Two points that I did not stress in my original comments on Wyatt’s Family Ties: Relationships, Socialization, and Home Schooling are especially worthy of note. First, based upon his own qualitative (and hence anecdotal) research, Wyatt has found that a large number of homeschooling parents had bad school experiences themselves. He cites several parents, fathers and mothers alike, who remember in vivid detail the harrowing social encounters of their childhoods. One father recalls, “my family did not tease me in any way, but in school it was merciless. I was always the youngest and largest and clumsiest…. I was terrible in sports and too fascinated in things for my own good” (16-17). Wyatt concludes that for parents like this, “Home schooling is a defensive stragety initiated to ensure that their children are not subjected to the torment that defined their childhoods” (17).
Again, Wyatt provides nothing approaching quantitative evidence that might suggest what percentage of homeschooling families are motivated by what we might call the geek factor, but it is a thoughtful suggestion nonetheless. Homeschooling for some may be the real “revenge of the nerds.”
And this brings me to my second observation. Wyatt’s chapter on the socialization question is the best piece I’ve ever read on the topic. As I mentioned in my previous post, he is not as original here as he thinks, but he does a wonderful job of drawing on a rich body of sociological literature about the lives of students in schools to make a compelling case that schools are far from ideal models of socialization for young people. Reliance on this literature gives his account an authority that typical homeschooler critiques of public education lack as he describes a social world of cliques, petty meanspiritedness, obsession with appearances, anti-intellectualism, racial segregation, and bullying.
Wyatt concludes his chapter on socialization with an insight he borrows from the novelist Reynolds Price, who looked back on his childhood with fondness for the hours and hours of solitude he experienced. Wyatt makes a claim consistent with recent work of some other psychologists (Anthony Storr, for example) that solitude can be a powerful force in forging individual identity. Many homeschooled children, freed from the overscheduling of their lives by adults and immersion in technologically-mediated entertainment during lulls in the schedule, are given space to acquire the personal depth that solitude alone can impart.