Recently, upon hearing that I homeschool, another mom said to me, “I really don’t care where my daughter goes to school, I’m not picky. We all have to learn to deal with bullying. Bad experiences build character.”
I’m guessing she assumed I homeschool for a fear of bullying. I literally have 100 reasons why I homeschool which I am saving to publish as my 100th blog post. Bullying is just one of those reasons. Children with the kind of life-threatening allergies that my daughter has have been bullied by being tricked into eating a food containing said allergy and dying as a result. There is no lesson in character building in an experience such as that.
Sometimes bad experiences build good character and sometimes the character they build is a false self. When we feel that we are perpetually in survival mode, we do not behave the same as we do when we feel safe and we are in thrive mode. The false self that people build as a self-protective mechanism is often to master two faces: the mirror of a bully and the coward in shame. Neither of these are character building faces that I want my child to master.
One of the things I think school teaches very well is lessons in popularity. When I think of that word, I think of politicians and celebrities. Popular isn’t a bad thing. I know a really sweet girl who goes to school and is popular and probably always will be. I adore her because she has a kind heart. I was that girl too. But being popular can be exhausting. It breeds a fear of upsetting others. That fear can prohibit authenticity. So you see, even something as seemingly positive as being popular, can be toxic. Lessons from, The Breakfast Club. HA!
No matter how we educate our children, there are pros and cons.
I don’t homeschool because I think that homeschool is right for everyone. I homeschool because it’s right for us. I know that no matter which educational path we choose, we will be gaining and losing something that only another educational path can provide. Part of building character is having humility; knowing that we don’t know it all.
“But homeschooled kids lack socialization,” said the check out guy at my local grocery store and many other ignorant, well- meaning people. I’ve written about the socialization myth extensively so I’m just going to touch on it here.
Have you met my child? She is authentic. If she is interested in you, she will engage with you. If she is not, she will still be kind and polite. She is the very definition of “social.”
Do people believe that homeschooling means being locked away inside a home?
This is what socialization looks like for us: community classes in things like: Museums, ballet, music, art, sewing, language, chess, book clubs, theater, and more. We also have family and friends and homeschool groups where we meet in parks or invite each other to our homes for play dates, parties, and holiday celebrations. These are just the secular activities for those of us homeschoolers who are not particularly religious.
Then there are these people called: neighbors. Most of us have them. Personally, I’ve never met these fantom homeschoolers who live separate from the rest of society, I’m guessing in underground bunkers, since they lack socialization. But even those who do live in the mountains and are isolated, many of them have families larger than four, they are still learning socialization.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 1,770,000 students are homeschooled in the United States. We are in good company. We are not alone. We are growing in numbers, because the school systems and society are failing us. Not all of us, but enough of us that homeschooling has become a movement.
During flu and cold season, it can sometimes feel that we are those weird homeschoolers locked away. We do avoid and cancel many plans due to illness (ours or others). When your immune system is compromised, as ours is, it doesn’t get built up by being exposed to one cold after the other, on the contrary, that makes everything much worse. For our family, the common cold has turned into week long hospital stays with pneumonia, three times in nine years.
When our child was just a year old, we were told that her health conditions were so severe that we would have to homeschool her. Homeschooling is not anything I ever really considered or had a desire to do. The entire process seemed overwhelming and terrifying to me. Instead, I read as much research as I could to support “mainstreaming” my child and instead of embracing homeschooling as I had been encouraged to do, I put her in one school after the other.
First, we tried a religious school, which was great, except for the time obligation toward the religion which was expected of all families and the minor fact that we are not religious. Nevertheless, we stayed at that school until she aged out. It was only a pre-school. She did contract swine flu when she was three and nearly die, despite being vaccinated against it, but I was convinced that through sheer will of belief in modern medicine and a positive attitude, that we could make school work.
Next, we tried a small, independent, private school which was nearly perfect, but not something we could continue to afford. Our daughter was given a scholarship to attend a very prestigious, college prep, K-12 private school, which she had to take an IQ test to qualify for; but it was 30 minutes from the nearest hospital and with all her health issues, it just wasn’t a safe choice.
Lastly, we tried a public school. We believed in the premise of the public school system and wanted to support it, while also keeping out daughter safe. In all, we visited 17 schools before choosing the one we did. Unfortunately, it was by far one of the worst bureaucratic experiences of our lives. We were stripped of all parental rights whilst our daughter attended public school.
Due to her myriad of health issues, she was heavily over-medicated by the ill-equipped school nurse. I was called each day to leave work early and pick her up due to asthma attacks and allergic reactions. After the first two weeks of school she was so sick with the “common cold,” that her teacher and all her classmates were able to work through, that she was admitted to the hospital for the second time in her life with life-threatening pneumonia.
Seven days later, the public school threatened us legally with truancy- and child protective services because we had kept our daughter out of school for a week (she was IN the hospital). This was despite the fact that she was still in the hospital and the school principal had confirmed that a note from her pediatrician informing the school of her condition had been received.
Because of that experience, we will never trust another public school again; especially now that our daughter has been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). Too many children with EDS have multiple dislocations and bruises which are mistaken for being abused children. I am not willing to ever be in a position again where an ignorant, public school staff can threaten to take my child away — Where my rights as a parent are superseded by the rights of a school and when I know my child is not safe.
Coming to the choice to homeschool was not easy, in fact, it would be safe to say that I fought it every step of the way. I did not feel qualified. I didn’t know what to expect or where to start. I feared all the stereo-types that I had heard and read about homeschoolers. I myself had been unschooled for part of my educational experience and harbored resentments around holes I feel I have in my own education (holes I have now come to see are present no matter the education one has).
In order to homeschool, I would have to quit my job as the primary provider and I was already struggling with my own declining health. I had no idea how we could possibly make this work economically. But eventually, homeschooling became our only option. Even with all that I could find wrong with homeschool and unschool, it still proved to be a superior option for us personally, all things considered.
We began to educate ourselves by reading everything we could find about all the different types and ways of homeschooling. I delved deeper into the philosophy, research and statistics of whole life unschooling, life learning and alternative homeschooling options (I’ll attach my short list of recommendations).
Both my husband and I come from families who love to learn; some who have made a sport out of soaking up new knowledge, some, educators themselves, who have obtained the highest degrees in education.
As a family unit, we value education. We value knowledge and we have a passion for learning. We do not separate learning from everyday life. We make the world our classroom instead of making a classroom our world.
When you homeschool, you still have the option of taking classes and we have and do utilize that option, however, we do not learn solely from taking classes, we use classes as optional tools to compliment the natural learning we do from the time we are born until the day we die.
It’s our goal to model for our daughter that most knowledge is self-taught, self-education, based on a passionate desire to know more than we have learned in school, and to continually learn and practice something new that serves our unique purpose in life. To teach that school is for learning is also to teach that when one is out of school they stop learning, neither of these are beliefs we ascribe to.
After homeschooling since 2012, I can say with confidence that true, sustained learning happens through intrinsic motivation, not coercion based on punishment and reward. I was raised with the carrot and the stick. I now question that validity.
If you have an ambitious child, who is filled with self-motivation, self-determination, has passions and confidence in at least one area of their life that makes them feel special: homeschooling will probably work better for you than most. All you need do is facilitate what your child feels they need to know and then let go of the reigns and watch them fly. A child born with natural talents and abilities will flourish when given the opportunity of freedom, time, space, and unconditional love and support to do so.
The hardest challenge you will likely have, is to silence the voice of the critic; be it your own, your partner, a parent, friends, family, community, and teachers. Let me assure you, it gets easier with practice.
Many of my closest friends are educators. Some of them see successful homeschooling as a personal attack and insult to everything they have devoted their life to. I have compassion for their feelings but their burden of belief is not mine, nor yours to carry. As a parent, you have one and only one consideration and just a reminder, it’s not the voices of critics.
Your only job is to do right by your child and only you and your child know what that is. The proof is in the pudding. No one who really knows us, has pulled me aside yet to tell me that they think my daughter is lacking because of homeschool. Don’t get me wrong, there is a part of me that is always in fear that she is behind in something. And I do my best not to project that fear unto her. But I know that whatever she might be behind in, she can catch up with and will if it becomes necessary. What she is gaining however, is far more than she might be losing.
A child can always catch up on what she might have lost as a homeschooler, but she can’t erase damage that’s already been gained, once it happens, from being in a school environment that isn’t serving her.
Here’s the thing- right/wrong- none of us know what tomorrow brings. We don’t know what works or doesn’t work until we experience it. We only know what’s right for us in this moment of now. In the big picture everyone makes mistakes, nobody gets it 100% right and luck and fate and health play a bigger role than anyone gives rightful credit. If you try compulsory school and it doesn’t work, try homeschool. If you try homeschool and it doesn’t work, try compulsory school. “The only constant thing in life is change.” We are not chained to our present. We forget about one of our greatest powers in life: choice.
I have a great deal of respect for good teachers. I think teachers and nurses are two of the most noble professions. I’m sure that by homeschooling, my child is missing out on some amazing, well-qualified, creative, imaginative, and nurturing teachers as well as some mind-numbing, languid, and far less than ideal teachers. Not to mention a sometimes highly dysfunctional social structure that I wouldn’t wish upon my worse enemy.
I am not a teacher and I don’t claim to be (unless I’m at Barnes & Noble using my educator discount card). I don’t think I know more than others or that I have the skills a well-trained teacher might; but I have something they don’t have and that’s: freedom of choice. Most public school teachers have to teach the curriculum they are given and teach it not with the goal to retain knowledge but merely to memorize long enough to do well on tests.
I also have the knowledge of my child and know, better than anyone else, what her needs are, because I love her more than anyone else. I know her strengths and weaknesses. I don’t always have the answers, but I know how to find a good tutor who does. I don’t always have all the patience I need, but I have a partner, friends, and community support when I need it.
For now, homeschooling is our only foreseeable solution. I still maintain that if we could afford it I would send my daughter to a small, private, alternative, hippy-dippy school that’s close to a hospital. Some place with a reasonable student to teacher ratio that honors arts and sciences, shares our basic value system of kindness and integrity and implements a zero tolerance for bullying. To leave a child in a school for eight hours a day, which they can’t escape, where they are being bullied, is not character building, it’s abuse.
There’s a lot I could say about the entire institution of school and what it’s primary purpose is and provide link upon link of research that paints compulsory school in a negative light. However, it’s not my desire to criticize someone else’s choice. The bottom line is that nothing in life is all good or all bad.
Until such day comes where we can send our child to the aforementioned imaginary school, she has parents who love her unconditionally, extended friends & family who care about her, a healthy home environment, several library cards, a strong arts community, a supportive homeschool community and as much support from her parents as we can possibly give.
There is no sure-fire way to prepare for anything in life. The best we can do is learn to trust our intuition and be flexible. If we are taught to be true to ourselves we learn to cut our losses before we invest too much. If you are considering homeschool, there’s no way to know if it’s right for you until you try.
I hope this helped you with your choice. Please know that you are not alone. It’s a lot easier than you think. The first step is to just relax and trust that no matter what, it’s all going to work out. What’s the worse that could happen? What are the chances of your fears becoming reality if you stay in compulsory school? What are the chances if you homeschool? I think you have your answer.
Homeschool / Unschool Resources
Many of the films are online for free or can be streamed from Netflix or rented from Redbox. I think all of these films are important and the documentaries should be required viewing before enrolling a child in school.
Films on Public School Today
Race To Nowhere
Most Likely To Succeed
Waiting For Superman
Films on Homeschooling / Unschooling
Class Dismissed (illustrates the various types of homeschooling)
Writers & Books
There are too many to mention. Start online and choose two that seem completely opposite to start, after reading those, you will have a better idea of where to go from there.