Friday, November 22, 2013

Of Homeschooling and Cohort Effect


Sometimes I feel like I'm from another country. Or maybe another era. I'm a child of the 80's, yet I know nothing about being a child of the 80's. I can't relate to pop-culture references and feel awkward when people my age laugh about something I'm supposed to know about but don't. I see funny posts entitled "You Know You Grew up in the 80's and 90's When...." and I get maybe 2 references in the entire article. Sometimes it's funny and I laugh at myself. Sometimes it's frustrating. Sometimes I sit in a group of people and wish I knew what they were talking about, wish I had that camaraderie they all seem to have, wish I didn't feel like an oddball, like I will always be an oddball. Sometimes I like being an oddball, when it's of my own choosing. Sometimes I wish I had a choice in the matter.

I'm studying all kinds of fascinating things as I'm finishing the last half of my BA in liberal studies. The psychology and sociology-related classes are my favorite. I came across this word and concept a few weeks back: Cohort. And suddenly, things started falling into place in my head; ideas with a lot of gaps and holes and flashes of pictures started forming and making sense, like pieces of a puzzle that were missing but aren't anymore. Cohorts.....cohort effects......and it hit me:

Homeschoolers are basically their own cohort.

No matter what part of the country we are from or how old we are, we experience a cohort effect that other people in our age group do not. Even though all people from our generation are technically in the same age cohort, homeschoolers are actually in their own cohort with their own sociocultural-graded influences that the rest of our culture did not experience. We often joke among us that we were our own sub-culture. But I think it's deeper than that.

I was asked as an essay question for a class to write a couple paragraphs on how cohort effects have shaped my worldview on things like politics, gender, science, and religion. And I thought, where do I even start? I'm not just in the cohort that was born in middle class white America in the 80's. Matter of fact, I have very little relatability with anyone in my birth/generational cohort because I basically grew up in a completely different cohort.

Oxford Reference describes "Cohort" as:
"A group of people who share some experience or demographic trait in common, especially that of being the same age ..."

The Psychology Dictionary defines "Cohort Effects" as:
"The effects of being born and raised in a particular time or situation where all other members of your group has similar experiences that make your group unique from other groups"

This is usually used to describe a group of people born at the same time, who experienced similar history, and their similarities in development. Like Generation X. Or Millennials. Or Baby Boomers. People born in the same time and the same place. Though it can also be used to describe sub-cultures within cultures.

The cohort effect is something that must be taken into account when studying developmental psychology or lifespan development, because something could be erroneously attributed to an age group that actually describes a cohort, a group of people that shared specific happenings, demographics, or historical events. This article has a very good, simple example of this effect in studies, and why it matters.

Those of us who were part of the pioneer Christian homeschooling movement, no matter how extreme or not, no matter where on the spectrum of conservative to liberal we were, we relate to each other in ways we cannot relate to the rest of our age cohort. In reality, we experienced history differently. We had our own culture and our own leaders and our own historical events that the rest of America knew nothing about, but that were very important to us. They defined us and we were proud of that. It's not the fact that we were all home educated that creates this dynamic. It's the fact that we were all part of a home education movement that was not just counter-cultural, but *anti* cultural. We were raised in a movement with varying degrees of the same teachings and varying degrees of sheltering, for all the same reasons. We were, most of us, raised under the influence of the same leaders.

Find me a religious homeschooler from the 80's and 90's that doesn't know who Josh Harris is. Or has never heard of courtship. Or HSLDA. If you don't, you are the exception and your parents were probably hippies that didn't want government interference in their families so they homeschooled you in a bus on a mountain somewhere (like my husband. Heh.) Think about these concepts for minute and the pictures and memories they conjure up: Ken Ham, Abeka, Rod and Staff, homeschool conventions, the Pearls, modesty, denim jumpers, fear of going outside before 2PM, Bill Gothard, courtship, parental rights, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, evils of rock music, submission, Saxon math, biblical manhood and womanhood, women's roles, keeper at home, "what grade are you in?" "I have no idea", Creationism, ATI (either you were in, or you thought that at least you weren't as weird as the people that were), R.C. Sproul, Howard Phillips, quiverfull/huge families/ "are they all yours?!", Mike Farris, government brainwash centers (aka public schools), evils of dating, head coverings, fear of child-snatching CPS, evils of feminism, evils of sex ed, evils of Halloween, evils of pagan Christmas, evils of kissing before the alter, evils of peer pressure, homeschool co-ops, culottes, endless questions about how you get socialization and whether you do school in your PJs, skirts-only, Biblical Worldview, Republican conventions, government conspiracy theories, 15 passenger vans, no TV, Mary Pride, family bands with matching clothes, and King James vs. NIV. To name a few.

Not included in that list are the major historical events that we *didn't* know about or experience the way that most people in our age cohort did. The killing of John Lennon, the Challenger disaster (which I didn't know about until I was an adult), the fall of the Berlin wall, the massacre of Tiananmen Square, the Rodney King trial, Princess Diana. Not to mention the lack of knowledge of entire segments of history such as the Civil Rights Movement or the Suffragette Movement. We knew nothing of pop culture: music, movies, art, except that they were "worldly". These were deemed contemporary, products of a relativistic worldview, and thus worthless, while we studied the Reformation period or the Founding Fathers or the Civil War instead.

We are the products of a pioneer movement; the good, bad, and ugly. A movement many of us have grown up and left behind, some of us floundering in the world we are trying to be a part of now but were never prepared for because we were told we were not supposed to be "of this world". We have similar memories, both positive and negative. We look back on our own lives and we relate to one another, even if we've never met in person. Thanks to the internet age, we who thought we were alone and weird and oddballs have found each other, found people that are as oddball in all the same ways as we are. We have found that we are not alone in a culture we don't understand but pretend to anyway. We may be in similar or vastly different places in life right now. But no matter where we are in life, and what we believe now, we have a shared experience that no one else in our generation has. 

This can be a difficult concept to share with other people. Last night I was out with some new friends and they were exchanging stories of their first kiss and getting in trouble for sneaking out or smoking or drinking or playing hooky, and when it was my turn, I said "Well, I got in trouble for wearing pants". The silence and stares were deafening. Had I said that in a group of ex-homeschoolers, there would've been laughter and rolling eyes and sympathy. Because we *know*. We get it. We lived it. We can laugh about it together.

"The effects of being born and raised in a particular time or situation where all other members of your group has similar experiences that make your group unique from other groups"

Perhaps I'm using these terms all wrong and someone smarter than me can correct me. I just know that for better or for worse, the definition fits. And it really explains a lot.

18 comments:

  1. All these references to home school and fundamentalist figures are quite a dreary litany of negative thinking and hostility towards women. Now that I have become familiar with them, I cannot find anything redeeming about the people, ideologies and organizations associated with "Christian" homeschooling. There is nothing fabulous about 1980s pop culture, but I prefer it to Ken Ham, Micheal Farris et al.

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    1. There is certainly a lot of negative. And women and children were definitely on the bottom of the pecking order. I was hoping not to point a negative picture of homeschooling, as that was not my point. There were positives too, certainly. Going to theme parks that were empty because everyone else was in school? Oh yeah. ;) The point is that we all relate to these things in one way or another.

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  2. Wow. Thanks for sharing. I'm still trying to come to grips with that phase of my life. I must have blocked a lot out because my sisters can tell me things that I know I went through with them, but I have no recollection of doing so. This post was a breath of fresh air to me. It was great content but also very well written. Looking forward to more.

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  3. That was very good. Thank you... both for enabling me to relive those memories, and for the incisive analysis. BTW, I completed the same degree you're going for several years ago... with writing like this, I'm sure you make your profs happy.

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    1. Thank you, Nathan! I'm getting perfect scores so far so I must be doing something right. But then, I am about to do finals so we'll see how that goes, lol. ;)

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  4. I remember my "rebellion" as a teen was hugging/kissing my girlfriend at the time, even though I had been told not to, and listening to Christian Contemporary music in my car when driving alone. That was it, lol.

    My mom was a strange one, despite spending most of my life in churches that were either Southern Baptist or Assembly of God, she was always more extreme than the churches we were in, which makes no sense to me, you think she would have wanted to be in a church that was as extreme as she was.

    I have seen some of the effects of groups like the IFB (which I make no apologies for calling it a cult). I spent from kindergarten to fifth grade in a school ran by an IFB church, and my sister fell for them hard, she later became a Hyles-Anderson graduate, unfortunately. She didn't leave the IFB/First Baptist Hammond until about 4 years ago. I had heard Schaap preach several times when I went to visit her as a kid. I still get chills listening to old sermon videos of his on YouTube.

    If you haven't been in an environment like that, or haven't seen it first hand, you can't understand it. It's why I'm glad for sites like Homeschoolers Anonymous, the people there get it.

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  5. Oh my gosh!! This is so excellent!! I was reading your lists and totally shocked at how I fit them exactly!! Knew (completely inside and out) all the things on your homeschool list, but the cultural historical references… I couldn't explain them adequately to anyone!! So embarrassing!! I'm so glad my kids aren't growing up in a separatist community like we did! I'm so glad they know who Taylor Swift is and One Direction and can sing all their hits! I'm glad my kids know about major news stories of their time and have a public school education. I'm glad my daughter actually said to me (upon meeting a girl at church who wasn't allowed to cut her hair, wear pants, pierce her ears or talk to boys) "MOM! What kind of a religion would tell girls they have to live like that?!" I had to simile and say, "I know, Right?!" She doesn't even know or understand the kind of control and manipulation of our life experiences that her mother grew up with. And oh how glad I am!!

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  6. I was just having a conversation the other day to the effect of: I have more in common with the MKs at university than anybody else here. While I wasn't homeschooled, the culture in which I grew up was often so separate that I think I am, actually, a Third Culture Kid. And I'm having to do the same adjusting to the "real world" as my friends who grew up on the banks of the Amazon.

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  7. Eleven years ago I switched from Catholicism to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and I was utterly bewildered by WELS culture. Finally after 5 years, I made a friend at church who translated WELS culture for me. After 10 years, I somewhat understand the bizarre, old World culture of WELS, and I dislike intensely dislike its focus on maintaining image and appearances.

    After my experiences, I am not at all surprised that Katie is having adjusting to mainstream American culture, after growing up in the fundamentalist culture. I am now working on a military base, and I find the military culture much more polite and less confusing that WELS culture. I also experienced more culture shock at WELS than when I visited Africa.

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  8. Darcy:

    Technically, a cohort was a military unit of the Roman Legions. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cohort_(military_unit). Each Legion consisted of 10 cohorts, comprised of about 480 men.

    I prefer the term "village" to cohort, as the idea of belonging to a military organization which was primarily an agent of death does not appeal to me. But I get where you are coming from! I am looking for something similar as welll.

    Regards,
    Jeff Browning

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    1. This is true, however in developmental and lifespan psychology, a "cohort" means exactly the definitions I put in my post, and is used to determine "cohort effect", which I also explained in my post. It is now a psychological term with it's own meaning, and that is the meaning I was speaking of here.

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  9. It is an interesting thing to look at. I have been home schooling my kids since the mid nineties, and we were Christians and conservative, but we lived in a city with a lot of diversity and so their experiences of being homeschoolers is different. I was just a young Christian, wanting my kids' lives to be better than mine (the public school experience I had was very painful.) but I love culture and art. So they can remember wearing long skirts (I did prefer the hippie look) in our 15 passenger van, rocking out to the Talking Heads on the way home from church. Lol. But the thing is, everybody in a public school doesn't have the same experience but they are still aware of each other. Like the jocks being aware of the drama kids, even though they never talk, so it's kind of the same in the homeschooling world. We were one kind of way, for our family, but they were very aware of families that you wouldn't want to wear jeans over to their house of bring up certain movie references when you were with them. (Maybe not because you were trying to hide things, but maybe more like you wouldn't bring up politics with friends you knew had strong disagreements with you.) So as a social group, in a way, the experience of homeschooling can mimic the experience of a large high school. It's just interesting. Like we all thought we were getting away from peer pressure, but we were just as vulnerable. I love my kids, I love my large family, but I wish these things hadn't become the center pieces of homeschooling. My kids feel at once sort of "cohorts" with other homeschoolers in the sense of a shared past, but at the same time a need to protect themselves from being judged over certain lifestyle choices. Right now I feel we are better with "secular" homeschoolers than the Christian because of the whole "patriarchy" culture and all that. Gosh. Wouldn't it be cool if we could just find people to hang out with because we love poetry or want to learn Japanese? I'm a misfit. Sigh.

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  10. " Last night I was out with some new friends and they were exchanging stories of their first kiss and getting in trouble for sneaking out or smoking or drinking or playing hooky, and when it was my turn, I said "Well, I got in trouble for wearing pants". The silence and stares were deafening. Had I said that in a group of ex-homeschoolers, there would've been laughter and rolling eyes and sympathy. Because we *know*. We get it. We lived it. We can laugh about it together."

    I was already laughing BEFORE I read the part about how we would be laughing. Girl, I get it. So. MUCH.

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  11. And yes, we had our own historic events. I dont know if it's all bad or good. It just is.

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    1. Yeah, I tried not to comment on the goodness or badness of these things. Just that they *are*. I suppose whether each instance and subject was "good" or "bad" is very relative to the person that experienced it.

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  12. Yes! This expresses it so well. Memories, some dim, some painfully clear. Raised in a skirts-only family; the 12-passenger van, driving to Knoxville for the conference; no rock music, and it wasn't until my mid-teens that even progressive classical music was allowed; IBLP, ATI, Vision Forum, NCFIC, repressing interests in the arts, no college education because it's evil and destroys your faith (a great frustration to me now in my 20s and an obstacle to my hopes to go to school and earn a Master's degree); the evils of all things "internet" and the furtive attempts to download contemporary praise songs and listen to them through earphones; internet filters that report every page visited to a parent; the hour-long lectures after having been seen speaking to a girl for 30 seconds; no films, matching clothing (often hand-me-downs, often navy and white), only appearing en force and never allowed to go anywhere apart from the family; the list goes on. I'm still in the process of segueing out of this environment and it's amazing to come across these sites and see the accounts of others who have escaped. It's an encouragement to continue taking steps out of the spiritual and emotional manipulation that I've lived in bondage to for my entire childhood. Thank you, Darcy.

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  13. Sure, we relate to the people who grew up like us. But it's not like the entire rest of the world grew up all exactly the same/right way and we grew up the wrong way. As somebody else mentioned - in a public high school setting, there are the jock kids and the drama kids (and a zillion other different groups) - their lives are not the same, and they can relate to their own "sub-cohort" about things that they can't relate to others about. Maybe some of the rules were stricter than they needed to be... but maybe it's a good thing we didn't rebel in the same ways other kids did. Granted, I'm saying this from a much more moderate perspective than some other homeschooled kids - I only watched 2 Disney movies growing up, didn't believe in Santa Claus, and was a big fan of Joshua Harris and his brothers, but I didn't grow up in ATI, all I knew about Vision Forum was their book catalogues, my clothes were usually out of style until I started caring when I was around 10 because we didn't have a lot of money and I wore hand me downs, but I did wear pants; I grew up listening almost exclusively to Contemporary Christian music, I did learn about the civil rights and women's suffrage movements along with the civil war and the reformation, and I had friends who weren't homeschoolers (although I generally preferred my homeschool friends growing up). I did miss out on a lot of pop culture... but now when my college friends introduce me to 90's pop culture, I honestly can't help but think how much I didn't miss. I can relate to some things better with fellow homeschool graduates than I can with public school graduates, of course, but that doesn't mean I'm completely incapable of relating to anyone who wasn't homeschooled. My closest friends today include a combination of homeschool and public school graduates, along with some who grew up in a combination of public/private/home schools. My fiance went to public school, and we're still undecided on whether we will homeschool our children or send them to public school, but if we choose to homeschool, it will not be to make them part of a cult. Honestly, most of my memories of homeschooling were happy (save one short period of time in 6th or 7th grade when I felt like I didn't have any friends - even though I did - but that's a turbulent age for any kid, and I also had recently moved 2,000 miles away from where I had grown up, which definitely contributed to the friend issue). I understand that some homeschoolers grew up in stifling, or even abusive environments (particularly some of those families involved in Vision Forum or ATI), but I believe that the majority of homeschooling families chose that route out of a genuine desire to do what was best for their children. For that reason, I think that some of the homeschool alum who like so much to talk about the need for grace in these circles probably need to try having a little bit more grace for the people in these circles, particularly their parents.

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    1. First of all, I have to ask....how old are you? I'm guessing late teens, early 20's, but I could be wrong. Ten years makes a huge difference when we're talking about the homeschool movement. My friends and I are mostly in our 30's and 40's and our experiences as children of the pioneers of homeschooling seem to be very different than the experiences of most teens I know who are just graduating. I'm not going to call it a generation gap, but when you look at the evolution of homeschooling, there is a definitely shift between us and the teens of homeschooling today (with the exception being those deep in the movement, in some of the extreme groups). So that keep that in mind as you proclaim judgment on us. Homeschooling today is not what it was 20 years ago.

      Also, if you notice, I refrained from commenting on the "goodness and badness" of what we did and did not experience. Like I said, these things just are. I did not assign a morality to them. I do believe some things I missed are better off missed, and some things I experienced were very good. Please don't read into my story what isn't there.

      As for this statement: "but maybe it's a good thing we didn't rebel in the same ways other kids"...that seem rather naiive and presumptuous. I know for a fact that homeschooled people "rebelled" as much or possibly more, and in the same exact ways, as their public schooled counterparts. The difference is what we call "delayed adolescence", wherein adults who are in their 20's "rebel" in ways that teens normally do. The rate of teen pregnancy, drug usage, violence, incarceration, abuse, pedophilia, rape, and even murder don't look any different across cohorts from where I sit. And a good 1/2 to 3/4 of my friends raised like me are atheists now (not that I would consider that "rebelling" but you probably would). You see, there's this thing called "free will" and it's a human condition that homeschooling cannot negate no matter how hard it's promoters try. A method of education will not save people.

      One last thing, as to your last comment, I would say this: our stories belong to us. We are not going to white-wash them or make people look better. I cannot go back and change how I acted, how my parents treated me, what I believed back then, and how those things made me the person I am today. If the characters in my story wanted to be portrayed better, they should've acted better. What happened in the past is a story I cannot change and will not hide. However, telling your story doesn't mean that you aren't "showing grace" or that you hate the characters in it. As my character has grown and changed, so have the rest of the characters in my story. Many people I know were not as blessed as I to have parents that have grown and changed too. Many of my friends have been completely rejected and excommunicated, kicked out of their house by their own parents and family, some abused in horrific ways. You have no idea the sheer amount of sorrow and pain that many of these people you think are graceless have suffered at the hands of the very people who should support and love them the most. So I would caution you to not make assumptions and sweeping judgments of stories you read. You really don't know the whole picture. Motive does not make actions OK. I can have all the good movies in the world for my children, but still hurt them with my actions.

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