Homeschooling is a big step for many of us. It requires the conviction that we know better than anyone else when it comes to our children’s needs (or our own). We may have already had courageous exchanges with teachers, school officials, and other experts whose job requires them to look out for the well-being of our children and whose thoughts on how best to meet those needs may be at odds with ours. We may not want to defend the details of our educational choices to everyone we meet. Nevertheless, friends, family, and strangers on the street often feel entitled to comment on, critique, or even assess the effectiveness of our homeschooling efforts.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- “Is it a day off from school?” asks a well-meaning cashier at the supermarket (at 11:00 on a Wednesday morning). “They don’t go to school,” you say. Your children giggle. The cashier gives you a disbelieving look.
- At a family gathering, the grandparents smother your child with kisses, hugs, and an impromptu quiz about the state capitals, leaving your child stammering and squirming.
- At ballet class, you overhear your preteen’s friend say, “I don’t know how anyone can possibly learn anything if they’re not in school. Do you even know what a square root is?” Your child is embarrassed and doesn’t respond.
- At your child’s annual checkup, the doctor chats with your child during the examination. “What grade are you in?” says the doctor. Your child says, “Uhhhhhh….”
- A well-meaning friend looks at you doubtfully. “Homeschooling — I don’t know,” says your friend. “You’re not a teacher. And what about socialization?”
Sometimes it can feel like every social interaction brings the risk of an uneasy exchange about homeschooling. Here are some things to keep in mind when you encounter someone whose comments make you uncomfortable.
Homeschooling is not a familiar concept for most people. Yours may be the first homeschooling family they have seen up close. Most people are unaware that homeschooling is even an option, or they may have heard of it as something that only certain subgroups of people engage in. It may feel confusing for them to find homeschoolers in their family, neighborhood, or community. Let them know you’re in good company! “We’ve been so happy to find a supportive community of homeschoolers close by and online.”
Homeschooling challenges widely-held social values. Some people may not feel at ease with the questions that homeschooling brings to mind. They may see homeschooling as an implied judgement about the quality of public schools. Many of us were raised with the belief that all children must attend public school for their own good and/or the good of society. Times are changing, and schools are not what they used to be. We learn more all the time about how unconventional approaches to education can be better for some children. “Aren’t we lucky to live in a country where parents can choose the best educational path for their children?”
It may be difficult to imagine how homeschooling can be both flexible and successful. Perhaps their only experience of education was classroom-based, competitive, and institutional. Many of us were taught not to question that model, believing either that it was the best way or the only way to become educated and successful. But now there are alternatives, and that is a beneficial thing for many students. It might help to mention that there is also plenty of support available. “I’m so impressed with the great homeschooling resources that we’ve found online. It’s wonderful for families like ours to have professional educational support.”
Mass media perpetuates the idea that homeschoolers are freaks. The people who get the media spotlight are often the ones who are so far outside the norm that their stories make for good entertainment. It is true that some homeschooling families have over a dozen children, are religious extremists, or send their kids to Ivy League colleges ahead of their peers. Those are interesting stories, but most homeschooling families are relatively ordinary. Your family is also a good example of a homeschooling family. If the person knows you well, remind them that you’re still the same; you’re just taking a new educational path. “We’ve met some very nice local families who homeschool.”
Others want the best for your child. This is especially true for friends and relatives, but it can be equally true for the stranger at the supermarket. Where the perceived health and safety of children is concerned, many people do consider it their business and feel they have a socially-sanctioned right to offer advice. You do not have to share the details of your choices; simply thank them for their concern and redirect the conversation to more comfortable ground. “I really appreciate how much you care about my children’s education. Thanks for sharing your ideas.”
Our society places its faith in experts. We have been culturally conditioned to look to experts for the answers. So it may be helpful to invoke mention of one. “We are working with the school superintendent to meet all of the established requirements.” “We’ve enrolled in an accredited distance learning school and have the support of certified teachers.” Or even, “Our pediatrician is supportive.” The point is not to devalue your primary role in your child’s homeschooling experience, but to help conclude the conversation on a positive note and in a truthful way that meets the other person’s need for expert reassurance.
Your decision to homeschool is not about them. It is about you, your child’s needs, and the overall needs of your family. You are the expert on your own child, and you are empowered to make these decisions without defending yourself. You might say, “Public school works for some families, but we’ve found that homeschooling is the best fit for ours.”
Neither you nor your child owes anyone an explanation. Be upfront with adults who try to quiz your child to prove that homeschooling is “working” — it’s not acceptable. Your child does not have to prove anything to anyone except you, and it is not appropriate for anyone to put your child on the spot with such questions. You might coach your child on how to politely decline if someone tries to verbally test them. Keep it light! A younger child could laugh and say, “Silly, you’re not my teacher!” Older kids might respond with, “Homeschooling means I don’t have to take pop quizzes anymore!”
Remember that people with concerns about homeschooling usually speak from a place of caring. Respond gently and compassionately. If they persist in challenging you about homeschooling, consider turning it around and asking them to tell you more about their children’s education or their own experiences in school. They may just want to make sure you hear their side of things. With time, patience, and practice, you’ll become adept at responding to questions from people who comment critically about your homeschooling. Acknowledge their perspectives, thank them for sharing, and move the conversation along. In time, they may surprise you with their support and approval.