I had a very polite conversation today with an adult who learned that I homeschool my kids. She was curious, but respectful, and though she asked the usual set of questions, they were asked with honest curiosity and interest. Homeschoolers always get these questions, and so here they are, with my answers. If you are a non-homeschooler who finds yourself questioning a homeschooler someday, perhaps you can be as polite and positive as my questioner was today.
1. Do you have a teaching background? aka Are you a licensed teacher? aka How can you know what to teach your kids? aka Do you think you’re better than a school teacher?
Notice that all the questions ask largely the same thing, but I liked her phrasing (the first one) the best. It’s a natural question: I am spending my time “teaching,” so am I a “teacher”?
The short answer, which I gave her, is that I was a college English teacher.
But that had nothing to do with my homeschooling, and actually has nothing to do with my qualifications to homeschool. Lots of homeschoolers were teachers—in fact, it’s notable how many homeschoolers were public school teachers who didn’t want to put their kids through that system. Hm. But the really important answer to this question is actually this: I don’t have to be a teacher. I am teaching my kids to be learners. In this day of information overload, no one can “know” everything you need to know in order to become fully literate in our society. This is a huge change from a century ago, when there was an accepted body of knowledge that one attained in order to become literate, then an accepted body of knowledge one attained in order to become educated, and finally a deeper and narrower body of knowledge to attain in one’s chosen field.
Today, the most important thing kids need to be taught is how to teach themselves what they need to know. Some teachers and schools are getting this. But most aren’t. If you look at what’s being taught and tested for in our schools, it’s certainly not how to find the answer. What’s being taught is how to know the answer, which is a whole different thing. The other thing students need to learn is how to evaluate the reams of conflicting information they will be presented with. Critical thinking skills are mandatory in this world.
Both learning how to learn and critical thinking are fundamental to what homeschooling parents do.
2. You must work hard! aka I could never do that! aka You’re crazy—wouldn’t you rather have a real job? aka What’s the point?
Again, she asked respectfully, but homeschoolers get these variations on this question all the time.
My answer was quite simple: We have a very laid-back lifestyle. This morning, for example, was unusual in that I had to get both kids to different locations because I had an appointment. So yes, I did have to call my son a few times (he’s 13, right?) and then he sat there in his pajamas and talked instead of eating. Finally I had to get dramatic on him and say You Have Ten Minutes Before You Need To Be Dressed And Ready To Leave.
The thing is, this could be seen as a replay of our mornings when he had to catch the bus. But this was taking place at….well….8:50 a.m. Our days of having to get up at the crack of dawn (unless we’re getting up to do something fabulously exciting) are over. We have a laid-back lifestyle, and we love it.
The number that homeschoolers cite is that you only have to “school” for about 2.5 hours per day to match how much schooling kids get in the average public school. All the rest of the school day is organizational stuff, getting from one place to another, waiting, waiting, and waiting. Now, I have to admit, I have never spent 2.5 solid hours making my kids do “school.” But over a day, we probably fit in that much of what might be called “school” stuff, as long as you include electives in what you call “school”!
The fact is, you could do that. You think it’s hard because you see that the job of being a schoolteacher is hard. And it is! I am awed by anyone who can spend a whole day with 30 (or more) kids. By then I’d want to go flush myself down the toilet. But I don’t spend my day trying to teach that many kids. I spend my day interacting with my two favorite kids. And it’s really not that hard.
However, I must also say that this is a “real job.” I’m giving my kids a Cadillac education for the price of a used Chevy Neon. When we do our taxes, I see what I do as “income”—finding a private school to do this would certainly cost many times more than we’re putting out.
3. So…do you have time to do anything else? aka Are you wasting your time staying home with kids? aka Are you losing your edge in the job market?
Each homeschooler is different. I know some who are lower-energy people, have higher-energy kids, or just some random combination of life circumstances who really don’t do much outside of homeschooling. But I and many of my friends do a significant work outside of homeschooling. Now, a lot of what we do is in service of homeschooling, such as the board I’m on and the homeschool program whose Site Council I’m on. But we also do things that are both professions and personal callings. (Obviously,) I’m a writer, and my writing only sometimes intersects with my homeschooling. I also sing, garden, and read voraciously, things I would do whether homeschooling or not.
Yes, we have lives. No, we aren’t giving everything up for our kids. We just happen to be in the situation where we think this is the best choice for us. At this time. In our situation. Things can change.
4. My conversation-mate didn’t imply this, because her child is grown, but probably the most frustrating thing homeschoolers get is other parents implying, or telling us straight to our faces, that by homeschooling, we are implicitly criticizing their choice to send their children to school.
Nope. Sorry. That’s your own insecurity. So don’t put it on me. I made the best choice for my family. If you are concerned that you’re not making the best choice, you’ll have to deal with it. But don’t make it my fault!
Homeschoolers choose homeschooling for their own reasons. When other people get defensive about it, they’re simply speaking about their own insecurities. We aren’t doing it to insult you. In fact, you can pretty much be sure that we didn’t think of you at all when we chose to homeschool!
5. Having met my kids, who were both polite and one of whom showed impressive knowledge in our questioner’s occupation, she didn’t even have to ask this one, but I’ll throw it in just for a laugh: What about socialization?
Hahahahaha! Heck, if my kids didn’t socialize so much, we might actually get something done. Believe me, my kids are doing fine, and thank you for your concern.
So there you have it, my answers to the questions that people ask. Please note that YMMV (your mileage may vary) is the motto of every homeschooler offering advice, so someone else may have different answers. I may have different answers tomorrow. But hopefully today’s answers were enlightening!