Homeschooled Kids go to Christian College – One Professor’s Impressions

Every subgroup comes with stereotypes and those stereotypes usually are formed by impressions of the group stemming from people not within the group.

I have found myself in the delightful position of homeschooling my kids for many years and then later becoming a professor at a Christian college where I have encountered homeschooled kids as an outsider, also. If I am correct, our incoming classes consists of around 20% homeschoolers, which is a much higher percentage than a state university would get.

Let me say this first, that even at a smallish institution like the one I work at, where we have about 1200 traditional undergraduates, I don’t know the schooling background of most of the students–be that public school, private school, charter school, homeschooling, or some horrendous mixture of all of the above. Most students are just my students, they come to class, interact with me pleasantly and positively, do the work, get the grade, and pass on.

In every class I teach, I try to get to know all their names. Only for a select portion of every class I teach do I get to know their schooling background, either because they are high performing outgoing students who reach out to me, or because they have some sort of struggles in my class that cause me to – more than usual – reach out to them to support them so they succeed (hopefully!!) in my class. (Those struggles range from mental health issues, to illness, to family or personal life conflicts, to underperformance in class).

In short, my observations about homeschooled students are skewed because I meet the top of the class and the struggling bottom of the class, mostly. In addition, I meet the few vocal students who for some philosophical or theological reasons have objections to the ruling scientific paradigms of the class. (And those students are, perhaps, in higher percentages homeschooled students).

That is a lot of qualifications to make before saying what I am getting at. What I am articulating below, consists of broad strokes, and it is not an indictment of homeschooling or of kids who come out of that environment. After all, I homeschooled my own kids, and I don’t regret it. Indeed, as far as my 22, 23, and 26 year old kids have expressed their opinions to me, they have not regretted being homeschooled either, though, at times, they have selectively omitted divulging that piece of information in their school and work lives, when they thought the information would not be to their (my kids’ own) benefit.

Alright!! Get to your point, Jaqua!!

[One more caveat!! Christian Colleges as a rule LOVE homeschoolers and welcome homeschool students with open arms. They are OFTEN some of our very best, kindest, and most well adjusted students.].

“You were homeschooled!?! Oh, I didn’t even know!” – that is one of the greatest compliments a homeschooled kid can receive in college. In short, “congratulations!! You don’t fit my stereotype.”

My daughter even heard, “but you are normal”, from a fellow student, but that was at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Also, at Boulder, in an advanced freshman writing class, when asked about her schooling and admitting to being homeschooled, my daughter witnessed the professor rolling her eyes and sighing. This professor obviously had the stereotype that homeschoolers are not well trained in writing. However, that turned around quickly, since my daughter happens to express herself well in writing and was over the years able to convince every professor in humanities at CU Boulder of that fact.

That was two stereotypes I just mentioned: homeschoolers are weird (… eh, I mean “different”!!), and homeschoolers cannot write. I could add the stereotype about math, but before I do that, let me outline what I plan to say. I will discuss

1. The weird category, which will include
a. Social awkwardness
b. Non-team player
2. The deficient category, which mostly includes (because they are the two most important subjects)
a. Lack of writing skills
b. Lack of math skills

Finally (leaving the best till last) I will discuss the most common homeschooler I meet.

3. The well-adjusted, well-trained, responsible, socially aware, and delightfully informed homeschooled kid.

Socially Awkward

In one university math class I taught a few years back, a student would frequently interrupt with “that is now how my mom taught it!” You smile. I did too. Much of the rest of the class groaned. It was obvious he was homeschooled – he said as much. It was also obvious that social cues were not this young man’s strong suit. Likely he was somewhere on ‘the spectrum’. Was he homeschooled because his mom was a social isolate who was so controlling that over the years he ‘got weirder and weirder’? Perhaps. But perhaps not. Perhaps he was homeschooled because his parents recognized early on that he had some mental health challenges that were best handled by not exposing him to public school peer pressure. I get a few of that type every year or so. Homeschooling is a wonderful way to support emotionally fragile kids who would be lynched daily in institutional settings.

In this category, also fall a few students who are fairly mainstream, but who somewhat absentmindedly miss important social cues, like visiting my office for a consultation on homework, but evidencing no awareness of the cues I send as to when it is time to leave.

One extreme case comes to mind where a student came in for math help. He asked if he could just write down what I had written on the board, I consented. I began to work on something else. Ten minutes went by. He stayed. I asked him if he were done. He said yes, and kept writing. I asked him if I could help him with anything else. He said no, but stayed and kept scribbling. I stood up, held the door, and told him it was time to go. He looked around, saw my bulletin board, pointed at the pictures and said, “Is that your family? Are those your kids?” I nodded and waved the door and said he needed to leave. He asked me if it was OK if he just stayed until he finished his homework. – He was homeschooled. (Rare, extremely exasperating, but funny!!) My point: There are some who lack social cues, and some of those are homeschooled. Those stereotypes stay in the minds of professors. And for many professors, once we find out the student is homeschooled, we have an ‘aha’ moment, as if that explains the ‘odd behavior’. Truth is, I know it doesn’t. But many professors don’t know that.

Non-team Player

Another type of homeschooler is the non-team player, the student who often excludes him or herself from an activity, which most other Christian students at college are okay with. This student has learned to take strong public stances on issues that are a matter of black and white to him or her. The problem is that most issues are a matter of black and white to this student. He or she knows how everyone ought to dress, how everyone ought to pray, the right interpretations of key Bible passages, what kind of music is okay to listen to, and how far one can ‘go’ with one’s girl or boyfriend. In short this student has been given the answers, and his or her aim with college is not really to explore ideas, but to get that certification that only an accredited college can give. Most professors, even at Christian institutions are public university educated. That can, in students like these, be cause for mistrust. Some churches and some homeschools are inherently suspicious of ‘the educated elite’ and professors who are public university educated (perhaps even more so in science than in many other fields) hold their public university stances within their fields and this can be perceived as a threat to one’s faith, if one is brought up with a certain theological interpretation of certain scriptures and keeps that interpretation as key to salvation. Most Christian Colleges do not take an official position on theological interpretation of select passages of Scripture for the mere reason that their appeal to the Christian world is a broad one. (In essentials, unity. In all things, Charity). This lack of taking a stance can feel as much like a stumbling block to a student who has strong views that he or she would like to hear the professor express too. I have seen in my evaluations at times, express criticism of the fact that I have not taken an official stance in class on such matters. (Such matters are never at the core of the material my classes are about, so there is no particular reason why I should express views that will only foster division in the class when they don’t affect the material taught in the class). Most Christian colleges, however, are accredited, and as such the science classes have to toe a line that keeps that accreditation, hence may, at times, rear its ugly head, the Darwinian paradigm for consideration, or the Big Bang paradigm. Most professors are not out to offend or even impress their personal world views or Christian interpretation of how to live life on students. They are there to teach their subjects, only. Professors will, however, like students run the gamut on the spectrum of Christianity in terms of doctrinal adherences as well as political affiliations. In my view it is healthy for students to be exposed to a variety of views from professors and classes, however, a few very dedicated parents would rather that their offspring be exposed to a more narrow range of views.

Examples of behavior from the sometimes non-team player student can range from the week-long choir tour where the student consistently stays back alone in the hotel room because everyone else is going to a restaurant that has a bar that serves drinks (not that anyone is drinking, but that he or she will not frequent a place that serves), to the student who always leaves class on the days of the lectures on Big Bang Theory or Darwinian Evolution. Or the student who in spite of being taught in class that he has to argue from within a certain scientific paradigm chooses to operate from the paradigm he was raised with… resulting in bad test scores for not answering the question correctly – bad test scores which the student chucks up to religious persecution. (Not to say that this couldn’t also happen with students who come from sheltered environments that include church and Christian schools as well.) (Second Parenthesis- It may also be that you, as the parent, applaud some of these reactions from your student, that he or she draws the line in the sand and does not go with the group when it comes to unsound doctrines, unhealthy behaviors, silly behaviors, or an unnecessary focus on social life when your student could be studying. Not ALL behavior that goes against the group is necessarily rigid or prudish.)

Unlike the socially awkward category above (where I don’t think socially awkward is a product of homeschooling but more likely an expression of emergent mental health issues which is the REAL cause of such students needing to be homeschooled,) in the non-team player category I think we homeschoolers can easily fall — for better or for worse.

We homeschool for a reason, those reasons are varied, but many of those reasons have to do with sheltering, with living moral lives, and with setting apart our students to live what we consider more fulfilled, more focused lives. That can, in some cases, cause both us and our children to be a bit narrow and perhaps also judgmental. It is something to guard against or at least something to broaden before sending kids to college where they will (even at a Christian school) be exposed to a variety of lifestyles (within Christian norms) and a spectrum from complete rigidity to nearly complete laxity in terms of how students behave and how seriously they personally take the moral fabric of the institution they go to.

Lack of Writing and/or Math skills

The three Rs are the most important subjects in school, still, to this day. Homeschoolers teach reading well, as far as I have observed it. Writing and math are a mixed bag, depending on the home and the instructional level, the follow through, etc.

Writing Skills

Rumor has it that homeschooled kids do not write well. That of course is too broad a brush stroke to paint with. My personal experience is that most kids entering college are abysmal writers. OK, that is too strong, also, but I don’t think homeschooled kids are particularly worse at writing when they arrive in college than anyone else. I think writing instruction both in public school and in homeschooling are, for the most part, not particularly well done, and that mostly because it is not taught systematically at the word, sentence, paragraph- level because not enough time is committed to this important skill.

Math Skills

Homeschooled students with parents who are good at math or who have good tutors/teachers or other excellent math instruction, do well in college math courses. Homeschooled students who were left on their own (and this is my professional opinion, and I encounter many of them) with a self-teaching curriculum tend to learn patterned math where they imitate examples they see in the book or on the video. They can ‘ape’ material and are pattern learners, and the problem is that they don’t learn the fundamental rules of math at a deep conceptual level that allows them to transfer their skills into Chemistry or Physics. That IS a problem. I am a huge believer in math as a topic that must be taught by a qualified person who can instruct and correct students regularly. – Some homeschooled students do fall in this category, more so than public schooled students. It is an issue, however, that can be remedied by investing money in face-to-face courses in seat or online.

Well-adjusted Well-trained

My oldest son who is an officer in the Marine Corps told me that perspectives on homeschooling in the military tends to be binary. You were either homeschooled because you and your family are brilliant, or you are homeschooled because your family is weird.

I have covered a bit of weird above, so now for the brilliant.
Now, I don’t think brilliant is the right term for this category. Yes, some of our most outstanding students some years have been former homeschoolers, and we are very proud of them. But brilliant students are rare. Many of my academically solid and socially well-adjusted students were homeschooled too. We professors often just don’t know they were homeschooled because they fit in so well everywhere that unless the topic comes up, it is a non-issue. I think most homeschooled kids fall in that category. They go undetected because they are just there, like every other type of kid.

When I say well adjusted, I mean getting along with almost everyone in every age group. In other words, he or she did not spend the years of childhood isolated with age-appropriate peers. Those are the students that come alongside the weaker students in lab, the students who are patient enough to wait for others to grasp the material before hurrying their group along. Those are the students one the rare day when I have had to bring my son with Down’s along into a class, who reach out and ask him to sit with them for the lecture.
To round out. I homeschooled my four kids. Two of them K – 12, one of them K – 10, and my son with Down’s I put in school in 4th grade because he needed so much therapy, and he loves people, he just has had a wonderful time with all the activities and socializing that school has provided for him.
Of my three older kids, I would not be a good judge of whether they are or are not ‘typical’ of homeschoolers or whether they are awkward. I believe not, but obviously I am blind to their flaws. They are all college graduates, two with careers, one in grad school, and from what I see, while they are introverts and tend to foster small friend groups rather than being the party types, I think that is more a product of who their parents (who were both public schooled) already were long before the kids came on the scene.

In short, I think (and this entire article is nothing but what I think) homeschoolers are just as ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’ as the rest of the population. Where homeschoolers stick out and seem odd, their oddness is not necessarily a function of being homeschooled. I think, more so that the label homeschoolers sometimes acquire for being odd (which is explained because she was ‘homeschooled’) is a function of society’s prejudices towards homeschooling. When we professors encounter an odd student and find that he went to institutional school – we may, less so, slap a label on that particular student.

About Lene Jaqua

Co-author of Classical Writing books
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