I remember very clearly a conversation I had several years ago, just after church. It was a warm, sunny day, and I was making my way to the car when I ran into another mom who attended our church. We weren’t particularly close, but as the only two homeschooling moms in the church, we always found time to chat after the service.
She was going to the later service that day because she had just returned from a homeschooling convention held up in Denver. I asked her how it went, and she said it was good and that she had learned some new things, but she hadn’t cared for some of the talks that were given. I asked her why and she said they focused too much on fear.
I did a little double-take because I wasn’t sure what she meant by that. To what kind of fear was she referring?
“They said a lot of things that implied the main reason to homeschool is because you’re just afraid of sending your kids to public school. I don’t agree with that.”
We chatted a bit longer and said our goodbyes before parting ways. I climbed into my car with her words running around in my head, and the entire drive home, I couldn’t stop thinking about what she had said.
Homeschooling because you’re afraid of sending your kids to public school is a bad thing?
I spent grades one through six in three different public schools, and my husband graduated from public school, so we are familiar with how they operate. While the experiences we had weren’t exactly the same, we both had enough negative experiences (a lot of bullying for me and, what my husband feels was, a subpar education for him) to cause us to pause when it was time for us to enroll our son in kindergarten. I was very willing to homeschool, and so that’s what we did. When we told people we homeschooled, though, we always added the caveat that we would reevaluate this decision every year and send him to public school if we felt it was a better option. In some ways, our early days of homeschooling felt like a holding pattern while we waited to descend onto the runway that is public school.
Until I had that conversation with my church friend, I assumed that everyone who homeschooled did so because they were afraid of sending their kids to public school. Whether that was a fear of their kids being taught in ways that did not align with their beliefs, bullying, a “subpar education,” or whatever the reason was, I thought the consensus was that public schools can be various forms of “scary.” Homeschooling is the safer alternative. So why was this a bad thing?
This thought swam around in my head for a long time, and I mulled it over often. Homeschooling from fear is a bad thing. We should not homeschool because we are afraid. We should homeschool because…..
And my mind got stuck there.
It wasn’t until a year or two later, after we had been traveling this homeschool journey for a little longer, that I finally realized what she meant.
We don’t homeschool because we’re afraid. We homeschool because we are confident that it’s the better path for our family.
We can vilify the public school system all day long (as we homeschoolers are often vilified by the general public as well), but until we come up with a good “why” that doesn’t primarily have to do with how bad we think public schools are, we aren’t homeschooling out of a place of freedom. We are homeschooling out of a place of fear.
I understand that most people homeschool because there is something about public schools that they disagree with or flat-out dislike. But there is a difference between simply being afraid of what will happen to your kids if they go to public school versus looking at how kids are taught in public schools, what they’re taught, and the big one for us: why they’re taught, and knowing that that’s not what we want for our own kids. We don’t fear those things, but rather, we know that there is an alternative that is better for our family.
And there is freedom in that.
Admittedly, the first few years we homeschooled, I was kind of embarrassed by it. As I hinted at above with my caveat about our son potentially going to public school some day, I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that we chose this path. Part of it was that I knew people would think it was weird and would most likely judge us, but there was also the chance this choice of ours might cause offense because if public school is good enough for the kids of whomever I happened to be talking to, then why wasn’t it good enough for mine? I avoided going to the store or library even after finishing our school day at noon because I didn’t want to be questioned about why my kids weren’t in school. What will I say? How will they respond when I tell them that we homeschool? How will I prove to these complete strangers whom I owe nothing that my kids are learning?
That was part of the fear factor for me. I wasn’t homeschooling because I was confident it was the better path. I was homeschooling because I couldn’t comprehend my six-year-old, sensitive son navigating the world of public school. And in that, I was saying, “Well, yes, public school is where most kids go, and I know it’s the ‘normal’ thing to do, and maybe someday we’ll do that too when he’s a little older, but we’re going to do this other thing for now and please don’t judge me for that.”
But the conversation with my church friend, the subsequent mulling over it, and the experience of a few more years of homeschooling changed my view. Since I started homeschooling from a place of freedom instead of fear, what others may think about this non-traditional choice of ours doesn’t phase me anymore. What might cross the minds of friends and family or even random strangers at the places we visit in the middle of the day on a Tuesday doesn’t enter my mind. I obviously don’t want to cause offense, but I also know I need to follow the path that’s right for our family regardless of how others take that choice, and I am now confident in that decision.
While I can’t say that my kids will never go to public or private school because life is fluid and we need to stay flexible, this is the plan for the foreseeable future. Now, when I tell people we homeschool, I don’t qualify it with a caveat and hope they won’t judge me. I say it with confidence. I say it with pride. I am proud that we homeschool. I am glad that we homeschool. I am thankful that we homeschool.
Homeschooling out of freedom is far better than homeschooling out of fear.
So why do we homeschool?
The advantages of homeschooling vary with different families. The reasons for our family are numerous, ranging from our worldviews to how and why we want our kids to be taught, but my very favorite part of homeschooling is that I get to be with my kids each and every day. No, it is absolutely 100% not easy and often very hard, but it is also absolutely 100% worth it to me. I cherish this time and am genuinely thankful for the myriad ways it allows me to know them better and experience life with them.
I also get to go on the journey of education with them. I mentioned once on Instagram that homeschooling sometimes feels like being on a very long cruise that visits ports in different times and different places, experiencing a little bit of that age and location for a short amount of time before moving on to the next destination. And that’s what I feel like we’re doing each and every day. We read rich, living books and experience the stories of history and great literature together. Those are shared experiences that I wouldn’t give up for anything.
Finally, one of the biggest advantages of homeschooling for me can be summed up in this quote from John Taylor Gatto, a former NYC public school teacher who said:
Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your roadmap through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.John Taylor Gatto, “Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling”
I do not want my kids to go through school thinking it’s only so they can pass the test, someday get a job, conform to “normal,” and become Productive Members of Society. That should not be the purpose of their education. I want them to be people who love to learn, who know how to learn, and who aren’t afraid of choosing the path less taken.
This is why we are confident in choosing to homeschool. This is the better path for us.