A young woman from a homeschooling family we met when we just had five children and they were very young recently emailed me and some other homeschooling moms and students to ask us some questions. I’ve cut out most of her email, and rephrased this into a Q and A format:
I know that I looked down on children who were not home schooled, and although my parents never said or encouraged me to think that others were wrong or sinning by sending their children to public school, that is how I felt. I think I would have been this way no matter where I went to school, but I also think homeschooling contributed to it. How would you avoid this?
Pride and judgmental attitudes: I think you are right that this isn’t specifically homeschool related issue. I have known prideful, judgmental homeschoolers, and I have known prideful, judgmental public schoolers. These attitudes are caused by the heart, not so much by external circumstances. I think each child would still be his or her essential self, whether educated at home or in a government institution. What would change would be more likely to be the things they are prideful and judgmental about, not the attitude itself.
Children are also naturally black and white thinkers, some more so than others- they don’t learn nuance and shades of grey until later. When studying history, the youngest children always want to know who the ‘bad guys’ are, and they really can’t fathom that quite often, there are no ‘bad guys,’ or that there are things to be said for both sides. This black and white thinking also leads to a tendency to see ‘our way’ as the right way, and everybody else’s different choices as the wrong way. This is generally true no matter where they go to school. It takes time and deliberate effort to teach children to value diversity, to respect different choices, and to understand the full implication of ‘who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls…” and “Accept the weaker brother, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.” And… etc. Again- I want to stress that the issue here is not schooling, it is a particular sort of sinful attitude that is in the heart, not created by one’s method of schooling.
[if in public school] wouldn’t I have learned better how to deal with peer pressure?
I did go to public school, and I did not at all learn how to deal with peer pressure there. It was an extremely toxic environment for me and I succumbed easily and often, and even succumbed to only ‘imagined’ rather than real peer pressure. So I know that simply going to government schools will not make a susceptible child better able to handle peer pressure. Neither will homeschooling- although it will protect susceptible children from giving in to it until they have a little more wisdom. And the only reason it will protect them is simply because there will be fewer opportunities for peer to peer contact (although this also depends on how you homeschool- I know many homeschoolers who spend a lot of time with outside activities). They don’t pick up the wisdom part automatically, though, parents have to be involved whatever educational choice they make. The advantage here to homeschooling is simply the fact that there will be less time and opportunity for them to shipwreck themselves on the rock of peer pressure-, and there is extra time for parental training if the parent uses that time.
what things did/do you see in your children that may need more attention than if they had gone to public school?
Handwriting.=) No, seriously, the main thing I saw is that when they are small, they tend to get their feelings hurt more easily than their peers, because their peers engaged in a crueler brand of humour than homeschoolers were used to. There is a protective shell you have to develop to fit in and survive in school and homeschooled kids take longer to develop it. They also had trouble fitting in in places where conformity to a certain unstated middle class standard of dress and behavior was the standard, and that was sad, and hard. But I don’t see that as a flaw with home education.
What are the ways that you help them to weed those sins out of their hearts?
Sins begin in the heart. They are not caused by the external method of education. There are many things parents do to help their children overcome sin. I am not sure how to detail specifics, because these are the same whether your children are educated at home or in government institutions. Children (and their parents) are victims of the same fallen world and human nature no matter where they are educated, and neither home schooling, private school or public school will immunize them from sin. The only real difference is that one form of education gives you more time and more opportunity to focus on this, but that is only an advantage if the parent uses that time wisely. Homeschooling isn’t a magic pill, it’s just extra time.
What things are you thankful that they are avoiding by being home with you?
I think this is the question that I had the hardest time understanding. My difficulty in answering this question, I realized, is that it presumes something that was totally foreign to our notions of homeschooling and why we did it and why we continue.
I may be misunderstanding, but it seems to me that many of these questions are based on a premise of only reactive reasons for homeschooling. I believe reactive reasons for doing anything may be a good catalyst for beginnings, but reactive reasons are not sustainable for the long term. As a spiritual example, I might avoid sinning because of a fear of hell, but that is not a joyful, beautiful way to live, and many people just give up in despair if they never replace fear with perfect love- I will avoid sin even better if I avoid it because I am embracing my relationship with my God and Savior and pursuing a life of the Spirit- and that is more sustainable as well as more beautiful and joyful.
Proactive reasons are sustainable, and we homeschool for pro-active reasons.
We did initially homeschool for somewhat reactive reasons- because the school system was lousy, I’ve told the story before, but the short version is that our firstborn was bored out of her skull, and they actually wanted to take the kids on a field trip to worship idols (we were required to send money to donate to the idols). We were in Japan, these were genuine idols, currently and actively worshiped by the local people.
We were avoiding a specific case of idolatry (and the poor judgment displayed by those in authority), and poor academics. We assumed we’d resume public schooling in another couple of years when we moved back to the states.
But then we discovered homeschooling was fun, joyful, interesting, and that I loved having my kids back. We could do things in the day that we couldn’t do when the kids were in school. We could read books and talk about them together, we had the freedom to study things that interested us and follow our own rabbit trails in ways we couldn’t when the HG was gone all day and we had to be in bed early in order to get up in time for school. We could explore connections between subjects and disciplines freely- if something in a history book reminded us of a Bible story or a command, we were free to discuss and explore that connection without restraint. I discovered that the close bond between my two children was imperceptibly being weakened over the course of the school year, so gradually I did not notice it was happening until we started homeschooling and those ties strengthened again.
I would not send my kids to public school if the public school were perfect, the teachers and students all Christians, and the textbooks all compatible with the Bible, although I do heartily wish all those things for all public schools. I do not homeschool because I am avoiding anything. I homeschool because I am embracing a way of life that I find more compatible with the way we want to live, with what I believed about the way children learn, about family life, and about whether I want my children spending the majority of their waking hours in my home or in a government institution.
And also because we were a military family and if we used public schools, one year my kids would have been in four different schools, and at most times of our life, I would have had to schedule at least three school schedules (The Cherub would have attended different schools than any of her siblings, and with the age spread, I’d have had kids in grade school, middle school, and high school at the same time). I prefer a more unified approach to life because I can’t cope with that level of discombobulation.=)