You’re Ruining Your Child, Pass the Yams, Please

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You’re Ruining Your Child, Pass the Yams, Please

You’re Ruining Your Child, Pass the Yams, Please

Thanksgiving’s around the corner, and if you’re a new homeschooler, that holiday conversations will revolve around one hot topic: Explaining Your Crazy Life to the Friends and Relatives.  I’ve been at this homeschooling business for a decade now, so my Thanksgiving route is composed of people who know all my answers, and have seen the positive impact of homeschooling on our kids.  But only last winter, I had a run-in on the homeschooling topic at an office party.  The conversation could have turned into a disaster.

But it didn’t.

Why not? Because there are some ways to explain your decision to homeschool that turn the conversation away from offense-defense arguments, and towards mutual understanding:

1. Remember you aren’t the only one in the room.  Across the table is grandma, who sacrificed to send her child to the best school (or any school at all), and wonders how you could skip out on such an opportunity. Over in the corner is the fellow mom who isn’t entirely happy with her kid’s school, but doesn’t have a better choice.  And what about your cousin, who’s spent years honing her skills as a professional educator, and knows how hard it is to teach well?  Sure, there are a couple old cranks itching to pick a fight.  But remember there are good-hearted, well-meaning folks listening to your conversation, and they’re all dealing with their own struggles.  Be gentle.

2. Leave the propaganda at home.  Even if you truly believe the local schools offer nothing but a crash-course in damnation, restrain yourself.  “We wanted to be able to include religion in the curriculum.”  Are you persuaded every institutional-schooler is an automaton-in-training?  Nice people say, “We enjoy the flexibility, and the chance to customize our curriculum.”  Can’t stand the school on the corner – the one your cousin is perfectly happy with?  Politely allow, “I know a lot of people really like that school, and that’s great! We felt for our family, homeschooling was the best fit for right now.”

Reality Check: If you’re attacking everyone else’s educational choices, you don’t get to cry when they attack yours.  Make the decision to show respect for the decisions of the other parents in the room. After all, they, not you, have been entrusted with the role of educating their own children.

3. Ignorance is not an attack.  My stepmother, originally from the Philippines, recently came to visit my home for the first time.  She had lots of questions about homeschooling.  Education is very important to her, and she’d never heard of this homeschooling thing until she met my dad.  How does it work?  Where do you get books? Do you take tests?  How long can you homeschool?  Who supervises you?

These are honest questions.  Just answer them.  If you are confident and have your facts straight, you’ll quickly put any concerns to rest.  People do worry about accountability, so include something along those lines in your answers.  “In my state, we do __________ to demonstrate we’re educating our children properly.” If you live in a less-regulated jurisdiction, share how you self-regulate: “I use these educational standards,” or “We do these things to determine how the children are progressing,” or “I keep my records by _______.”

4. Try to avoid sounding like a complete flake.  Could I recommend you ban the word “unschooling” from your conversation this holiday season?  Many people have a hearing impairment that causes them to think you said “no schooling”.  Try, “Learning through real life experiences,” and then give a few examples.

5. Know your stuff, and share it when it asked.  I don’t go around telling people how wonderfully socialized my children are.  But it always comes up, because it’s one of the big myths about homeschooling – the pasty child chained to the kitchen table, making friends with the dusty bunnies and the tumble weeds.

Chuckle.  It’s a myth.  No need to be defensive.  Homeschooling provides my kids with a chance to be out in the real world, interacting with people of all ages and backgrounds.  They make friends quickly, because they are used to being tossed into groups of strangers.  And over the years they’ve built long-lasting, adult-type friendships with other kids close to their own age, both homeschooled and otherwise. It’s not a big deal.  Tell it like it is.

What’s to be gained by your homeschool diplomacy?  Allies!

Remember that office party?  I was face-to-face with an elementary school guidance counselor who’d seen firsthand the disaster that lousy homeschooling could be.  She had never met a successful homeschooling family, until I came along at the snack table.

I worked through her initial questions, and helped her see how what she was experiencing at work was not representative of the bulk of homeschoolers.  And then?  We had a great conversation.  Because here’s the thing: We’re both educators. We both care about children and families.  We’re on the same team.

Copyright 2012 Jennifer Fitz

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About Author

Jennifer Fitz is the author of Classroom Management for Catechists from Liguori Publications. She writes about the Catholic faith at her Patheos blog, Sticking the Corners.

16 Comments

  1. This is a fabulous post! As a mom who’s done everything – Catholic school, homeschool, private school and now public school, I’ve been on every side of this issue. Your tips are invaluable! I love what you say about thinking of the backgrounds of others and where they come from before judging their statements or speaking unwisely. After watching families of all educational methods, I realize that God can bring about smart, holy, and happy children from any educational background! I think what he needs from us most of all is our love and faithfulness! Thank you again!

  2. Barb Szyszkiewicz on

    My kids are Catholic-schooled and we have dealt with many of the same issues! This is sound advice no matter what way a family chooses to educate their children. We ARE all on the same team! :)

  3. Ladies, thank you so much for the kind comments! And yes, I have seen the proof myself — I know so many wonderful young people who’ve graduated from the public and Catholic schools. You can’t argue with success :-).

  4. Pingback: A few things | The Loveliest Hour

  5. I came here via Dorian’s tweet, and I want to compliment you on a fabulous, balanced, and thoughtful post. I’m no longer in the educational forum, but your points are well taken and helpful for this and other “hot button” topics. Kindness is never a bad idea.

  6. In my opinion the best way to avoid so much criticism of a homeschooling choice is not to always be talking about it. I was homeschooled a quarter of a century ago and it seems everyone my family knew at the time still remembers because it was constantly being mentioned in our conversation. If you don’t want a big flap, don’t open your trap. :)

    • C – great advice! I find I get asked lots of questions — most often by teachers who’ve been fed a lot of anti-homeschooling propaganda. Getting a chance to be a voice of sanity in the flame wars is a real pleasure.

  7. Here in Ontario, Canada – our Catholic School system is publicly funded and is very much lacking in Catholicism. My son was identified special needs/mild language delayed – he was supposed to get a modified curriculum and didn’t. After Gr. 2 we pulled him out along with his sister. For us we were already looking at homeschooling from a faith perspective but when people ask us I say first – they didn’t do anything to help him. Most people know of someone who is in this situation so I have never had to defend myself. Other Catholics agree when I say we homeschool because we wanted to teach the children the faith because the Catholic teacher’s union sides with the homosexual lobby groups and has never stood up for pro-life causes over and above the basic Catholic teachings are not done – plus they have a sex ed program that is pretty much the same as the public school.
    The ONLY person I still have a difficulty with is my M-I-L – she is Italian and lives on the other side of Canada. She doesn’t think they get enough socialization etc.. We visited her this summer and she still doesn’t get it. But that’s OK. We are never going to please her with regards to this.

    Funny, I don’t get indifference or questions – I get “right on,” “I wish I could have done that,” “wish my mom did that with me!” Even teachers – don’t bite my head off – which is telling.
    Oh, and my husband is a teacher.

  8. Oh my gosh! Thank you so much for this post. I’m getting ready to host something like 40 people for dinner tomorrow in Dubai. Our guests will include many many perspectives on homeschooling from super-pro institutional schooling Arabs to British radical unschoolers.
    I’m a bit dreading the potential melee over ‘socialization’ so I really appreciate the strategies. Usually, I want to point out that its the schooled children who are smearing food on things, fighting with each other and generally behaving like wolverines in a sack. Not this year! Grace under fire will be my armor! Thanks again!

  9. Wonderful post! I am on my second decade of homeschooling, I have seen it all and heard it all. I love homescholling. Having experienced each avenue of educating I non judgementally conclude “Each aspect of schooling has its own battles, even homeschooling. Choose your battle and fight for your kids. My choice is homeschooling, it is the best battle for me.”
    What I most like about your post is – the dignity, a very absent word in todays world, treat all with dignity. The second best is your acknowledgement of confidence, if you are confident, all else really doesn’t matter or bother you. Of course an added perk of todays new homeschoolers, there is a trail of success you are following, not so 20+ years ago.

    • The trail of success really is a treasure. I am so grateful for all the organized, disciplined parents who laid the groundwork for those of us who are just getting started today.

  10. I like this article. I was homeschooled and did not enjoy it at all even though I know and believe that my parents did a wonderful job.
    I have a preschooler and when I talk to other homeschooling parents they automatically assume that because I was homeschooled that I will do the same for my children.
    Well, actually I won’t because I don’t like the judgemental attitude that is so prevalent amongst homeschoolers. And yes, I know not all, but far too many of them. I grew up with it and it is still there today. “You homeschool three children but send one child to school – well that not really proper homeschooling is it?” That one received by a friend. And the comments only get worse from there.
    If homeschoolers want to be respected for their choices then ALL of them need to be respectful, not just to the general public but to other homeschoolers and lay off the nasty comments.
    I hope people follow the excellent article above – its great. And I might even think about homeschooling if I see a changing trend.

    • Ismay,

      I’m new to homeschooling and have found a great group of moms for support. A few send their kids to public for a few years to take part in language immersion programs offered by their district or have two or three at home and one in public. In my personal experience, there has not been criticism of these choices. Find a good group of moms who understand that educating your kids is about doing what is best for your family and for each individual child. Happy Thanksgiving :)

  11. ” If you’re attacking everyone else’s educational choices, you don’t get to cry when they attack yours.” Amen to that! Our children have gone from Catholic to public to Catholic and who knows what when they choose a college. I’m tired of battle – I don’t really care where other families send their children or how they choose to educate them. It’s like being offended if your neighbor’s children play football and yours play soccer!

  12. Ismay, JMB, & Sophie — Yes! The battle has to end. Why shouldn’t I be grateful that my nieces and nephews have received this or that wonderful advantage through their (public) schools, or that there’s a great private school doing a good work in the lives of many families? None of that takes away from the benefits our family is receiving from homeschooling. The world is full of great teachers and great parents. Something to be thankful for this year.

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