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