Back-to-school is in the air this month, and another generation of parents is trying to figure out where their kids will be learning to read, write, cipher and make baking soda-and-vinegar-fueled volcanoes this year. Public school, private school or home school?
We home schooled our kids through high school. Our youngest graduated from our kitchen table nearly a decade ago, so I’ve had some time to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and why.
We launched into our journey when we could no longer ignore our middle son’s oft-repeated request to be home schooled. His overcrowded kindergarden classroom left his harried teacher herding far too many 5 and 6 year olds through activities meant to fill time, rather than educate. I worked at the school as a playground supervisor and was involved with both the parent-teacher association and with a group of moms who gathered in my living room to pray for the staff each week. I was committed to making public education work for our children.
Except it wasn’t working. Both of our kids enrolled in the school were a little frayed and a little bored. I’d taught both of them to read, and regularly worked with them at our kitchen table doing academic enrichment activities. I felt like I was running an after-hours, parallel-universe school in our home.
A couple of other families in our church were home schooling. I met with them to pick their brains, asking questions about socialization, curriculum, laws, and support groups. And then my husband and I headed to a home school conference. We heard some very persuasive arguments about why we needed to teach them at home. Speakers pointed us toward the blessing of being able to live a Deuteronomy 6:4-9 lifestyle 24/7, the ability to tailor education to fit the needs of each individual child while opting out of the various political agendas in the public school classroom, and the implied promise of a superior academic and spiritual outcome for home schooled kids.
There was one caveat no one mentioned at that event – or any of the many subsequent home schooling conferences we attended during our years of home schooling (1992-2004). It was, perhaps, a truth that should have been self-evident from the intense, sometimes extreme convictions expressed with great confidence by many of the movement’s microphone-holders and authors about everything from dress to diet, from home birth to home business. It is the reality check families considering home schooling need to hear to balance the hype they’re hearing from some in the home school community.
This reality check is that if you make choice to avoid immersing your child in an environment filled with public school “pagan” peers, you may well be teaching your child to swim in a pool of a different kind. That pool may be filled with Pharisees – legalistic, fear-driven and reactionary.
You will have to deal with both in varying degrees no matter how choose to educate your children.
Not all home schooling families are raging Pharisees by any stretch of the imagination, any more than public schools are crawling with pagans. When we first began home schooling, we were grateful for the traction we got from the strong convictions of those “leading” the home school movement in those days. Unfortunately, a few too many of the people we met during that journey were happy to substitute fear (of all the evils spoken of by the microphone holders of the movement) for their ability to discern God’s voice in order to arrive at their own settled, confident convictions. In retrospect, I can certainly see places in our journey where we took that shortcut. I grieve the sour effects hanging for too long with some vociferous, socially-powerful Pharisees had on our family and home schooling experience.
I would commend home schooling to those who are clear on why they’re making this choice (because your three best friends are homeschooling their kids counts as a terrible reason), creative in problem solving (because you’ll be solving problems all day long) and committed to God and to a lifestyle of learning. If you’re imaging that home schooling will give you the opportunity to simultaneously exempt and inoculate your kids from the messiest parts of growing up, short-cutting them to a clear understanding of what it means to be “in but not of” this world, you will likely be disappointed. There are no shortcuts.
You will work harder than you’ve ever imagined to educate your kids, particularly in areas where you have little acumen. But you will have the satisfaction of watching them learn, and then learn how to learn. I wouldn’t trade those many, many learning moments over the years with my kids for anything.
What are the pros and cons of the school choice(s) you’ve made for your kids?
Note: I’d shared some of these thoughts a few years ago here.