Confession: I get a little cranky about people acting like parenting is a different experience now than it was for the eons of time before. So much of good parenting is consistent from generation to generation, BUT I think there is an element of social media now that has made relating to other parents difficult in a new way. I find that when I talk to my homeschooling friends face to face we find much we agree on. We can share parenting joys and struggles and support each other. Where I have the most frustration is in the realm of social media. The same way this is true with other controversial topics, it is very easy with schooling topics to throw a bomb and walk away.
I will say that I have seen this much more from homeschoolers than public schoolers. I’m trying to think if I’ve ever seen a post by a public schooling family that said how homeschooled kids are going to end up dumber, heathens, and unemployed because their parents didn’t obey God’s call. I can’t remember that, although it has probably happened. I do feel like those in the homeschool community are more likely to post such thoughts. I really do get it! When you feel like you’re the persecuted minority, it’s easy to want to justify what you do. And with how much work homeschooling requires, you wouldn’t be doing it unless you really believed in it.
I read a post recently by a respected homeschooling father who started out by saying he was going to go through the 10 or so lessons he’d learned by homeschooling his kids over the last 20 plus years. He said he knew 10 lessons wasn’t very many to learn over 20 years, but he went to public school himself, so should be forgiven for being such a slower learner (this is my paraphrase). Really? It just seems like such a cheap shot and makes it hard for a public schooling parent to hear the message when it’s wrapped in that kind of package. I have no problem reading about the benefits of homeschooling. It’s an area I try to research fairly regularly as we consider each child and each school year individually. But the tone is what makes it so difficult to respect what I’m hearing.
(Disclaimer- I know MANY wonderful homeschooling families who are gracious and respectful to people who are making a different choice. I am not talking about ALL families and have been encouraged to see that this issue frustrates my homeschooling friends even more than it frustrates me because of how it damages their reputation.)
When we cite statistics or anecdotes about how well homeschooled kids are doing when compared with kids in public school, are we thinking about what most homeschooled kids have in common? These are children who have two parents that are economically advantaged, who have decided one parent should be at home, are intelligent enough to teach, and have homes centered around faith. While there are examples of other kinds of families that homeschool, in my experience this is the typical model. (We can argue about the definition of “economically advantaged” but somebody in the depths of poverty is going to be pretty stretched to buy curriculum or stay at home with their kids.) Is it really a fair comparison to look at those privileged kids next to your average public school student? Whatever the school environment my child is in, he has the benefit of two loving parents who are eating meals with him, supporting his education, teaching him our values. I have been happy with his educational progress and also his spiritual growth over the last year. We are setting him up for success. That influence is not going to be undone during the time he spends in a public school classroom (especially not when his public school teachers are so supportive of us) although all of us are gifted with the ability to make our own choices.
During our group home days we could take kids out of environments that were obviously negative and abusive. The kids knew that things were difficult and that the choices their parents made were damaging. They were with us 24/7 for weeks and months and years, but they still wanted the approval of their parents. They still carried their family history and values. Of the kids we loved and homeschooled and wept over, a minority chose anything different from the lifestyle they saw modeled by their parents in their earliest years. A parent’s influence is VERY strong. Our children don’t cease to be our responsibility because they are receiving their formal schooling from someone else.
So if we know that homeschooled kids are generally from a fairly privileged background, who exactly are these families we’re putting down when (as I was told just the other day by a homeschooling parent) we are thankful our kids don’t have to be around their negative influence? I just want us to take a moment and think about who we are actually discussing and check our attitudes.
-Special needs kids are in public school. Even families who homeschool may use the public school system to provide services for their special needs children. When you talk about how thankful you are that your kids don’t have to attend the horrible public schools, remember that this is a place where “the least of these” are receiving help at no cost.
-Christian educators and administrators are in public schools. Not every teacher is intent on undermining parents or subverting your faith. When you make sweeping judgements about the school system you are including passionate and loving educators (some of whom may be your Facebook friends or in your church community). They are motivated by a desire to be a light to the kids in their care who may not have other loving influences.
-Foster children, kids from poverty or single parent homes are in public school. Not everyone can afford to homeschool. I’m not saying you have to be wealthy to do it, but it does require a parent being at home to educate their child or the ability to pay for a tutor. When we talk about the dumb kids who are bad influences in the public schools, we are often talking about kids who are growing up in less than ideal circumstances for no fault of their own. They may deserve more of our compassion and less of our “fend for yourself” mentality.
-My child is in public school. Kids like mine are heading off into those schools every day. The children of your friends and your family members. Kids who are loved and treat adults with respect and want to obey God. Kids you would really like if you got to know them and would be happy to have playing with your kids.
What I’m saying is this: If we remove our children from our neighborhood schools, that doesn’t mean those schools no longer matter. When you say something demeaning about those public school kids, you are often talking about children who are your brothers and sisters in Christ, or kids who are growing up in difficult situations, or kids who have unique needs. While all publicly schooled kids aren’t in a bad spot, most kids in a bad spot are also in public school. And yes, some of those kids are growing up without positive influences and may have developed troubling behaviors as a result. God grieves for those children. If you remove your kids from that environment you may have taken away those negative influences on your children, but you may have also removed your ability to influence those hurting families who desperately need it. Even if you structure your life so your kids never interact with those children, their adult world won’t be quite so segregated.
So the next time you’re tempted to make a sweeping public generalization about the failing public school system, the lazy teachers, the inattentive parents or the unruly children take a minute to consider who you’re really talking about. Put a face to it. Have some compassion. Engage in thoughtful discussions with grace, gentleness and sensitivity. Love your neighbors.