“What makes you think you know better than the teachers?!” That one simple question almost made me an “underground homeschooler.” You know, the families that never go anywhere during school hours for fear they would have to admit to being different. The ones that buy the hand-me-down school shirts at the thrift store so their kids look like they belong in a school. The ones with the children that look at their feet while they are walking because we had strictly instructed them to never make eye contact with someone in public. That was me and those were my children.
The reasons for families choosing to homeschool are as diverse, and as many, as the number of homeschooling families themselves. Regardless of how you came to be homeschoolers, chances are you have been met with criticism at one time or another for your decision. Family members, friends, strangers…everyone has their opinion about how you choose to educate your children and not all of those opinions are favorable.
Eventually I came around and realized that “Oh hey, whoa…I really can decide what I think is best for my kids.” But even though I started being proud of the choices I made, and I started standing up for myself, as well as my for my children, I was still getting asked that obnoxious question. That one, and others that are equally as frustrating to deal with. It helped to talk about it, even if only in an online forum. In a weird way, knowing that other homeschoolers had faced the same derisive behavior was comforting to me.
So how do you handle the criticism when it comes at you?
It isn’t always as easy as you would think to just walk away and tell people, “It’s my child and therefore it’s none of your business.” Sure, that works for the cashier at the grocery store who can’t fathom why you have your children at the store in the middle of the day. But what about your family members? Especially those family members that simply won’t take “it’s none of your business?” I tried to say that. People would just look at me and blink. Like the phrase “none of your business” had suddenly translated into an unintelligible language.
Sometimes, the criticism stems from a lack of information. Maybe you live in an area where there aren’t a lot of homeschoolers so people just don’t know what to expect (in my rural area, people still refer to public school as “the school house”). Oftentimes, the criticism can stem from misunderstood stereotypes. Not all families homeschool for religious reasons. Not all families homeschool in a traditional school-at-home kind of way. Not all families homeschool because their children have special needs, or they are gifted.
Prepare yourself with information. If people criticize you because they don’t think you are qualified to teach your kids, lay out some examples of what you have already taught them. You helped them learn to walk and talk (look, he’s saying please and thank you!), to eat and play, to go to the potty and to tie their shoes. Why can’t you teach them to read and write? Let them know what kind of curriculum, if any, you are using and how that works for your family.
Don’t be surprised to hear from 95% of the critics that “proper socialization” is their top concern. Why everyone assumes that homeschool kids are completely sheltered and shut off from the world, is beyond me. Most homeschoolers have a much more active lifestyle than those families who have their children in a school. Since our days aren’t spent away from home, and our afternoons aren’t spent doing homework, we have more flexibility and can plan more activities.
Take my family for example. We participate in a support group/play group with other homeschoolers. We also have our boys enrolled in a fine arts program for homeschoolers that meets weekly. They get to study art, music and drama. Both boys also play soccer with our local recreation department and they are active in their Cub Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop. Both the soccer teams and the Scout units are comprised of kids in public schools, and my boys and the other kids have no problem relating or interacting. So, there’s no argument there regarding them only being around other homeschoolers.
If you’ve tried to talk to people about your curriculum choices and you’ve talked to them about how you feel about socialization, and you still seem to be pounding your head against a brick wall, don’t be afraid to ask people why they think homeschooling is such a bad idea. I know it can be hard trying to ask people why they think they know what’s best for your child far better than you do. But, getting them to open up to you and laying out their concerns will help you better address all of the negativity.
Katie Shuler, a not-so-country girl living in a very-country Georgia small town, has been homeschooling her two boys since 2005. Fortunately, she found an online homeschool curriculum (Time4Learning) that works well for her workbook challenged, computer addicted family.