Response to a father expressing doubts about homeschooling
Father Coping with Doubts
A father wrote to a homeschool magazine (no longer published) expressing doubts about homeschooling. This was my response:
We, too, live surrounded by schooled children and went through a lot of what Jim is going through. I truly believe, though, that it is the parent who sets the tone and that once the parent has handled his/her own doubts, the child’s dwindle. My doubts tended to surface toward the end of the “school year” when I must admit that I never did get around to most of the wonderful projects and learning activities that I had envisioned in September. Then I would wonder whether I was ruining my son’s life by not making sure he knew what he ought to know. These doubts surface other times of the year, too. But because I’ve read and reread John Holt, homeschooling magazines and other supportive literature and I’ve discussed these issues extensively with other “unschoolers”, my doubts were short-lived and I once again was confident. This problem never became much of an issue for our son, though sometimes I was prompted to attempt some sort of schoolish pursuit for a while and my son bore with me on this for a short time before he helped set me back on course.
Here’s how we weathered the storm of our son’s friends going off to school and them telling him he should go to. I arrived at a standard patter: first I’d ask them if they liked school. Only about 20% said yes, so I’d ask them which they like better, school or vacation. I’m sure the answer to that one is obvious to homeschoolers. So our son saw that all the apparent enthusiasm for school was just hype. We also played school–I’d make him a lunch, then I’d put on a hat and become the bus driver and would “drive him to school” (I’d drive around the block). Then I’d be the teacher and would call roll. We’d do “classes”, have recess, and such. About 3 or 4 days of this at the beginning of his kindergarten and first grade years, and he’d feel he wasn’t missing anything and would bore of the game and we’d be back to living real life again.
As time went on, our son’s schooled peers became thoroughly indoctrinated into the idea that “you won’t learn anything and you’ll never get a job, if you don’t go to school”. Some parents even tried to convince our son of this. But I just kept on top of it with my own public relations program–I’d point out to him the things that he knew that the other kids didn’t know. Then when he landed his first job at an antique store, sorting marbles for minimum wage, at the ripe old age of 9, he knew for sure that the job issue was hype, too.
Our society has a very extensive advertising campaign on the “importance” of school so I was very active at promoting homeschooling to our son and at pointing out ways in which he was lucky because he was doing it. When we were having a great time at the beach in the middle of the day, I’d say “Gee, you could be in school right now”. When there was a crowd of kids at our house because their mothers don’t want the gang at their houses, I pointed out how lucky he was that his parents love having him around all the time. When we drove by a school and the kids were inside, I mentioned how lucky he was that he wasn’t cooped up in a classroom, sitting at a desk. If the kids were on the playground, I’d make a comment about their token 20 minutes outside, probably spent teasing each other. When he asked me some deeply felt question and we had a great conversation about it, I pointed out that he’d not have been allowed to ask that question in school.
Occasionally our son was put on the spot because he didn’t really read at age his peers did. Once a friend invited him to church, and we both thought it would be a good experience. It turned out that they went to Sunday school and had to write essays. Of course, he was completely embarrassed by the fact that the teacher had to write everything for him, even though he was theoretically in 4th grade. This came up at other times, too, and it was a difficult situation for him to deal with. But because I had no serious or lingering doubts about the path wewere on, I didn’t get stuck in this problem. After all, it’s tough for kids to deal with any ways in which they are different from the other kids. If it weren’t homeschooling, it would be something else. My confidence helped him through these rough times even though he really didn’t know how to handle other people’s questions. For example, one day he was concerned about going to a birthday party because he thought the adults might ask him what school he goes to. Once they heard he was homeschooled, he thought they’d then ask him to read some words to see if homeschooling works. Of course, that was unlikely, but possible. I made some suggestions: he could ignore them or ask them why they wanted to know, for example. But he pointed out it’s not especially realistic to expect a kid to stand up to an adult like that. I didn’t have any answers for him except to tell him that he’ll run into things like this all his life, where he has to choose to stand up for his beliefs or figure out some way to avoid confrontation over them. He seemed satisfied with this and went off to the party and had no problems. And now, with a presidential candidate who homeschools (Rick Santorum), adults are less likely to challenge us on our choices.
I believe that we make problems for ourselves when we think we can come up with answers for our kids that will make everything OK for them. If we look at our own selves, we can see that we have much to learn yet. I think that when we accept that about ourselves, we demonstrate to our kids that problems and difficulties don’t mean there’s anything wrong. They just mean we have more to learn. And when we let our children know that we trust them to come up with their own solutions, we teach them to trust their own inner voices. Heck, I’ve often found that our son’s solutions are as good or better than ours. And when we take the viewpoint that we’re all learners and we can each learn from the other, the pressure is no longer on the parent to know and solve everything…and without the pressure, thankfully, we seem to know more and come up with better solutions.
I hope Jim will keep seeking out other homeschoolers so he can get the support he needs. My book Homeschooling: Why and How and website HomeschoolingWhyandHow.com give many, many links to resources and other homeschoolers. There’s LOT’S of us pulling for him!