My Homeschooling Rant for the Year

What irritates me is that if my kids are shy around strangers or don’t want to try something new, people will blame it on homeschooling despite the fact that our schools are full of quirky, sometimes socially awkward, unmotivated and terribly misbehaved kids! I remember plenty of misfits, mean kids and bad kids in my high school. I also remember some very nice peers and outstanding students.

Please take note: In the homeschool activities and classes I have attended so far, the kids all have different personalities. Some are quiet, some are very outgoing, some are attentive, some are not.  Most are polite, but not always. They chatter and want to play just like all kids. They group together with friends, find one friend or go it alone. Basically, homeschooled kids are the same as their traditionally schooled peers: it’s a mixed bag. Please don’t assume that a child’s personality is only the result of homeschooling.

All children are unique. They have individual needs, and not all of them hit the milestones at the same time. Every kid deserves to have someone who notices their unique style of learning and interests. They deserve to have a loving and emotionally stable adult to help them navigate a course that’s best suited for them.

The goal of education and child-rearing should be to create competent, confident, compassionate, creative, problem-solving and honorable adults.  Let the kids get there at their own pace.

What Labels Are We Placing on Homeschoolers?

Note: This column appeared in the print edition of the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, February 22, 2012.

A number of articles have been circulating lately about the growing diversity in homeschooling families.  Publications such as the Houston Chronicle, USA Today, and Newsweek have each reported on the number of homeschoolers who don’t do it for religious reasons, which has been a stereotype of homeschoolers.

Then in Slate, Dana Goldstein wrote an article titled “Liberals, Don’t Homeschool Your Kids” in which she makes a case that homeschooling violates progressive values.  Madeline Holler responded positively to Goldstein on  She writes, “Homeschooling really isn’t the answer, certainly not for people who purport to value things like civic life and public institutions and who wish for those things to improve.”

While I’m glad the word is getting out that homeschoolers are a diverse group of people who choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons, I fear that more stereotypes are being made.  So let’s review. When you hear I’m a homeschooler, you might assume one or more of the following:

  • I may be an evangelical Christian that wants to indoctrinate my children with a religious curriculum that shuns science.
  • Or, I’m a bleeding left-wing liberal who breastfeeds my children well into their toddler years.
  • If we aren’t religious, then we’re probably atheist.
  • You may think we co-sleep with our infants and that we do not trust public schools to teach our children anything.
  • Or, you may believe I’m a “helicopter parent” who will never let my children flourish independently on his or her own.
  • You might think I silently judge others for making their children spend six hours a day in “prison.”
  • Finally, you may believe that we are “uber-intellectual” parents that have plenty of extra income to homeschool.

For the record, none of those descriptions fit us. But since we are not religious fundamentalists, I guess that makes us liberal homeschoolers, at least in the eyes of some of these writers.

Dana Goldstein writes, “This overheated hostility toward public schools runs throughout the new literature on liberal homeschooling, and reveals what is so fundamentally illiberal about the trend: It is rooted in distrust of the public sphere, in class privilege, and in the dated presumption that children hail from two-parent families….”

She also writes, “If progressives want to improve schools, we shouldn’t empty them out. We ought to flood them with our kids, and then debate vociferously what they ought to be doing.”

First of all, why do I have to be labeled either liberal or conservative?  I have some liberal views, and I have some conservative views too.

When it comes to homeschooling and staying home with my children, I’m more conservative, yet when it comes to rearing boys, I guess I’m liberal because I adhere to a few practices known as “attachment” parenting.  But even then, I don’t fit the mold because I didn’t breastfeed my children until toddlerhood, co-sleep with my infants or ever carry them in a sling.  Where oh where can I fit in?

I respect those who don’t homeschool or adhere to my style of parenting.  More than that, I understand that there are many people who can’t do what I do. Though believe it or not, there are many homeschoolers who didn’t choose to homeschool in the first place.

Having read many forums on homeschooling, I can tell you that homeschoolers are diverse and teach their children at home for more reasons than we can count.  There are single parents, financially struggling parents, and as I mentioned, parents who had no plans to ever homeschool.  They put their child in school, but something went wrong.  I have heard stories about parents who tried to make changes at their child’s school, but they got fed-up and turned to homeschooling.

I think that is more than what those writers can see when they try to lay a guilt trip saying progressive homeschoolers are hurting the wider community by not putting their children in school.

Sure, if I wanted to, I could put my children in school and fight to change them in a positive way, but what kind of energy and time would it take on my part to actually make a difference?  I would have to rally the support of many families, and then we’d have to agree on what changes we wanted.  Do you think we could agree on what changes would make an ideal school environment for all our children?

Part of the reason I’m homeschooling is because I believe children deserve to have individualized attention when it comes to finding out what is the best way they learn.  Another reason is because I want my boys to have more freedom to move and play outdoors.  What works for my kids wouldn’t necessarily work for other kids.

Yet I don’t think of public school as prison.  Despite the problems our schools have, it’s not lost on me that a lot of good goes on there.  I read articles about student’s achievements, awards, and projects.  I know teachers who engage and motivate their students.  Good teachers are important role models and mentors for young people.  I’ll always support our schools, and when I’m able, I’ll do for the greater good.

But I’m not going waste my time trying to change my local schools when my priority right now is my children.  I’m not going to use what little free time I have to serve the wider community when I desperately need to nurture my own mind and body so that I can meet the demands of this household.

You can’t help others before you help yourself.  You have to get your own affairs in order before you can give to others.  Does this mean I’m conservative or liberal?  I believe I’m doing what most Americans are doing – doing what they think is right for their families and what they can to get by.

Note: Since I wrote this column, Dana Goldstein has responded to the overwhelming response she received on her article in Slate.  You can read that by clicking here.  You may also enjoy reading Why Homeschooling Is a Boon to a Liberal Society in The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf.  I also enjoyed reading Liberal Homeschoolers: What We Really Are on the blog, Quarks and Quirks.

Please tell me what you think.

In Response to a Teacher’s Questions About Homeschooling

Yesterday I read Why Are Urban, Professional Parents Choosing Homeschooling? by Judy Molland.  She was writing in response to Linda Perlstein’s recent article in Newsweek, and I think she brought up some good concerns and questions about homeschooling.  These are concerns I’ve heard before, so I thought I would answer them from my perspective in regards to why I want to homeschool my children. 

Molland writes:

As a teacher, I can say that with differentiated instruction, we try to accommodate all students’ needs and learning styles, but it’s impossible to do that perfectly with a classroom of 30 unique, individual kids.

But is that such a bad thing? Don’t children need to learn to work together with their peers and help each other? And is it such a good idea for children to be constantly with their parents as they are growing up?

As Molland points out, many homeschoolers do it because they want to give their children a tailored education that meets their needs.  This includes me.  As she mentions, it’s impossible to accommodate all the children in a classroom, and I do think that’s a bad thing.

Some children may be able to compensate and do very well in traditional school.  (I’m not totally against traditional school.)  But I think, if possible, every child could benefit from having one-on-one instruction with someone who is looking out for his/her individual needs.  If the child isn’t homeschooled full-time, parents should “supplement public school with homeschooling” as someone I knew once said.

I read in Discover Your Child’s Learning Style that it has helped students when their parents took the time to figure out what his or her special learning style was.  Though the classroom instruction was not changed (it’s impossible to change it to meet just one student’s needs), it helped that student to realize that he wasn’t stupid or couldn’t do it the work.  It confirmed for him that he is unique and capable.  And by helping him learn his own style, he could apply certain techniques at home to help him with his studies.

(Also, I’ve already written about why I think it’s a good idea to Support Your Child’s Interests.)

Don’t children need to learn to work together with their peers and help each other? 

Ideally, yes.  But I’m not convinced this always happens at school in positive ways.  I can remember being devastated in second grade when a new student influenced my best friend (and several other children) not to be my friend anymore.  I think this actually had consequences on my self-esteem and trust in friendships for many years after.

And the “help” I remember getting from fellow students as I got older was answers to tests that I should have been taking myself.  I’m glad to say I didn’t cheat a lot, but it did happen, and I knew other students who did it too.  Students can help each other beat the system, and the group culture can foster underachievement.  It was never cool to be smart in school.  It was cool to be pretty, wear the most fashionable clothes, and to be popular.

I know that doesn’t happen to everyone, and I know there are some awesome schools out there.   But I can homeschool my children, and I can give them opportunities to find out who they are and what they love without peer pressure.  This is their one chance to have a childhood and find a direction for their life.

I think my children will learn to work together and help each other better when I’m helping to create their social network.   The world is always going to try to beat down their self-esteem, and the cruelty of the world will rear its ugly head at them.  I don’t think I have to worry about sheltering them too much.  But I do want to help them build a platform of self-esteem, self-reliance, a love of learning, and a heart full of compassion so that when something bad happens to them, they won’t be crushed by it.

Is it such a good idea for children to be constantly with their parents as they are growing up?

Maybe not.  Because I know it would probably help my mental health if I had some breaks from my kids!  However, I love being with my kids, and I believe being a close family is a reward of homeschooling.  Society is always touting “family values,” but I see very little support for these so-called “family values” we’re supposed to have.  Why are people so concerned about homeschoolers when they truly care about family values and are doing something about it?  Also, I don’t think we’ll constantly be together.  As they get older, I’ll find more outlets for them.  There are classes, camps and many other opportunities for homeschoolers to spend time away from home.

Homeschooling is not perfect, but I would rather take its imperfections over the imperfections I see in our current public schools.

Molland goes on to write:

It is true that nowadays there are lots of resources available for homeschooling parents including, in some cities, curriculum, centers and classes designed especially for these youngsters.

And yet, I worry that these homeschooling parents will become the helicopter parents of the future, unwilling to let their children flourish independently, or to give them the freedom to grow as separate individuals.

I can’t speak for all homeschoolers, but I’m homeschooling my kids exactly because I want them to flourish independently!  Please go back up and re-read the first part of this post to see some of my reasons.  In addition to that, I can say that although I’m sure I’ll experience the pains of an “empty nest” someday, I know it’s in my son’s best interests to at some point let go.  As someone who advocates child-led learning, I don’t see myself not letting my children flourish independently.

I am the first person who will encourage my sons to meet new people, try new things, and do for themselves.

I’ve already written about how I plan to teach my children more than what they’d learn in school in What Are We Preparing Our Children For?   

Right now, at the ages of 5 and 2, I try to ask questions as much as I parcel out information.  I want them to know that their thoughts and ideas are valued.  In a classroom, a teacher may ask questions too, but how many students answer?  There’s usually one or two who raise their hand a lot and the rest of the class stays silent.  (I was always too shy to answer a question in school, and I hated it when a teacher asked me a direct question.  Going to public school did not help me overcome shyness or insecurity.)

I would advocate that any mom should not let go of her interests too.  While we may do less of the things we love while rearing children, we need to keep a flame lit so that when the time comes for our children to step on their own path, we’ll have our own path to travel too.

Molland’s final questions are these:

Will These Kids Know How To Interact With Others From Different Backgrounds?

And, as someone who grew up in a very isolated town in the southwest of England, it also concerns me that these children won’t know how to interact with people from backgrounds quite different from theirs.  What do you think?

I wish I could ask her, “As someone who grew up in a very isolated town in the southwest of England, how did you learn how to interact with people with backgrounds very different than yours?”

When I was in school, I wasn’t very aware of “different backgrounds.”   In college, and throughout my twenties and thirties, I began to realize what adults consider the “dividers” in class, culture and beliefs, and I finally experienced the pain of that through first-hand experience.  This might tell you that I was a middle-class white girl without a lot of experiences to clue me into these deep emotional divides.  Yes, I was quite naïve.  And guess what?!  I attended public school.

Again, I’m not saying everyone has this same experience.  I know young people who are very aware of things I had no clue about growing up.  I offer it as an example that public school doesn’t always allow us to learn how to work with people of different backgrounds.

But come to think of it, as I became an adult and lived in London and Japan for a while, I never thought that I needed to “learn” how to interact with people in those countries.  I just did it.  I learned about customs and nuances as I went along. (I believe my son is doing the same thing in his five-year-old world as we meet new people and go places.)

When I returned from Japan, I learned that most Americans don’t know half as much about the world outside their borders as people in other countries know about us.  Schools may do a better job of having multi-cultural lessons and events, but we do not make learning a second language a priority in our schools.  My husband is a college professor who teaches world history, and he says that students coming out of our high schools don’t seem to know the first thing about other religions of the world such as Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam.  With all the globalization that has been happening for many years now, shouldn’t our students have a basic knowledge of these religions?

This is a reason I want to homeschool!  I want to teach my children about the world, different beliefs, different religions, and if possible, I’d like to teach them a foreign language.  In Our Homeschool Mission, I listed Religious Education as an emphasis of mine.  I don’t mean one religion.  I’ll teach my children about my personal beliefs, but I’ll also teach them about others.

I realize that there are many homeschoolers who do so for religious reasons, and they do want to shield their children from any other beliefs.  While I don’t agree with that, I have to respect a parent’s right to teach their children in their own way.  If I don’t respect their right, how can I expect anyone to respect my right? (Child abuse is a different story, and unfortunately, it will exist occasionally for all children – traditionally schooled children and homeschooled children.)   Frankly, I believe parents can still shelter children even if they go to public school, and children often grow up and continue to hold the same beliefs and attitudes their parents did.  (I think the parents who don’t shelter their kids will have a better chance of their kids not rebelling than those who do.)

I respect people who voice concerns about homeschooling and ask good questions, but these concerns are unfounded, especially when you consider the countless students in public schools who are left behind.  There are so many kids out there who need help….  who need food….  who need new clothes.  Why do people keep bringing up these ridiculous concerns about homeschoolers?

There may be some students who are at a disadvantage while being homeschooled, but there are many who are disadvantaged in our public schools.  Most homeschooling parents are doing so because they love their children and want to give them a good education.  They hear these concerns and they do what they can to overcome any negative effect that homeschooling may give their child. 

Personally, I would rather deal with the possible ill effects of homeschooling than the possible ill effects of public education.

That is what I think.

Shelli Pabis is a newspaper columnist, photographer and homeschooler living in Georgia.  Sign up for her RSS feed by clicking here.

Homeschooling Is Not the Right Choice for Everyone

This is a column that I wrote for the Barrow Journal.  It’s my response to a comment left on my column in which I interviewed a former homeschool student.  I don’t think that every child should be homeschooled.  Different children and families have different needs, but I do think when it’s done with the child’s best interest in mind, most of the criticism toward homeschooling is unfounded.  Click here to read the full column.

Unschooling: Criticism of an ABC News Report

This post was written on April 22, 2010.

The other day I watched this news segment from Good Morning America, “Extreme Parenting: Radical Unschooling.” I could not have been more astonished at such an extremely biased news report.  The reporter obviously did not do her homework, and she seemed more than ready to paint a negative picture of this alternative form of education.

Let me be clear.  I’m not saying that unschooling is good or bad.  I don’t have enough knowledge or experience with it to make that call.  But I have read enough about homeschooling and unschooling to know that it is a worthwhile option to look into.

This report focuses on what the children have not been exposed to as well as some irrelevant issues, in my opinion, like a teenager staying up all night.  Teenagers tend to keep crazy hours, and I don’t think this is going to reflect on what kind of adult they become.  I saw a very short image of many garden plants the teenagers were cultivating, but nothing was said about them, and in fact, the reporter never bothered to ask what the children have learned and what they are ready for.  Furthermore, the interviews with the family seemed edited and their answers were truncated.  There was a short blip about another family who unschools, but in all, I did not get a clear picture of what either of these families look like.  When I listened to this report, I could hear the reporter’s negative questioning much louder than anything else.

The report also indicated that the unschooling parents also used a relaxed structure and little or no discipline with the children.  Though unschoolers may use a relaxed parenting style, I think it should be noted that every homeschooling and unschooling family looks different.  Again, I think these families were unfairly misrepresented, but no one should look at one family and think that every unschooling family does things the same way.

I recently read The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith.  It’s just one of many books about homeschooling/unschooling that I would like to read.  From this book and the many testimonies it offers, I know that there are many unschooled children who are capable learners who can effectively live in society.  I would wager that most unschooled children are much more willing and able to do the hard work it takes to accomplish something because they know first-hand why it is beneficial and rewarding to work hard at something.

I was particularly struck by one example in the book of a twelve year old boy who decided for himself that he wanted to try public school when he entered junior high.  (His siblings chose to remain at home and continue unschooling.)  He said he liked the challenge of school, and when he was presented with a group project, his attitude was “let’s have fun and see what we will learn.”  The classmates in his group, on the other hand, had the attitude of “let’s finish this as quick as possible so that we can go home.”

Indeed, I remember having this same attitude in school, and all my friends had it too. My husband, a college professor, is dismayed by the lack of motivation of his students.  Many of his students cannot write, and he deals with a large amount of plagiarism each semester when his papers are due.  He often comments to me that he is unsure these kids are ready for the real world.  In other words, why question an unschooled child’s future when there are so many children in our current system who are not prepared for college or other “real” jobs?

Whether or not one agrees with “unschooling,” we must admit that our current system is losing a vast number of students.  Children begin life believing that the world is an exciting place, and they are eager to learn.  Now that I’m nearly forty, I also know that there is so much out there to explore and wonder about.  What can be done to help children not lose this spark?

At least these parents are taking their children’s education into their own hands.  They are trying something different.  I absolutely believe that if children are given a nurturing environment, exposed to the world through real-life experiences (and not just sitting in a classroom all day), and offered a variety of resources, they will want to keep learning and they will love learning.

I support and admire these families.  They have the right to do what they are doing, and I will look to many more (expanded and unbiased) examples of unschooling before I decide whether or not it is good for children.


For another good post regarding this news report by a father of an unschooled child, click here.

Concerns About Homeschooling: Financial & “What’s the family gonna say?”

This post was written on April 8, 2009.

When I talk about my financial concerns with homeschooling, I am not talking about how much homeschooling might cost by itself.  I do know that there are many companies who are marketing expensive curriculums to homeschoolers, and there are schools who offer a kind of independent study at home or other kinds of support/evaluation in exchange for tuition costs, but I don’t think I would take either of these routes.  I have read also that new homeschoolers can get very excited and buy almost every educational tool they come across only to find out that their children don’t respond to these gadgets or computer programs or what-not.  I believe that especially in the beginning when my children are young, I would mainly use the library and a few well-selected books and games, and then we would build from there.  If later I felt we would benefit from part of a curriculum, I would look into those.  But I don’t believe that homeschooling has to cost a lot of money.  What I mean when I talk about financial concerns is that we would be living on one income for many more years to come.  We have been living this way for the past few years now, and we’re okay, but it’s not easy.  So I worry that in the long-run,  we might wish I had gone back to work.

I know what homeschoolers would say about this: it is worth the sacrifice!  Because nothing is more important than the children and their well-being, and if homeschooling is important to us, we can find a way.  I agree.  That is why I’m 99% certain we’ll homeschool.  And I might be able to find some kind of work-at-home job, although I don’t think I should count on this.  We have already made sacrifices so that I can stay home in these early years, so it won’t come as a shock to us.  But when you live on the edge, you aren’t as prepared for emergencies as you wish you could be, and that will always be an issue.  What it comes down to is that while homeschooling, finances will always be a concern, so we’ll have to decide if we can keep living like that.

UPDATE May 31, 2011:  We are moving forward with our plans to homeschool, and though we will always wish we had more money, we continue to live frugally.  I am writing for our local newspaper, which pays me a small fee for my columns, and though not much, even a little bit helps.  I have also been taking on some photography jobs.  As we move forward, we’ll continue to look for ways to save money and make a little extra.  I think it’ll be worth it.

Finally, I think about what some of my extended family might say about our homeschooling.  This should be easy.  Who cares what other people think?  I wish I could say that I didn’t care what others thought, but I do.  At least when it comes to big issues like this one.  And I know there are people in my family who know how to “push my buttons.”  So this is something I think about.  Fortunately, there’s not much I need to do about it.  People will think what they think, and we’ll do what we want to do.  This is part of the reason I have started this blog — so that I can gather my thoughts and research on this subject and hopefully be armed with information when people question me.  Also, I have considered that the few people I’m thinking of might surprise me and won’t think it’s a big deal (yeah, right).  Ultimately, I would hope that their concerns will be put aside once they see that my children are doing well, academically and socially.  This, anyway, is what I read in The Homeschooling Handbook.  Many people who express anxiety because their grandchildren or neighbor’s children or niece or nephews are being homeschooled, later come to appreciate the choice, once they see the outcome.

So in a way, this is a non-issue, but I wanted to bring it up here because it will be an obstacle I face, and I’m going to have to deal with.  Wish me luck!

So please tell me what your concerns are about homeschooling?

Click here to go to Part 1 in this series, which is about socialization.

UPDATE May 31, 2011:  I also write about concerns and issues regarding homeschooling on my FAQ page.

Concerns About Homeschooling: Socialization

Note: Since writing this post, I have written two, updated posts about issues concerning socialization: On Homeschooling, Socialization and Religion Part 1 and Homeschooling and Socialization Part 2.

This post was written on April 5, 2009.

I know that skeptics probably have many concerns about homeschooling, but these are my biggest concerns: socialization, financial considerations, and what other people (specifically some of my family members) are going to think.  I’m going to split this post into two because I have a lot to say about my first topic, socialization.

After doing some research, and reading The Homeschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith, I have learned that socialization is one of the top concerns for almost all new homeschoolers or those who oppose it.  However, for seasoned homeschoolers, socialization seems to be a non-issue.  I especially like what Renee of FIMBY said in her video presentation about homeschooling (and I’m paraphrasing because I watched it some time ago): she said that she never worried about socialization.  Her children socialize together, and they are very active in their community.  They meet people of all ages, and they have no trouble speaking or relating to other people.

In The Homeschooling Handbook, which I’ll talk about more in another post, there were quotes from many different homeschooling families, and some of them felt that the socialization homeschoolers get – with children and adults of all ages – is much healthier than putting the children in a classroom all day with kids of the same age – the blind leading the blind so to speak.  Furthermore, I get the feeling that if you, as parents, are active and make an effort to take your children to activities around the community, there will be ample opportunity for socialization.  I know that around Athens, there are many places that offer classes and fun activities for children.  The Homeschooling Handbook even mentioned that some schools let homeschoolers participate in certain classes or extracurricular activities.  I have not yet looked into this.  It would depend on how flexible the schools were.

Right now there are so many homeschooling groups across the United States that any homeschooler should not have a hard time finding a support group.  I did a quick search for groups in my area, and I found several.  I have signed up for two listservs.  One is for homeschoolers in Athens, and one is for a neighboring county.  I posted “newcomer” questions to both lists.  No one in Athens answered my query, which was disappointing, so I know I’ll have to dig a little deeper, if I want to do things there.  [Update: Since writing this post, I have found the Athens listserv to be very welcoming and helpful.]  The other list seems much more active, and two people responded to me.  Coincidently, I found a woman who lives within walking distance to me, and she homeschools two children.  She assured me that I should have no worries about finding activities with other kids.  We live out in the country, and she said that she participates in many different groups’ activities.  She picks and chooses, depending on what sounds good.  She said her children are also active at the YWCA, and she said there they have the opportunity to meet non-homeschooled children.  And, of course, for families who attend church, that is another social outlet.

I also have had some homeschoolers say that if you cannot find a group you like, you can always start your own!  Whether you want your kids to have park time with other children, or whether you want to start a specific study group, you can always post a notice at the library and see who bites!  I am fortunate in that my step-mother’s niece lives nearby, and she is planning to homeschool her three boys.  I’m sure that together, we could find a couple more homeschooling families to start a small group with.

So socialization is not a big worry for me anymore.  I tend to be shy, and my son is very shy, but I don’t think going to school will necessarily make him un-shy, just like it didn’t make me un-shy.  I know that it will be up to me to find activities for him to participate in, and fortunately, we live in an area where I don’t think that will be a big problem.

Click here to go to Part 2 in this series, which touches on financial concerns and what other family members might say about it.

UPDATE May 31, 2011:  I also write about concerns and issues regarding homeschooling on my FAQ page.  There is an update to our socialization concerns there too.