Burning Gnome

Art, Technology, and Culture firmly planted in the Garden of Education

To School or Not to School…


   Aug 23

To School or Not to School…

That is the question.

At least, that is the most frequently asked question I get around this time every year. The question usually is phrased something like “I want to homeschool but I don’t know if I have it in me” or “I want to homeschool but my partner isn’t convinced” or “I am torn because we want to homeschool but we were accepted at the charter school that is impossible to get into and I would hate to give up that opportunity.”

I have never been subtle in my criticisms regarding the public school system, but there are plenty of great schools out there, with amazing teachers and parents who are working around the challenge of a test based, developmentally inappropriate, state mandated curriculum. There are also plenty of families who have to work, and homeschooling is not an option. My point is that these kids also thrive and are happy and educated. School is just as valid a choice as homeschooling.

So, my advice to the above questions?

“I want to homeschool but I don’t know if I have it in me”

What is more important is the belief that you have it in you to do whatever is best for your family. Only you know the answer to that. Inevitably, we find new parts of ourselves to help us through any choice we make. If you believe in homeschooling, and that the best way for your child to learn is in the freedom and flexibility of this choice, then you will find a way to do it. One of the most annoying assumptions for me about homeschooling is that we are with each other 24/7. We are not. My kids have classes and playdates and parkdays and frankly time where I tell them I need them to entertain themselves. What we don’t have is limits on our time, a rigid schedule, and the stress of PTA and homework and fitting in extra-curricular classes on top of that. Those are the warts I didn’t want to deal with. EVERYTHING HAS WARTS. Everyone has to choose what warts they are willing to deal with. Homeschooling has warts too. I have to pay attention to the balance in our house, making sure I have time for myself and my partner, which can be a challenge. I have to figure out how to meet their needs and work full time. I have to be an active part of my kids’ social life (not a wart) and sometimes make an effort to attend events I’d rather skip just so they have an opportunity to meet more friends (wart). So, write down you values, the things that are most important to you. And write down your warts, the things you would rather not deal with. Then see where you are. Whatever choice you make, you have it in you. And if you don’t, it can easily be changed.

“I want to homeschool but my partner isn’t convinced”

Well, homeschooling includes a fair amount of trust. Trusting yourself, trusting your kid(s), trusting your partner. Unfortunately, we live in a world that doesn’t support trust. We live in a fairly authoritarian society where we are expected to accept the guidance of experts. But you are the best expert on your family and your children and you must learn to trust, and so must your partner. I am fairly lucky that my partner has always been very supportive. He didn’t blink twice when I announced our children would not be going to school. But not all my friends are that lucky and have had to work through it. My suggestion is to sit down and talk about all the concerns and then research how to overcome them. Is he/she afraid your child won’t make friends? Show them all the support networks, classes, park days, etc available to you in your area. Is he/she worried your kids won’t learn? Figure out together what you feel they should know and make a plan together, including ways you both would feel comfortable assessing their knowledge. For some families, starting in a charter school where there are teachers to help guide your year is really helpful to easing a partner’s fears. In our family, we don’t belong to a charter but our kids document their work and every once in a while give us a presentation on what they have learned in the style of their choice (play, poem, art, game, interpretive dance, whatever). The number one way I have found to convert hesitant partners is to have them attend a major homeschool conference. Seeing the community come together and having the evidence of educated, socially adept kids right in front of you says more than words ever will. But a partner’s concerns should never be ignored and if he/she has serious concerns and reasons why they advocate for a school experience, it is important to consider and address those with compassion and reason. Usually I find that our partners just want to be heard, involved. And they should be.

“I am torn because we want to homeschool but we were accepted at the charter school that is impossible to get into and I would hate to give up that opportunity.”

Well, ok. So out of 350 applications for 20 Kindergarten spots, you got in. Congrats! The way I see it you have two choices: Try it and you can always leave if it doesn’t work out….or not. See the section above about trusting yourself to make the right decision for your family. You got in to the charter because of a luck of the draw, not because a magical education fairy placed you in the perfect place for your kid. Those exclusive schools have warts too. A friend of mine is in one now, and her son has been mercilessly bullied for the past year with very little support from the supposedly progressive staff. But some of them are rad and have a lot to offer. What would the experience offer you and your kids? What are the downsides? What values about childhood and education are supported by this school? Which ones would you have to give up (at school, not home)? My point is, there is no right answer. If you decide to give up your spot, you are not a fool. You just want something different. Plus, I hear it’s not as hard to get back into those schools as the grades progress, if you decide later on to try it. If you decide to try it, look at it as an adventure. One that you have control over, including whether or not to stay.

Education is one of the hardest choices we have to make as parents, because so much of that choice is wrapped up in our own experiences, fears, hopes, and dreams for their future. But we can only do our best, one moment at a time, and the best choice we can make is to trust ourselves and model adaptability for our children. Plus, kids are pretty resilient.

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