I homeschooled for 12 years and I have had children in the public school system for 5 years. I have had the privilege to be on both sides of the discussion. My perspective has changed a lot in the 14 years that I have had children in school. These are some thoughts on Homeschool vs Public School.
I have been thinking about why there is so much animosity between parents who homeschool versus those who public school. I mean, obviously, we all love our children and we want our children to get an education. So, why do we get so upset or smug or judgmental towards those parents who choose to go about things differently from us?
I think a big part of it is insecurity. For some reason, when someone makes a decision opposite of ours, it makes us question our judgement. If Sally next door, whose kids attend the same public school as my children, suddenly decides that she’s going to homeschool her kids, it makes me question my own decision for keeping my kids in public school. And if you ask her what her reasons are for homeschooling she might say something like: I want more time with my kids, I want to give my kids a “Christian” education instead of the liberal doctrine being taught at public schools, I don’t think public schools are safe, I feel like I have a God-given mandate to teach my own children, the quality of education is horrible and I can do better… Then you really start questioning yourself. You think, Is she right? And the thing is, you don’t agree with her and the whole process of having your decisions questioned makes you feel unsettled and so you react harshly and judgmentally in return.
It goes the other way too. You and Sally have been homeschooling for years and then she decides to put her kids into public school. You ask her why and she says, I am really struggling to be mom and teacher and I decided our relationship would be better if I am simply mom, I’m finding that I don’t have the self-discipline to keep my kids on track with their school work and we’ve gotten so far behind that I’m realizing I’m not up to this task, I am so overwhelmed with everything I have to do that I feel like I’m drowning and something has to give so I’ve decided to give up homeschooling, I really want my children to have some independence from me and a connection with the kids in our neighborhood, I am tired of having every minute of my day tied up with children and I think it would be mentally healthier for me to have a bit of space from them every day. And you listen to Sally and think, is she right? Is it better to put your kids into public school? And you are quite comfortable homeschooling your kids and don’t want to question the status quo and so it’s upsetting when someone makes you question your own decisions. And so you react harshly and judgmentally.
Another problem is that we think everything is right or wrong. We feel like it has to be one or the other. One side has to be correct and the other side has to be incorrect. We can’t conceive that both sides can be correct at the same time. We can’t understand that something that is right for one family is completely wrong for another family. I believe in absolute truth. I don’t think that we all define our own truth. But I also don’t think that absolute truth extends to the smaller details of how we manage our family. As parents, we are all different, coming from different histories, different strengths and weaknesses, and we all have different children. Why do we feel like there is only one prescribed way of schooling our children? The fact that Sally is homeschooling or public schooling has everything to do with Sally and the needs her family is facing at that particular moment in time. It has nothing to do with me and the decisions I have made for my family. Which means that when Sally tells me she’s decided to homeschool, I should be able to get excited for her and have genuine curiosity about her decision and genuine encouragement for her. Or when my fellow homeschooler Sally decides to put her kids in public school I should be able to be happy for her and be supportive of her decision.
I have heard the rhetoric on both sides of the discussion. If you put your children in public school it means that you are a lazy parent who doesn’t care about the spiritual formation of your child. You have bought into the lie and handed your children over to the government so they can raise your children for you. You are allowing your children to be brainwashed by the system, You are stunting their personal growth and creativity by institutionalizing them. And then the other side. You are not capable or qualified to teach your children everything they need to know. You are isolating them and making them socially awkward. You are not challenging them enough and so they are lazy. You are brainwashing them into your religion and only allowing them to see your side and perspective on life, you are coddling them and they will never be independent capable adults, you are sheltering them from the world and when they grow up they won’t know how to function.
Does any of this sound familiar? Perhaps we could spend more time focusing on the positives. The public school has a lot of dedicated educators who are skilled in their craft and who genuinely care about their charges. On the other hand, a dedicated mom with a good curriculum or even just a pile of good literature can give their kids a very good education. I’m going to pull from some personal experience here. My oldest daughter was homeschooled kindergarten through 8th grade. She attended public high school and graduated as valedictorian of her class. She came into her high school with a very solid foundation and was ahead of most of her peers from day 1. Yay homeschooling! On the other hand I spent 2 years trying to teach one of my kids how to read with very little success. I put him in public school and they put him with a special intervention teacher who got him reading within a couple months. Yay public school!
There are so many amazing things you can do with homeschooling. I remember when my oldest was 9 and she read about the history of the Marathon. She wrote a play about the first Marathon and then had her little brothers and sisters act it out while she narrated and we videoed the whole thing. She researched clothing from that time and then I gave her a bunch of sheets and she made all the costumes. We got paint and made little signs to put up to help tell the story. She organized the entire thing, I just held the camera. It was an amazing experience. Yay homeschooling!
There are so many amazing opportunities with public school. The middle school in our neighborhood is a Fine Arts magnet school. Every single day the kids attend a fine arts class of their choosing. One of my daughters took a dance class every day while she was there and the other daughter is taking an art class every day. They also offer African Dancing, African Drumming, Band, and a Stem class. Yay public school!
I know that for Christian Homeschoolers, faith is a big deal. I thoroughly enjoyed doing in-depth bible studies with my children, teaching them bible memory songs, and learning about great heroes of the faith. My children are now in Public School. We still do family devotions. I still do bible memory with my children. The amazing thing I have found is learning about application of faith. My children talk to me about struggles they are having with different kids and we talk about how much Jesus loves that particular child and what are ways that we can be loving and kind even when someone else is not acting very lovable. We talk about healthy ways to resolve conflict. We spend time every day praying for the school and the teachers. I do not feel like my children’s faith is being compromised at all.
I could go on for a while, talking about all the positives of both sides. Here’s what I want to suggest though. When you make your decision about how to educate your child, don’t make Fear be the driving force of your decision. I’m afraid of sending my kids out into the world, I’m afraid of having someone else be their teacher, I’m afraid of them being badly influenced. Or, I’m afraid that I don’t have what it takes to teach my child, I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be able to handle that much one-on-one time with my child, I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be able to give them everything they need. Instead just focus on what the needs of your family are at that moment. Right now my child is struggling in a classroom setting and I think having some one-on-one time would really benefit them academically, or our family is in a bad place, maybe taking some time off to reconnect with each other and reset and put some more Bible time in our day would really help us. Maybe we should homeschool. Or maybe you’re homeschooling and you think. Right now I am not at a good place emotionally, maybe I should put my kids in school for a while so I can have some time to renew and restore myself before I have a mental breakdown. Or maybe, my preteen is really having a hard time taking instruction from me right now and our relationship is struggling. Maybe I should put them in school for a while so we can just focus on being parent and child instead of also having the teacher/student thing going on. Maybe we should public school. It is possible to say, I have two choices in front of me, both are good options, but which one meets our needs best?
I want to make one more point. I know that a lot of families feel like God has really led them to homeschool. I think we tend to think that if God has led us in a certain direction, it must be the direction that he wants everyone to go in. I know that I have needed many reminders that just because God led me a certain way does not mean that he’s leading my friend Sally in the same direction. He’s got different jobs for all of us, different areas of influence, different missions, different gifts and talents. We can’t belittle our brothers and sisters simply for following God’s directive for their lives. God asks parents to send their kids to public school too.
In the end my encouragement is to seek God’s will for your family. The Bible says that if we lack wisdom we are to ask him and he will freely give us the wisdom that we need. There are no cookie-cutter methods/plans that work for each family. Ask for wisdom to know which path is right for you and then trust that he will give you all the strength you need to follow that path. And trust that he’s doing the same for your friend Sally.