What your friends in the denim jumpers don’t want you to know
I’ve been contemplating the writing of this article for several years. Currently, it exists only on scraps of paper, untitled fragments of Word documents, and in my brain (which is surely the least reliable storage system of all.) I know there could be backlash from the public broadcasting of such an article, but I believe the time has come: the time to tell the truth . . . the bad news about homeschooling.
After all, the good news is pretty easy to find. Elementary-school children who don’t automatically line up when they hear a bell, high school students who will look you in the eye rather than dismiss you as if they’ve no use for your time, and of course we’ve all read the surveys. You know; the ones that will tell you that 76% of adults who had been homeschooled voted in a state or national election in the past five years compared to 29% of the general public, or that 71% of them participate in ongoing community service activities, surpassing the gp’s 37% by quite a stretch. There’s more good news where that came from here at Dr. Brian D. Ray’s website. And of course there are the multiple studies showing the standardized test scores being 15-35% higher on average for homeschoolers, quotes from admissions officers at colleges such as Boston University, Dartmouth and Stanford calling homeschooled students “outstanding” and praising their “intellectual vitality,” and research showing an extremely high percentage of homeschoolers who claim to embrace the belief systems of their parents compared to the dismal church dropout rate of those who attend public schools.
But enough of the happy stuff. I’m here to tell you the nitty-gritty . . . the bad news you’re not going to get anywhere else. So here goes.
THE BAD NEWS ABOUT HOMESCHOOLING
#1. You will have to school your children at home.
Seems obvious, right? But based on the generalized shock that ensues sometime around Week Two of the great experiment (and of course again every February) apparently it’s not as obvious as one would expect.
Let’s look at the key words and phrases in this sentence . . . and by key, of course, I mean all of them. First of all, You.
This means just what it says: YOU. You, the mom. You, not some paid employee of the state, will be performing this great feat. You can’t shunt it off to someone else. Your husband will probably even keep going to work like a normal person. If your child can’t read, doesn’t understand long division, or doesn’t have enough credits for the college they wanted to attend, there will be no random string of relatively-unknown teachers to blame. When the end of the day/semester/year/educational trail ends and the buck stops, it’ll be at your feet. (Don’t get too excited, though–you’ll probably have to spend it on curriculum.)
And here’s more bad news: YOU will still be YOU. You will not wake up on the Monday after you make the decision to homeschool and find you’ve turned into Socrates, Anne Sullivan, Charlotte Mason, Lisa Whelchel or Sally Clarkson overnight. (Bummer, I know!) It will just be little old you, same as the day before, with all the same flaws, only now they’ll be thrown into horrifyingly sharp relief by the plight of being sandpapered 24 hours a day by the little blessings (students?) the Lord has graced you with. Sometimes it’s called sanctification. Sometimes it’s called painful. Sometimes it’s called homeschooling.
On to part two of the sentence: will have to. Now, this too sometimes seems to be a shocker.
The Lord has given you the responsibility of educating the children He’s given to you as a stewardship, and you are ultimately responsible to Him for how well you do that job. The world is an amazing place, and it’s up to us to engage our children in the task of learning–which ultimately could be defined as deciphering what God is saying about Himself, the world, and about His plan for their lives through His wonderful creation. We have to give them the tools to be prepared for whatever it is He may call them to do in the future, and that is a full-time and demanding occupation, for sure.
Surprisingly, there are others who will claim an interest in your management of the job you undertake. Unless you are blessed to live in the funny-looking chain of states running from Texas to Michigan or the happy aberrations of Idaho and Alaska that apparently understand the concept of freedom as applied to education, you’ll be required to notify someone holding a potentially widely-varying degree of acceptance or disgust for homeschooling about your plan to take this off-the-beaten-path path. Whether it’s the necessity of joining an “umbrella school,” notifying your local school board, or submitting to yearly standardized testing, you may find yourself singing, “I always feel like somebody’s watching me . . . ” Not fun, I admit. But here’s the thing: we should be taking our responsibility seriously enough to work hard at it, whether we’re being watched by Big Brother or not. Homeschooling is not a place to hide out, and it’s not an area that should be added as an afterthought to our lives, to be attended to when we feel like it. If we choose to homeschool, we will have to homeschool. Which brings me to . . .
The third main point: school.
Now, many take issue with this word, “school,” saying that we don’t really need to make our homes into mini-classrooms– though some families do exactly that, right down to desks with flags on them and the reciting of the Pledge. I prefer to think of myself as educating my children at home rather than schooling them, and that takes place all over the house. Potato, po-tah-to, though . . . the fact is that each day, you will need to teach your children something. You can’t stay in bed doing nothing, and you can’t sit around watching television and eating bon bons all day. Reading in the backyard, textbooks at the dining room table, nature walks in the park, workbooks, gardening, computer programs, cooking, trips to museums and national monuments and even Epcot, yes. Sponge Bob and MTV, not so much. There will be no girls-only lunches (unless all your children are girls, of course; at least not until someone’s old enough to babysit–and even then, not very often) and no real alone time during school days, no cleaning-out-the-closets-in-peace time, no time to rearrange the furniture forty different ways, because you will be too busy teaching English and Algebra and Physical Science and a bunch of other things you perhaps didn’t enjoy the first time around. Children deserve a chance to learn about God’s wonders, His orderliness and creativity and wisdom and power, through grammar and science and math and languages and all the history of all the world. It’s our job to teach them that it all revolves around Him. If you’re not a reader, you’re going to need to (gasp!) change. If you were “never good at math,” you’re going to need to (gasp!) change. Learning . . . it’s a difficult job, but someone’s gotta do it . . . and that someone is YOU! (See key phrase one.) It takes research and planning and tweaking and more research and more planning and more tweaking and a lot of hard work.
Key phrases, part four: your children.
When you homeschool, it is generally accepted that you’re going to undertake the education of your own children. They, too, will wake up on the Monday morning after you decide to homeschool, and be the exact same people they were when you tucked them in the night before. Which means that the small people who haven’t yet learned obedience or hard work, the ones who make all the laundry and can’t keep their rooms picked up and still have so far to go on the road to becoming like Jesus, are your students. Whenever someone says to me, “I could never teach my kids at home–they’d never listen to me!” I want to reply, “Oh, my gosh, then you’d better begin keeping them home quickly–because that’s a major problem!” Your children are your responsibility, your gift, your stewardship, your letter to the world in the future. Consequently, when you start attempting to teach them “school-y things”– the kinds of things that can be put down on paper–all the places you’re not yet done shaping are going to become very visible . . . when they disobey, refuse to listen, are mean to their brothers and sisters, and don’t work hard. (No, “when they disobey” is not a typo–I homeschool my own children, remember? I know these things.) You will see their sins and weaknesses on a moment-by-moment basis. Your heart will hurt. That’s a good thing. Your children. Your students. Your disciples. Your gifts. Your responsibility.
Finally, part five of this first scary sentence: at home.
Now, here’s where we often get our warm and fuzzy feelings about the idea of homeschooling. We’ll stay home! We can wear our jammies! We can snuggle and read on the couch, do math in the hammock in the backyard, and play with the puppy at lunchtime!
All of those things are true. Which means . . . we will sometimes not leave our yard in a given 48 hour period, and we will get BORED! We will be in our jammies– when the postman comes! Or,when our eighteen-month-old decides, on a semi-cool February morning in Florida, to run out into the front yard which is across from a gas station and which borders a semi-busy road separated from the yard quite effectively physically but not *visibly,* wearing only his jammie shorts, and we will have to chase him down across the yard in front of the traffic and the gas station–in our bathrobe! (Ahem.) We will snuggle on the couch to read– and leave our books strewn across the floor, desks, bookshelves and everywhere else! We will do our math in the hammock–and leave the $40 book out in the rain and mom will have to order a new one and wait a week for it to come in! We will go out to play with the puppy at lunchtime–and never come back in to finish the second half of our day! (None of those things happen around here, of course, but I’ve heard others tell such dreadful tales.)
And if you’re still, after all this bad news, still considering taking the plunge and homeschooling your children, I would suggest you do one more thing: go down to your local elementary school. Walk into a classroom and take a good look around. Finally, take a deep breath, and picture all of that *stuff* . . . all over your living room. With bits and pieces strewn down the hallways for good measure.
Now you’re getting the idea.
There are a few things misleading about that picture, though. First of all, your living room is probably smaller than the classroom. You probably have no built-in bookshelves, corkboards, electronic pencil sharpeners, whiteboards, small tables and chairs, or easy-clean-up rugs on your floors. And there’s something else your home is missing, too . . . staff. Teacher’s aide? Nope. Principal to send them to when they’re misbehaving? Won’t be home ’til sometime after 5, probably. Guidance counselor? Sorry, you’ll have to figure it out yourself. P.E. Teacher? Hunt down your sneakers. The lunch lady? It’s all you, baby. Janitor? This one’s the one that really gets us all, I’m afraid . . . take a good look in the mirror. Bus driver? Same. (See key phrase one.)
#2. There Are No Formulas
Homeschooling is a wonderful option. The statistics are awe-inspiring. But there are no guarantees. Just because you decide to keep your children at home, it doesn’t follow that they will automatically read at three and a half, enjoy studying Physiology on their own in their spare time, become Rhodes Scholars, joyfully embrace purity, and live a radical life for Christ.
Homeschoolers are known to be very intelligent, caring, well-spoken and interested in learning.
Some are also known to be reclusive, lazy, selfish, rude, and spend all their time on the computer.
Did I just say that in my outside voice? I hope so, because someone needs to tell you that. Bringing your children home has no intrinsic guarantees. They will need teaching and training and discipline and hard work and input and prayer and study and research and lots and lots and lots of patience and love (see The Bad News, Part One.) As Zig Ziglar has been quoted as saying, if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time. The corollary is, if you aim at the moon, you will hit it only occasionally. If you don’t pour your best efforts and heart into homeschooling your children, you are going to be disappointed. If you do pour your best efforts and heart into homeschooling your children, you are still sometimes going to be disappointed. Making sure the enemy has no place to stand on in order to blame you when that happens is a full-time process. And since you’re human, you’re bound to make some mistakes, try as you will.
It isn’t just your efforts that will play into the equation of your homeschool life. Your children, of course, have much to do with it. They come to us as gifts. And they come to us as humans. Some are naturally shy. Some have learning difficulties. Some have serious handicaps that would keep them from hitting those “ultra homeschooler” statistics even if you worked together 24/7. But the worst thing you’ll run up against in your child is the same bad thing you’re going to run up against in yourself: their sin nature.
Let’s face it, folks: Adam and Eve were homeschooled.
And so were Cain and Abel.
You take the same risk God takes every time He sends another soul to live out their lives on this earth; the risk that the choices they make would not be the same ones you would make. Only you’ve put more money on your bet than the average parent, because if your gamble appears to fail, the blame will all fall on you–at least in the eyes of some (mostly your own.) There will be no teachers, no system, no major outside pressures to accuse. Oh, sure, you could do that–since we all live in the world, there’s no true way to entirely contain your child’s life experience. But the bulk of the input has been yours, and that’s a heavy burden to bear. You’ll have to figure out which responsibilities are yours and which are theirs. If you never bothered to teach any grammar, and they don’t know any grammar, that’s your fault. If you diligently taught grammar lessons, and they flew through without paying any attention day after day after day, and they don’t know any grammar, that’s their fault. And if you diligently taught, and they diligently worked, and they still don’t get it–well, that’s another matter entirely. Only you will know the truth. If you diligently taught God’s Word, and they live in a manner that seems to throw it back at Him, that’s their fault. If you never found time to prioritize the study of God’s Word, if you didn’t live by it yourself, if they were never shown how to defend it and apply it, and they don’t live by it . . . you know where those arrows are going to land. When your child stands before God, of course, the final responsibility will be their own. But the days in between now and then stretch long and potentially dark.
Life isn’t a simple math equation. It’s not a+b=c, though when it works in my favor I wish it were! There are unknown variables in that equation, and each person’s ability to make their own decisions is a big one.
There are no formulas.
#3. You’re making it harder on them.
Bet you hadn’t thought of that one, and that it rubs you the wrong way. I know it rubs *me* the wrong way.
We want homeschooling to make things better. We want everything to be positive and for all to be sweetness and light. But I’ve learned the truth in my going-on-fourteen years of educating my children at home. And the truth is that in many ways, homeschooling makes life harder for our kids.
Here’s why. The culture is a vast stream, driven by the wants, felt needs, impulses, lusts, wishes, greed, and vanity of the people who make up our society. It flows relentlessly away from God and His Word; away from selflessness and sacrifice and humility; away from the cross.
If you homeschool your children, you will be putting them into a boat and rowing in the opposite direction of culture as a whole. You will be training them to seek different ends. You will prioritize family over peers and thinking skills over cramming for the test. You will teach them that every subject finds its beginning and center in God, and that He can’t just be dropped off at the front door like a backpack they can grab again on the way out. They won’t know what it’s like to ride the bus every morning, finally find their locker on the first day of school, to have to wear what’s currently “in” or face the consequences, to be the best in their class, or cheer for a school team. They will miss out, in other words, on the typical “life of the American teenager.”
And they won’t always appreciate that.
This is such a difficult truth, and yet one I know my friends with older children will reluctantly and sadly attest to. Their children, too, have faced loneliness as they find themselves at odds with the majority of their age-mates who have been raised “in the system.” We’ve trained our children to put God in the center of their lives. We’ve tried to encourage them to love learning. We’ve taught our boys to be kind; not to view girls as objects but as people; to avoid rough language and cursing. So even without the Latin, Portuguese and Mandarin, they’re speaking a different language than most.
We’ve trained our children to take part in The Great Conversation . . . and they can’t find anyone to talk to.
It has led to rejection, misunderstandings, and profound loneliness for them in various situations. For some, it’s even led to a desire to jump out of the boat and swim the current in a desperate (and often, all-too-successful) attempt to prove they’re “just like everyone else.” I’ve had to search my own heart many times and check my foundation–my reasons for keeping them home to learn–because that wasn’t exactly the result I was looking for.
When all is said and done, I’ve had to stand on the fact that I homeschool out of obedience, not for the results I’m expecting. Because this particular result wasn’t really even on my radar (which is probably a good thing.) When we went through a time of difficulty in this area years ago with my oldest, I cried out to the Lord about it. “Why does this have to be hard for him? Why can’t he fit in?” And He said, “Do you really want that? Do you want him to be a jerk so he can fit in?” Ummmm, no. But I don’t want him to be hurt, either. Ahhhh . . . the difference between God’s priorities and mine. I want happiness and holiness. God knows those don’t always occur at the same time, that humans tend to learn and grow through difficulty, and that our greatest need isn’t to “fit in,” but to know Him, and true seeking sometimes doesn’t begin until our hearts know their great need.
Click here to read part two, The Good News About Homeschooling!
You may also enjoy last week’s post, I Corinthians 13 for Homeschool Moms.
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