K-12 school closures around the country have inspired a plethora of memes and satire pieces about homeschooling. Whether parents were yay or nay before, every mom is a homeschooling mom now, for a few weeks at least. Fun, right?
I’m a homeschool alumnus myself, but I can’t say I find the joke quite as funny as all that. It was funny the first time, but it’s starting to overstay its welcome. In the time of COVID-19, let me suggest that this is not the moment to have a laugh at people whose lifestyle choices and income situations have left them struggling to cope with the demands of round-the-clock child care.
Pause for a moment to reflect: What is the actual most likely scenario to unfold as kids are sent home en masse with nowhere to go? Hint: It’s not a homeschooling renaissance. Far more likely, children will simply be left in the house to fend for themselves while Mom and Dad both keep working their show-up-to-work jobs so they can still pay the rent. To say this is less than ideal is an understatement. But many people will have little choice in the matter. The response from people with the luxury to leave a parent at home should be compassion, not glibness.
Lest I be misunderstood, I have been a proud ambassador for homeschooling all my life. I’ve shouted its joys and benefits from the rooftops. I’ve stuck up for homeschoolers when they were targets of ignorance and casual bigotry. Furthermore, I’ve preached that the ideal family unit is a single-income family unit, preferably one where the mother is the parent free to be with the children. I haven’t changed my mind about these things in the abstract. But in this economy, the sad fact is that practical realities often conspire to kill the ideal, sometimes indefinitely. This was true long before America found itself facing a global pandemic. The most obvious example of reality versus the ideal is the single-parent home. The 20-something unwed mom piecing together three jobs has never had the luxury to spend her day guiding her brood through Charlotte Mason and Saxon Math worksheets. Sad, but true.
Of course, people with the freedom to choose differently have also made their choices. But agree with them or not, they were made long ago, and the reality today for millions of American families is that Mom and Dad work while kids are in school. One could also point out that the pro-life strategy of encouraging unwed moms to keep and raise their babies themselves, often before encouraging them to give up the babies for adoption, has intentionally or not fed into this stream. (I throw that in the mix not to say it’s a bad or wrong strategy, necessarily. Unwed moms can in fact be more psychologically open to keeping their children than putting them up for adoption. I just offer it as food for thought to the conservative Christian.)
We’ve been hearing about how best to help elderly neighbors, but now is also an excellent time for homeschooling families to brainstorm how they can help their dual-income neighbors. Offer to share curriculum. Offer to cook. Offer to babysit. Offer to pick up groceries. If you teach an extra-curricular skill, offer some free lessons.
Families who are free to lavish the full loving attention of one parent on their kids’ growth and education have much to be grateful for. They’ve been blessed with an opportunity that’s not an opportunity for as many parents as you might like to think. When forces beyond everyone’s control are shaking up the social fabric, resist the urge to chuckle at the expense of the neighbor who didn’t build his life on your conservative ideals for the family unit. Instead, repeat to yourself, “Dang, I’m lucky,” a few times if necessary. Then figure out how you can help.