Homeschooling Why and How

Father Against Homeschooling

A lot has been going on with me emotionally lately – where to start?  I guess it’s started with my renewed desire to consider homeschooling again.  I get so frustrated trying to go through Jason’s homework with him late at night (which seems to be the only time we can manage to sit down and do it, because I want him to be able to decompress when he gets home, then it’s dinnertime).  I know it could be different.  It makes me ache inside to know that he is developing an intense dislike of learning and reading because it’s things we (through school) “make” him do.  I have visions (Al calls them fantasies) of Jason working one-on-one with me and opening up that eagerness to learn that I get a glimpse of every now and then (and usually it is when we are talking about something completely unrelated to what he’s doing in school).  I finally managed to have a conversation with Al about his concerns.  It was so hard for me to just listen without saying “But…” to each thing he said (and I didn’t always refrain).  I thought financial would be the only major one, but it wasn’t.  He says he thinks Jason can learn better from a teacher than from a Mom (which made me scream inside) because of the attitude thing, that he doesn’t listen to me as well as he listens to his teacher. (It’s true Jason has more of a fear of disrespecting the teacher than he does of disrespecting me, but I always thought the positive side of that is that he knows he can be himself with me and I won’t stop loving him).  Al feels Jason needs to learn to function in the “real world” and not be “sheltered’ at home.  He feels what I call real-life learning (an example I gave was for Al to teach Jason how to manage his own bank account or buy and follow a stock) isn’t a “real education”.  He says Jason is unfocussed and it would just be frustrating for me to try to get him to do what he needed to do (which of course my response is that the reason he is unfocussed and frustrated with school now is because he’s locked into a box in the way he is taught).  As says he thinks I would be more fulfilled doing what I’m doing (which also made me seethe – who is he to say what would fulfill me?). Al knows he doesn’t have the patience to teach, and when I said he has misconceptions about teaching – it’s not just sitting with a book – he can take him fishing to teach him fish anatomy instead of looking at a picture in a book! – he said that’s not “real education” (I can feel your feelings even as you read this because they’re probably the same as mine….).  He also worried about socialization (which is the least of my worries), and that if Jason is having trouble with other kids at school (he is a little – he feels he gets left out a lot) then he just needs to learn to deal with it because he’ll have to when he’s an adult.  Anyway, you can imagine how the conversation went, and I’m not sure I want to talk to him at all about it anymore.  He’s got his mind so made up (and so do I!).  If you have any stats about how well homeschoolers do academically (I know I’ve seen them but don’t have them handy), and that they do just fine (or better) in the “real world” (ironically, homeschooling is more in the real world than sitting in a classroom, but Al doesn’t see it that way), I’d appreciate it.  The thing that is so frustrating though, is that I think I can talk til I’m blue in the face (and believe me, I have), but Al seems un-moveable.  I even said I’d wait until Jason graduated from 6th grade but he still isn’t open to it.  And in our relationship, Al usually wins.  My heart aches for Jason and I feel powerless.  I feel I have a responsibility to Jason, but having an intact marriage is also beneficial to him. Maybe I need to just find a way to “homeschool” in between his school hours – the thing is there just isn’t much time.

My Response:

Oh, I feel for you.   I know the truth of everything you are trying to get Al to see and he is so stuck in society’s party line.  It’s like he’s 20 years behind the times because what he’s saying is what people said here.  I had similar dire warnings from my parents and brothers, especially Rusty, who was a history teacher, even our son’s friends — but I didn’t have to live with them so could do it my way.  He’d never have any friends and never get a job, they warned.  The more they saw the results, the more they came around and in the end, each said in so many words that home schooling was the right way for us.

I can get you some articles on socialization, how peers socializing each other is exactly the wrong way to go about it and is what makes schools so anti-social.  Teasing, over-sexed, violent, crude language, consumerism, competition, anti-adult attitudes, cliques, gossip, rampant drugs — that’s socialization in the schools, even good private schools, Catholic schools, etc.  At home?  Cooperation, love, working together, all-in-it-together, compassion, lots of real communication, respect, adults and kids enjoying each other, adventures out in the world with lots of different kinds of people, but guided by a loving mother or father.  Thumper gets along with and feels comfortable with everyone, any age, sex, good kids, bad kids, homeless and people with altitude.  Comes from spending his school days with such a wide variety of people.

Academically it’s a bit harder as there’s really no way to test it.  Our son studied hard for less than a year and took an entrance test to high school and tested as a graduate.  He went in to school and got all A’s (one B — because he was sloppy on some really stupid busy work in auto shop).  But it was so easy for him to get those grades he was bored.  And so what if he got all A’s — what is the point of education?  To pass tests or to assist in living a meaningful, authentic life?

Love of learning?  I don’t know any of our son’s schooled friends who read anything they don’t have to.  He reads fiction and non-fiction and is a life-long-learner.

Real world?  What is real world about spending your days going from room to room each hour with all people of your  exact age?  Only prison is like that.

But no matter how many facts we give Al, I don’t think it’ll nudge him one bit.  There’s a maxim that “If the problem won’t resolve, that’s not the actual problem.”  And in a book on raising teens, “When attitudes are hostile, facts are unconvincing.”  He is so stuck in a false view of home schooling, a subject in which he has no personal experience and just isn’t open to the facts.

Here’s what I suggest we try:

* let him spend some time with our son when we visit in June (more about our itinerary later).
*  ask Al about what sort of future does he want for Jason.  Does he want him working for someone else in a job (school is good at preparing kids to be followers).  Does he want him to pursue financial goals at the expense of personal fulfillment?  (school can be better for that, too.  How many stories do we hear of lawyers and business people etc. realizing they had been wasting their lives in meaningless work so they quit and do what they’d always wanted to do)  Or would he like Jason to be doing what he loved and happy, if not wealthy.
*  ask Al about his own dreams for himself as a kid — is he “following his bliss?”  (If not, why not?  How does school fit into this?)
* ask him what he is afraid will happen if Jason is home schooled.  What does he think bad will happen to Jason?  To Al?  To the family?  To his marriage?  To his image with his peers.  Why does he think this will happen.

Ask these out of curiosity, without any hint of trying to change his mind about any of this, really, honestly trying to just understand his views and why he has them,   Reflective listen (“If I get you right, you are saying _____.  Is that right?”).  Really listen carefully, like he’s a patient with a mysterious disease and you’re looking for clues.   It may be some kind of power thing, it may be that he feels his lifestyle is being threatened..  It may be that he’s scared he will have to go do a job he doesn’t want to do.  Maybe he has the same fears my family had about friends and jobs.  Maybe it has to do with his views of men and women in society.  Or fears his son will become a sissy being with his mother so much.  (I wouldn’t suggest any of these to him though you might ask questions that lead to these answers)  But I think he needs to feel really, really safe to express how he really feels.   Then maybe we can find the real problem and figure out what to do about it.  It may have nothing whatsoever to do with school or Jason.

The real trick is to put zero of your own opinions or objections into it.  If he says something really off the wall like home schooled kids grow up to be social misfits, rather than try to counter it, say something like, “Do you really believe that?”  and “How did you come to that conclusion?”  Try to understand why he thinks this way.

Should you decide to accept this mission (ha, ha, a bit of a joke on that old TV program, “Mission Impossible” — remember that?), your job would be to come away with a lot of his ideas and having given him none of yours.  Take a few days to sort out what he’s said.  Clarify what you find you still don’t understand.  Don’t challenge him at all.  Make sure he feels safe enough to say what he really feels.  Then let’s see what you find out.  Maybe go into the conversation with a mantra like “He’s my patient.  I will be patient.  I will do everything I can to understand him.”  Then just think “Patient” when you are tempted to make a point.  Something like that.  Take a break if you find yourself riled up at all.  This will work best if you can stay detached and have no agenda except to understand him.  It’s ok if he knows what you are trying to do.  After all, you are trying to get to a win-win and this is the first step:  seeing what “win” or goal he’s going towards and why he feels home schooling thwarts that.

Like the prayer of St. Francis (?), try to understand rather than be understood.  For now.

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