As a homeschooler, one of the questions I get asked the most is “How do you respond to critics of homeschooling?”
That’s easy to answer. I say, “OK, Boomer” and move on with my day.
It’s remarkable how much that perfectly dismissive response sums up this issue. I have never had anyone under the age of 55 go off on me, dogmatically, about how I must enroll my child in the public school system. This is a policy position that is held almost entirely by liberal Baby Boomers. And, to be fair, only by liberal Baby Boomer women, typically with some past professional connection to the school system. It will go away once they leave the political sphere, which honestly can’t happen fast enough.
I can count on one hand the number of people I know from high school and college that even have their kids in public schools. They are either homeschooling or send their children to private schools that reflect their family values and academic ambitions. Even the Generation X and Millennial school teachers I know are not critics of homeschooling. The myriad problems in public education exhaust them.
Passionate critics of homeschooling get an undue amount of attention from homeschoolers, in my opinion, considering critics of homeschooling themselves are a pretty narrow group culturally. You aren’t responding to a legitimate argument about education. You are responding to a loud minority that has permanently and ideologically detached itself from contemporary culture. Why let people like this get under your skin? The world is changing, and it is changing in your favor. Direct your energies to helping it change, not debating people who dwell intellectually in the past. That’s good advice on many topics, in fact.
If you talk to people who are parents now – as opposed to people whose children flew the nest a long time ago – substantially all of them understand the decision to reject the public school system for your child’s education. It is not irrational to want to raise your child in an environment that does not involve low-and-declining academic standards, active shooter drills, bullying both in person and online 24/7, shoving kids with special needs into closets – I mean, “quiet” or “reflection” rooms – for hours, blah blah blah. Many people who choose homeschooling now, unfortunately, are driven there by personal crisis – like their child has become a target and school administrators have willfully failed to protect them.
In our county, even before the coronavirus panic, the school district had already received two threats to shoot up a high school and two teachers had been arrested – one at a middle school and one at an elementary school – for physically abusing students. At the elementary school, the teacher had beaten the shit out an 8-year-old with autism, and it was evidently caught on video. The district had previously known about the issues with violence in both teachers, and responded, not by firing them, but by putting them on Orwellian “teacher success plans.” My child is 8 years old. You think you are going to convince me to send my child there? When Hell freezes over. These are the issues they are dealing with so far this year, and it’s only March.
But most people who are parents now don’t even try to defend public schools, unless they are some mommy blogger PTA president who not only drinks the Kool-Aid but orders it in bulk at Costco. The typical responses I get when I tell people I am a homeschooler are “wow, I would absolutely do that if I could manage our finances around it” and “I’m so jealous.” No one under the age of 55 asks me about “socialization.” (Crikey, that’s a Boomer term if ever there were one.) One, because most people who are parents now wish they could better control their kids’ social environment. And two, people who live in the social media age fully understand that it is not difficult to make friends outside of physical institutions. That is just not a problem in the modern world. I’m not going to tell you that homeschooling does not involve effort on your part to help your child build quality social relationships, but that is hardly a problem unique to homeschoolers.
On top of all that, we are currently in a situation as a country where public education systems have spontaneously lost their primary source of per pupil funding and have arbitrarily wiped out an entire semester of education. In Florida, the governor has announced that the state will end standardized testing and parents who are concerned about how the coronavirus closures have proceeded will be allowed to decide whether their child gets to advance to the next grade or whether their academic progress is so thoroughly ruined that they need to repeat this one. I cannot imagine the anger I would be feeling being put into that position and I feel genuinely sorry for folks with kids in public school through all this tumult.
I went outside to garden a couple days ago, trying to get away from the anxiety of what is happening with the economy. Unfortunately, gardening has proven not to be a good solution for this anxiety, as I live in a gated community that is full of retirees, all who want to stop by and discuss current events with the finance and economics geek. But not all of them.
My elderly neighbor came over to visit – which I usually do not mind – nominally to talk about flowers. Apparently, she had been chatting with our daughter earlier and our daughter was excitedly telling her all the things she was going to be learning in 4th grade. As I mentioned in an earlier post, our daughter is very interested in genetics and the idea of cloning. I have included that in what we will be studying when we start the next academic year. She’s very worked up about it. Being able to do something like that for a gifted child is an excellent reason to homeschool.
After a few minutes, it was clear that my elderly neighbor did not actually want to talk about my gardening at all. She is retired from the school system and wanted to yell at me about homeschooling. Emphasis on “yell,” as she went off on me at a volume the whole neighborhood should have been able to hear. So I went out to the garden trying to calm down, and here comes this lady in her late 60s, screaming that I am screwing up my child’s chance at a social life by homeschooling her and that “people like you” are the ones ruining the public education system by taking the “good kids” out of classrooms and decreasing state funding.
Of course, we had invited this cranky old lady to our daughter’s raging birthday party at the beginning of February, trying to be nice, so she already knows our daughter has a ton of friends and that they are all exceptionally good kids. Such empirical evidence is not going to stop her from breaking out the rote talking points her superiors in public education have indoctrinated her with, however.
And she’s doing this during a period where public education is in an absolute tailspin and all parents have essentially become involuntary homeschoolers. That’s how culturally disconnected she is. Let that wash over you. She chose this moment in time to rag on homeschooling. That’s how unmotivated she is to challenge her garbage political talking points intellectually.
These are not people who have ever thought critically about what an education should do for a child. And they were hired as educators. They have inherited, not chosen, purely predictable and purely political opinions on the subject. And because they come from public education professionally, they take it personally that you are rejecting a traditional school environment. You are rejecting them. You are saying they are not good at what they do. That’s against their rules. They want you to sit in your chair and shut up.
Initially, I did try to reason with her, against my better judgment, only because she lives nearby. And, well…
I explained that not all “socialization” is good and worthwhile. That our schools are known more for cranking out teenage mothers than Rhodes scholars. That I would rather that not be the environment our daughter is in. I want her to be in an environment that maximizes her talents and helps her develop a conscience. She explained to me that our daughter was going to learn about sex sometime (narrator: she already knows) and that she went to school in the 1970s with free sex and pot and, look, she turned out all right.
I explained that “turned out all right” is not exactly the educational outcome that I am going for. I explained that we care so much about education that we buy the top curriculum available for our daughter, that she studies Latin and computer programming already. These things are not even options in public schools for a child her age, if ever.
She then proceeded to carry on about how studying Latin is stupid. At the top of her lungs. Making grotesque facial expressions and tossing her hands about, to make it abundantly clear that she held our education decisions in complete disdain. It was an absolutely toxic scene, but that is pretty much what I am coming to expect from people of a certain age and background. I’m sure she spends the other 23 hours of the day raging internally about Trump and watching cable news. (Inject the poison directly into my veins all day long!) I’m sure he’s really living rent-free in her brain. It’s depressing as hell seeing people rotting away their golden years like this. But that’s their prerogative.
There is nothing to do with such a personality except to tell them to enjoy the beautiful day and go back inside.
I then had to have a discussion with our puzzled and anxious daughter about why she needs to stay away from our neighbor and especially not talk about her home life around her. One of the most difficult parts of parenting is explaining to a young child that not everyone in the world has good intentions for the people around them. They just cannot grok the impulse to be mean and nasty for no reason at all that some adults have. And believe me, if you have an interfering old bitty living next to you – the plague of NextDoor – you have reason to be concerned if you are a homeschooler. Eventually their interference graduates to calling the authorities because your kid is daring to play in the backyard at noon, having already finished their school work. That’s not a proper school day! There should be rules about this! This is the reason the Home School Legal Defense Association exists. Best money I spend every month.
I used to be puzzled at what kind of response critics of homeschooling would ever think they were going to get from homeschoolers. “Oh, I was going to homeschool my child, but now that I’ve heard your generic political opinions about education, I clearly need to upend the way I live and live the way you think I should.” This behavior is mindless and unnecessary on its face. But a very small number of people are deeply committed to it, nonetheless.
The thing to remember when in these situations is that these situations are not about you. They are about someone else’s obsessions and insecurities. They should not matter to you. When your world collides with this particular subset of people, make it clear that they are not going to persuade you to make poor education decisions for your child and walk away. As with Twitter trolls, the fewer interactions you have with them the better.
When it comes to dealing with critics of homeschooling, the wisdom is stop feeding the trolls.