Homeschool Wars

Can you swim in your school without eliciting derision?

Homeschool wars?  Really?  Don’t we already have enough wars?

Last week, I wrote a post about the primary reason our family homeschools – namely, that we want to spend more time together and enjoy the closeness and lifestyle that comes with that.  While many people appreciated the post, others (both on this blog and other venues) took issue with either my casualness about the importance of homeschooling or the prideful way I suggested homeschooling is the only way. What is it about homeschooling that brings out such strong reactions?

Today, I’ll try to respond to three comments from last week’s post that critiqued homeschooling.  And I’ll try not to add fuel to the fire in the process.

Comment #1The article and most of the comments sounded like a brag fest for why homeschooling families are superior to everyone else, as if we don’t experience wonderful relationships, laughs, and adventures with our kids.

I tried to write about why our family homeschools, and our experience of it, and hope that I didn’t convey that other choices are wrong.  I might have failed, but if I did it wasn’t consistent with what I actually believe.

But here’s an interesting thing I’ve noticed in my year of blogging.  Whenever I write about my struggles as a mother, people are incredibly appreciative.  When I write that I hate homeschooling and can’t stand to be around my kids, people cheer.  At last! Someone is keeping it real! When I write about my children being disobedient and selfish and my fears that I don’t know how to raise them well, people thank me profusely for my transparency.  But when I write that things are going well, that God is in fact answering my prayers, that homeschooling my children has improved our relationship – then I am showing off, acting like a know-it-all, and judging people who make other choices.

This has to stop, friends.  Believe it or not, people raise wonderful children without breastfeeding them.  Some women give up powerful jobs because they think it’s better to stay home with their newborn.  Some fathers work extra hours so their children can go to Catholic school.  Some families live below the poverty line so that they can homeschool.  These are called choices.  And yours is not a direct affront to mine.  If we can’t accept this, then we start rooting for others’ failures.  We start resenting and questioning other people’s joys.  I don’t want to live in that society.  Do you?

Comment #2:  [Homeschoolers are insular and should join the public schools] to know your neighbors and everyone around you…BECAUSE THEY DON’T KNOW GOD!!

This is a version of critique that carries some weight with me (although it’s one I find easier to hear without the caps and exclamation points).  When Jeff and I decided to pull our kids out of the public school, the question that we had the hardest time answering was, “What about our obligation to the public school/public good/life of the community?”

So when we decided that the weight of evidence pointed toward pulling the boys out, we were very intentional about how we did it.  We continue to play at the school many days after school.  I maintain friendships with the mothers, stay on the listserve, and even attend an occasional parent meeting.  I continue to work on community programming with our church.  I run enrichment programs for teenagers. My boys participate in a chess club I run.  The boys and Jeff did yard work last year for an elderly man who could no longer do it himself.  I could give other examples, but I think it suffices to say that in each of those places, we share our skills and education and elbow grease, hoping to be the hands and feet of Jesus, loving a world that is in great need of good news.

But we do this not simply because we want to “save” our neighborhood.  There is a lot that is right with our school and our neighbors.  And what’s not right is as challenging to fix as are the many character faults of my own that still have not given way to my superior powers.

Instead, when I think about what a good education looks like, it includes deep friendship and connectedness to people and communities that may not be a perfect – people like me.  Last week, a very high teenager showed up on my doorstep because we have a relationship that started in one of the programs I run.  I don’t know if she is going to overcome the daunting obstacles she faces, but she sat down to dinner with us and I felt honored to have her in our lives. My kids play chess with the neighborhood kids who come to the church hungry and smelling like cigarettes, not because those boys need my boys to fix them.  All of the boys in that room, mine included, are blessed by their friendships.

The problem is not that homeschooling isolates us.  Every choice isolates us from the choices we eliminated.  The question is: Who are we isolated from?  Do we want to be?  Are there things we can do in our circumstance – whether homeschooling or something else – to decrease that isolation and love our neighbors as ourselves?

Comment #3: Christians are responsible for providing a Christian education for their children (“to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”) and they cannot do that while giving up their children to be educated by the humanist, anti-God, public schools, 8 hours a day, 180 days a year.

I’m not sure where to start here, except to say yes to the first part and no to the second.  I actually know Christians who send their children to public school and raise Godly children.  It’s true.

Comment #4: Terrific and inspiring article, Tara — one quibble: Jeff is a giant of a man, a spiritual warrior, a creative genius, a blessing to our lives……but HOT????

Okay, this comment didn’t directly contribute to the homeschool wars, but it warrants a response, nonetheless.

Why yes, Mike, he is hot.  Very hot.

Humans and Kings
Can You Take the Heat?
What Top 5 Attributes Do You Want to Pass On?
My Testimony
About Tara Edelschick

Right now, Tara is on sabbatical in Costa Rica. She is sleeping more, and exercising and flossing every day for the first time in her life. She is enjoying her husband, her boys, and Nafisa (the daughter she never had) more than she ever has. And she is learning to rest in the arms of the one who doesn't rank you based on how many things you can cross off your list at the end of the day. Follow her on Twitter@TaraWonders.

  • Darcy Downie

    I think you covered all you needed to when you said we all have a choice. We send our girls to an all girls school, this is our choice. I chose to stay home when my kids were in grade school, this was my choice….I think you know where I am going with this…’nuff said! You are a wonderful writer.

  • Ellen Painter Dollar

    “These are called choices. And yours is not a direct affront to mine.” I think that observation is at the core of nearly every “mommy war”-type interaction, including how people have responded to your positive experiences of homeschooling. We hear that others are doing something different from us, we hear them saying how it has benefited their family, and then we make this illogical leap to believing that, because you are communicating your success/happiness with your choices, you’re chastising me for my choices.

    There are indeed know-it-alls out there who boldly judge other parents for their choices. And I think we need to call those folks on their behavior when we see it. But the majority of people who are writing about the tough job of parenting are not judgmental know-it-alls. They’re just people trying their best to do a very difficult job, and brave enough to be vulnerable by putting their experiences out there for others to see and comment upon.

    As a public-school–educating mom of three who, I admit, breathes a huge sigh of relief every morning when my kids go off to the school bus and I can sit down to work in a quiet house, I have always struggled to understand the decision to homeschool, for many reasons. I really appreciate the light you have shed on your family’s decisions.

  • Rachel

    This comment is totally not about homeschooling: I love it when women publicly declare their love and attraction to their husbands. We should all do it more often and unabashedly.
    P.S. Your response to Comment #1 is spot-on for so many issues affecting women. I don’t know what it is about a woman feeling good in her skin that can make others feel the need to defend their different situation / choices.

  • LeeAnne

    T- loved your response! There was another mom at our church who refused to speak to me after I commented in a women’s group that we had made the choice for me to stay home with the kids. I had commented how it meant sacrificing the $110 sneakers for the clearance rack ones at the store. She took offense to that I guess and that was that. How sad for her to live that way. I am glad that I am surrounded by other women who rejoice in each other and support our varying choices on how we raise our kids. Don’t we all want the same thing in the end? There is a Chinese proverb that I have always liked: There are many paths up the mountain and the view at the top is the same. Cheers, my friend! LA

  • Tara

    Thanks, Rachel. I don’t always feel comfortable in my own skin, but I want the freedom to say so when I do. I like this way of framing the issue.

  • Tara

    I couldn’t agree more with your analysis that the same thing at play with homeschooling controversies is at the heart of all the “mommy wars.” And I’m glad to hear that the post helped you get a glimpse of what attracts at least some of us to homeschool. And for the record, homeschooling does not stop me from feeling some mild elation when they head out the door for a class or to play at a friends or to spend the night at camp with their father. I’m still a mom who wants some space – just less space than I used to want.

  • Tara

    I always thought that if I had girls (and back when I had never heard of homeschooling) I would have wanted them to go to an all girls school. Is it a Catholic school as well? Around here, the only all girl schools I know of are Catholic.

  • Annie Finkemeier

    Tara: I think it is unfortunate that there is a HOME SCHOOL “WAR”. This route was not for us and our family dynamics. Yet, I loved that my sister and family went this route. She has a true gift and I admire her and anyone who can do it! I always remember feeling how I needed to defend her when I would tell people that she home schooled. Yet, I know my niece and nephew had the best early education anyone could ever wish for. Our kids have thrived in their public education and taken all the good there is to offer. They have learned life lessons from the bad. I must add … I think we all have our unique “stories” and lives to live and we need to be on each other’s “teams” and not allow our opinions to override support for one another, understanding and grace.

  • Tara Edelschick

    It is sad. Sad for a whole society, really. The lack of civility in public discourse these days really bums me out.

  • Tara Edelschick

    Grace! That’s the word. Shame on me for not thinking of it. What would it mean to extend a radical grace to everyone we meet – especially to those who chose something different from us, even to those who strongly disagree with us.

  • Alison Hodgson

    I would say especially to those who strongly disagree with us.

    Good post, Tara.

  • Tara Edelschick

    Yes. I reversed the proper order there. Thanks for noticing!

  • Susan Nichol

    In the course of raising four children we home schooled two of them until third grade. After that they were in a variety of schools–city public, suburban public and voc-tec schools. We are thankful that they have all done well (not without struggles, however). Each child is different and each family is different. No one road to educating children will work for everyone. Fortunately, we still have options on our country. I applaud you, Tara, for following your heart and home schoooling your boys!

  • Ginger

    What she said.

    Oh…this comment is too short to be accepted…you’re awesome Tara…that should do it.

  • lauren

    yes… a hard topic for sure. really it does come down to choice and grace. i think at least some of the fire comes from passion. i know i have been guilty — not so much on the homeschool front.. to me that being a very personal choice for each family seemed obvious. i have a harder time with breastfeeding and food choices and such. when someone says it doesn’t matter but every article and scrap of research says it does… i have to release that part of me that wants to ‘prove’ something. i have to remember the big picture of God. fighting and bitterness breaks his heart far more than if someone breastfeeds or not.

    i absolutely love your response to #2— i think isolation is a choice. i went to public school and had little to no contact or understanding of the needy around me. physically or spiritually. we are all learning by grace… me being first in line. :)

  • Ruth

    It’s a crab’s life for some people……. If they can’t get out of the bucket no body else will. I commend you on your bravery as I’m way too conservative in expressing how blessed we are, note I said blessed not perfect not without problems but definetly blessed.

  • s burd

    Some things that really encourages me about your approach and attitude towards homeschool is that it is not about what is easy (it seems at many times it might have been easier for you to send your kids out of the house for other people to “deal with” and try to teach),you’re not trying to hoard your kids’ gifts, talents, and wonderful senses of humor all to yourselves, it isn’t a social experiment, you’re not trying to prove that you are better than any teacher in the schools, you’re not trying to tell the world that the only way is the homeschool way…. I could go on. The most encouraging thing is that you hold it with an open hand. That if the best way for your boys to learn, grow and get the attention they need is to be homeschooled you do it, but if the best thing you could do as a parent looks different from that you make a change.

  • s burd

    … Should have read some things that really encourage

    All that education and I still make mistakes… Imagine that. Oops!

  • Elinor Dashwood

    I’ll come right out and say it: one of the best things about homeschooling for me is that I dislike other people’s children. It’s not universal; I liked quite a few of the children in our homeschooling circle, and even some of the children on the boys’ sports teams. The Other People’s Children I detest are the ones who think it’s all right to persecute any child who is small or awkward or fond of reading or playing alone or with only one companion. Homeschooling kept my one vulnerable child (the rest were pretty sturdy and would have thrived anywhere) away from the herd of brutes, and among his brothers, until he was big enough and self-confident enough to look after himself. It answered the purpose perfectly: he went into the Marine Corps at eighteen (at 6’2″ and 190 lbs) and did very well there, and adored college and was graduated summa cum laude in classics. If I had pushed him onto the schoolbus at age five to sink or swim, my skinny, quirky little boy would have been tormented by the schoolyard rat pack – and yes, every elementary school has a rat pack, even yours.

  • Tara Edelschick

    Open hands. This is probably the most difficult part of parenting for me. Holding my children with open hands, letting God mold them and me in whatever manner HE wants. So, so hard.

  • Tara Edelschick

    I know what you mean about the fire coming from passion. But for me, it’s usually a combination of passion and defensiveness.

  • Tara Edelschick

    Thanks, Susan.

    I remember watching a Michael Card DVD where, along with singing beautiful music, he talked about homeschooling his kids. He said that the primary reason they did it was that they wanted to know their children more deeply. Then he talked about how, in spite of that desire, he and his wife put their youngest in school because the boy’s special needs were such that Card and his wife could not meet them at home. I was so impressed with the way the put the needs of the boy above their desires for a certain kind of closeness.

  • Julie G

    Hi Tara, I appreciate your blog. I think the homeschool “wars” go both ways. Many of us believers who send our kids to public schools do feel judged by some in the homeschool community. Let me give an example on what has shaped my perspective in this regard: One day my husband proudly made a status update on FB about our second born (we have 4 kids). She is an exuberant, social, bouncy, outgoing, sometimes flighty and/or unfocused child. Well, she started coming home with straight A’s after our oldest very responsible child had struggled though to get B’s at the same school. We were shocked. We never took our 2nd to be such a studious child, but school came so easily to her and we took no credit for it, we hadn’t worked specially with her to make her this way, she is just naturally this way, apparently. Well, after posting something on FB about our pleasant surprise at how well our extremely energetic girl was doing in school, one of the wives of our friends from law school (a mother of 6 who home-schools), made the comment, “well think of how well she’d be doing if you home-schooled!” It took away from our pride and her accomplishment and was completely deflating and demoralizing for me and has unfortunately shaped some of my views towards the Christian home-school community and a level of self-righteousness that I perceive to be among some. I know that I am biased though, as a result of my experience.

  • Tara Edelschick

    Oh Julie. On behalf of my homeschooling brothers and sisters, I’m sorry.

    You are right that this really does go both ways. There is a sickness in the land, I’m afraid.

  • rachel

    We have 3 kids ranging from 6 months to 3 and a half. We have discussed the option of homeschooling as our oldest starts school fall 2013… After much prayer we feel it may not be what is best for our family, my mother “home schooled” my brother,sister and I until I was in 7th grade and to be very frank did not do a good job. There were many things she did, and many problems she had, that kept her from being able to home school in a productive way, this experience alone makes me VERY scared to try home schooling myself. I just want to say how deeply I appreciate your recognition that public/private school does not make you bad parents nor does it mean you will not have a deep relationship with your children. The idea of sending my “baby” away 8 hours a day is not thrilling to me, but I know that we have spent the last several years preparing her and praying for her heart, as we will continue to do until we go to meet our Heavenly Father. Thank you for seeing both sides, for recognizing that home schooling for you, and for many others is what fits and for others (whether it be from past experiences, desires or daily life choices) it is not. Thank you again.

  • fvz

    My wife and I have 9 children. We’ve done both home school & Christian school. Simply because there were/are different needs and circumstances. We have seen good & bad in both.

  • TJ Wilson

    Your words- logic- I wholeheartedly agree. Thx for putting MY thoughts so eloquently.

  • lauradodson

    Good job. Love your explanation and the original post as well. Keep it up.

  • Holly

    Respect is the name of the game here! Great post! My husband is a California public high school principal and our children attend the local public school. There are times I want to pull them out and homeschool them because of the social issues (rarely are our issues academic-related) — bullying behaviors running rampant, for one example. I can see why people choose the homeschool path, I also work in the schools and know the pros and cons inside and out of public school. However, at the high school level, the AP classes are highly specialized and taught by extremely knowledgeable teachers – I couldn’t adequately teach those subject matters (maybe one subject, but not 3 or 4 like many students take at one given time). Many of these high school students move on to Stanford, MIT, UCLA, etc. It’s a very long list of successful students from his school. There is a Christian morning prayer group, there is a gay-lesbian-straight alliance group, there are humanitarian fundraising groups to name a few, there is literally something for everybody. Oh, and the free sports programs are pretty nice. BUT…there are also kids who are easily influenced and choose things they would never have been exposed to in a homeschool setting. So, to each his own and, honestly, it all works out in the end when you have a loving home life in the middle!

  • Elizabeth

    I liked both your posts very much, but had to laugh that you called out the “Hey, let’s be civil! All choices are valid here!” This probably wasn’t your editorial choice, but I was led to the first post by a headline of “Why I don’t homeschool (and neither should you!)” The “war” was started by the headline, not by the readers, who were immediately placed on the defensive! If we really want civil discourse, we need to be careful about the methods used to draw in readers :)

  • Steven McCarthy

    This has probably been said above, but I appreciated your post precisely because you talked about why homeschooling has been a blessing to your family without suggesting that you’ve found the only way to raise your kids to which everyone else ought well to conform. I grew up home schooled, and greatly appreciated it, but I am not necessarily committed to homeschooling all my children “all the way through”. All parents need to take responsibility for providing their children with a God-centered, Christ-centered, Gospel-centered education, but that doesn’t answer the question of exactly how and in what various contexts this education will take place.

  • emily

    Thanks Tara for a more real post.
    I do find it interesting that my post was the only negative one, and as a result we are having another “mommy war”.
    My negative reaction began without the title you chose, which lead the reader to believe you were writing a very different article than the one you wrote.
    And as another reader said the attitude goes both ways. my 5 oldest children were educated in the public schools. My youngest attends a Christian school that was founded as a homeschooling cooperative. they helped change the negative stereotype I had towards homeschooling.
    What troubles me when I read an article by someone who home schools is I rarely read about the negatives, the hardships, or the difficult times; Instead it is all fun and glory. unfortunately it is often presented as far superior, rather than just a choice that worked for my family. perhaps that is why you get some negative, and defensive feedback when you write about home schooling, but you don’t when you present both the joys and the struggles that are a part of raising a family.

  • emily

    Sorry Tara,
    I never read your blog before last week, perhaps if I had known and followed it regularly, I would have viewed what you wrote quite differently.
    When people hear both sides of another persons life, they tend robe more generous in their comments. When they only hear the wonderful things- well, it sounds like a Christmas card, if you know what I mean. I’ll follow your blog regularly now and who knows, I’ll probably be cheering you on!

  • Jennifer

    I don’t home school although I have some online friends who do. One of the things that I wish more homeschooling mothers would discuss is the vocation of teaching, separate from motherhood. I think many homeschooling mothers choose the homeschooling route because they strongly desire to teach. What bothers me is the confusion (and because I am Catholic, I see this in Catholic circles) over one’s vocation as a mother and/or a teacher. There is an underlying assumption in some conservative Catholic homeschooling circles that a mother’s primary function is to teach her children. Now this could mean anything from how to run a house, to cooking, or praying, or folding laundry, or being kind to neighbors or how to take care of babies. But sometimes this gets morphed into “because the Church says that a mother’s primary role is to teach her children you aren’t living up to your vocation if you are outsourcing academics”. I think that assumption causes a lot of angst among religious minded women who are not called to teaching academics to their children.
    If I were to home school my children, I would do it because I love teaching and secondly, because I love my children. Does that make any sense to you?

    All moms love their children. All moms want what’s best for them. But not all moms want to take on the challenges of home education. That doesn’t mean that they love their children any less, it means that they don’t have the vocation (calling) to teach.

  • Tara Edelschick

    Thanks for reminding us about calling. What are we called to do?

    And you’re right, homeschooling is not the marker of love.

  • Tara Edelschick

    I was wondering when someone was going to call me out on that!

    I was trying to be tongue-in-cheek, but I take responsibility for starting things off on a sour tone.

  • Tara Edelschick

    Thanks, Emily, for writing back. Yours was definitely not the only negative reaction, though. Some of it on Facebook was harsh.

    And you bring up a good point. I hadn’t thought about the fact that most people on this blog have not been following my more narrowly-focused blog about homeschooling. I promise to write in soon with lots of the things that stink about homeschooling!

  • dorothy greco

    Here’s a thought. For those of you who don’t home-school, when you meet someone who does, try initiating a conversation that starts with something along the lines of, “Tell me more about this choice and what it’s like for your family?” And then just listen, without interjecting and without reacting. Do not, under any circumstances ask, “What about socialization?” Believe me. If someone is taking the time to school their kids at home, they have thought about this issue. (It’s impossible not to when asked once a week.)

    For those of you who do home-school, downplay your choice, until someone has enough trust in your sanity to feel curious and ask the above question. Try to understand that even though you most likely do not intend to use this choice as trump card, others strangely experience it as such.

    We all have to chase away the demons of doubt. Let’s fight for each other.

  • Elinor Dashwood

    My every-time-a-home-run answer to “What about socialization?” was, “You’re absolutely right. Homeschooling is definitely the best socialization. For example, one hundred percent of children who gun down their classmates in school shootings are enrolled in campus schools.” That invariably put an end to the Rude Questions portion of the conversation.