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What About E-Socialization?
For Better or Worse Websites Like MySpace and YouTube Are Changing The Image of Homeschooling
By Diane Flynn Keith
Just a decade ago, homeschooling was hallowed. Pioneers who forged the modern homeschool movement worked hard to project the image of homeschooling as the cradle of autonomy, family values, and educational freedom that resulted in academic and life success. They wanted homeschooling to be taken seriously and so they treated it seriously. They sought to gain acceptance and respect for the homeschooling movement from the mainstream population.
"On YouTube alone, there are thousands of video results for "homeschooling" — not all of which are intended for Comedy Central."
Back in the day, the homeschool community did not make fun of themselves in public forums. In fact, they didn't have much of a public sense of humor at all — which is completely understandable in a climate of bias, prejudice, and government harassment. Things have changed.
Homeschooling has grown to over 2,000,000 strong in the United States. It's not just our expanding numbers that have changed. The confluence of the modern homeschool movement with the Internet boom of the past decade has produced a social networking generation that does not view homeschooling as sacrosanct. Want proof? Head over to the social networking site called MySpace or the video sharing website called YouTube. You'll be amazed at what comes up when you enter "homeschooling" in the search engines of these sites.
For example, on YouTube a teenage homeschooler named Leaf Coneybear explains his "cricketlum" (curriculum) to viewers in a series of videos. He makes hand turkeys, writes a song on a poorly played harmonica, and lulls himself to sleep by swinging a crystal back and forth in front of his own face in his daily "Power Crystal Magic Class." Leaf engages in after-homeschool activities too, such as playing on his one-man Frisbee team and working on an entrepreneurial venture making capes for kitty cats.
Once you get over the shock of watching Leaf's videos, it begins to dawn on you that this is not for real. It is all meant to be very funny — a joke perpetrated on YouTube viewers by actor-comedian Jesse Tyler Ferguson. It's a satire on unschooling - and it's done with the insight of someone who has either lived it or witnessed it.
I posted the link to one of Leaf's videos on a homeschool discussion list. There was an even split between those who thought it was funny and those who didn't. I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I do see the over-the-top humor in it. On the other, I see the risk of "normals" (people who don't homeschool) taking it completely out of context and thinking it is for real. Unschooling is a difficult enough concept for normals to understand without Leaf being mistaken for a spokesperson.
If you visit YouTube you'll discover many efforts at humor about homeschoolers — much of it by homeschoolers representing every philosophy and methodology. Of course, some of it is by comedian wanna-bes. There are videos that are genuinely funny, and some that are as lame as can be (embarrassing, really). In my opinion, here are two examples of the latter:
The description of this video on YouTube says, "Patrick Henry College is the place to court! Tips on campus courtship and picking up the best knitters." For those that don't know, Patrick Henry College has a large homeschooled student body. Its mission is "to prepare Christian men and women who will lead our nation and shape our culture with timeless biblical values and fidelity to the spirit of the American founding." This video is a satire. Watch it (if you dare) — but don't plan on big yucks.
A Day In The Life of a Homeschool Student
(Note: This video is no longer available to watch on YouTube.)
Unfortunately for the purpose of this article, the video referenced above is no longer available to watch on YouTube. However, it's worth noting anyway. The homeschooler who created it admitted, "This is a joke! I was homeschooled all the way through and love home schooling!" The video was an attempt at comedic satire.
She portrayed a teenage unschool student having a "typical day." The video filmed her as she got out of bed in the morning, didn't get dressed, and then watched reruns on TV — dutifully taking class notes on "I Love Lucy." Viewers could watch her put on make-up and paint her fingernails as a sign flashed across the screen that said, "Homeschool students are self-motivated." Another sign announced, "Homeschoolers learn at their own pace," as you watched her play video games. Another placard read, "Homeschool students get one-on-one attention," illustrated by a clip of the girl and her mom playing a game of Yahtzee.
[Note: A copy-cat video has surfaced at YouTube. It's not as effective, but it will give you a rough idea of what the original video was like.]
"YouTube is a no-holds-barred forum and people from all over the globe rate, praise or condemn the videos and their homeschool content (often accompanied with an assortment of potty-mouth expletives)."
Viewers of the now defunct video, posted 17 pages of commentary about it. In spite of the fact that the young woman who made the video freely admitted it was a joke — it was obvious as you read the posts, that many people who watched it didn't bother to read her disclaimer. And therein lies the problem. Some people don't "get" the joke. Those that do, sometimes create new problems with their remarks. Others resent the joke. Here's a sampling of the comments that were taken from the website, prior to the video being removed:
I don't know whether to laugh or cry, do you?
To be fair, I would like to point out a couple of gems:
This music video features a homeschool family with nine children going about their day. A catchy song to the tune of the theme from "The Adams Family" accompanies the video. Here are some of the lyrics:
Some people say we're goofy
We drive a white conversion
I found this video to be a delight to watch — and it's fun to sing along. However, the depiction of the family in the video reinforces the homeschool stereotype. The video is one of the first to pop up when you search for "homeschooling" on YouTube and that means it's being watched by lots of people. Is that good, bad, or indifferent?
The description that accompanies this rap music video explains, "This video I made to an original song by E-rod and his friend Mike for a Young Life Camp they were a part of. They play two homeschooled brothers named Melvin and Melvin as they tell their life story." This is a well-shot amateur video. It's a spoof on rap music videos with clever lyrics that include:
You public school kids ain't got nothin' on me
My SAT scores are out of sight
My mom is the teacher, my ride, and my cook
Even though the piece is well-crafted, it is often misunderstood judging from the comments by the viewers. Unfortunately, you have to wade through some foul language to read the posts expressing opinions about the video and whether or not this type of humor is helpful to homeschooling in the long run.
On YouTube alone, there are thousands of video results for "homeschooling" — not all of which are intended for Comedy Central. You can watch video clips of Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul talking about homeschooling. Watch precocious homeschooled children of all ages demonstrate their academic prowess as they give a speech, practice their multiplication tables, play the violin, or make crafts. Get tips from homeschool moms on how to choose curriculum. Learn about different homeschool methodologies. Watch a former homeschooler talk about his zits (yuck!) and his homeschooling experience through 10th grade.
As demonstrated above, what is more telling than the videos are the comments that viewers post about them. YouTube is a no-holds-barred forum and people from all over the globe rate, praise or condemn the videos and their homeschool content (often accompanied with an assortment of potty-mouth expletives).
As confirmed at these websites, homeschooling is part of mainstream culture now and we are no longer "off limits" as a target for humor or satire. Not only that, the curtain has been pulled back as these sites (often with our help) fully expose who we are — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
For years, we rarely heard comments from homeschoolers who didn't like homeschooling. Now, thanks to social networking sites, homeschoolers can and do post their "secret" thoughts. Online you'll find profiles of people who hated homeschooling or felt their lives were somehow negatively altered by it. For example, check out:
MySpace: Homeschooling - Love It or Hate It?
While the vast majority of answers were positive, one female poster identified the cons of homeschooling this way (edited slightly and translated from the original text message speak):
Troubles that come with being homeschooled:
This post certainly supports the stereotypical complaint of a lack of socialization opportunities for homeschoolers — and especially teens. I can't help but wonder, do public pronouncements such as these on websites with heavy traffic help or hinder homeschooling?
MySpace offers video sharing too and I got a couple hundred hits on a search result for "homeschool" that included this:
The description for this video says, "This is what happens when you leave 6 kids unattended to do their school work." If watching a bunch of kids bickering floats your boat — enjoy! I can't imagine why a family would post this on a public forum as an example of homeschooling. Perhaps they posted it as a deterrent?
Occasionally, videographers at MySpace categorize their videos as the following one clearly says, "Comedy and Humor." Watch it and decide for yourself:
A tween-age boy, who is painfully nerdy, utters idiotic comments meant to poke fun of homeschool stereotypes. Funny? Hardly.
I also found videos of homeschoolers reading a book (yawn), doing school work (zzz...), or dissecting a frog (ewwww). Why would anyone think this was in the public interest to view? I guess everyone wants 15 minutes of fame. These absurd videos deserve the critical commentary that MySpace viewers lavish upon them.
By the way, it's not just the social networking sites like MySpace where people post comments about homeschooling. For example, on WikiAnswers, the collaborative question and answer site where people from all walks of life share their knowledge, this question was posed:
Most of the posters at this site provided some balance in their comments, however, they all included negatives that reinforce stereotypes about homeschooling. Read them and weep:
Did you have any idea that there were former homeschoolers who felt this way? I knew there had to be some unhappy homeschoolers out there — but it's a little discomforting that technology enables the messages in these public e-diaries to be broadcast far and wide.
If you look at the comments of those who say they hated homeschooling or regret having been homeschooled, you'll see that what they attribute to "homeschooling" as the cause of unhappiness or some lack of skill could easily be explained by other factors such as parenting practices, environment, lack of opportunity, individual temperament, etc. I wonder if readers who stumble upon these posts will consider that, or if they will simply file it into their "Yup, typical homeschooler" thought bucket. And if so, doesn't it make changing preconceived notions about homeschooling that much more difficult? How will homeschooling ever get a fair shake when stereotypes are virally reinforced?
While MySpace is full of blogs about how attending public or private school "sucks" — when even a few young people say the same thing about homeschooling it carries a whole different weight and meaning. Homeschooling still has enemies. We do not have unconditional public approval or government support. Nationwide, our numbers only represent about 2-3% of the total school-going population. That's hardly critical mass. Frankly, I think this public display of affliction could be used against us.
That said, disgruntled homeschoolers might be the least of our worries. Our own children are engaged in e-socialization on MySpace. That's notable and alarming all at once. While many homeschoolers use MySpace appropriately, there are MySpace pages where homeschoolers boldly proclaim all of their teenage angst and homeschool foibles.
MySpace is a place where kids can play-act at being grown up and provocative — perhaps without even realizing it. Case in point:
Although it doesn't sound like it, this is a benign, inactive homeschool discussion group that consisted of about 60 perfectly innocent homeschool members who ranged in age from 16-20. While the group is inactive, it's still "live" for anyone to see. The pictures of some members project maturity beyond their years. That coupled with the name "Homeschool Hotties" implies something you'd find on the pages of Playboy or worse. Don't you wonder what these kids were thinking? Homeschoolers gone wild.
Hopefully, every homeschool parent talks to their kids about safe Internet practices to avoid predators. Explain to your kids that MySpace is a misnomer — it's not their space at all. It's a public forum and blogging or posting messages is NOT a private communication. What they post can be used against them for years to come.
Employers and insurance companies scan MySpace pages regularly to see if job applicants and potential customers engage in risky behavior. This method of tracking should not be taken lightly. It may feel like an invasion of privacy — but get a clue, you're posting on a public forum!
Your homeschoolers need to know that MySpace is a word IED that can explode at any time — resulting in bad news for them and bad press for homeschooling.
Back to the videos posted at MySpace and YouTube, it would be helpful if parents would curb their enthusiasm for junior's comedy career at the expense of homeschooling. And everyone with a digital camera needs to know that just because you film every aspect of your homeschool life — it doesn't necessarily mean you should post it on YouTube. Please, exercise some restraint.
For the MySpace generation homeschooling is a defacto educational option — and there doesn't seem to be any thought that it should be protected or kept holy. That's NEW. We haven't seen this attitude before. If this is a trend, and I believe it is, then we need to be aware of it so we can prepare to counter the criticism that this audacious new dawn in homeschooling may bring.