Back in the day, I was a young mom with five small children, all under ten years old. I carefully planned our outings so as not to interrupt nap times (so precious to me!). Because we homeschooled, I also limited days outside the house so they didn’t interfere too much with schooltime.
I remember one of those errand days when my kids and I descended on the library and the grocery store during a weekday morning. Done with our short shopping list, we six made it to the checkout still in good humor. After scanning my few items, the cashier turned to the oldest of my five children (who was probably nine years old at the time) and asked, “Is school out today?” My daughter chuckled a bit, kept her composure, then explained that she and her siblings were homeschooled. “Oohhhh,” was his reply. The conversation came to an abrupt end because the cashier didn’t know what question to ask next.
While the cashier wasn’t exactly a critic of homeschooling, his lack of conversation showed me he didn’t understand our family’s educational choice. It made me consider whether I needed to develop a quick script to explain why we homeschooled. If ever we were asked about homeschooling in public or private again, I wanted to be able to have an adequate explanation.
Fast-forward more than ten years to today, when homeschooling is much more mainstream. It is not only much more widely known today, but it’s accepted and even appreciated in some educational circles. Fewer critics exist, but their words can still wound deeply. Their questions, their doubts, and the barbs they throw can hurt and make you second-guess your decision to homeschool as well as question whether you are adequately teaching your children.
Criticism from strangers at the grocery store can easily be shrugged off. But when the negative comments come from neighbors, friends at church, or immediate family members, that criticism can be tough to deal with.
To handle the critics, first of all realize that criticism of homeschooling doesn’t automatically equal criticism of you. In other words, don’t take the derogatory comments personally. Keep what you do separate from who you are. For those of us who are born-again Christians, we are in Christ, and there is therefore now no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus. You are a dearly loved child of your heavenly Father, no matter what others may say. Continue to live in that truth as you lead your children in their education.
Next, questions often reflect a simple lack of information—as the grocery cashier’s silence most likely did. Therefore, don’t interpret honest questions as criticism. The cashier simply didn’t know what he didn’t know about homeschooling. (When I started homeschooling, I also didn’t know what to ask because I knew very, very little of what I now know!) Homeschooling is so different from what 99 percent of us experienced in our educational backgrounds, it takes a shift in our thinking to accept it and later appreciate it.
Honest questions about homeschooling from friends and family deserve honest answers. When I don’t know how to answer a legitimate question from a friend, I see it as an opportunity. I try to respond, “I honestly don’t know. But I will dig to find out that information and get back to you so we can talk about it more.” That gives me a chance to become more educated about homeschooling and creates an opportunity for further dialogue about homeschooling with my friend.
Over the years, I have gradually developed a short monologue to explain homeschooling. It’s kind of my “elevator pitch” for the merits of homeschooling. When someone asks me an honest question about homeschooling in general, this is my reply:
First of all, homeschooling is legal in all fifty states. My husband and I follow the laws in our state, but we are so thankful for the flexibility the law gives us to teach our children. For most of history, homeschooling is how all parents have taught their children. They taught them to read, write, appreciate natural sciences and geography, and do math; they apprenticed them in useful skills; but most of all, they taught them how to learn. That education from parents has produced great scientists, famous composers, brave explorers, the most-read authors, and many US presidents.
Since homeschooling is basically a tutorial method of education, I get to customize the best learning methods to each of my children’s needs. Individually, I get to help them achieve in areas where they are gifted but also help them get stronger in areas where they are weak. There are tons of great curriculums out there for me to choose from. We also use the library and the Internet a lot.
As a family, we are involved in all sorts of activities outside our home because we want our children to be well prepared to handle different types of social situations. The homeschoolers I know show respect to adults, plus relate well to the elderly and to young children because they don’t spend 12+ years with only kids their own age. As a result of all these strengths, homeschool graduates are thriving. Colleges want homeschool grads to enroll because they are self-starters who know how to learn. For our family, homeschooling has become a lifestyle we wouldn’t trade away.
Not surprisingly, when I explain homeschooling in those terms, I often get, “Huh, I never thought about homeschooling like that” as a reply. It’s as though I’m a homeschool evangelist, planting a seed to help alter others’ notions about a home-based, parent-directed education. Thankfully, years ago several people took the time to answer my basic questions about homeschooling, which resulted in a huge paradigm shift for me as a parent. Now I can do the same for others.
Another idea is to present your critics with information made available by groups like the National Home Education Research Institute, Home School Legal Defense Association, or your state’s Christian homeschool organization. These groups publish high-quality articles and brochures with relevant, factual information about homeschooling.
But what about when the questions do turn the corner toward criticism? What about unkind comments being muttered behind your back—or directly to your face—in social settings or family gatherings? Because you homeschool, maybe a relative questions your ability to parent. Maybe your mother-in-law is vocal about your adequacy to teach her grandchildren. Maybe a relative who works in the public school system takes your decision to homeschool as a personal attack on his chosen vocation.
Obviously, you need to respond in a Christlike way. Craft a kind but firm response. Speak with your critics privately whenever possible, even if they aren’t giving you the same courtesy. Remind them that you are the parent and that as the responsible party, you are making a well thought-out decision for your children. Ask them to address their concerns with you, not with your children. I would suggest that you make sure your spouse has your back, that you are aligned as a couple in your homeschooling efforts and in your efforts to stand unified with one another. You may even role-play or rehearse a reply in advance when you anticipate the critic will be at an event your family will be attending.
It’s possible to be even more proactive. Maybe it would bless those who criticize you to be invited to a homeschool support group event like a field trip, a fine arts or science fair night, or something as ordinary as a weekly co-op gathering or extraordinary as an annual homeschool graduation celebration. Let them see your children (their grandchildren?) learning and interacting alongside others who are also homeschooling. Sometimes critics become advocates when they get to experience a group setting firsthand. It assures them that your decision to homeschool isn’t completely abnormal, that most homeschoolers aren’t totally awkward and don’t have three heads, and that yes, your children are indeed learning something and making friends.
And sometimes, no response—no matter how well worded or graciously delivered—is going to appease the critics. So just keep doing what you know you’ve been called to do: disciple and educate your children. Go ahead and teach your children to read. Take nature walks together. Let your kids write and illustrate books. Read God’s Word as a family and pray for those in need—as well as for those who persecute you. Join a support group and go on field trips. Push through tough math concepts together. Do those science dissections on the kitchen counter. Get involved in service projects or election cycles. Let your efforts in homeschooling build to the point where the results speak for themselves.
Most importantly, remember that your critic isn’t your judge: the Lord is the one to whom you are accountable. Years from now, when your children mature to adulthood and bear fruit from your homeschooling efforts, your critic may even thank you for making the choice you did to homeschool your children.
Melanie Hexter and her husband, Matthew, started their homeschool journey in 1998. With two graduates and four children still at home, they ask the Lord to teach them how to uniquely educate each child. The Hexters love to travel the US, using their Colorado Springs home as a western base. Melanie is working on two books and offers several homeschool curricula, including the U.S. National Parks Unit Study, for download at www.LEMILOEpublishing.com. LEMILOE is their family motto: Live Every Moment In Light Of Eternity.