Homeschooling is not a Swiss Army Knife

It is, of course, treated as such by conservatives.  No matter what the family situation, homeschooling is presented as the cure to lack of money, lack of community, multicultural conflict, bad marriage, no marriage, the list goes on and on.

Homeschooling is increasingly used as another way to retreat into a private but not domestic sphere.  I used to be very “you do you” about homeschooling, but now when I hear about yet another friend or family member opting to homeschool, I just see another couple who won’t be bringing anyone meals, who won’t be volunteering, who won’t be sitting up with the sick old lady at church, who won’t be participating in local civic life.

It is understandable to protect what is nearest to you, but it’s not a movement.  Or an all-purpose fix-it solution for the loss of posterity and social life.

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22 thoughts on “Homeschooling is not a Swiss Army Knife”

  1. Some thoughts:

    1. A lot of people do seem to hop in and out of homeschooling or just do it for a few early grades. My kids’ school was started by a group of homeschoolers. For K-3, the material is fairly straightforward and there are a lot of inexpensive widely-available materials. I suspect things get a lot harder from 4th grade on, and particularly from 6th or 7th. If I were Freaky Fridayed into my 8th grader’s school day, it would be a nightmare. 8th grade is HARD.

    2. The group I am most worried about in homeschooling are the lifers, the people who believe that it is the One Best Way, who may stick with it even when it’s not working anymore.

    3. I think “you can homeschool!” really stinks as an argument for why a particular family should have more children, and I’ve heard it so many times online. First of all, it’s assuming a lot–that the parents are up to it, that they can afford to take mom totally out of the workforce for 20-30 years, that all of the children will be well-served by education at home. In the form I usually see it, it goes like this:

    Suzie says: We can only afford 3 (or 4) children because the public schools are bad in our area and we would have to do parochial school.

    George replies: You can homeschool!

    The problem is, having a large family in the expectation of being able to homeschool every single one K-12 means having no Plan B. If mom’s health gives out–disaster. If there’s a special needs child–disaster. If they were homeschooling a smaller family and that stuff happened, there’d be some hope of either moving to a more expensive area with better public schools or of paying for private school for at least some children, but when people say “You can homeschool!” when encouraging a mega-family, there’s no provision being made for things not going perfectly.

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  2. I agree with you that people are nutty about homeschooling, but I don’t see a big difference between homeschooling and private schooling when it comes to engagement with society. If anything, homeschooling older kids leaves you with more flexibility for volunteering and the rest of it; while being stuck to a private school schedule and expected to do private school fundraising means you’re not bringing anybody any meals.

    The real issue isn’t homeschooling qua homeschooling, it’s the idea that any family under any circumstances can homeschool without domestic help. The fact that the families who do manage to homeschool, show up at church, run small businesses, and generally dispense sunshine always have a certain thing in common….. I’m not sure how everyone manages to miss it but they do!

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    1. You Know Who said:

      “If anything, homeschooling older kids leaves you with more flexibility for volunteering and the rest of it; while being stuck to a private school schedule and expected to do private school fundraising means you’re not bringing anybody any meals.”

      In a good school (public or private), there is going to be community engagement, but primarily within the SCHOOL community. (Also, I hear that public schools are also pretty big on the fundraising.)

      Our school does a lot of service days where the kids are supposed to go toil in the food pantry or weed at a non-profit. They also have things set up so that older elementary kids have “buddies” in the younger grades that they are supposed to read to and play with. I’m not sure how much the kids get out of the service days, but I think the buddy program creates a lot of good feelings.

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  3. Ha ha “I’m sure the buddy program creates a lot of good feelings.”

    I’ve actually been surprised by the amount of involvement required…for some reason I was led to believe that everything would be so much easier if I just put my kid in school. But yes, the fundraising requirements have been difficult to meet with 3 other littles, and I’m gonna have to find a babysitter in order to volunteer at one of the main events (another requirement.) This poor school…they scholarship so many people and they are in the black but they have to work hard to keep the funding they get to support what they do. And the amount of homework she has had too was surprising to me at first. It is hard to keep up with all the notes and paperwork and events coming up.

    Their fundraising participation requirements letter was hilarious. After listing the requirements, it said simply, ‘If any family is unable to meet these requirements, an additional $500 will be added to your account.’ Okayyyyyy!!!!

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    1. Seriously, my 5th grader does feel very warmly towards his buddy. So they are doing that right.

      Nicky said:

      “I’ve actually been surprised by the amount of involvement required…for some reason I was led to believe that everything would be so much easier if I just put my kid in school.”

      I think some parents of larger families bail on school because of the level of involvement involved. Beyond a 2-kid family, it just gets nuts.

      You hear people talk about “overscheduled kids,” but mine never get a chance to be overscheduled with non-school stuff, because school consumes so much bandwidth.

      “I’m gonna have to find a babysitter in order to volunteer at one of the main events (another requirement.)”

      Yeah.

      Our school is mercifully light on the fundraising, but the day they started fining non-volunteering parents, we just started writing checks (it’s only a $100 fine for the year–a bargain!). I don’t think they expected it to work like that…

      Ever since we moved beyond 2 kids, there’s been massive shirking by our family. I’m hoping we’ll do better in a couple of years.

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  4. I’m going to add also that I went to private schools and while there was a very level of expectation of involvement from mothers k-8, in high school it dropped off. If anything it’s the opposite now. And even more importantly, the high expectations were reciprocated by a high level of support and networking. My mother wasn’t desperately looking for babysitters or carpools or summer activities alone, she and the other mothers were pulling together and they really had each others’ backs. I don’t see the same in the private school communities I can observe irl and online.

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  5. I don’t know when it changed, I’ve been busy.

    I have fond memories of our big sister-little sister program too, I wish homeschoolers wanted to do things like that.

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  6. The thing about public school (our older children all went through public school from k-12) is that the more involved you are and the more time you invest, the better education your kid gets. The teachers are more likely to contact you immediately when there’s an area they notice your child is struggling in. They are also more likely to note when your child does well.

    I have seen it time and time again that students of parents where Mom isn’t available and present on a regular basis, their kids can fall through the cracks. And I’ve seen it with women I would consider excellent mothers who just happen to need to work to help their husbands out.

    Schooling does give you a break and a little time to get some things done. But the “better” your zip code, the more time you will spend volunteering at school. We have found homeschooling gives me more opportunities to serve others rather than less. But…and this is a big but so I don;t want to minimize it, I do have help from my college aged daughters. even with their own class and work schedules, they are able to contribute in ways that make my work load a little easier.

    Like it’s Friday morning, so no classes, which gave me a free hour and a half this morning that I would usually spend in the kitchen. Having help (paid or unpaid) does help.

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    1. Elspeth said:

      “I have seen it time and time again that students of parents where Mom isn’t available and present on a regular basis, their kids can fall through the cracks. And I’ve seen it with women I would consider excellent mothers who just happen to need to work to help their husbands out.”

      I’m familiar with a lot of online discussions among upper middle class working parents of middle schoolers, and those people are going NUTS keeping up with middle school. It’s not a question of perfectionism or over-achievement, either, it’s just keeping up with the bare minimum of what school expects of your child.

      Early on, you send your child to daycare, get them home, feed them, and then put them to bed and you’re all done with them (barring night wakeups), but once you have older children, there’s a full working day that starts at 3 or 3:30. And no, your kid is not going to do his diorama or assemble his history fair costume during aftercare.

      “But the “better” your zip code, the more time you will spend volunteering at school.”

      Yeah. I’ve started to wonder if those demands aren’t intended to keep the riff raff out.

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    2. Good public school middle school demands are probably also well outside the ability of single parents to meet–at least single parents of more than one.

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  7. Yeah, I didn’t mean to make it sound like it wasn’t easier–it definitely has been easier to have someone else teaching my kid! TPC, I feel your need, right with ya.

    The level of involvement I recall my parents having was next to nothing. Parent/teacher conferences. A little homework help here and there. Definitely didn’t have homework until 4th grade though, besides a couple of book reports or science projects I remember in 3rd grade. But my family life went kinda off the deep end as we got older, so the lack of involvement was probably much less for other kids.

    Kinda unrelated, but one really big reason for my wanting to homeschool my kids that I don’t hear often is that I don’t want them to have to “sit still” and just sit and learn to sit for long periods of time day in and day out. The stats on the negative effects of sitting that have gained popularity recently are sobering, and my kids’ overall health and lifestyle is something I care about as well as the academic side of their upbringing. Now that I have a son, it makes me even more cautious, in large part because of the diagnoses of ADHD growing much too fast to not look a bit suspicious. Do they really have ADD? Or were boys especially just not made, in most cases, to sit still that long? Another reason why I like the idea of boys’ and girls’ schools: I’ve heard some teenage boys that go to an all-boys school talk about how helpful it is to have regular breaks during their day for physical activity and to be separate from girls, who are a huge distraction for them at that age.

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    1. Nicky said:

      “The level of involvement I recall my parents having was next to nothing. Parent/teacher conferences. A little homework help here and there. Definitely didn’t have homework until 4th grade though, besides a couple of book reports or science projects I remember in 3rd grade. But my family life went kinda off the deep end as we got older, so the lack of involvement was probably much less for other kids.”

      My parents had close to zero involvement with my school work until junior high/high school when my dad (who was a math guy) helped me with my math. That was very helpful. I have reason to believe, though, that each successive child in our family got less academic help. Fortunately there were only three of us…My 4th grade year was a bit of an academic disaster. That’s the year where you go from just learning to read to reading to learn, we’d moved into an unfinished house 20 minutes from town that my parents were working on, and my mom had just had a new baby–and all on no money. Looking back, it was kind of overdetermined that that year would be a mess, but I didn’t really understand why until very recently.

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  8. From a Momma who has kids across the board, from 7th grade down, I wouldn’t mind offering this perspective:

    AMEN on the comment regarding the “lifers”. There can absolutely come a time when it just isn’t working and options need to be considered. But there’s one scenario you haven’t mentioned, and it should be addressed — one parent knows that options need to be considered, and the other is dead set on homeschooling come hell or high water. Especially if the “hell or high water” parent is the father. Yikes. Then Mom has to do it regardless…..and woe unto Mom if the kids aren’t on par with their public school peers…..sorry, ladies, but I’ve seen it happen and still am seeing it happen.

    On boys: I didn’t mind if they lay down on the floor, lay on their beds, sat at the kitchen table or sat at their desks to do their work, as long as it got done. You need to be flexible about things like that. And, frankly, I think the solution is pretty simple — no electronics, no video games, plenty of outdoor chores, give them pocketknives and other things to whittle with and perhaps they may discover a latent gift for woodwork. My husband fixes 99.9% of the car problems, so they go out and get under the car with him.

    For that matter, my daughter can cook dinner for all of us — not perfect by any means, but she’s eleven. She’ll get there. Because we homeschool, a lady from the fabric store can come to our house when she’s up for it (she’s rather elderly and some days are better than others for her arthritis) to give my daughter knitting and crocheting lessons.

    The little kids usually are finished in an hour with their work — no fooling, really. The littles are easy and they’re fun.

    The older kids? Yep, that definitely keeps me awake at night. For the older kids, since homeschooling is the only alternative for us, I did say that I wasn’t going to homeschool the older kids without outside help. So I enroll them in a program (I use Seton Home Study School). It’s fully accredited, someone else grades reports and essays, we have access to counselors and tutors, and we get transcripts and diplomas — and recently they began having a graduation ceremony as well, so if you’re up for a plane trip, it is something to look forward to. In addition, this school has an online chess club if your kids are chess junkies (mine are). This gives them an opportunity to meet friends and get a little school spirit. (Heck, through Seton you can even buy uniforms if that floats your boat.) And the tuition is a mere fraction of what you’d have to fork over for a private school locally, plus no candy bar and wrapping paper quotas to fill for the fundraiser. I think a lot of homeschoolers overlook the fact that they can enroll their children in a home study program and relieve themselves of major pressure if they find that the going is getting tough. It bemuses me when I see people nearly breaking under the stress, but still they refuse to budge on their decision. You don’t have to make a different decision, but you can modify it a little.

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    1. St. Thomas Moore Academy said:

      “But there’s one scenario you haven’t mentioned, and it should be addressed — one parent knows that options need to be considered, and the other is dead set on homeschooling come hell or high water.”

      That really chaps my hide, especially when it’s the non-homeschooling parent who thinks that homeschooling must continue.

      If mom is smart enough to homeschool, why isn’t she smart enough to know if it’s not working or not the best option?

      “The little kids usually are finished in an hour with their work — no fooling, really. The littles are easy and they’re fun.”

      I did a lot of supplemental reading and math with my kids when they were little, and it’s so EASY when they’re little.

      But at some point (5th grade?) when the kids have issues with their homework, it has to wait for daddy. At that point at our house, if they can’t handle it, I can’t handle it either.

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  9. @St. Thomas:

    Thanks for your input! Options like that are great to hear about from seasoned homeschoolers. And yes on the kids’ “positioning” during school–I’ve gotten that way more and more over the last year. Before my eldest went to school in Jan, it got to where if she wanted to lay upside down off the couch, but still listened well, I was cool with it.

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  10. I’m so confused about all this volunteering people are talking about. Why do the better schools have more of it? Shouldn’t they have more money to hire people? If they fine you for not participating why do they call it volunteering? Doesn’t the fine make more financial sense than whatever the hourly wage would work out as, and if so, why don’t more people just pay the fine?

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