A number of years ago now, I met a lovely family while speaking at a homeschool conference. After several conversational exchanges, they propositioned me about supporting an initiative about which they were passionate. I honestly can’t remember the website at this point, but the premise was that every child should be homeschooled, in essence ending the need for public schools. After a bit of perusal and soul-searching, I wrote the couple to say that I could not support their initiative. It boiled down to one simple conclusion for me: homeschooling is a privilege, and not the best option for every child.
It’s okay to disagree. But my experience with most homeschoolers I meet is that there has to be a plan–some plan that is at least thought of as doable–by which one parent can spend time with the children, educating. Not every family can afford to sacrifice some portion of an income; some families even need help with meals that public schools provide. And the inability to homeschool is not just about money. It is also about access to facilities that give a child at least an equivalent experience to what he or she would have in a traditional school. It is about a parent having abilities and experiences such that he or she can truly help a child. Finally, it is about valuing those experiences in order to raise a child who cherishes learning; just as poverty can breed poverty, ignorance breeds ignorance. None of us can lead where we are unwilling to go.
It is not the easiest self-talk to have, but there are important questions to consider before deciding to homeschool. Indeed, home education is no longer the bastion of the religious zealot who seeks to live off-grid as much as possible. Celebrities regularly boast that they were homeschooled (way cooler than discussing private tutoring). The African-American home educator is the fastest growing population with the homeschooling community for a variety of reasons. It has taken on unprecedented popularity among those from all socio-economic backgrounds who have lost hope in traditional school systems. But is homeschooling the right decision for you? I want to suggest some areas that are worth thinking about, but are rarely surfaced among uplifting homeschooling blog posts–until there is a problem.
1) Are you prepared to spend significant time in isolation with your children? If you live in a major metropolitan area, there are probably co-ops and networks of children–homeschooled children–with whom you can connect. But at some point, you are alone with your children, and what you have is what you have. Are you ready for it?
2) What happens if your family does not agree? Many a good homeschooling plan can become derailed once the news gets out. All the uncertainties, all the fears, and all the holes in your ideas are on full display when relatives question and judge–repeatedly. Have you thought about boundaries?
3) Are you committed to homeschooling, even when it becomes tough or inconvenient? Parenting is not for the faint of heart. The added responsibility of becoming the primary educator, principal, and later guidance counselor and college administrator (our season right now) can leave you with more wounds than wins, at least in the short run.
4)Is your environment stable for learning? Maslow’s hierarchy theorizes that people have needs–needs he categorizes into five levels. He goes on to state that until the lower, basic levels of need are met, humans are not motivated to pursue higher level needs. The most basic needs are sleep, shelter, and food. Then comes safety-related needs, i.e., security. Whether you roadschool, worldschool, or school at the kitchen table, basic needs must be met before effective learning can happen.
5) Will homeschooling drive a wedge between you and your spouse? Some might disagree, but I think this is critical because, again, it sets the stage for learning. Children know when they can use a parent against another. More importantly, getting back to safety-related needs, children understand when there is unrest in a home. If we are bringing them home to give them something better, it makes little sense to change their environment and introduce more turmoil and anxiety. I could write an entire post about carving out time for marriage. When our kids were smaller, it was not always easy. But it is necessary; the family has to win.
I did not address other challenges like mental health and mental well-being, both for parents and children alike. The message throughout this post is the same, and written because I see a number of young moms who pull their children from public school in fear and frustration, proclaim themselves homeschoolers, and join an online network, asking, “Now what??” Though being a homeschooling parent does not require formal education, I believe it requires more than simply loving your child. It requires an honest look at yourself, at your environment, and at your willingness to seek out resources that will make your time together powerful.