are not familiar with?

What are ways we can learn to notice when we've done this?
What might be ways to be able to share with people and avoid them making erroneous assumptions?

My profession, about which I am passionate, is so completely misunderstood by people that I rarely bring it up. There is another group, which is much more visible, that has misappropriated the title I have earned, to the point that it has become the default "understanding" of it. The assumptions that go along with the common interpretation are SO wrong that they bear no relationship to what I do, and they tend to completely color how that person sees me. So, unless I WANT to get into a very long discussion about it, I don't usually say anything. If I'm directly asked, I have a variety of things I will answer, none of which use my "job title," and none of which tell the whole story.

This means I TOTALLY understand the position my kids have found themselves in.
I don't blame them at all for choosing not to mention it.

I do, however, want to remain vigilant, and weed out any times that I am unintentionally doing this with other people. How about you?

1 comment:

  1. I don't mention we unschool unless asked directly and then I don't use that wording as people get real uncomfortable, defensive or completely freak out at me. I now use a phrase my son came up with when being quizzed by his grandparents. He said "I learn what I like in my own way, in my own time." I loved his answer because it was honest, about him and not defensive. (He's 8 by the way)