Choosing to homeschool

[This article was first published on the Classical Conversations blog.]

Homeschooling is not for everyone. Though more parents might try it if they thought they could. I have heard parents say they would consider homeschooling, but they don’t think they can do it. They have fears and they worry about taking on more than they can handle or want to handle. The reality is that homeschooling is not easy. In fact, it’s quite difficult. In a way it’s impossible. But it’s also being done successfully every day.

I want to address those fears in two ways: 1) The 40,000 foot level, and 2) some specific concerns.

From 40,000 feet

Homeschooling is a little like jumping off a cliff or a leap into the unknown. It’s a big bite to chew, a heavy load to carry, a constant worry of sorts. The goal of the homeschooler is to educate their own children, for any number of reasons, such that they grow up better educated than they would have from other educational approaches. How homeschoolers define better is varied and debated, and sometimes better isn’t better. And even if one has hit upon something truly better it’s still a daunting task. Thus, while one is struggling in the midst of the implementation, one is often haunted by lingering thoughts about the approach.

But consider the flip side. Deciding which school your child goes to is not the end of your responsibility for your child’s education. Sending your kid to the school bus with a warm coat, a bag of books, reams of completed homework, and a lunch is not the end of your responsibility either. We have inherited historically recent ideas of what education is and how it should be done. Our society tends to believe that education, like medicine, should only be done by professionals. For medicine this may be true, but for education this is both a fallacy and a false hope. Professional educators can be quite good and many are excellent, but they also struggle with their method and implementation. There is no consensus in the politically charged world of public education on which method is best. There are many competing ideas that fight for support and funding. Putting those ideas into practice is also fraught with peril. Schools often have to settle for a compromise between the latest educational ideas and maintaining adequate control of 20+ (in our school district it’s closer to 40+) unique personalities in the classroom. My own experience, and much of what I have observed of others, shows me that both method and implementation are the great bugaboos of all education. Thus the choice to not homeschool is just as difficult a decision.

There is also social pressure to see homeschooling as an aberration, but it’s not a true aberration. All educational choices have some validity in certain contexts. In fact, government schooling is an aberration, designed to accommodate the needs of the industrial revolution and the barest requirements of democracy – both recent events in Western culture. Homeschooling, on the other hand, has been around for millennia.

For the thinking and loving parent the choice, and maybe the inevitability, of public school is not an easy one. For the homeschooling parent the choice to not go with public school is also difficult. There are no perfect alternatives, no obviously correct methods, and implementation troubles all teachers. Thus, parents can, at the very least, be confident that choosing to homeschool is not necessarily harder than choosing government education, though we have been conditioned to see the government choice as the easy one.

Concerns

And yet fears and concerns still linger. Prospective homeschoolers still shy away. There are no easy answers or secret shortcuts. I have listed some of those concerns below, but I know there are many more.
Are you truly qualified? The short answer is there is no one more qualified to teach your own children than you. Does this mean you will be the perfect teacher? No. But no one else, not even a state accredited teacher, is more qualified than you.

  • Can you teach your child to read? Yes. We did it and we’re no different than anyone else. There are also many excellent resources available.
  • What about subjects in which you are weak? Remember you are teaching a child. In no way do you need to be a master of a subject in order to teach it to a child. The most important quality is a passion for learning. Taking on a subject you don’t know well gives you the chance to learn it yourself. The best way to learn a subject is having to teach it to another. Government teachers are not subject matter experts either. Again, there are many excellent resources to pick from.
  • Can you manage it? This is a bigger question beyond merely the teaching of specific subjects. Homeschooling is a total family project. Educating your child does not get separated from the rest of life, including cleaning the house, running errands, and everything else. If one has more than one child, especially little ones that need a lot of attention, management becomes rather challenging. From my own experience, and more so from observing my wife, the answer is yes you can manage it. That is not to say it will be easy, and sometimes you may want to throw in the towel. But remember you set the schedule. If it gets too tough, take a break and do something else for the rest of the day, or even the week.
  • Will your own flaws get in the way? Yes. You are not a perfect person. You do not have as much patience or kindness or strength as you need to do everything you wish you could. And neither does a government teacher. Since there is no getting away from your flaws then it’s a mute point in a way. You are who you are. The key is to seek wisdom and love and forgiveness in the midst of homeschooling. Ironically, your flaws will provide some of the best opportunities for teaching those things that are most valuable.
  • Do you know where to begin, and then where to go from there? Maybe not, but you can find out. One of the most surprising aspects of homeschooling is the plethora of teaching materials, curricula, and advice. There are even whole programs available, Classical Conversations being one of the best. And then there are tons of great teaching aids that can be used to supplement any subject, any teaching style, any learning style, and everything else. Ask any veteran homeschooler and you’ll be surprised.
  • Won’t you be stuck at home all day, every day? One of the big surprises of homeschooling is how much one is away from home. Homeschooling is about learning, not about staying at home. Field trips are common. Doing lessons with other homeschooling families is also common. There are many resources for education outside the home, including homeschooling co-ops in many areas.
  • Will you have the support you need? That depends. The answer is, you can if you seek it out. Homeschoolers tend to be a supportive kind of people. Maybe it’s because they recognize they don’t fit into more common educational and societal categories. But there are no guarantees you will have the support of your friends or extended family, or that you will want to hang out with the other homeschoolers you meet. But that’s life. The key is to know why you have chosen to homeschool, cling to that in times you don’t have support, and be able to articulate your position to others who may then see the light and become supportive.
  • Won’t it be hard? Yes. That old platitude is true – anything truly worth doing is never easy. But the fact is, life is hard. You don’t get away from “hard” by not homeschooling.
  • Will I be denying my kids a fuller educational experience? This is a question to ponder. The short answer is no, but a more substantial answer has everything to do with unpacking the idea of “experience” and how the homeschooling experience creates a different experience than public education. Much of it depends on one’s reasons for homeschooling. Homeschooling can (and usually does) provide a much richer, much fuller, less damaging, and less demeaning experience than public education. Strong words, I know.

Conclusion

There are many reasons parents might have concerns about homeschooling. Maybe most of my thoughts above are inadequate. But I see the fear to homeschool being similar to the fear of being in relationship with another, or taking on a new job, or having a child. What’s remarkable is how often we take on big, scary projects in stride – and even come more “alive” in the process. The truth is, the love of one’s children is a powerful motivator for the homeschooler. Homeschooling is a monumental task, even impossible in some ways, but it is both a privilege to do and a challenge worth embracing.

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Filed under Education, Homeschooling

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