Thursday, November 1, 2007

Time to Set Some Ground Rules

Update: Turns out that the anonymous commenter that I thought was my brother, was actually his spouse. My bad. I have edited the post accordingly.

One thing that we homeschooling parents learn very quickly is that there are plenty of people out there who think our views on education are flat-out offensive.

And it isn't hard to see why. After all, no one homeschools unless they think they can do a better job of teaching their children than professional teachers can. If Tonya and I thought that the local public schools were the best choice for our children, the Pillowfight Fairy would be in a traditional Kindergarten right now.

It's not hard to imagine that a dedicated teacher, who trained for years preparing for his or her carreer, who does a huge amount of work preparing lesson plans, grading papers, and dealing with parents in addition to teaching classrooms full of students each day, would feel indignant at some yahoo who last saw the inside of a classroom years ago declaring one day, "I can do it better."

And because the subject is so important, and so central to raising of children, it's really easy for people to see other people's decisions on this as a personal insult, or as elitist and exclusionary. "You are making that decision? Well, we're making this decision, and we think this is the best." Although this is often not what the speaker intended to convey, this is what listeners are primed to hear. This is one subject where I actually think it is inevitable that anyone with an opinion will be misunderstood. It comes so close to one's own core beliefs, that it's a bit like talking politics or talking religion; sooner or later, someone with different values, or even just a different perspective on the same values, is going to disagree vehemently with whatever path you take.

There's a lot of bad blood between the public schools and homeschoolers. The homeschoolers, after all, have turned down the public schools for various reasons; some of these reasons are (as I said before) flat-out offensive to those who labor in and those who support the schools. And the schools, in turn, believe that the homeschoolers are not merely unqualified to educate their children, their existence is in fact actively damaging to the public school and its mission--views that, in turn, are offensive to homeschoolers.

Because of this dynamic, it's pretty common for homeschooling parents to have strained relationships with plenty of other people in their families and social circles. Nearly every homeschooler has had the experience of mentioning their educational choices in some otherwise appropriate social setting, only to be set upon immediately by a loved one (or even a complete stranger!) saying, "But what about their socialization? You'll wind up raising a social misfit!" or "What makes you think you can do that? You're not quailified!" or "You know, you're being elitist, and you're damaging the public schools with your choices." These comments are not invitations to a dialog, they are calls to repentance.

And I don't mean to let homeschoolers off the hook here, either; there are plenty of our number who take on a very arrogant attitude about the public school system. But they are far outnumbered by the other side, simply by virtue of the fact that there are a lot more people involved with the public schools than there are in homeschooling.

For the record:

  • I have nothing but respect for public school teachers as a group. My mother was one; my younger brother is one, as is his wife; my father was one very briefly in the early nineties; and my other sister-in-law did some substitute teaching for a while. I have seen the stacks of papers they bring home to grade on a nightly basis; I've seen the work they have to do in preparing lesson plans; and all I can say is, God bless you.
  • I have no problem with parents who decide to put their children in the public schools. For many parents and many children, this is the right option.
  • I genuinely believe that most public schools are doing their best to live up to their mission, often under difficult social and financial conditions.
  • I do not believe that homeschooling is for everyone.

But even though I accept all this, and try to make sure that my posts on homeschooling avoid giving any impression to the contrary, it really isn't possible to discuss the topic--especially to describe why Tonya and I decided to homeschool our own children--without occasionally coming off as though we're blasting the public schools. In actuality, our reasons have very little to do with the public schools.

I received several comments on yesterday's post that had a very offended tone to them--two of which from family members whom I love very much. My aunt said, "It's not fair to bash those who don't [homeschool]...." Auntie Jean, I looked over that post several times before and after I read your comment, and I can't find the place where I bashed those who don't homeschool.

And my younger brother (I assume it was my younger brother, even though it was an anonymous comment, because he referred to Auntie Jean by name, and because only he can strike that exact tone) sister-in-law (who apparently can strike exactly the same tone as can my brother) had accusatory lines in his her comment like the untrue "there are different learning styles that you never event [sic] think about," and the sarcastic "Now I have to go to work--to teach high school students history and hopefully inspire them to enjoy it. While they are living in the "real world.""

These two posts, and a third by someone with the handle of Jason, proceeded to throw the entire litany of objections to homeschooling at me:

  • If families pull their kids out to homeschool them, it hurts the public schools and the teachers who work in them.
  • It's selfish to do this, since for some kids that's their only option.
  • Education in this country has evolved from homeschooling to one-room schooling, to public schooling; so going back to homeschooling would be a reversal of progress.
  • Selectively pulling out of the public schools is elitist and unfair to those who can't.
  • The public schools need the support of educated parents for the benefit of uneducated kids
  • Homeschoolers don't know how to handle reading disabilities.
  • We're unaware of alternate teaching/learning styles.
  • Public schools prepare kids better by putting them in more lifelike situations.
  • Homeschoolers don't get exposed as much to people of different ethnicities.
  • Christians need to understand the culture if they are to reach out to people.
  • Homeschoolers are more likely to present only one side of any argument.
  • Homeschooling hinders the formation of a common culture.

Man alive! Where to begin?

Well, here are a couple of things to note about the above list of objections:

  1. None of them is new. I've heard every one of those before, in one form or another. Part of the lot in life of a homeschooler is that you have to defend yourself, answering the same questions, over and over and over....
  2. These questions have been kicked around by the homeschooling community for some time now. Nearly all of these questions have well-worn answers to them. I suspect, if I wanted to, I could write a complete column, of similar length to yesterday's column, on any one of them. In fact, that's a pretty good idea. You've just given me many, many more ideas for stuff to write and submit to the Carnival of Homeschooling. They'll eat it up. Thanks! :)
  3. Most importantly for this post, not one of those objections was actually on topic. The column I wrote yesterday was about the ability of Homeschoolers to provide an education of similar or superior quality to the one they would receive in the public schools. Now, Andy Carolyn brought up a point where I legitimately overstepped the point I was trying to make; which I have acknowledged in the comments there. And if anyone wished to question the reasoning I used, or provide counterexamples, they were welcome to do that. But for the most part, those three comments didn't engage my reasoning, they merely started blasting the decision to homeschool, with whatever arguments the commenters had at hand.

And Auntie Jean then went on to say, "It's not fair to bash those who don't [homeschool] or continue to hold up the virtues of homeschooling when it is not for everyone...." meaning, I take it, that she doesn't want me to blog about our reasons for homeschooling anymore.

Auntie Jean, I love you and respect you, but if I'm understanding you right, that comment was way out of line.

The fact is that the desire to write about homeschooling is one of the main reasons I started this blog. One thing to understand about the homeschooling movement is that it is, in large part, powered by the internet. One homeschooling parent will write about some aspect of raising and educating a child, and this advice and experience then edifies, encourages, and advises a whole host of other parents; these parents then write about their experiences and ideas, and it edifies the whole group, and so on. This conversation--which has been going on for years now--has allowed a certain solidarity to form within the homeschooling movement, even though there are many different philosophies, goals, ideologies, and methods in use within the movement. For the person who's interested and wants to learn about the homeschooling movement--what it's about, what motivates it, the different philosophies and methods in use--there is a huge amount of information available, written by the people who are actually doing it. Tonya and I have learned a huge amount by listening in on this conversation. This blog is, in part, intended to be my contribution back to the conversation; adding Tonya's and my thoughts into the mix; taking things that I think other people are saying, and rewording them to make sure I understand them, then feeding them back in case it edifies some other parent who's just starting out.

I get the sense from the comments--especially the one, "it's not fair to ... continue to hold up the virtues of homeschooling when it is not for everyone," that you don't think my writing about homeschooling is somehow legitimate. That the very fact that I'm using my blog to do what I can to build and strengthen the homeschooling movement is wrong, because the movement itself is wrong; that too many people are doing it already, and I'm just encouraging them. It sounds as though this is what you're saying. And if this is in fact the case, then I'm sorry--but that train has already left the station. Tonya and I believe that homeschooling is a perfectly moral and viable option, that produces good academic and social results, and that there are plenty more parents out there that could in fact do this successfully, and that the movement deserves to grow.

So as the title of this post says, it's "Time to Set Some Ground Rules:"

  • I'm going to continue blogging about homeschooling--especially its virtues, and its challenges--because it's important to us, and because it's important to many of the people who read this blog.
  • When I do blog about homeschool matters, people who disagree with me are free to comment, so long as:
  • They remain respectful of me, and of their fellow commenters, at all times.
  • They remain on topic. I will not permit off-topic criticisms. If I write a post about the academic aspects of homeschooling, I will delete any comments that--for example--ignore this topic and just complain about the way we socialize our kids.
  • I will also not permit gratuitous bashing of the public schools, the teachers, or the students. After all, there are some public school teachers in my own family, who I love and respect very much. If there is a substantive point to be made about how one method is superior to the other, I will consider that acceptable, as long as it is done without rancor.
  • I reserve the right to delete any comment that offends my sensibilities. I also reserve the right to turn on comment moderating at any time. This is my blog, after all.
  • If you are convinced that homeschooling is a bad idea and that nothing will change your mind, my blog is not the venue to make your case. Get your own blog.
  • If a defense of homeschooling offends you that much, it might not be a good idea to visit this blog--or if you do visit, try to skip the homeschooling posts. They'll generally be the longest ones.

Sorry to be so harsh. I recognize that we're discussing a topic that's very sensitive to some people, and it's hard to do it without making a whole lot of people offended. However, I could see--from yesterday's post, and from some earlier ones--which directions things would go if I didn't step up. This is unabashedly a homeschooling blog, and was intended to be from the beginning.

I have turned off comments for this post.