Written by Irina Gallagher
After a busy summer spent with family and friends near and far, we have just finished the first month of second grade. I’m so excited about the beginning of this school year. We’ve accomplished a lot during the last several weeks – cultures have been explored, paintings have been drawn, kites have been made, books upon books have been devoured. Unfortunately, along with the excitement of empty libraries, parks, museums, and beaches, we are also back to homeschooling commentary from well-meaning and, in some cases, outright critical members of our community. In the summer, no one cares much to ask about your child’s schooling, but as we return to our extracurricular activities and find ourselves out in the world during regular school hours, we encounter our share of remarks on the subject.
Over the last several weeks I have been a part of too many of these interactions. The latest was with a woman who was very concerned about how many hours per day we spend on school, how I examine my daughter’s progress in any given subject, and how we socialize. It’s fine to ask these questions; I can safely say that a majority of homeschooling parents don’t mind being asked about our schooling logistics. I think most of us are eager to talk about our homeschooling lives; after all, this is an enormous part of our time. What we do care about is that when we’re asked how we choose a curriculum, how we report our kids’ progress to the school board, what our days look like, and the deluge of other questions that we are confronted by regularly, that people do so without implying that we could not possibly be capable of teaching our own children and that our children are severely lacking something crucial by being homeschooled.
I understand that homeschooling is not the standard, so people tend to get caught off guard when hearing that we’ve made this educational choice. As a result, some make strange comments on the topic. Trust me, I’m a terrible conversationalist, too. Here are a few tips that may help you converse with the alien homeschoolers in your life:
Don’t make a face as if you’re watching us step in dog shit when we tell you that our family homeschools. This needs no explanation. I saw this face last Thursday.
Perhaps don’t imply that my kid sits in a cave during the school week (especially when you’re seeing us out doing extracurricular activities – you know…like your kids). My family is fortunate to live in an area which has a vast homeschooling community. There are numerous homeschool co-ops featuring a variety of homeschooling styles showcasing everything from classical education, Waldorf, unschooling, Montessori, religious-based, Charlotte Mason, and everything in between. There are more field trips scheduled by homeschooling groups in our town than we could possibly attend. We see other people. We interact with a variety of age groups on a regular basis. You don’t need to call the socialization police.
Please don’t feel the need to get defensive that you don’t homeschool. I’ll never really understand this one. Often, people seem to think that I am judging them for NOT homeschooling. Trust me, your child being in a public, private, or charter school is at the bottom of my list of concerns. I judge you on how much you tip and how you treat my dog – not where your kid goes to school.
Tone is everything. Instead of asking me how I could possibly know how to teach if I don’t have a degree in education, ask me what my child’s favorite subject is or what I enjoy teaching most. I’ve had many conversations about how we report progress and the minutiae of curricula that were just fine. It’s the discussions which insinuate that I haven’t a clue about anything regarding education that are tedious and insulting. I’d be happy to bore you with details of how my daughter performed on her latest tests or show you the portfolio of a year’s worth of schoolwork that we present during our end of the year evaluations, just don’t make it seem like you’re evaluating our scholarly success please. You have no more right to do so than I have to ask you to see your kid’s report cards. Cool?
How do we know we’re doing enough? This question is so common. I don’t know of a single family who blindly decided to homeschool. We do our research. We spend countless hours seeking schooling inspiration and conversing with other homeschooling families who inspire and guide us. We spend hours weekly ordering books from libraries to coincide with our studies. I have never asked (nor would I dream of asking) a public school parent “How do you know that your child is doing enough in school?” I’m not entirely certain why it’s appropriate to ask a homeschooling parent this. Please understand how high the stakes are when you are teaching your own kid. We can’t say that our teacher this year wasn’t that great. We have no one to blame but ourselves. We work our asses off. We have our doubts and we push through because we believe that we know what is best for our children – the same as you believe your schooling choice is best for yours.
Don’t call us freaks. That should go without saying, right? This was not the same person as the dog poop facial expression. Even as a term of weird, faux endearment, just don’t. Thanks.
Ask us the same questions you would want to be asked. We are all trying to provide the best possible opportunities for our offspring. In that major sense, we are very much alike. Ask us what you would like us to ask you. Tell us what your kids are doing in school. We love to hear it and we love talking about what we are doing in school (just not when it feels like we are attempting to defend ourselves and our kids against homeschool criticism).
Sometimes it seems adults have major awkardness asking homeschooled kids questions about school, as if the space in which one learns somehow influences the child’s ability to answer questions regarding their education. I asked my second grader what kind of questions about school she likes to be asked. Here are her questions (and answers).
“I would be glad to answer:
Q: What series of books are you reading right now?
A: Animal Ark Pets
Q: What subject do you like most?
Q: What projects are you working on right now?
A: I’ll always be teaching my brother ballet. For school, I’m working on a book of pictures of family history stories.
Q: What was your favorite thing you learned this week?
A: My favorite thing this week was learning to make soft-boiled eggs.
Q: What kind of field trips do you hope to go on this year?
A: I want to hike mountain ranges.”
There you have it. It looks like I should start planning this mountain hiking trip (maybe we’re finally going to Washington).
Happy school year – no matter what that “school” may be!