Whether or not parents educate their children at home or send them to a public or private school is an intensely private and individual choice. It should be based on prayer and specific direction, careful research of the options, and reality.
Every year, a number of concerned parents ask me whether they should homeschool their children or send them to a private or public school. Some of these are young parents making first time decisions while others are families who have become dissatisfied with their children’s current educational situations. All of them want to make the best decisions possible, but most just feel frustrated or even intimidated by all of competing voices they encounter in the news, on the internet, from friends, family, and even church members.
Decisions of this magnitude should be informed, not influenced. But many times they aren’t. There is so much information about homeschooling and public and private education that it is overwhelming. Many of the sources contradict one another, and much of the rhetoric consists of inflammatory language and scare tactics. It seems as if everyone is taking a bite out of everyone else. And both sides of the argument are at fault. Sometimes, the people in our lives aren’t much better. Everyone has a story, a firm belief, and a prediction of what will befall your child if you choose a course other than what they are recommending. The noise is constant, and it is loud. But most of all it is confusing.
This year as the questions began once again to find their way to my inboxes, I got together with two ladies who have helped over 1500 families make decisions about educating their children. These ladies know things. They are wise. (See their bios below.) And I wanted to have a conversation with them, to pick their brains, compare notes, and measure their thoughts against my own experiences. How did they help families who were considering homeschooling or maybe not homeschooling? What advice did they offer? Did their approach match mine?
We all agreed that what motivated or influenced a family to make decisions about education would either have the strength to carry them through the ups and downs and ins and outs of the educational process. Or it wouldn’t. It was the why behind the decision that was important. Advising families to carefully consider what was influencing their decisions or hesitations about education would help them successfully navigate the noise so they can come to a positive decision of their own.
“Consider your motivations.”
While I can’t cover all of the motivations we discussed together that day in a single post, (It’s going to take a least 2 more blog posts to do that), here are 3 big influences that seem to be generating a lot of static, along with 2 simple steps to quiet the noise and make an informed choice.
Generalizations cloud judgment by generating fear, concern, and sometimes distaste. When I talk to families or read articles about any type of education, a plethora of generalizations are thrown around from all sides of the argument. They mostly sound something like this: “Homeschooling isolates children and makes them socially awkward.” “Homeschool families are religious fanatics who have opted out of society.” Or “Public and private schools are fraught with bullies, materialism, and cliques.” “Public school kids are all out there drinking, doing drugs, and having sex.” (I just read this morning an article against public education that claimed “sadly most American Christian children were being discipled by… child molesters.”)
When it comes down to it, generalizations aren’t true. They just don’t hold any water when examined across the board. It is no more true that all homeschool students are backward booger pickers than all public school students are drunken heathens being discipled by more of the same. Excellence and lack can be found in both groups. Extremes don’t dictate the norm.
When generalizations aren’t identified, their noise can muddy the truth and make it difficult to make sound decisions.
Misrepresentation is closely related to generalizations. Both are logical fallacies and can be dangerous if not put into proper perspective. Misrepresentation takes one instance and pretends that it represents all experiences and events everywhere. Quite often, misrepresentation can cause even more fear than generalizations because its noise is connected to a true story, told by someone we know or even by a trusted media source. Misrepresentation often sounds like: “Well, when Bobby was in first grade last year…” “When Joan was there, the teachers were awful…” “There is a homeschool family at my church who doesn’t do anything but hang out in their pajamas all day…”
Sometimes, this type of “information” comes from news reports. One day I received a call, “Did you hear? They are putting vending machines with condoms in all the schools now.” It was on the news. I am sure they are. Somewhere. And the people in those communities have real reason to be concerned. But to hear it told, I could pull up at my local school and find a delivery truck unloading vending machines that very day. But it just wasn’t so, and it still isn’t.
Are there things to be concerned about, absolutely! But just because something happened to Bobby last year or some homeschool family from your sister’s church lives in sleepwear does not mean that it is going to be the case for your family or your school system. Don’t let others terrify you with what they have seen or heard.
Peer pressure when it comes to choices in education is enormous. If you are considering homeschooling, you might fear being subjected to the “Oh, we know what that really means” look. It might feel like your qualifications for taking on such a task are under judgmental scrutiny, along with your daily routine, your children’s behavior, if you decide to go on vacation, etc. You might feel labeled as one of “those people” and feel that your children’s intelligence level is viewed with skepticism.
On the other hand, homeschooling is extremely popular in some Christian communities. If you are considering sending your child to school, it might feel like your Christianity is being questioned or judged. Your dedication to parenting might be called into question, along with your values, morals, and your willingness to take hold of the responsibility God has laid before you.
Peer pressure is REAL, and it exists on both sides of this argument. Sometimes, being a parent is a lonely endeavor so we are hesitant to do things we think might isolate us further. Peer pressure wasn’t a good influence when you were a teenager, and it isn’t a good influence now. Sometimes standing on your own is the best thing you can do.
With all of the noise, it is no wonder that a number of the parents are ramped up with fear. Generalizations, misrepresentations, and peer pressure can all create fear. Fear distracts us from focusing on what is important and inhibits us from making sustainable decisions. Fear is a reaction, not a plan. 2 Timothy 1:7 says that God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control. This is not the picture of someone looking frantically from idea to idea for an answer. Fear can’t be an influence if you are going to make a solid decision.
So how can we quiet the noise and make confident choices?
Take an honest evaluation of your motivations. Be willing to get down to the nitty gritty about why you are really considering homeschooling or public/private education. Do your motivations center around yourself? Your fear? Your need to fit in? Are they influenced by the media and hear-say? Or are they centered around prayer and specific direction, careful research of the options, and reality?
The good thing about motivations and influences is that they can be changed. So, even if you’ve had a shaky start, it’s never too late to abandon less than helpful thinking and get focused on success. Whether you are just starting out or refocusing, the tips below can help establish a direction for your decisions.
MAKE A LIST & MAKE A VISIT
Make a list of goals and fundamental beliefs. Ask yourself what goals and desires you have for your child’s education and your child’s educational experience? Do you want her to be a critical thinker? Do you want her to be prepared for college? Do you want her to be inspired, dedicated, and challenged? Visit the schools and the homeschool organizations in your area, take tours, go with a list of questions, look at textbooks, see for yourself—don’t just google. After investigating schools and homeschool organizations, what venue do you believe will best fill/fit your criteria and complement your personal beliefs?
Make an honest assessment. Don’t let the noise of stereotypes, judgmental people, or your own fear get in the way of making THE BEST decision FOR YOUR FAMILY.
If you are considering homeschooling, it is a good idea to make a list about yourself too. What are you willing to sacrifice in order to make homeschooling happen with excellence? Career? Hobbies? Free time? Energy? Finances? Are you motivated to learn and master what you need to know in order to teach your child and in order to be able to work competently alongside tutors or volunteers at tutorials or co-ops? (You can if you are willing to put forth the effort.) Are you dedicated, committed, a self-starter, organized, timely? Can you stick to a schedule? Do you have a structured and disciplined home? If those are ‘nos,’ and you are not willing to obtain those qualities, then maybe homeschooling is not for you.
Even with all of the information listed here (and there is more to come), the bottom line is only you can make the decision about your child’s education. But in order to do so, you must decide what YOUR GOALS and VALUES are, INVESTIGATE your options, and SEE FOR YOURSELF what matches your family’s ideals best. No influence can do that for you.
To see more about the experience of the two fantastic women I interviewed, click the photos below.
In-article photo credits: Katrina DeFrancesco and Dennis Tang