Homeschooling: A Response to Reader Comments

I recently wrote a post expressing my frustration with a public attack on homeschooling by Fr. Peter Stravinskas.  There were several great comments from readers; one in particular is worth responding to at length. I started to respond via my own comment in the combox but I think I can give their points and concerns greater attention this way. Many of the points brought up are common questions or concerns that people have. Perhaps I can help a little. I won't go through the points bit by bit; instead, I'll organize according to general topics brought up in the comment. "Newcomer" was concerned that the tone of his or her comment would be misunderstood. I assure you, Friend, that it was not. I firmly believe this kind of communication is valuable and appreciate the opportunity to dialogue. We may disagree but that doesn't mean that understanding, respect or future agreement is impossible. Thanks so much for engaging in dialogue that matters. That interest makes a world of difference.


On to the concerns....


Socialization


This is one of the most frequently mentioned concerns that people have about homeschooling. People genuinely want to know: What about socialization? It can be a difficult question to answer, not because we don't know what is meant by it, but because it's kind of like asking, "What about eating?" People are social by nature. It is the context in which the homeschooler socializes which raises questions. To be blunt, socialization is one of the reasons why people educate at home: because many of us believe (strongly) that a child will receive far better socialization in the greater community and family life on a daily basis than in a classroom with same-age, same-education, same-maturity level peers. I have a homeschooling friend who, when asked "What about socialization?" responds "EXACTLY!"...with a smile on her face.


We all have ideas about what we think a homeschooler looks like. Unfortunately, this preconception is very limiting and causes us to miss out on the vastly larger and more balanced picture. My home educated children are active in their community, church life, and many athletic and extracurricular activities. Most people we meet wouldn't guess they are homeschooled. They enjoy the company of others and are confident in social settings, far more than I ever was even though I was educated in the school system. My older children are developing excellent leadership qualities in their activities and showing initiative and energy in many areas of life. People regularly tell me that my children are the exception. This only demonstrates that these people do not know many homeschoolers!! or that they don't recognize them when they see them. In fact, my kids are probably less involved in social activities than many other homeschooled kids. Meet them once and you'll know their social experience is just fine.


"What about socialization?" Yes, that's the point. That's a fantastic reason to homeschool. I went to school and know many school families. Institutional school is a rough way to socialize a kid.


Assertion: School Teaches Kids How to Cope with Difficult Life Situations


It is often said that a child should be in school so that he or she can learn how to cope with difficult situations. I don't agree. First of all, I don't think that home educating removes difficult situations in life. Secondly, I don't think that placing a child in a difficult environment automatically teaches them to cope with it. Third, I disagree with this tough-love approach for young children. That a child should have to practice being bullied and marginalized and grouped and labeled is something I cannot agree with.


Life is challenging... at home or at school. All children have to learn how to deal with difficult situations. I believe that a family is more equipped to help a child through these times than an overextended teacher or an immature peer group. There is time in life to be among the wolves. I heartily disagree that the tender years is that time.


There is an old saying that "sports teach character". Some wise person recognized the error and made a better statement: Sports reveal character.


If sports taught character, we'd see more professional athletes of character. Instead, we see something significantly different. The world of athletic competition is brutal and challenges a person to the utmost on multiple fronts. I would draw a strong parallel with institutional schools. I went to school. I lived it. It almost, quite literally, destroyed me. Throwing a child to the wolves only results in a lot of wounded children. The ones who survive and rise are not necessarily at the top because of their positive character qualities. 


The home is like a greenhouse. It is somewhat shut off from the world but it exists to nurture young life in a healthy environment before that life can be safely transplanted. The word shelter is often viewed negatively, as if it is in the best interests of children to be subjected to brutality. The textbook definition of shelter is "temporary protection from bad weather or danger." Sounds like a fine idea to me. 


A side note: Newcomer, you noted that you do not have children. While I don't believe for one moment that this disqualifies you from having a well-formed opinion, I do think it makes it more challenging for you to see youth culture from the "inside." Unless you teach... then you know more than you want to, I'm sure.


Concern: Organized Curriculum 


This is pretty much a non-issue. The resources available to home educators are practically limitless. The schools don't have an advantage here. In fact, the home educator has the advantage of curriculum choices and also the ability to quickly change a curriculum that is lousy or not suited to the student.


Concern: Critical Thinking


In 99% of my educational experience, I was expected to study to the test and had very little time or opportunity for academic exploration, personal study or development of reasoning skills. My homeschool is very different. We have designed it to intentionally diverge from the institutional methods of teaching critical thinking. So, again.. . I would have to say this is a non-issue for me. And if there are homeschools that operate in an autocratic, linear fashion, then they are certainly no worse than institutional schools. 


Assertion: Homeschooling takes well rounded parents to succeed


Well, this may be true. It depends on one's definition of success, I suppose. For example, a person does not need to be very intelligent, well-socialized, of good character, or psychologically stable to get into college these days. (And to be quite frank, I'd rather raise a good person than a brilliant one.) Are teachers required to take a test on their "well-roundedness" before they teach our children? No. In fact, a frighteningly large number of teachers were lousy students themselves, are mean, unhappy people and emotional basket cases. There are a good deal of lovely teachers out there as well but I can't attest to their "well-roundedness" and neither can parents who generally know little to nothing about those who teach their loved ones.


Assertion: A parent must be educated in order to educate


Well, this is easily debatable because there are millions of homeschooled students to give evidence to the contrary. It seems like it would be the case but the facts turn the obvious on its head. I wrote about this exact idea in a recent post (Homeschooling is Not What You Think). My conclusion is that, no, I don't need a mastery of a subject in order to have students that excel. The evidence is strongly present in many homeschool families I personally know as well. One mother admits that she is terrible at Science and not all that interested in it either. She is the primary teacher in her home. Surprisingly, her oldest is in medical school, another is a Science teacher and a third is a Biology major. Go figure! 


A common saying among homeschooler is that "Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire." My experience, and the experience of millions of other home educators, tells me that there's something to this. We don't need to pour our knowledge into their brains... but teach them how to discover it for themselves. 


Assertion: Some homeschooling families are misguided 


No argument there. Still, the great majority are not. I would argue that more than "some" institutional school families are seriously dysfunctional. But I don't see anyone closing down the schools or removing their tremendously negative influence from the classroom. Some teachers are misguided as well. When you deal with the human element of life, there will be sin. To use this concern as a reason to discourage homeschooling is rather weak unless you're willing to discourage all schooling.


Regarding Taking Father Stravinskas' words personally


The commenter suggested that I try not to get upset with Father since he was just expressing his opinion. I agree it is a good idea to not become too emotionally involved over such a thing, but I do think that my anger was justified. Father was not just expressing a private opinion, but was using his prominent position to create division via a national publication. Do I really think he intended to create division? Yes, I do. It is clear that he believes a separation of the Catholic community from homeschooling is important. He is precise in his communication. He does not simply disagree with homeschooling, he actively opposes it. That is the source of my anger; that he would intentionally hurt and divide Catholic families using objections that are not even generally demonstrable or reasonable. If he has truly been formed by his experience with homeschooling families, than he hasn't met very many of us at all! 


Homeschooling is a freedom that many American families cherish. There are, however, groups and individuals in this country who are striving daily to take this right from us and who will find his words and use them if they can. And yes, that makes me angry. 


You know, I don't agree with every homeschooler I know. As families and home educators, we're as different as fingerprints and some strike me as odd, although I like a great many more than I dislike. I'm sure others disagree with the way my family is being raised. But that's not really the point when people raise these kinds of objections about homeschooling. There are plenty of families in the school systems who are screwing up their kids and the educational powers-that-be don't have what it takes to fix it. This doesn't seem to bother people as long as properly credentialed individuals are running the show. Those magic papers give people a high degree of comfort. What they don't necessarily give to kids is a high degree of real education, solid character formation, and the support and love needed to "succeed" in life.


It is not for me to say what's best for another's child. You, after all, are the primary educator of your kids. God gave you that responsibility and you may delegate it to whomever you wish.  You are more equipped than anyone to know what is best for your little ones. That's the point. 


Jesus was raised and educated in his home by his parents. It was there that he "grew and became strong, filled with wisdom..." (Luke 2:39-40) His days weren't filled with "enrichment activities" and extra curricular events. He didn't attend the best college prep high school, get a sports scholarship or excel at university. He never got a high paying job or purchased a mansion in a lovely cul-de-sac. He was "just" a tradesman and even his successful ministry only lasted three years. All the same, he grew in wisdom and strength and perfectly fulfilled the will of His Father... to our greatest benefit. 


I think when we strive to fill every second of our kids' lives with educational purpose initiated by professionals, we set the bar far too low. God trusts you to raise and teach your children. Because of that, and in spite of any concerns I might have, I am inclined to trust you to raise and teach your children, too.


Thank you again, Newcomer, for inspiring this discussion. I welcome the exchange and future comments!