I haven’t written on homeschooling before—mainly because my kids are so young that I don’t have a lot of formal homeschooling experience, but also because the choice on how to school children can be such a divisive, delicate issue. Nevertheless, as our oldest approaches four years old, we have rightfully been getting asked more and more about his schooling. So, after thinking a lot about the appropriate response, I’ve decided to start by refuting some of the reasons commonly associated with homeschooling:
1. Traditional schools are dens of corruption that should be avoided at all costs. The home is always the best place for a child to flourish. We do NOT believe this. Schools— public, private, religious– save many children and families from serious poverty, ignorance, and even neglect and abuse. On a less extreme level, schools can be wonderful repositories of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, creativity, community, and countless other virtues and gifts for so many children. Personally, my school was a wonderful home away from home and many of my best friends from high school are still my best friends today.
2. The world is an evil place. We need to keep our children hidden from the world. We do NOT believe this— at least… not fully. We DO want to “shelter” our kids. We do want to keep them away from things that will hurt them– physically, emotionally, spiritually. But every parent feels this way. Every parent who cares about their children shelters them, regardless of the schooling method. So we really aren’t that unusual. We want our children to be out in the world and changing the world in positive ways. We want our children to sympathize and empathize with the diverse peoples of the world. All homeschooling does is give a little more freedom to choose when and how to shelter and when and how to expose.
3. We’re devout Catholics and we want our kids to live and breathe religion, all day long, every day. This is NOT why we homeschool. Yes, we are Catholic, and it is admittedly difficult to fully understand how we would think if we were not. But only a small portion of the the things my Catholic kids are going to learn is explicitly religious. Moreover, there are many fabulous Catholic schools in this country that could provide our kids with a Catholic schooling environment. At the end of the day, the reasons homeschooling is attractive to us have far more to do with psychology and family lifestyle than they have to do with religion.
4. Because parents are the primary caregivers and teachers of their children, ONLY parents should ever teach their children. We do NOT believe this. First of all, all children who actually live with their parents are homeschooled to some degree (learning to eat, potty training, etc.) But every parent is bound to find something they are unable to teach or give their child. Every parent will end up outsourcing some part of their child’s education. Honest parenting involves recognizing which things ought to be taught by whom– having the willingness to teach and do everything you can for your kids, but having the humility to surrender all the things you can’t or shouldn’t. It’s easy to feel like the more you DIY everything, the better person you are. But sometimes the most heroic thing a parent can do is recognize their own limitations— illness, work, marital fragility, stress levels, poverty, etc.— and get help in caring for their kids. There’s nothing wrong with letting other people care for your children.
So there might come a time when we realize our kids need to go to a traditional school. If we find over time that one of their essential (intellectual, social, emotional, physical, spiritual) needs is not being met, it is our responsibility to do what it takes to meet that need, even if it means outsourcing it. But for now, the main reason we homeschool is simple. We currently have the resources necessary to give our kids most of the things they need and teach them most of the things they should know. So why not do it ourselves? What doing it ourselves really gives us is a little more freedom. Freedom with regard to everything from the way our kids learn to read to the time of day they get to play outside to the time of year we all get to drive to the beach. Tomorrow could be different. If my kids went to traditional school tomorrow, I’d be grateful for that school! But today, I’m grateful for the freedom.