Relatively frequently I get an an email, a DM from Twitter, or an in-person inquiry regarding our choice to homeschool. Over the last couple years I’ve observed the concerns are almost always a select few: “But what about socialization?” being the (predictable) first query (answer: Ha! You have to be joking!* although perhaps soon I will write an actual answer in detail), followed by, “I think it’s best for kids but… I could never get so organized / stand being with my kids all day” as a close second (more about this in a minute). Finally, trailing third but still frequent enough, I get a form of: “Um, I wonder if homeschooling is right for me?” (or the emphatic “I know homeschooling would not be for us because blah-blah-blah”, although most who say this A. were not asked, personally, to consider homeschooling as far as I know and B. do not have an informed or well-rounded view of what it can and does mean to have kids out of school). In my inbox rests a handful of earnest, lengthy email queries to the latter effect; and this question – or occasional emphatic statement – is one I’d like to address here for a minute.
First, there’s so much to unpack on the subject, and the public sphere has done poorly in creating an intelligible, honest discussion. Like, so many people think if your kids aren’t in school – and you aren’t doing something nefarious with them – that you are “homeschooling”, and it means means you get up in the morning, have breakfast, your kids do some cirriculum according to a color-coded lesson plan, you take field trips with like-minded gentle Subaru-driving families, then sit at a picnic table and eat granola and drink goats’ milk kefir. And maybe Bible study to boot.
Of course, this is only a (generalized and stereotyped) structure that some families hold to – that is (food-snark aside): a lesson plan and curriculum, possibly faith-based, taught in the home bolstered by organized group activities within the family or a narrow group of friends. And this is where the lack of realistic, open discussion around out-of-school kiddos fosters a lot of ignorance. Because besides a vague idea along those lines, many people accustomed to the mainstream don’t even know the differences or philosophies that can be referenced through various terminologies: homeschooling, unschooling, radical unschooling, deschooling, life learning, and self-directed learning (like, reader! I literally know you do not know what the hell I am talking about here!). Wendy Priesnitz writes a wonderful article making several relevant points about such terminology – although if you aren’t a homeschooler and familiar with authors, articles, and movements concerning those who live without traditional education, I fear this article will make little sense and seem an exercise in hair-splitting. And yet the terminology isn’t throw-way or frivolous, whatever you many initially think, any more than knowing the much-beloved traditions, details and foibles of anyone’s unique family life are throw-away or frivolous.
To get back to the stereotypes: my kids are not in school. But this does not mean, as their parent and caregiver, I am especially fearful of the World At Large (anyone reading here for long knows I am decidedly not), especially groovy or granola, especially fringe or religious, especially mellow and able to handle a messy house and rowdy kids (I actually totally cannot handle these things!), or especially organized. Getting up at the crack of dawn, sitting at the table and gently leading my youngsters through my well-researched lesson plan? This is so not me. Eating stone-ground wheat and stuff I dug out of the garden, then drinking deeply from our recycled-urine-greywater system? – okay, at this point, I’m being a dick. But still? Not me. Reading about Jesus and praying as a family? Nope.
I am also not neglectful, lazy, or interested in keeping my kids “special” and excluded because they’re smart / “slow” / ADHD / special / bullies / bullied (by the way, why, in your view, would those be those such assy motives anyway?). Nope, nope, nope.
Enough about what I’m not.
Here’s something that living without formal childhood education does mean: you can’t use Public School as babysitting in order to pursue paid employment. And that, yup. It’s a bit rough. Many people I know could afford to do this (even if they don’t currently believe this), but can’t bring themselves to. And: fine. Most America does use Public School as both an economic help and/or to avoid the realities of living with children. You’re in good company if that’s what your family is doing.
And of course there are those who cannot lose a job to be home with kids – although it must be pointed out most who directly consult me would stack up pretty well according to the Global Rich List.
Here’s the other thing about keeping your children out of school: yes, you have to be around your kids. The idea of “me time” – or the “real life” of having a job / career / money and business-casual wardrobe – because, you know, if you get paid for something it means it’s worthwhile! That’s awesome because as a worldview, it means if I can pull in a dollar no one needs to question anything! – yeah, you will not get the benefit of those! Sure, you can carve out that “me time” – in fact, I think I do a rather excellent job, maybe better than lots of Mamas I know. But you won’t get a most-days-guaranteed eight hours worth. So yes, you will be around your kids. A lot. Kind of weird how some people believe Nature made us these babies and coincidentally we can care for them up until four or five years of age but then something happens where you would literally tear their head off if you were to not immediately farm them out for eight/nine hours a day five days a week! Nature is so crazy that way!
That’s about it: those two things listed above. That’s all it really requires, and really means FO SHO, to have your kids home.
And you know, I really don’t have time – not here, not right now – to go into the many benefits of deciding to keep them home, the individual challenges and frustrations, the glorious and amazing bits, and my whole WHY do I keep them home thingy. Some other time. I just wanted to give you a little chat, unless you were deciding to Other me as a completely different person than you with a totally different family.
See, some (most?) people like labels. Some like the idea that if I chose to have my kids home, instead of in school, it means I’m a Supermom who has all my shit together (Ha! Ha hahaha! < sob! >). Alternatively, they might enjoy thinking I believe my darlings are more precious than other kids and should be separated from the Grimy Masses (so in other words, I’m an Elitest Asshole), or that I’m trying to insulate and isolate them (in other words, I’m fearful and controlling), or that I have a series of unconventional faith-based beliefs (America was partially founded on freedom to worship but please don’t worship TOO WEIRDLY!). So if I’m a “homeschooler” maybe I’m preaching to them from the Wiccan handbook or the New Testament (or both!), maybe I’m feeding them Class Five Vegan cuisine and braiding my armpit hair into thick, supple ropes. So, you know, these people want me to subscribe to a label so they can decide what it means without thinking much about it. Those who are threatened by my concept of staying home with my (perfectly smart, active, academically proficient, happy and healthy) kiddos, will want to make fun of me or – a more charitable diagnoses on my part – suddenly come forth (unasked) to me and tell me all the reasons they don’t or can’t stay home (this latter means they don’t have to go through the scary experience of actually considering it!). This is why, online and in books, you’ll see a lot of articles trying to define Unschooling, Life Learning, all the above – simply because in doing something different, you are too-often assumed to be doing something weird.
My life is profundly normal, and yet I’m put at a social disadvantage where people assume it’s freakish, uncanny, odd, or exceptional. And I really don’t know a way around this odd little facet of living a non-mainstream life. A summation up at the end of the article “Does the unschooling label help or harm?” (unschoolinglifestyle.com) reveals an existence so typical, family-based, reasonable, non-SCARY or -FRINGE**, that it’s almost easy to wonder why one would have to pen it at all:
My family learns through life experiences, as well as through direct academic pursuit, as well as through play. We live spontaneously, as well as by design. We take classes, as well as pursue new skills autonomously. We follow a biological clock, i.e., sleeping when tired, as well as a schedule when we choose to make appointments, i.e., classes, play dates, parties. We live flexibly and authentically, adapting to new needs and wants. We live communally and respectfully, aiming for peaceful and contented family relationships. We attend to discord one situation at a time, knowing we need not take disharmony for granted. We continually create our life.
Ha! What weirdos, AMIRITE?
* Socialization? See: Hogaboom kids, and how fucking awesome they are at all times in pretty much every social setting, ever! Maybe because they get to hang out with all-ages in a more varied setting… I dunno.
** Oh and P.S.? You can’t honestly think I, personally, am scared of “fringe” or think it’s wrong; my point is, “fringe” often ends up being used in a pejorative sense and to dehumanize or distance those who think, believe, or do differently than the herd.
I don’t have children, so I don’t get to comment on it from that perspective. However, because I DID have a family that was insular and frightened of the world, I needed public school so badly, just to get some different ideas into my head. But then again, I was so confused about the messages I was getting at home, and then the dichotomous messages I was getting a school, my head was wont to explode at about nine years old. Dunno.
Oh-now I see where to leave comments! Duh-anyways, great post!! I love it-really, unschooling is normal-it’s everybody else that is following pre-designed schedule set by someone elae that really doesn’t make sense.
My neighbor was actually surprised when she discovered that my kids watch television and play computer games. She had just assumed that they didn’t, because we homeschool.
Kate, Kristen, Sara – thank you for your comments!
Kate: oh, ugh. I’m sorry that was your experience. Are your parents still alive today?
Kristen – I think school makes sense to so many people, and so many kids and parents find it comforting and helpful. Also: those who set up curriculum and a body of work are there to help those who want to learn. So a body of work and a schedule and all that – it seems to many to make sense, to be efficient. But ultimately, for us – my family – no one has found a compelling reason we should be in school. (I am still open to hearing people’s postulated reasons! I love hearing how people think!)
Sara, that’s funny – our neighbor boy (9) is jealous of my kids because he assumes we DO play video games and watch television all day (we own neither). This is because this is what he says he would like to be doing. Ha! The mystique of the unschooling life – what are we DOING in that house!? 🙂
Interesting that I read this today . . . a day when I (for the first time ever) started to consider homeschooling, for one of my children.
I appreciate your post. I have several homeschooling or planning to homeschool friends/acquaintances in my sphere and most often I leave our conversations (which are not debates or even really about about school) feeling lame, and rather accused of not caring enough to “sacrifice” so much for my children. I have encountered many people who present their decision to homeschool (and I can’t remember ever asking) in such a way that by not homeschooling I am intentionally feeding my children to the sharks and that public schools are not good enough for their children (Do they realize what they are then implying about my children?). When I tell these people which schools my children attend I have gotten scrunched noses, quiet gasps, and even one “I could never send my kids there!” Sheesh. Maybe these folks come across so strong b/c they’re tired of being labeled themselves.
This reminds me to respect people’s decisions, not get so darn defensive myself and be careful not to label. Because I must admit – I have.
Anyhow, the idea of homeschooling has been buzzing around my head today and I was intrigued by what you said.
We homeschool or unschool or whatever our daughter who is 16.
We were at the grocery store the other day when another person asked why she wasn’t in school, she loves to answer, “I don’t go to school.” I added “we homeschool” and the person responded “I couldn’t spend all that time with my kids!!” I have heard this response a million times, but I guess my daughter had never really heard it. Out by the car she said, “that lady said she didn’t want to be with her kids?! Really?” She couldn’t get it… (not to say there isn’t ever times I need to step outside and be away from her!!)
well written post! speakin’ to the choir!!(nice to know there are others out there who feel the same way we do.)
Yes. My parents are still alive. And actually, we’ve all done a bit of growing over the past few years. We’ve finally eased into an adult relationship that works. It was a long, hard road. For all of us.
great post! just fine and extra fine