At Permision to Live A Young Mom, who was homeschooled K-12, shares her reservations about whether she will homeschool her own children. It’s a well-thought out piece and has given me much to chew on.
I started to leave a comment on her blog and found that it was growing unwieldy in part because I’m as much interested in blathering on about my own hopes for my family as to really addressing her concerns directly. It’s one thing to blather on here in my own space in a sort of indirect response, quite another to gum up her comment box with my own self-centered musings.
I haven’t written about homeschooling in quite a while and I found that I’ve rather missed exercising my wits on the subject and so here are my not-terribly-well-edited gut reactions to what Young Mom so thoughtfully composed.
I sincerely hope she reads this as a thoughtful response by a fellow mother who is also engaged in the process of discernment about homeschooling and not as an attack. Oh please, please nobody read this as an attack on your decision making process about what will work best for your family! I think education is far, far too important for there to be a one-size fits all solution for every child much less for every family. These are just my thoughts about what will work for my family. You’ve got to figure out for yourself what is best for your family.
Sorry this introduction has already been long-winded; but I think that a little background is perhaps in order, before I dive in to my actual responses. Although Isabella, my oldest, is only four and so I have no plans to begin any kind of formal schooling for another two years, I also think that I have already begun homeschooling her. Every minute of every day we spend together, I have been teaching Bella. For more than four years I have been her teacher. Because that is what a mother is always and everywhere and a mother never stops being her child’s first and primary educator. (Right, Mom? I still need you to teach me oh so many things!) I see homeschooling as merely a continuation of a journey that we are already well embarked on.
Moreover, I have spent the last five years (starting when I first learned I was expecting Bella) reading about homeschooling and thinking about it and talking about it and writing about it. I’ve been fascinated with educational theory and practice for a long, long time. I have also been a professional educator. I have been a tutor and I also spent several years after I got my MA teaching various college classes in composition, literature and general humanities survey courses.
I plan to homeschool, although I was never homechooled myself. I went to public school for kindergarten, to Catholic school from first through eighth grade, back to a public high school, then to a Catholic college followed by a nominally-Catholic graduate school.
But back to Young Mom. She lists seven reasons to homeschool that she heard growing up and then states her objections to those reasons. I have to say that many of the reasons she lists and many of her objections don’t really resonate with me and my own decision making process. To me many of the reasons to homeschool that she lists are really myths about homeschooling that my research has dispelled. To me many of her objections are objections to a particular approach to homeschooling, one that I also find as objectionable as she does.
I am not choosing homeschooling out of fear; but because I do think it will be a positive experience for our family. I am also open to re-evaluating based on our experiences. I’m committed to doing what is best for my children and to determining that for each individual child not once and for all but as a continuing process of discernment. While I have a hard time imagining a scenario that will make me decide to give up homeschooling and send them to school, I am also aware that experience changes us and that I might see things very differently as we continue this journey.
But now to answer the individual points of her piece (for clarity, since Young Mom has already arranged her points in the form of statement and then italicized response, I’ll first present Young Mom’s text in red and then my commentary will follow in black.):
Homeschooling creates smarter people. Schools shuffle kids through the classes regardless of how much they are catching, the classes are watered down, and kids are taught pretty much the same thing every year, year after year. So at the end of school many kids come out stupid. Homeschool creates smart people. Every child can move at their own pace (presumably a much faster pace then the schools), and since the parents know their child, they can spot anything the child isn�t getting and explain again until the child understands and actually learns the material.
While my education seems OK academically, homeschooling results vary widely. Some homeschoolers are pushed very hard by their parents, graduate early and get degrees at a very young age. Other homeschoolers �move at their own pace� and struggle with basic reading and math. And growing up I knew of both types.
I answer that:
I don’t expect my kids to be smarter because they’re homeschooled.
I agree that there will be above average students and below average students coming out of both homeschools and traditional schools. Even the best school can only teach to the natural aptitude of the individual student. Not all kids are going to have a natural aptitude for academics and not all parents are going to have a natural aptitude as teachers.
Definitely there are homeschoolers who work at their own pace and still struggle with basic reading and math. And it is possible that in some cases they are being held back by homeschooling. I am certain that for example, there are instances of children who have learning disabilities that have not been diagnosed and addressed and that these disabilities might have been caught and addressed had the child been sent to a traditional school. A case in point is a friends of my sister’s who is dyslexic, disgraphic and discalculate. His disabilities were not well addressed in his homeschooling situation.
At the same time schools are not a panacea for identifying and addressing learning disabilities. My younger sister and brother both have disabilities that were not identified and were not addressed in either their Catholic K-8 or their public high school.
In some cases homeschooled students who struggle with basic math and reading skills might still be doing much, much worse in a traditional school setting. So it’s hard to make generalizations here. Rather, I do think that this is an area where homeschooling parents need to be vigilant. Be aware of where your child “should” be, be aware of the possibility of learning disabilities. Be on the lookout for boredom, distraction and distress. Be prepared to try different curricula, different approaches. Be aware that you might need to get outside help.
Finally, I must confess that the idea of working at your own pace does appeal to me. While I enjoyed school, I remember spending a great deal of time being bored in school. I’d finish the work and sit there staring into space or secretly reading a book I’d smuggled under my desk. A handful of times I had a teacher who let me work at my own pace and I loved it.
Homeschooling provides protection from bad teachers. Everyone knows that a bad teacher can shape your self-confidence for the rest of your life. What if you have a teacher who hates you? A teacher who isn�t all that excited about teaching, or a teacher who is stretched too thin to really give you the attention you need? All of those problems are solved by homeschooling because who cares more about their child than their own parent?
On the surface this seems to make a lot of sense. But in reality all of these issues still exist in Homeschooling. Regardless of how much parents love their child, they will have subjects they either don�t know much about or teach in a boring way. Parents can just as easily be stretched too thin because they are trying to be a parent and a teacher to many different children at many different stages of learning. Only now, instead of having a terrible math teacher in 6th grade and moving on in 7th grade, you have the same teacher, approach and critique year after year.
I answer that:
I don’t really see either homeschooling or traditional schooling winning out on this point.
I had some bad teachers and some good teachers and one or two great teachers. My brother did run into the situation of a teacher who hated him. My sister had a teacher who told my mom that she knew my sister knew all the material; but she was failing anyway because she didn’t turn in all her work. That made me mad because I think grades should reflect what the student has learned not reflect that some arbitrary hoops have been jumped through that by the teacher’s own admission are not good measures of actual learning.
Young Mom’s objection is true, that in traditional the next year there is a possibility of moving on to a better teacher. Of course a student could also have the bad luck of running into one bad teacher after another bad teacher after another bad teacher. The law of averages says that some kids are going to get more than their fair share of good teachers while others get more than their fir share of bad teachers. Traditional schooling is no safeguard against having terrible teachers. In my (admittedly secondhand) knowledge it can be very hard to get a kid moved out of a classroom when they have a bad teacher.
However, in homeschooling a parent isn’t necessarily stuck in using the same bad approach year after year. An aware and reflective parent might in fact be more responsive and be able to change her approach when it isn’t working. Or if I am stretched thin perhaps I can join a co-op, find a tutor, try very different ways of dealing with the problem.
I think this is one of those things where some self-reflection is a good idea. In deciding whether of not homeschooling will work for you and your family, you should seriously consider how flexible you are willing and able to be. How easy do you find it to admit you are wrong? How difficult do you find it to see when something isn’t working and to try a different approach? If you think this is going to be a trouble spot for you, then what can you do to address it? Can you perhaps enroll your spouse or a trusted friend or another family member as part of a check and balance system?
Homeschooling means you can pass on your faith without interference. Now your kids won�t be taught evolution,environmentalism and homosexuality in the schools. You can teach them from the start what God really wants from us without having it clouded by the world�s agenda.
Again, this sounds nice, except religion 24/7 starts to look a lot like indoctrination. Your parents are their to observe, critique, and evaluate your religious understanding and attitude in every circumstance. The pressure is relentless. Honestly, religion in my childhood has burned me out. God feels like my parents to me, I have a hard time understanding His love as truly unconditional. I grew up obsessed with �staying in the lines� and making sure that everyone else did too. After all, we were all going to hell if we didn�t!
I answer that:
Well, just based on Young Mom’s descriptions here and in other posts on her blog, I think my faith looks very different than her parents’ faith, which—I really hope this doesn’t sound condescending—frankly sounds really like a warped and unhealthy version of Christianity to me. I think this is mainly a personal matter which she’s struggling with and not one that has much bearing on my own decision to homeschool. However, I’ve still got a few things to say on the subject.
I can very much see where homeschooling would intensify an already bad situation with parents who have a malformed understanding of who God is and make it much worse. Still, when all is said and done parents are the primary educators of their children and these problems with what I consider faith mal-formation would still probably exist in some form or another whether the kids are homeschooled or not. On the other hand, I do believe that God is an all-powerful, loving and merciful Father and that He can make even the most crooked paths straight. Even children who are taught a very warped and negative understanding of God may one day learn to know him as He truly is. I pray for all those children that they will be healed and loved into wholeness.
As for me, I certainly won’t be telling my kids they’d better do x or they’re going to hell. I think that faith which is based on fear instead of love isn’t real faith. And I also think it is a bad idea to put as much pressure on faith as Young Mom’s parents seem to have done. I think of faith formation as making introductions and then stepping back and allowing my children form their own relationships with God.
Also, I know that nothing I can do will make my kids be Catholic. All I can do is do my best to love God, to show my children through my actions that God is worth loving and that He is merciful and forgiving.
I really hope and pray that I will never set myself up to be my children’s judge and jury and to criticize them in the way that Young Mom describes. Every day after I tuck Bella and Sophie and Ben into bed and sing them their lullabies, I pray a prayer that is similar to this one, asking for humility, courage and grace:
O Father of mankind, who has given unto me these my children, and committed them to my charge to bring them up for Thee, and to prepare them for everlasting life: assist me with Thy heavenly grace, that I may be able to fulfil this most sacred duty and stewardship. Teach me both what to give and what to withhold; when to reprove and when to forbear; make me gentle, yet firm; considerate and watchful; and deliver me equally from the weakness of indulgence, and the excess of severity; and grant that, both by word and example, I may be careful to lead them in the ways of wisdom and true piety, so that at last I may, with them, be admitted to the unspeakable joys of our true home in heaven, in the company of the blessed Angels and Saints.
O Heavenly Father, I commend my children unto Thee. Be Thou their God and Father; and mercifully supply whatever is wanting in me through frailty or negligence. Strengthen them to overcome the corruptions of the world, to resist all solicitations to evil, whether from within or without; and deliver them from the secret snares of the enemy. Pour Thy grace into their hearts, and confirm and multiply in them the gifts of Thy Holy Spirit, that they may daily grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; and so, faithfully serving Thee here, may come to rejoice in Thy presence hereafter.
Homeschooling means flexibility. You can go on vacation even during the school year. Homeschooling means you have an easier time getting into private music lessons and other activities because you are not confined by a school schedule.
This one is still true, and has a lot of appeal. The question is, would you actually take advantage of this opportunity? Homeschooling could be a great option if you are going to travel across the country in an RV for a year or something else similar.
I answer that:
Yeah, I hope that I take advantage of homeschooling’s flexibility. I know I tend to be a reclusive homebody, though, so this is going to be an area I struggle with. It will take conscious effort to get out and be adventuresome and explore and take lots of trips. But at least I know my weakness and limitations in this area and am committed to working on it. I already am working on it in several ways and hope it will become a little easier as the kids are older. I do hope that at some point our family will be able to take advantage of our flexible schedule to do things that my kids wouldn’t be able to do were they enrolled in a traditional school.
Homeschooling provides protection from all the horrible stuff in our culture. In schools, children are exposed to bad influences, ranging from music and dress to attitudes and drugs. Keeping your kids at home insures that you can keep them from finding out about those things, plus even worse things, like sex!
Shielding from whatever parents are uncomfortable with, gets ridiculous sometimes. I grew up very isolated, and homeschooling contributed to that. Creating an alternative world is impossible, eventually the children discover there is a bigger world and mom and dad are hiding things from them.
I answer that:
I agree that creating an alternative world and shielding children from everything bad in our culture is impossible. And to my mind not really desirable either. I think we are called to be in the world if not of the world, which means at some point hey are going to have to learn how to deal with things and navigate the rocky shoals that is modern American secular life. We don’t live in an Amish enclave nor except in the occasional pipe dream do I really want to.
At the same time, I do think the culture is sick and I want to do my best to inoculate my children against the worst of that sickness and to control their exposure to some of the worst aspects of it until they are more mature and solid in their faith and better able to handle it. For our family, I do think homeschooling is the best way to go about this.
I’ve heard horror stories (mainly online from Young Mom and others; but other sources as well) about homeschooling parents who are too sheltering and too controlling. I don’t want to be that. However, I think there’s a happy medium between trying to cocoon children and throwing them to the wolves. I can’t keep them from knowledge of everything evil, nor do I want to. But perhaps I can delay some of the worst experiences and mitigate the worst effects of our sick culture? I know public schools are in bad shape and frankly I don’t trust even Catholic schools not to Do No Harm.
I know from my own experience that if I’d been exposed to some things later I’d probably have been better off. Also if I’d had a better catechesis in my faith, especially learning more about the positives of the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality, then I’d perhaps have not had to learn all of it the hard way.
I know my kids are going to stumble and will indeed have to learn some things in the school of hard knocks. They are going to be exposed to some things too young. They are going to have bad experiences. I can’t swaddle them. Nor do I think it’s a good thing to try once they are past the age of finding swaddling comforting. But I do think a parent’s duty is to help children maintain an appropriate innocence, to protect them from too early exposure to too much evil. Some knowledge can do more harm when introduced earlier than later and is better encountered by more mature individuals who are more prepared.
I know the culture at large is not at all interested in protecting my children’s innocence. Some public schools around here start indoctrinating them about the beauty of homosexuality in kindergarten, make it difficult if not illegal to opt your kids out of sex ed programs, basically deny parents their basic rights as primary educators of their children, usurping them. I’d prefer not to shelter my children at all costs but to introduce topics like that at a time and in a way that I deem appropriate and as part of an integrated discussion of faith and morals.
I do want to protect my children—to the extent I am able—from the errors of materialism and from the morass of moral relativism by giving them a solid foundation of knowledge and experience of objective Truth, Love and Beauty which is rooted in a solid knowledge of and relationship with God through the liturgy and the sacraments and as part of the worldwide Catholic community and the Body of Christ.
Homeschooling provides opportunity for individual learning and expression. In the school system, the training is designed for cookie cutter worker ants for the country. In homeschooling, you are free to be who you really want to be instead of being confined by the system.
Although it may seem as though there is more room for expression outside of the school system, it�s not always true. Individualized learning depends on time and commitment that the parent is able to offer each individual, and the child�s expression is stifled by whatever the parents feel is acceptable.
I answer that:
Young Mom is right, it is not always true. Sure, parents can stifle children as much as any school system.
All I can say is that I hope not to be one of those parents. One of my goals is to allow my children to be individuals. With God as my helper I will strive to constantly recognize that my children are His not mine and that I am merely His steward. I will pray daily for the wisdom to nurture them so that they may love him and serve him and become the people that he wishes them to be. I know I will also fail in this area as in others, Hopefully not so badly as the school system would.
Also, I think the issue of parents being controlling and stifling children’s individuality is not really a homeschooling issue at all; but a parenting issue. Parents who control and stifle their children will do so whether they are homeschoolers or not and I seriously doubt that sending the child away to school will really alleviate that pressure on the child if it’s coming from the parent and not from the school. I suppose that children whose parents who have that tendency will find that homeschooling intensifies the damage done; but I doubt they’d escape unscathed had they been sent to school.
Homeschooling preserves the family instead of creating artificial peer groups. Children that go to school only learn to relate to people their own age. That type of environment doesn�t exist in the real world, so they come out of school looking down on younger people and disrespecting older people. Homeschool forces kids to relate to people of all ages.
Growing up this turned into �family trumps all, no friends allowed�. Going it alone is a mentality that permeates homeschoolers. After all, they are bucking the system by choosing to homeschool in the first place. This can be isolating. Growing up, we rarely did anything that did not involve the entire family. We had very few people to relate to outside of the family system, children or adults. Getting any kind of help (counseling or tutoring) was like admitting that homeschooling was failing, we had to prove that homeschooling could work and that did not include outside influence. Homeschooling created an �Us Vs. Them� mentality, everyone was out to get us. Everyone else in the world had an agenda for our lives and our parents were protecting our �freedom�.
I answer that:
First, Yikes! It seems to me that Young Mom’s homeschooling experience was pretty awful. However, I’d point out that all of her objections are to her family’s (and other’s I’d guess) particular interpretation of this point, which sounds extreme. I do generally agree that schools can create unhealthy peer to peer socialization as opposed to the kind of relationships that homeschooling can foster. But how her family translated this into an ‘our family against the world’ attitude seems very warped to me. I think homeschooling socialization can work out in a much, much healthier way. (A good reference book on the subject of homeschooling and socialization is Alice Gunther’s A Haystack Full of Needles, which I reviewed here.)
I agree that “family trumps all, no friends allowed” is terrible and unhealthy lifestyle decision. While I do hope that my children will develop close friendships with their siblings, I also hope that they will have good friends outside the family circle. This is another thing I acknowledge will be something I’ll have to consciously work on. (See above where I mention what a introvert homebody I am.) But the need for outside friends is something my husband and I have discussed at length and is a priority for us.
I do not agree that homeschooling necessarily equals “going it alone” or having an “Us vs Them” mentality. In fact, I most heartily disagree. Though I will not deny that there are homeschoolers out there who fit that description, yes, even in the Catholic homeschooling world—and my sister’s friend is one of them with whom I’ve had long conversations about the problems of socialization—still, there are plenty more whose vision is very different and those are the homeschoolers who have inspired me and in whose footsteps I hope to follow. (Melissa Wiley, Elizabeth Foss and Karen Edmisten are a few of the Catholic homeschoolers who inspire me and who write often about how active and non-isolated their children are.)
I hope to join our local Catholic homeschooling association. (My sister-in-law is already a member and I’ve already met many great families through her.) I hope to find co-ops and other opportunities for making connections with other families—both homeschooling families and those for whom homeschooling is not their choice. Far from going it alone, getting rid of the need for community and supplemental teachers to help me in raising and educating my children, I hope to find a community and teachers that will be more helpful and more supportive of our vision for our family than we might find in a traditional school. I want to find other teachers who will share the work of education; I merely reject any school system—either public or Catholic—which tries to usurp from me my rightful role as primary educator of my children.
Also, we don’t have the mentality that tutoring or counseling will equal homeschooling failure. I’m going into this expecting that at some point I will want to turn to outside help in our homeschooling journey. I feel like I’m repeating myself too much—I probably am—but I’ll say it one more time anyway: I want to be the primary educator of my children but for me that does not equal being the only educator of my children.
In addition to her seven points, Young Mom ends with a few more observations and objections:
Homeschoolers are told that if they protect their children by homeschooling, they will prevent anything bad from ever happening to their kids. Things like drugs and alcohol, premarital sexual activity and sexual abuse, self-harm (cutting) and depression, eating disorders, educational problems and bullying can all be avoided just by homeschooling your children.
It�s not true.
All of these issues have happened in homeschooling families I personally know. Many of these things have happened in my own family. I�ve come to the conclusion that many of these issues depend on the health of the family system, not the method of education. Some things will happen regardless of precautions taken to ward them off, it�s called free will.
I answer that:
I don’t think that homeschooling will prevent bad things from happening to my kids. In fact I think that list is an outright lie. Homeschooling will not definitively prevent any of those ills. I don’t think it is a magical panacea that will keep kids away from drugs, alcohol, or other risky behaviors. I don’t think it will guarantee their faith. I know depression and eating disorders are mental illnesses that can strike anyone, anywhere. I’ve struggled with depression myself and so have other members of my family. I don’t think homeschooling will prevent mental illness.
However, I do think that homeschooling can often help to mitigate some influences that in traditional schools might lead children to some of these risky behaviors. Especially if the family is healthy and has a healthy Church community (and sacraments!) supporting them. Nor can I imagine very many circumstances in which a traditional school (public or private) will do a better job than the family at protecting a child from these and other evils of the world.
I agree that my children have free will, given to them by God. I agree that I might mess this up terribly and be an utter failure as a teacher. On the other hand, I might do a wonderful job as a teacher. Either way I am certain I will make mistakes. Whether I am a great teacher or a terrible one, my children will most likely make mistakes in their lives—even major ones. I may spend 18 years homeschooling my children only to find that they make decisions that I think are terrible, tragic, wrong in every way. They might end up homeless atheist drug addict prostitutes for all I can do to prevent it. But still, I will try my best to do my best. I will not let fear of failure prevent me from acting.
All I know is that in choosing to get married and to accept from God the children that He has chosen to send to us, I have been given and have accepted a grave responsibility. It is my duty to do my best to bring them up to the best of my ability. It is my duty to do my best to fulfill the solemn promises I made when I asked the Church to baptize my children into the faith. Dom and I are the primary educators of our children and to the best of our ability we have discerned that unless circumstances change in some way that we cannot now foresee—we believe that homeschooling is the best option for our family, the best way for us to fulfill our parental obligations.
The above touches on—but does not enumerate—a few of our reasons for homeschooling; but there are many more—many of them much more important than these—that I have not addressed here. But then I have already written about homeschooling many times before and any more than this is a blog post for another day. Sorry for going on at such length; but I have to admit it felt really good to write all these thoughts out.
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