I Never Dreamt I’d Homeschool

I was just like most people.  I had plans.  I was happy not questioning the status quo much.  Being normal was the bar and the question was merely my perception of it.

Homeschoolers were weird.  They yelled at spelling bees when they won and they dressed funny.  Those parents indoctrinated their kids with esoteric religious beliefs or were sheltering them from the real world.  

Where I grew up, it was not normal and it still isn’t.

I was not going to homeschool.  

Then life happened and the best laid plans and all that.

So here I am.

Here we are.

Since I have the pleasure of hearing so many people take personal offence to my family’s decision, I’m going to take this time to educate you, dear critic.  

There are already plenty of intelligent discussions about education, including homeschooling, to explain all of this but it is quite clear, thank you internet,  that people would rather fire off accusations than research for themselves so this is specifically for the people with whom I have interacted on the subject.

Our kids go to _____ school but you obviously think it isn’t good enough.

Dear one, I know you feel our decision is an affront to your decisions.  You make it quite clear.  Let me assure you, it isn’t.  In fact, you don’t figure into the decisions our family makes about our children’s education at all.  We don’t expect you to be sitting around your kitchen table pondering, “I just don’t know how Katy is going to feel about sending the kids to this school/camp/planet.”

I, and I can’t stress this enough, assume you have done your level best to do what is best for your child.  It never, ever, has popped into my head that someone else should be homeschooling.  If I believed there was only one correct way to educate all children, I’d be you.  

Why do you need me to be yet another person affirming your choices by joining you?  If you need affirmation, and being in the majority isn’t enough for you, don’t look to me.  I’m a hot mess most of the time.  I can offer you this: Whatever you are doing, I’m sure it’s the best for your kids so here is the pat on the back you need.  Good job, nice choice and bravo.  If you need to hear that you and your kids are better than me, that’s fine, too.  You are better, doing better, making better decisions, smarter, whatever helps you move past this need for our family to conform to yours.  

The second most common comment goes like this:

What do you have against public school?

Nothing.  I have nothing against public school beyond what even the staff has against it.  Yes, it is hard to educate a bunch of kids at once and yes, basing most of it on age can be counter productive and, bloody hell, the food…but I support public school.  I’m the product of a public school, my mother retired from one, I worked in one, I go to events, support clubs, speak to classes, pay my taxes and have only recently had the guts to stop buying all the crap they pedal.  The people who work in them are freaking heroes because you can have it.  The idea of being in a room full of small children all day freaks me out.  Public schools are one of the most important investments in our nation and we would literally collapse under the weight of the un-educated without them.  Are they perfect?  No.  Is any other method of education?  No.

Next up:

Just put your kids in our private/charter/parochial school.

You are aware that being outside the standard public system doesn’t automatically make it better, right?  There are great and lousy in this category.  It also doesn’t mean this single income home can afford the tuition.  

Now, let’s talk about some of the more personal stuff people say.

Is it a religious thing?

Yeah, no.  I am not doing this for religious reasons.  If you are, that’s your thing.  We want them exposed to ideas that counter our’s so they can learn instead of repeat.  My faith is only strong because it stands up to the reality of life, not because it exists in a vacuum.  We feel it is our job to teach our children about our faith regardless of where they go for the schooling portion of their education.  

In fact, we feel it is our job to teach our children about everything.  Their entire education is our responsibility, no matter where they spend their days.  If our kids are in public school but not learning about personal finance, economics, classical lit, political science, coding, cursive handwriting, equestrian sports, sign language, underwater basket weaving, and on, and on, and on…it’s all up to us to teach them or at least expose them so they can teach themselves.  If they are in class with other people all day but are struggling with a subject, or bored and could excel in some area, it is still up to us.  No matter where our kids are schooled, we are responsible for their education and that includes religious studies.

But you’re not a teacher.

First, I beg to differ.  What you mean is that my degree is not in education.  That is true.  I am an obsessive autodidact.  I have proven I can learn and I do my due diligence.  Education degrees are great, especially for compulsory group settings.  The idea that I am somehow unable to teach my own young children, is an assumption based on nothing.  If you think that, upon encountering something I was failing to teach, I wouldn’t find someone better suited, you’re off your rocker.  Very little of our skill sets, at this point in life, are predicated on our degrees.  I can brush up on my Latin base words for my 9-year-old and we will get through it.  

I don’t tell you not to watch the news or vote because you don’t have a political science degree.  I don’t tell people who aren’t trained chefs not to cook.  You can even represent yourself in court, if you wish. A bachelor’s degree shows you have achieved a level of competency on the academics of a discipline, which, ideally allows you to do it professionally.  It doesn’t usually mean you are the only person capable of it.  Educating my young children is not the same as surgery or arguing before the Supreme Court. 

What if you miss something?

Homeschooling parents worry about this.  At least, most of us worry about this.  We tend to overcompensate.  The fact is, my kids are learning things other kids will never get in school.  They are years ahead of their peers in some subjects and behind in others.  They understand things I didn’t know until college and they have terrible handwriting.  You can only ask this if you are one of the people who didn’t miss anything in school.  Let me tell you my experience here to help you along.

I got decent grades.  This is because, even though I was only interested and awake enough to learn the subject matter in a few classes, I learned how to get by.  I could cram for tests, eek out an assignment and pull off a paper.  I learned how to skate by and play the game pretty well.  I can tell you the teachers, subjects, and events that have stuck with me all these years and they are few.  The point isn’t that I was a little sh*t, it’s this: we all miss stuff.  (I eventually graduated on the Dean’s list from a major university, missed stuff and all.)

I want my kids to learn how to learn.  This is the key to everything in life.  Love learning and know how.  

What about activities?

I hear the panic in your voice at the chance that my child may be the next Pearl Buck, Josh Groban, Andre Rieu, Nureyev, Isabell Werth, Jere Gettle or Peter Sagal and we will never know it because they weren’t in public school.  Don’t worry, it isn’t solely the school system that is cranking out these folks.  That’s just one path.  People don’t only rise to their passions if they are in specific schools.  They were exposed, in their lives, to something about which they are passionate and then it was fostered, allowed to grow.  It may or may not have had anything to do with the type of classrooms they inhabited.  Most of the greatest things in life aren’t part of a school curriculum, public, homeschool or otherwise.  If you are worried my kids, with their soccer and theater and choir and horses and chess and whatever else they are into are missing out, please see the question above.  Homeschoolers may not be getting high school sports scholarships (Maybe they do? Our kids aren’t into it yet.) but they work on teams and are exposed to whatever activities they want.  Maybe I should start grilling you on the things my kids are exposed to that yours aren’t?  

You are sheltering them.

Damn straight but probably not from what you think.  My kids watch the news and we talk about it.  They know the mechanics of reproduction and they know it for more species than most adults.  They know things other kids their ages don’t.  

I am sheltering them from the idea that normal is okay and the pressure that comes with it, not forever, but for the single digit years.  I know my kids and I know now is not the time for them to be immersed in a social scene resplendent with sexualized phrases on children’s clothing or driven by commercial interests.  When a ten-year old is wearing shorty shorts that say Juicy on the butt at the grocery store, we can talk about it and help them process it but my kids don’t yet need to be talked to about what to do when another kid tries something they saw in porn while they are in the restroom.  And if you think it doesn’t happen you are naive or in denial because it happened 30 years ago when I was in school so I know it is happening now.  So, yes, I’m sheltering them from horror movies, the veneration of snotty brats on TV, the billions of dollars advertisers aim at our youngest children and early sexualization, though we discuss these things.  Fault me for it.  I’m fine with it.

And now to the proverbial elephant in the room:

Your kids won’t be properly socialized.

God, I hope not.  No offence, but the people who say this aren’t properly socialized by my standards.  My kids are weirdos.  I was a weirdo as a kid and I went to public school.  (Based on the adults I know, homeschooled individuals do not have a monopoly on this.)  The combination was painful on a level only other misfits can understand.  You popular kids, who cared about the right stuff, wore the right stuff, knew how to handle social situations, you didn’t experience school the way we did.  My kids get plenty of pain and social pressure, don’t you worry.

I know, everyone seems to value sameness over kindness but I don’t.  I don’t want the unique pressured out of my kids.  I also don’t want them to act like I have seen other elementary school kids behaving, though they admittedly still do sometimes.  Kids are kids, after all.

Beyond my not being impressed with what you call socialization, they are socialized.  They interact with other humans all day.  Sometimes they are with adults, sometimes other children, frequently they are with both.  When they aren’t sure how to act, they are no less likely than I was as a kid to look to the adults to see what is expected, and no more likely to reject it and try another path anyway.  

They need structure.

While this point is more debatable than you realize, I agree and they get it.  They get more periods without someone else telling them every damn thing to do than most, but they get plenty of structure.  They have rules and firm consequences for breaking them.  And they do break them because apples don’t fall far from trees.  They have routine, and they have free time. They have discipline and they have periods of wild abandon.  

Just because we could get on a plane, if we had the money, and go check out Uruguay for our social studies class or postpone formal classes when we get caught up in a science experiment doesn’t mean they live without structure.  It means our priorities and methods are sometimes different.  We take entire days to work on the farm a few times a year (something that used to be normal) and integrate our science lessons into our lives.  When I went to public school, I took entire days off to sunbathe with my friends.*  

Why do you do this when you could just get an IEP and send them off to be with the other kids?

An IEP is an Individualized Education Program.

While this is the most personal issue of all, because it is their personal information, that is far more hassle and risk than the downsides of homeschooling warrant, at least right now, in our lives.  I know this because I have many, many friends who are teachers, administrators and parents of kids with IEPs.  Although our issues are health based, you don’t want my kids in your classroom at this point.  You can say otherwise but, as I have said, I have been in classrooms as student and teacher and I have lots of friends in the system.  A decent percentage of teachers and parents don’t want kids like mine in the class as they are at this age.  It would just be another thing.  Teachers have enough on their plates.

They will be different and I think that means less.

Bless your heart, this isn’t your concern.  It is good to be made uncomfortable with your preconceived notions.  We should all have to defend what we believe, regularly.  We should be forced to research, question and doubt.  Take your concern and wrestle with it.  Where does it come from, in your mind, that there isn’t enough conformity?

I have taught them to question everything and always look for the how and the why.  This is really annoying but I consider it the foundation of remaining an educated person.

I tell them to obey me but then ask why.  Yes, they will have to stem this in many higher education and employment situations but it needs to be a conscious decision, not to look deeper, not to understand, and not their default.

We are not just raising employees.  We are raising bosses, artists, entrepreneurs, spouses, friends, volunteers, inventors, advocates, thinkers and doers.  What’s more, we are raising them for a world we can only imagine.  The virtues of uniformity have their limits.

Doesn’t it suck?  You are never away from them.

Yes, sometimes it does.  Some days I’m just done and I want to send them off and get caught up on everything else in our lives.  Sometimes I fantasize about not doing this thing, about running errands alone and leaving long division on my phone’s calculator where it belongs.  I have twinges of jealousy when my friends excel professionally while I spend these productive years explaining the Silk Road to my kids.  I won’t pretend the opportunity cost isn’t sometimes painful but the vast majority of the time I am certain this is exactly what we are supposed to be doing right now.  

I think about this, study this and dwell on this enough.  You don’t have to.  

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Love from the farm (school), Katy

*I do not recall this being approved by my mother.

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