Monday, October 13, 2008

Making the "Leap" to Homeschooling

Susan M. asked:

I'd like to hear from parents of elementary aged students about why you decided to homeschool. We live in an area with the highest scoring public school system in the state. Now, saying that, we are in the lowest performing state in the nation, so I guess it's a dubious distinction. However, I still feel that the public schools here are inadequate and the private schools are not much better—only much more expensive. How did you make the leap from a "decent" public school system to taking/keeping your kids home to teach them yourselves? And what sort of reaction did you get from family and friends? Thanks, and God bless you.

I would like to answer your specific questions, and then offer a couple of additional comments:

Making the "leap" to homeschooling:

When we began homeschooling, we were in Texas and it was the beginning of kindergarten for my oldest son. We simply never enrolled him. No great leap for us.

That's Texas, though: one of the freest states in the country regarding homeschooling. Check with the Home School Legal Defense Association ( for the laws in your state. Some states (and especially countries) are much more restrictive than others.

In addition to the legal requirements, there are also lifestyle and financial adjustments: perhaps changing from two incomes to one, creating a home environment for learning, radically re-organizing your schedule to include instruction in your daily routine, to name a few. There are also relational adjustments (in addition to the reactions from family and friends, addressed below): the family dynamic changes if you have had your children in an institutional setting (public or private), educating your child at home (or more precisely, within the context of your own family) will change the way your children perceive you. Your children may resist the change, at least at first. And the longer they have been in an institutional setting, the more they may resist.

It can be a big paradigm shift that Mom and Dad are teachers, "too." Though it is generally accepted that parents are a child's "first" teacher, the idea that they can be the "primary teacher" throughout childhood is a novel and radical idea to most. "Teachers" are professionals, they reason. The parents' role is to feed, clothe, and financially support. All training happens "at school." This perception is false, of course. Training and learning are life-long endeavors, and many of the important things we need to know in life are learned outside of "school."

Reactions from family and friends
Reactions vary. Some (in many cases, most) family and friends are offended by a decision to home educate. People homeschool for a variety of reasons: some because a child has special needs, some for academic reasons, some for religious reasons, some for political reasons, some for lifestyle reasons. And of course, many choose it for a combination of all of these. If your family and friends don't agree with you on your convictions to homeschool, then the reaction will be predictable. Homeschooling changes everything! Though there are (by 2005 estimates) between 1.7 and 2.5 million children in these United States who are educated primarily by their parents, the percentage of the population in any given area may still be pretty small. So the decision in some circles is a radical one: one that is not as "politically correct" as being "green" or giving to your favorite cause or working at a soup kitchen or staying on top of the latest technology trends or working 90 hours a week to climb the corporate ladder.

For some reason, when you decide to homeschool your children, it appears to most as one of the most extreme examples of living out your convictions. I suppose it is because it is such a visible manifestation and testimony about your convictions. Your children are "on display" whenever you are in public, or at a family gathering, or at the park with friends. So, observers will be trying to judge what they see on several levels. They may be watching to see if: a) they should make the same lifestyle change, b) it is as difficult as they think, c) it is worth the sacrifice. On the negative side, they may be: a) contrasting the things they value with the things you value; b) looking for a flaw in your convictions or their outcome to justify sticking to their own; or c) thinking (in the case of parents, sometimes) the fact that you are doing something different from what they did is a negative statement about the way they reared you.

Be prepared for the relationship strain that may come from this decision. If you are convicted to begin, stick to your convictions. But, also remember to be loving and patient with your family and friends.

Additional thoughts about "public" school
  1. The "public" school is not called that because it is "owned" by the public, but because the public pays for it by government decree. However, it is run and regulated by the government—local, state, and federal—and therefore the government sets the goals and agendas of the training that takes place there. Parents get one small vote (IF they vote) regarding the education of their children. But, because it's "public," majority rules and the public has the most say in the rearing of our children.

  2. The cost of government school is actually much greater than most private schools. We just don't see it because it's wrapped up in our property taxes. And not just ours; everyone pays property taxes, whether they have children in the government school or not.

  3. Who tests the government schools to determine how they score? The government does. And what do they test on? The things they have taught. If you are in the highest-scoring school district in the lowest-performing state, you might want to check the criteria by which the schools are scored. It is an extreme example, but if you went to business colleges and gave a test how well they taught deep-sea diving, you might expect very low performance. The "highest-scoring" school is irrelevant. The values it scores on aren't necessarily your values.
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