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.


Anonymous said...

Hi ##name##, this is year one of home schooling for us. My wife is a real trooperhomeschool My schedule does not allow me to help as much as I wouldlike. She shows the patience and the kids are learning. We are thankful that we are going this route. Please pass on any good homeschool tips.homeschoolthanks

Anonymous said...

My husband and I are planning on homeschooling our son starting with kindergarten.

With a lot of the mom's starting to look into school's for their children we were discussing "school" choices. One mom made a comment about homeschooling that I am hearing more often and got me thinking. she said:

"I know a homeschooling family. The results were a disaster. Out of the six children, there was only one that went on to college and the others were either now slackers, drug addicts, or pregnant out of wedlock"and living at home. She said she would never home school for the results could end in disaster.

I know that these results are most definitely also seen with children who attend/attended public/private school. And it probably is a parenting issue.

It got me thinking whether it happens equally with private, public and home schoolers? If the parenting is excellent, would the child excel in any of the three environments? Or does home schooling offer an edge somehow? How does your school choice change a child or change the end result-or does it? Or does success come down to good parent involvement in all situations? We see excellence from children in all three situations. so does it come down to parenting or to the environment?


Fred Buckner MA LPC said...

I was fortunate to be able to provide the best of both worlds to my daughters. We rejected the mediocrity of public schools and homeschooling. There ARE private schools that excel in all areas. Sure this could be proved with statistics, but that would not convince the stalwart mind. Arguing in favor of homeschooling, based on "it's no worse than public schools" is weak and unconvincing. The best course is to do what you believe is best for your children, and let the world go by. No one is convinced with rants.

Natalie said...

Sounds to me that you were convinced before you visited this...what?...six month old post.

How fortunate for you, Fred, that your family lives in an area with perfectly perfect private schools. The vast majority of us are not as lucky.

Have a nice day.

Natalie said...

And, after a quick re-read of this post (it's been a while), I see no instance in which I argue that homeschooling is "no worse" than public schooling.

But, I do think my post deserves an update. Thanks for the motivation.

Anonymous said...

The beauty of the internet is that conversations like this may go on long after they have begun. I stumbled upon your original post while researching homeschooling for a graduate class in education.

I am not sure that you provide any solid evidence to back up your claims. You have made several broad statements about schools, and teachers in particular, which are untrue. At the very least, they are generalizations based on your own opinion.

First of all, evaluation and personal reflection are indespensible tools for the teacher. Any teacher who resents this feedback and evaluation simply lacks confidence in their abilities. Good teaching does not happen by accident and no one does it perfectly. Observations by fellow teachers and administrators should be a welcomed occurance, as they give the individual teacher a chance to be told both what they do well, and how to improve. This is why teachers should never work in isolation.

Continuing education is vital and I would participate, even if not required to do so. In order to be the best teacher I can be, I must fully value my own education and development. Any teacher who does not value the opportunity to expand their own knowledge does a disservice to themselves as well as their students.

It is a sad thing when teachers view their own classrooms as assembly lines simply churning out products. What a depressing thought. The most effective teachers reject this ideology.

I think its great that you have found homeschooling to be the answer for your family, and that you are passionate in your belief. However, it seems that you must ridicule others to strengthen your position. Please do not be defensive, I am not trying to attack. I am simply saying that not all public school teachers are imbiciles.


Amy said...


I attended public school for five years and I was homeschooled for eight years. I agree that not all public school teachers are foolish. I had some very excellent teachers, I also had some poor teachers.

I think it is rediculous for you to respond to this article. Obviously you are intelligent and not the type of teacher that this article is refering to. You, I am convinced, would not ask a parent why they chose to homeschool. You would not ask a homeschooling parent what their qualifications are, you would probably go online to see the statistics and then draw your own conclusions.


Anonymous said...

So, I must say that the original post almost had me in tears, I was laughing so hard (internally of course).

I so truly enjoyed this blog, I have been in a battle with my mother on why I homeschool. I don't know if she knows it, but she pretty much called me a moron who had no business teaching.

Well, with me being the strong minded individual I am, I started quoting the stats that I found on the internet and even just talking to current and previous homeschooling parents. None of that seemed to quench the thought in my mom's heart that my boys would turn out to be some sort of unsocialized freaks because I never took a child pschology course or have my degree. I asked if I had a marketing degree would that be ok and surprisingly, yes, it would be (go figure). I only wish that I had read this posting first. It is such a great encourgement. I mean, you know that there are successes and failures in every circumstance, and just because you homeschool doesn't mean that your child is "guaranteed" to make it. But, it sure does help when they are face to face with real life.

I have a news flash to people who think highschool is real life, watch the O.C. watch some of the reality t.v. shows on MTv, watch the news for crying-out-loud and then comment on "real life." If that's real life, then I don't want my children anywhere near it.

For the few good teachers out there, sorry for what seems to be public school teacher bashing, but you know, just look at all the teachers around you and just be honest. How many of them are good teachers, who haven't been demoralized by paycuts and 40-children classrooms. No matter how good a teacher is; how can they teach just one child at their individual level?

Thanks again, and please write a book, I am preordering right now. You are absolutely hilarious and know how to give a potentially boring or volitile topic, humor and flare.

For the graduate student, I am glad you have not felt the pangs of inner-city public schools. 20 years of thanklessness. Being scared to address an unruly child because you don't know if you could be beat-up, shot or sued. But keep up the positive attitude, the world could use some teachers who still care. We all know that they are out there, but most of them are so caught up with the politics of teaching they can't.
Good luck and God bless, it takes a special person to teach other people kids.


His Girl said...

I realize that this is an older post - but I sure enjoyed it! When I find myself in the position of answering inquiries about our family's decision to homeschool I use a variety of responses - some including statistics on the many benefits of homeschooling - and sometimes just plain old logic and common sense - as you've noted here. I appreciate your reminder to respond based on what the questioner is really asking - as opposed to a conditioned response.

I had to also respond to Elizabeth's passionate, yet naive, comment. The NEA - the nation's largest and most politically powerful union - states quite emphatically in it's annual resolutions that teacher evaluations should have NO place in determining employment, tenure, compensation, or promotion for teachers. It, in fact, calls teacher evaluation a "deletorious" practice that "must be eliminated." Obviously, Elizabeth's fellow teachers do not share her appreciation for evaluation.

Natalie said...

It tickles me that people still find this post helpful or thought-provoking (or, in Elizabeth's case, somewhat confounding).

Thanks for visiting!