Thursday, May 18, 2006

Silencing Homeschool Critics Without Statistics

The Revised and Updated Version!
[Originally posted March 2, 2005]
The following are excerpts of messages I posted to a homeschool group after several people asked for statistical information with which to convince or silence their critics. I thought I'd edit them together and include it here for others to read. My view was that homeschooling statistics are flimsy, especially when you're dealing with emotional family members, obnoxiously "friendly" bystanders or stat-wonky school professionals. This is long, so go get that cup of coffee, take that bathroom break and check on the kids...

It helps to understand what the critic is really saying and what these concerns and assumptions are based upon. Rather than immediately assuming that this common line of questioning is a personal affront to your intelligence, ability, or parenting skills, view this as an opportunity to expand their view. Some people sincerely lack knowledge (others are just plain jerks). By remaining level-headed and unemotional, you strengthen your case as well as lessen the risk of becoming defensive or feeling attacked.

Here are my stat-free responses to the top eight questions/comments confronting homeschoolers:
"I am a schoolteacher and I have to be evaluated periodically, as well as take continuing education. Why shouldn't you be accountable as well?"

Clearly, this isn't a stat question although newbies think they need to quote educational research here. Instead, think of it this way: Teachers are *required* to do this by the government. So ask:
1. ...if she'd feel confident in her abilities without jumping through those hoops (any teacher worth her salt would say yes),
2. ...if she'd participate in the re-evals and CE programs were these strictly voluntary (most would not and claim these are a waste of time and money),
3. ...if she felt she was learning practical, valuable information from these classes (no, see 2 above),
4. ...if she felt "bad teachers" were really being weeded out or improved by these evals, or were they just killing trees and pushing papers around to make the rest of us feel good (no, see 2 above),
5. whom she feels the highest level of obligation to do a good job (hint: not your children),
6. ...if she positively enjoys her job and the kids she teaches every year (my mom--a public school teacher--admits she doesn't, even dislikes some kids, and says most parents AND teachers learn to view the classroom as an assembly line. next!).

Chances are she resents the fact that you have this freedom of opportunity, feels threatened by invalidation if she accepts your choice, or just doesn't get it (and you can't make her). She also doesn't grasp that you are working one-on-one with your own children without a salary whereas she is entrusted with a larger number of others' children in an employee-employer relationship. By that very nature, your job is not the same as her job and shouldn't be subject to the same bureaucratic requirements. Even if it would make her feel better.
"There are a lot of parents out there who have no business teaching their children."
Not unlike "paper or plastic", complete strangers feel perfectly comfortable throwing this statement out there in the line at the grocery store. While true, this is a general assumption that can't be quantified. Stats won't work here, even if they existed. Whatever you do, DON'T answer it with this snarky statement:
"There are a lot of people who have no business having children."
(Most people will agree with you here, but they'll also assume YOU might be one of those people.)

What this person is saying is that they think there should be some standard (via regulation) to which homeschoolers should be held accountable. You can just say, "There are a lot of teachers out there who have no business teaching." This directly addresses the premise of this argument by pointing out that regulations don't weed out bad teachers in the present system, and they wouldn't weed out bad homeschoolers, either.

If they persist, ask if they'd welcome increased regulation to weed out the bad (fill in their job title) in the (widget) industry. Government intrusion sounds like a great solution to lots of problems until the camel's nose is in their tent, so that'll make them think. This is also a great one to use on school administrators and teachers, because they *know* teachers who shouldn't be teaching AND feel tied down by the regulations, whether they openly admit it or not. However, many don't think beyond the bureaucracy (See Comment 1).
"HOW are you going to make sure Kiddo learns SOCIAL SKILLS??"
This person is operating under an out-dated assumption. Schools aren't conducive to socialization like they were when we were in them (detail examples if you need to). Ask sincerely, "Do you really want your child to learn social skills from her peers? And since when did socialization trump education at school or in the home?" This will slow them up, but not shut them down, because then they ask...
"Well then, what are you going to do to make sure she has friends?"
This person is operating under institutional pre-conditioning, which results in a very narrow view of the world in which school is not the only place children meet other children and ignores the fact that not only can homeschoolers join homeschool groups, we (like other "normal" people) go to church, utilize library book clubs (some of which cater to homeschoolers, like ours does), take up ballet or karate, join 4-H. The list is so long, people will eventually feel stupid for asking for it.

As an added bonus, you can point out that the fact that you don't have to help with three hours of homework every night or spend weekends on a diorama of the life cycle of the wiki wiki bird (a winged animal that knows where to find information about anything...ok, I made that up) makes enriching your child's life with other activities even more possible. The average parents of traditional schoolers don't have that luxury, they know it, and this will shut them down.
"But don't you get tired of staying at home with your children all day?"
This question cracks me up. I just say with dramatic sincerity, "No...[hand to pearls]... I love my children" then watch them spin their wheels. Suddenly, they're doing all the talking and the focus isn't on my choice anymore. They also realize what a faux pas they've committed while they ramble about how they love their children, too. This is fun to watch.

You don't have to explain yourself further on this question, because the asker is rarely ever *truly* saying "but what about you and your interests and sense of well-being?" They're just being nosy, so don't humor them.
"Are you qualified to teach?" or "How will you teach?" or "Do you know how?", etc.
So far, I have resisted the urge to say "Golly. I dunno, I'm a moron like you!" and look completely bewildered or walk into a few walls... but that wouldn't be very nice. This asker is also operating under the influence of institutional pre-conditioning and shares the myopic AND misguided view that parents shouldn't, don't know how to and cannot teach. Therefore, they conclude, education should be left to the "experts."

Stop them in their tracks by asking if they knew how to parent when their first child was born or how to be a wife/husband when they got married. They might say, "No, but I had a mother/home life/childhood to model..." Bingo, they answered their own question: the most valuable skills for long-term success were learned, not at school, but at home...from Mom and Dad (What, like math is harder than marriage and raising children??)
Bottom line: Committed individuals can do anything they put their minds to and that includes teaching algebra.
"What do you teach?" or "How do you teach?" or "What resources do you have?", etc.
Sometimes, people who ask this question are genuinely curious. Other are extending the "You can't do that!" arguement. Regardless, most are operating under the false assumption that homeschoolers have fewer resources than schooled children. Be prepared to wow this person (and for their envy), because the options you have and the resources from which you may pull are beyond this person's grasp. From life to the library, list them and watch the looks on their faces.

They know the drudgery of homework and use internet searches and library visits to complete time-sensitive projects they care nothing about. That your children are so motivated by curiosity or that these resources have been integrated into your everyday life is unimaginable to families who send their kids off to apathetic public schools or rigorous private schools. School, to them, is like a job they wake up hating to go to everyday, something to get through. Not an adventure or a way of life like it is for most of us.

(Side rant: If homeschooling is not this way for you, you should change something you're doing. Obviously, your methods and your child's needs aren't on the same level, but it is fixable. Not a criticism, just more unsolicited advice from a know-it-all.)
"What are you going to do about college?"
This one used to be harder to answer, but this has changed in the last several years as both private and public colleges and universities have begun to recruit homeschool grads. However, this person doesn't know that and assumes it is more difficult, if not impossible, to get into any college, much less a good one. They also assume your child will have a hard time adjusting.

You don't even have to get into a discussion of state laws or college admission procedure or research studies conducted on the success rates of homeschoolers transitioning to college, though that's the first thing I thought of when someone asked me. Instead, tell them that many homeschoolers are actually more prepared for college because they have been integrating learning and life in a diverse environment for years. Many of them are independent thinkers who don't have to "find themselves" after years of assimilation.
Embarking on a structured "college track" isn't really even necessary, but the homeschool families who do put more time and effort into college choice and preparation than the average public-schooled child/family. Around 10th grade, lots of us kick into portfolio mode and begin researching colleges while most parents of (average) traditionally schooled children don't think about this until the latter part of their child's junior year. While they're trying to get Jr. to focus on bringing up his GPA so he can have a better chance at a scholarship (or even just get a letter of acceptance), our child has been in college mode for a year and a half longer, has been taking practice tests, has participated in researching potential schools (rather than solely leaving it up to mom and dad), has taken dual enrollment courses and usually understands what is at stake, the transition that must be made, etc.
If your breeeelliant logic and well-thought-out responses fail to beat stereotypes and change minds about homeschooling, know when to call it quits and just change the subject:
"...did you see American Idol? I'm so disappointed that Elliot Yamin was voted off. He had the most talent in the final three and now that Katherine McPhee girl is probably going to win. [sigh]. I just don't like her. She's like a high school diploma: pretty packaging, lots of fanfare, but no know, a dime a dozen..."
Smile, wait five seconds, excuse yourself and walk away. Your work here is done.