>fears of the homeschooler

>Homeschooling is not for everyone. Though more parents might try it if they thought they could. A number of people have told me they are considering homschooling but are not sure it’s for them. They have fears and worries about taking on more than they can handle or want to handle. The reality is that homeschooling is not easy. In fact, it is quite difficult. In a way it’s impossible. What do I mean?

I want to approach my answer in two ways: 1) The 40,000 foot level, and 2) specific fears.

Homeschooling is a little like jumping off a cliff or a leap into the unknown. It’s a big bite to chew, a heavy load to carry, a constant worry of sorts. The goal of the homeschooler is to educate their own children, for any number of reasons, such that they grow up better educated in some way than they would have from other educational methods or systems. How homeschoolers define better is varied and debated, and sometimes better isn’t better. And even if one has hit upon something better one faces into the daunting task of implementing that method or system. Thus, while one is struggling in the midst of the implementation, one is often haunted by lingering thoughts about the solidity of the chosen method or system.

But consider the flip side. Deciding which school your child goes to is not the end of your responsibility for your child’s education. Sending your kid to the school bus with a warm coat, their bag of books, reams of completed homework, and their lunch box is not the end of your responsibility either. We have inherited historically recent ideas of what education is and how it should be done. Our society tends to believe that education, like medicine, should only be done by professionals. This is both a fallacy, based largely on incorrect and incomplete ideas of what education is, and a false hope, based largely on misunderstandings of learning processes. Professional educators are generally quite good and many are excellent. But they also struggle with both method and implementation. There is virtually no consensus in the politically charged world of public education on which method is best. There are many competing ideas (sometimes changing from year to year in schools) that fight for support and funding. Putting those ideas into practice is also fraught with peril. Schools often have to settle for a compromise between the latest educational ideas and maintaining adequate control of 20+ different personalities and learning styles in the classroom. I have written about some of these perils previously here. My own experience, and much of what I have observed of others, shows me that both method and implementation are the great bugaboos of all education. And private school education may be only slightly better than public at a much greater cost.

Therefore, in regards to the difficulty of homeschooling, as seen from the 40,000 foot level, I would say that to not homeschool is at least as difficult if one takes one’s responsibility seriously. There is a lot of pressure to see homeschooling as an aberration, but it is not a true aberration. All educational choices have some validity in certain contexts. And public schooling is, historically, an aberration of sorts, designed to accommodate the needs of the industrial revolution and the barest requirements of democracy – both recent events in Western culture. Homeschooling, on the other hand, has been around for millennia. For the thinking and loving parent the choice, and maybe the inevitability, of public school for one’s children is not an easy one. From the perspective of the parent who is homeschooling, or trying to do so, the choice to not go with public school can be seen as difficult a choice in that there are no perfect alternatives, no obviously correct methods, and implementation troubles all teachers. Thus, the homeschooling parent can at least be confident that choosing to homeschool is not harder than choosing public schooling, though we have been conditioned to falsely see the public schooling choice as the easy one.

But then there are the specific fears of homeschooling that may cause prospective homeschoolers to shy away from making that choice. The fact is there are no easy answers or secret shortcuts. I have listed some of those fears below, but I know there are many more.

  • Are you truly qualified? I wrote about this in a previous post. The short answer is there is no one more qualified to teach your own children than you. Does this mean you will be the perfect teacher? No. But no one else, even a state accredited teacher, is more qualified than you.
  • Can you teach your child to read? Yes. Children have a remarkable, God given capacity for learning. Like with most skills one learns to read through repetition and taking small steps day after day. As a parent you can guide your child uniquely to their learning style and speed. There are many excellent resources to use as well.
  • What about subjects in which you are weak? Remember you are teaching a child. In no way do you need to be a master of any subject in order to teach it to a child. The most important quality is a passion for learning. Plus, taking on a subject that you don’t know well, say science or math for example, gives you to chance to learn it yourself. The best way to learn a subject is having to teach it to another. Remember, most public school teachers were not experts in the subjects they teach at the beginning, and many never gain true expertise. Again, there are many excellent resources to pick from.
  • Can you manage it? This is a bigger question beyond merely the teaching of specific subjects or making sure your child makes it to the next grade. Homeschooling is a total family kind of project. Educating your child does not get separated from the rest of life, including cleaning the house, running errands, and everything else. If one has more than one child, especially little ones that need a lot of attention, management becomes rather challenging. From my own experience, and more so from observing my wife, the answer is yes you can manage it. That is not to say it will be easy, and sometimes you may want to throw in the towel. Most likely you won’t throw in the towel because you have bigger reasons for homeschooling. Remember you set the schedule. If it gets too tough, take a break and do something else for the rest of the day, or even the week.
  • Will your own flaws get in the way? Yes. You are far from being a perfect person. You do not have as much patience or kindness or strength as you need to do everything you wish you could. Neither does anyone else who might educate your child. It’s called being human, which includes both our finite capacities and our sinfulness. Since there is no getting away from your flaws then it’s a mute point in a way. You are who you are, the key is to seek wisdom and love and forgiveness in the midst of homeschooling. Ironically, your flaws may provide one of the better opportunities for teaching those things that are most valuable.
  • Do you know where to begin, and then where to go from there? Maybe not, but you can find out. One of the most surprising aspects of homeschooling is the plethora of teaching materials, curricula, and advice. In fact it may be too much. There are complete programs that send you a box with everything you will need for an entire school year, including all the books, science materials, worksheets, and even pencils. There are curriculum guides that lay out courses of study and require you to then pick and choose what materials work best for you. And then there are tons, and I mean tons, of great teaching aids that can be used to supplement any subject, any teaching style, any learning style, and everything else.
  • Won’t you be stuck at home all day, every day? One of the big surprises of homeschooling is how much one is not actually at home. Homeschooling is about learning, not about staying at home. Field trips are common. Doing lessons with other homeschooling families is also common. There are many resources for education outside the home, including homeschooling co-ops in many areas.
  • Will you have the support you need? That depends. The answer is, you can if you seek it out. Homeschoolers tend to be a supportive kind of people. Maybe it’s because they recognize they don’t fit into more common educational and societal categories. Regardless, it’s not hard to find others who homeschool, especially online. There are no guarantees you will have the support of your extended family, or that you will want to hang out with the other homeschoolers you meet. But that’s life. The key is to know why you have chosen to homeschool, cling to that in times you don’t have support, and be able to articulate your position to others who may then see the light and become supportive.
  • Won’t it be hard? Yes. That old platitude is very true – anything truly worth doing is never easy. But the fact is, life is hard. You don’t get away from “hard” by not homeschooling.
  • Will I be denying my kids a fuller educational experience? This is a question to ponder. The short answer is no, but a more substantial answer has everything to do with unpacking the idea of “experience” and how the homeschooling experience creates a different experience than public education. Much of it depends on one’s reason for homeschooling. I wrote about a disagreeable trend in homeschooling that sees pulling one’s children out of public school as a retreating from the world on the whole. But one can choose otherwise. Homeschooling can, in fact, provide a much richer, much fuller, less damaging and less demeaning experience that other options.

There are many more reasons that parents might have fears about homeschooling. There is no way I can either address them all, or address them adequately. Maybe most of my thoughts above are inadequate. But I see the fear to homeschool being similar to the fear of being in relationship with another, or taking on a new job, or having a child. What is remarkable is how often we take on big, scary projects in stride – and even come more “alive” in the process. The truth is, one’s love of one’s children is a powerful motivator for the homeschooler. Homeschooling is a monumental task, even impossible in some ways, but it is a privilege to do and a challenge worth embracing.

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