“If not for religious reasons, then why do you homeschool?”
I’ve found that most people don’t understand how loaded that question is. If you’re a homeschooler, you know that our reasons to home educate our children can be deeply personal, and because some people have intense opinions about homeschooling, you never know quite what you’re going to be up against if you provide them with an answer.
I’ll admit, my defenses go up immediately whenever someone raises the topic. Part of me wants to shut the conversation down and move on to something less likely to result in an argument. The other part wants so badly to convince the person asking that #notallhomeschoolers [insert their false assumptions here].
“So, if not for religious purposes, why? Do your children have special needs? Are you located too far from a public school? Were you home educated yourself?”
My kids are average in every way–physically, developmentally, and psychologically. They require no unique accommodations of any kind. Unlike rural families living in remote areas, our house sits less than a mile from a public school. My husband and I were both educated in public schools, so we’re not continuing a family tradition.
We became a homeschooling family by accident. Here’s how it happened.
By 5th grade, my oldest child was barely literate and nobody considered it worth addressing.
When Nicole was halfway through 3rd grade, we became concerned when we realized she spent a considerable deal of time on math and almost none on reading, writing, spelling, or vocabulary—and it showed. She spelled “school” S-K-U-L and wasn’t using age-appropriate vocabulary. While she could read grade-level books confidently, she only understood a handful of the words.
When we brought our concerns to her teacher, we were told not to worry. Nicole was performing above the district average. Her deficits in English would naturally be corrected over time. Essentially, her teacher said, “She’ll figure it out.”
My husband and I aren’t professional educators and we didn’t want to be “those parents,” so we decided to trust the experts. In retrospect, that was our first mistake. We should have involved more school staff and received more opinions instead of blindly trusting a singular teacher.
Halfway through the following school year, we hadn’t seen any progress at all. We were also noticing that Nicole’s attitude towards school was changing for the worst.
So, once again, I raised the issue. Again, we were told we were overreacting. Nicole’s 4th grade teacher laughed when I suggested seeking additional help. She said, “Kids learn at their own pace. Relax. She’s doing fine. She’s testing above the district average.”
This was a second professional elementary educator telling us not to worry. A second teacher telling us Nicole was “above average.” So, not wanting to be a pain in the ass, we took their advice and stopped worrying, even though we felt strongly that these teachers were wrong and our daughter’s situation was not okay.
A quarter of the way through 5th grade, my husband and I were outright alarmed. Nicole wasn’t struggling anymore—she had given up. She hated school, hid assignments, and was apathetic about learning. Each year, her attitude about school had eroded, along with her confidence. That was when I hit my breaking point and started planning to home educate her, at least for the summer. Coincidentally, this happened at the same time that legislators in the state of Florida lost their minds…which brings me to our next reason.
The stakes suddenly became too high—almost overnight.
February of 2019 marked the first anniversary of the Parkland shooting. I was among many parents who were hopeful that this tragedy would lead to legislative reforms designed to curb our serious gun problem, and for a time, it seemed that we had good reason to hope. Finally, it looked like mental health care would be prioritized, at-risk kids would get the help they needed before resorting to violence, and actual change would occur.
Then, all any legislator could talk about was the Guardian program—and possibly arming teachers. I don’t want to make this political, I just want to point out that Florida legislators have a documented history of not honoring the will of the voters, so we considered armed teachers an inevitability, despite the opposition, and despite the fact that we had statistics and multiple (1) cases (2) proving (3) this (4) to be (5) a (6) terrible (7) freaking (8) idea (9).
We asked ourselves, “If the worst were to happen to one of our children, would we be okay with that?”
The answer was a hard no.
We couldn’t ignore the data.
Once we realized institutionalized schooling wasn’t going to be an option for our family (at least, not here), we started doing a ton of research, looking into homeschool outcomes. Honestly, I was shocked at what I found.
Home educated children:
- outperform public schooled children on standardized tests,
- are preferred by colleges and are actively recruited, as they are more likely to complete their degrees, and
- with regards to socialization, maturity, daily living skills, and communication, actually outscored public schooled children on every level.
With such a low student to teacher ratio, those results shouldn’t have been so astonishing, but I realized that the handful of homeschooling parents I had known were the type who make a strong case against homeschooling—controlling, anti-government religious zealots who strongly believed absurd public school conspiracy theories.
Obviously, we aren’t those people, and thankfully, neither are a lot of other homeschooling parents.
The public school in our district didn’t appear to have the resources to effectively or efficiently serve its purpose.
In the folder of assignments Nicole would bring home, many answers were marked incorrect, with no explanation as to why. That, in and of itself, wasn’t a big deal. What was a big deal was the fact that when Nicole asked for help, she didn’t receive it. Her teachers were understandably busy, being expected to cover a ton of concepts in a very short amount of time. With 30 students to manage, I can’t even begin to determine how anyone could find time to discover, let alone address each student’s individual deficits.
After moving into our new house, I developed friendships with several public school teachers in my neighborhood, two of whom previously worked at Nicole’s school and left public education for good due to what they considered to be unreasonable, unrealistic expectations. They felt that these expectations created an atmosphere that made providing an engaging, high-quality education impossible. More than the low pay, long hours, and district politics, these teachers left because they hated feeling as if they were failing the students. Public school was no longer about the practice of educating, they said, but supervising the completion of worksheets and preparing for standardized tests.
Reviewing my daughter’s schoolwork made me sad. Instead of bringing home colorful origami birds, a structure made entirely of toothpicks and marshmallows, or a fledgling bean sprouting from a styrofoam cup, Nicole brought home a folder full of xeroxed worksheets covered in red X’s.
“I completed the most amazing packet of worksheets in school today!”No Kid, Ever
Up until these issues became evident, I had never really appreciated my public school experience. I have vivid memories of finding and analyzing rocks under a magnifying glass in 1st grade, acting out book chapters during dramatic readings in 2nd grade, carefully collecting tadpoles in plastic containers in 3rd grade, spending hours making a model of the solar system in 4th grade, putting together my first real science fair entry in 5th grade, and creating mountains of artwork, dioramas, and poster board projects throughout it all. I may not have always loved school, but I loved learning and doing, and took great pride in my work that carried through to my adulthood. Nicole’s experience was nothing like mine and neither was her work ethic, or her passion for learning.
The concept of institutionalized education stopped making sense.
Like a lot of parents, I did what I was expected to do. Nicole and Lillian both attended preschool. I enrolled them in public school. I didn’t question the process. I attended and graduated from the public school system, so I never stopped to think about whether or not allowing my kids to attend was the right thing to do.
Around the time Nicole entered 4th grade, I realized that my husband and I were the products of a very different public school system, and the pressure being imposed on kids today from such a young age are not healthy or appropriate.
Every educator agrees that kids learn at their own pace, so why are we standardizing education and expecting them all to learn the same way, at the same time?
While the structure of the public school system is practical and convenient, it isn’t logical. In many ways, our approach to education defies scientific evidence and creates an environment that, in my opinion, is harmful to our children’s mental health. After all, we’re forcing them to act against their instincts. Kids want nothing more than to play, but we’re locking them up indoors for eight hour shifts, presumably to begin training them for adulthood…but who decided that this training was necessary from the age of six? Who determined that this approach to educating our kids was healthy or developmentally appropriate?
When the outcomes aren’t supporting the method, we need to reevaluate and make changes, but that’s not happening.
I value evidence-based decisionmaking, and the evidence isn’t favoring public schools. Kindergarten is the new first grade, and our children are being robbed of their childhood. While I highly value education, I’m not willing to subject my kids to this current iteration of institutionalized schooling that sacrifices art, music, nature, and play. I’m not willing to allow them to be the subjects of an experimental education system that expects them to read by age five and understand algebra by age seven.
My kids wanted to be home educated.
We had options other than homeschooling. We could have enrolled Nicole in a private school or charter school, but she was burned out on public schooling (and truthfully, so were we). She and I agreed to spend the last few months of the school year and the summer trying out homeschooling and revisiting the conversation once she was back on track.
Six months later, that time came. After seeing how much progress she had made and how much happier she was, I honestly hoped she wouldn’t want to return to public school. She didn’t. She loves being homeschooled. As long as she continues to love it, we’ll continue to do it.
The constant illnesses and behavioral phases were driving us insane.
Okay, while this alone wouldn’t have been enough to justify homeschooling, it definitely did rank highly enough as a benefit to make the list. With Lillian in kindergarten and Nicole in 5th grade, we were constantly sick. I’m not sure if we just happened to get very unlucky, but we were afflicted with one thing after another from August until May. First, a cold. Then, a respiratory infection. Next, ear infections. Then, a new cough and another ear infection, plus conjunctivitis…
I was pregnant with Micheal and at my wits’ end—but not just because of the illnesses.
Lillian began speaking in this obnoxious, cutesy baby talk in preschool. Over the summer, we managed to get her speaking normally again (mostly), but the first day back from Kindergarten, she was back at it. I cannot express how profoundly annoying this was.
Nicole came home with her own bad behaviors too, like rolling her eyes, talking back, and stomping up the stairs angrily. Honestly, I expected these behaviors since they’re typical of preteens, but they ceased completely within mere weeks of leaving public school. What I had attributed to the onset of puberty and peer influence was actually a manifestation of her low self-esteem and growing hatred of public school.
Nicole thought she was stupid, an assumption reinforced hour after hour in public school, where she felt lost and left behind by a seemingly apathetic system.
She took those frustrations out on us and her siblings. Had I known then that her attitude was not hormonal, I’d have pulled her out of public school a lot sooner and we all would have been better off for it.
Since we’ve been homeschooling, I’ve noticed additional benefits I hadn’t even considered before making our decision. I’ve covered those in this post, if you’re interested.