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The Homeschool Debate (Oh Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear)


I don’t like putting moms in categories.  Of course it’s an easy enough thing to do and has some value.  There are moms who breastfeed and those that bottlefeed.  There are moms that vaccinate and those who don’t.  There are moms who co-sleep and those that have their children cry it out.  There are homeschooling moms and those who choose public or private school options.  But before we are any of those categories, we are MOMS.  We may be different from each other because we have chosen different schooling options, but we are all trying to do best by our kids.  I don’t want you to think you can’t identify with me because my child is in public school.  I don’t want to stop trying to relate to you because I think you’re a different kind of mom because you chose to homeschool.  We are all just moms.

The Bible doesn’t give us a commandment about school choice.  We are called to love our children, which can look like different kinds of schooling choices in different families.  Not all children have the same needs and not all school systems have the same strengths or weaknesses.  So while we aren’t called to the same school choices, we are called to love each other.

I was sad to see after the deaths of little children inside their public school classrooms in Newtown, Connecticut that people were using that as support for why they were right to homeschool.  As though tragedies can’t happen in homes or libraries or groceries stores.  As if God isn’t sovereign inside our local public schools.  I have heard mothers put each other down for choosing to shelter their children from reality by homeschooling.  I’ve heard a homeschooling father make a careless math mistake and say, “Well, you can’t blame me. I’m a product of the public schools” in a gathering of families who have made a public school choice for their children (I get that it’s a joke, but a joke about the terrible public schools made by a homeschooling parent in a room full of publicly schooling families?  Maybe not a great choice for unity’s sake.).  In short- I have seen families create a dividing line between sisters and brothers who agree on many other topics because they disagree on this issue.  And it frustrates me.

I think we forget that our children are watching.  When we talk about parents being afraid of the world so they hide their kids away, our children are hearing that.  They take that little piece of information with them on playdates and into their Sunday School classrooms.  When we talk about how those public school kids are getting a second-rate education dumbed down with a constant barrage of propaganda, our children are hearing that and bringing that with them into their YMCA soccer leagues and dance recitals.  If we actually tell our children that we have made this schooling choice for them because WE value their education, WE truly love our children, WE don’t want to see them waste their lives, are we not implying that those adults who have made a different choice don’t have those same desires for their children?  And then is it reasonable to expect our kids to treat those adults with respect or see them as role-models?

While there wasn’t the same pressure towards homeschooling when I was growing up, there was much more of a divide between public school and private school kids.  As a child who was in public school all my life, I always felt a little bit of judgement coming my way from the kids who were in private school.  What kind of hoodlum was I to be thriving in that environment?  What kind of uninvolved parents did I have to not get me into a Christian school?  In high school I was in a youth group meeting where I was the only public school kid in the room.  We bowed our heads for group prayer and another student literally prayed, “God, I thank you that my parents love me enough to send me to Christian school.”  It was kind of hard for me to know how to pray after hearing that.  Did my parents love me less than the Christian school kids’ parents?  Absolutely not.  But now I knew that they thought my parents didn’t care enough.  And I’m pretty sure that attitude came from their parents.

I can imagine the sweet conversation that would have lead up to that thought.  I know there were sacrifices involved in paying the tuition needs associated with private school.  I’m sure parents thought they were doing the right thing to explain to their children that they made those sacrifices out of love, but did they consider how that impacted their children’s ability to connect to those who made different choices?  That has made me very careful about the way I talk to my kids about our school choices, often including the fact that if they need to be homeschooled at a future point, that’s what we’ll do so of course we support our friends who are doing it now.

As I said about vaccinations– I can respect the different choices parents are lead to, but I don’t believe we can all be right.  The difference is, in this situation the only “right” is that we are looking at the unique needs of our children and the strengths and weaknesses of our abilities as a family and the abilities of our local schools.  I have NO desire to convince anybody to make the same choice I’ve made.  What is “right” for each family is going to be different.  My desire to support you in your choices means I want to believe you are listening to God’s call in your home and if he should change that call, I won’t have alienated myself from you by the things I’ve said in the past.  I hope you’re offering me and my family that same kind of support.  Because our kids are listening.

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  1. As I was reading this, I, too, remember being one of the few in youth group who went to public school (we should have joined the same group so we could stick together 😉 ) and also feeling subtly put down or judged by the Christian school kids/families. How rude! And YET, a couple years ago, the only teaching job I could find was at a daycare, and a whole flood of ingrained-from-my-childhood feelings toward daycare surfaced. My parents must have communicated that kids who “had” to go to daycare were not as nice and that their parents weren’t making the best decision about their kids (=not really caring about their kids since they didn’t stay home with them). Wow! Though not an overt lesson my parents taught me, it wedged its way in as “truth”, coming out 30 years later as a belief I had to overcome.

    Thanks for talking about how we communicate others’ choices to our kids, because man, it affects them into adulthood!

  2. Blah. The age old homeschool controversy. I sent my kids to a charter school last year, feeling very much like I needed to constantly justify why I wouldn’t be homeschooling. I’ve decided to homeschool again this year, feeling very much (rebelliously) like I want to downplay our decision and “talk up” the last year to the homeschooling crowd. You see, it’s not a “whew, we’re homeschooling again” kind of feeling for me. I’m excited…don’t get me wrong. I have missed homeschooling because I actually like the teaching. I missed seeing the light turn on when they finally understood a concept. But I don’t think this past year was bad for them either. It was a tough, tough year for my oldest for a myriad of reasons. And ultimately, we all learned a lot, and God shaped us through it. But it was the best decision for our family for that year. And this year, homeschooling is the best decision. And next year, it might be best for one of my kids to return to school and the other stay home. You see, I just don’t know. We pray every year for God to lead our decision regarding our children’s education and to give us humility in knowing that home is not always the best choice for our kids. Last year, I honestly could not have given them the education they needed, having a newborn and small active toddler. And that stunk, but it was good, because God used it to shape our parenting, to give us all experiences we otherwise would not have had that brought up needed discussion and teaching and quite honestly stretched us all. Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough. Mostly, I just wanted to say thank you for this viewpoint. Thank you for helping others understand…it’s okay to not be critical! It’s okay to make the best decision for YOUR family, one year at a time. 🙂

  3. Oh, you hit the nail on the head! A good reminder to always remember to be cautious in what we say around our kids. I must admit, the phrase that I’ve heard (more than once, in a rather condescending way) that just really doesn’t sit well is, “I homeschool my kids because I love them” with the implication that moms who choose public school must not love their kids enough. If we justify any of our choices that another might not choose “because we love them”, all it really does is put down the person who makes a different choice. We love our kids when we make the right choice for THEM, for THAT TIME. I applaud homeschooling moms. I applaud public schooling moms. But most of all, I applaud moms who seek God’s will for their kids without worrying about what His will might be for others.

  4. My daughter is four – we are spending this year choosing what route is best for her. I went to public school, and flourished. My husband went to private school and flourished. I’ve watched my aunt homeschool all six of her kids and they are smart, well rounded, lovely children, who are both still in school and succeeding in life.

    We have done a homeschooling preschool of sorts – I have lesson plans, and Isabel adores learning. At this age, she learns best through play and hands on exploration, and since her daddy is a scientist…well. Evenings are interesting at our house 😀 However, I think in the end, she will try either public or private schooling. She has a huge desire for it, and I hear her talking with her girlfriends about eating lunch like big girls, and taking the bus for field trips, and her future teachers. If it were up to me? I’d keep her home, with me. She’s my heart, the best playmate I could ask for and of course I worry for her safety, but not enough to keep her home when she wants to go out of our home for education.

    In the end, I don’t care how anyone educates their children…I just think its important that we encourage and inspire learning in them. In whatever way works best FOR them.

  5. Rebecca and I were total hoodlums in public school. 🙂

  6. It has been 13 years since I graduated from high school and homeschooling and I still find myself in conversations where I feel the need to defend homeschoolers. Although my brothers and I went to public and private schools while younger, we were always told how lucky we were to be homeschooled since we lived in such a bad school district. I have never understood the Us vs. Them mentality when it comes to schooling choices, but some people have some rather strong opinions about it.

  7. I totally get your heart here, Maralee, and I’m so glad you’re willing to talk about hard things, but I wonder how much of this comes down to perceptions (on either side) and unnecessary (false) guilt.

    I never knew homeschoolers until I was in high school and went to private school K-12. Single parent family and growing up Catholic = no ability to be homeschooled (again, didn’t know about it) and that’s what the majority of Catholic families do–they send their kids to Catholic school. I also taught at low-income public schools for a few years and loved those kids dearly! I still crack up when I think of things I can remember about certain kids. They and their situations really left a mark on me and I have gratitude for the teachers who truly cared for them.

    I have a hard time articulating this, but I often feel that with this subject, among many other ‘touchy’ subjects, we can feel judged or something for our choices, but that’s not the case or the intention of most people. Of course snide comments are hurtful and we shouldn’t do that to others or accept that from others, but I’ve never once thought someone telling me “wow, you sure have your hands full” was meant to be a judgement or anything. It’s just stating the obvious. I often have a gut-feeling to push back whenever things go the way of becoming too politically correct, because then there is no conversation, and it can’t be authentic if we’re always trying to dance around the topic but never officially touch it. I have answered many questions about our schooling choices, but other than from my own immediate family, I’ve only ever encountered curiosity.

    As far as our children listening, there is only so many years that they will be satisfied with the answer “this is what we do in our house”. It’s already been happening at my house that my near-six year old asks about his little neighbor-friends and all our family & their family differences, including school, and church, and I can’t not talk about why we chose our choices. He’s old enough that he’s not satisfied with a simple answer anymore. I’m always looking for practical ways to better communicate with my kids and our reality is that we’re responsible for our kids. I live with my kids, and not anyone else’s, and vice versa.

    That gives me confidence in my choices, and gives me the freedom to not accept negative comments, or to not accept false guilt. Perhaps this perception of “if you’re a Christian you should be homeschooling” or public vs. private school–whatever pressure that might look like needs to be just called outright, as a lie and a trick to compare. I don’t think we should allow ourselves to succumb to those pressures, perceptions, fears or false guilt. I feel like these perceptions, tensions, whatever are just not worth our time or our affections. It’s just comparison, which is fear that we’re not enough. If God is for us, who can be against us?
    Sarah M

  8. Wow. I did not mean to write a novel!

  9. I completely understand your point. I think you should be respectful of others. But as you feel there is only one side that can be right on vaccinations, I feel that way about schooling. It doesn’t mean I don’t respect the people living the “other” view, but I don’t agree with it. I would agree parents of public schooled kids love them and that at rare times it is a necessity.

    The Bible doesn’t say in black and white that you should homeschool. However, it does supply some very basic principles …. one of those is how a child should be raise and how often those principles should be taught. It also teaches who should be their companions and that foolishness is bound in the heart of the child and the companion of fools comes to ruin. It teaches that we should be ignorant of evil. It teaches that we shouldn’t be unequally yoked in anything…. if not in business or marriage .. how do we justify the raising of our children to unsaved authority.. willingly. Public school has a very growing and more bold trend of being antagonistic toward anything remotely Christian. I do not think you will find a Biblical stand to allowing a child to that kind of influence for the majority of their awake hours. While I do not think a person is in sin for putting their kids in school, I don’t think it is wise. I think the Bible lays out a very strong argument to a Biblical education whether home school, private school and maybe at one time in history…. a public school

    So I that is the answer I would give to my children of why I home school them.

    • Kristin, I firmly believe that one does not have to be a Christian in order to live a life worth sharing on this earth. I learn good, true things from non-Christians all the time and so does my child. In fact, if I had my choice between a unenthusiastic, non-creative Christian elementary school teacher and a vibrant, creative and compassionate non-Christian one, I’d chose the non-Christian educator every time for my daughter. Having a heart that belongs to Jesus does not make someone a better teacher.

      I’m guessing you and I also differ on what being “yoked” means.

      I’m aware the schooling debate gets hot because some view home-schooling as a mandate from above and others don’t. I appreciate you commenting here, because I think your perspective is what drives the greatest wedge between Christian parents as we debate schooling options. I’m not saying you intend to be divisive, but it’s naturally divisive when someone says, “God ask this from all of us” and someone else disagrees wholeheartedly.

      • Thank you, Rebecca. And as a public school teacher, my heart hurts when other believers consider my God-given authority to be anything less.

        Our children will live in a world someday where many other influences will scream to drown out the influence we have at home. My daughter is learning even now how to make wise choices in a world that doesn’t always embrace our world view. And she’s learning to do it with love and grace. She is learning now, under our care and influence, what it will be like someday to have a boss, co-worker, etc. who doesn’t share her world view.

        I love Maralee’s take on this to be one of unity and not division. We should be coming alongside each other as iron sharpening iron and not pouring corrosive judgment on another family’s calling. On both sides. Just as home schooling parents have felt judged by others, I often feel our family doesn’t quite fit the “Christian” mold and have felt the sting of condescension and judgment from the home school side. Enough is enough.

  10. Rather than being judgmental towards those in different circumstances than ourselves, we should focus on how we can help each other… in whatever circumstances the other person is in. I pray on a daily basis that Jesus gives me His compassion and love for my neighbor. For my homeschooling neighbors AND my neighbors that don’t homeschool.

  11. Rebecca, my comment was directed to be why I choose to homeschool, not directed at your choices. Those decisions must come from you, your spouse and God. However because that is what I believe … I will not apologize for teaching it to my kids. It is between them, us and God. I don’t preach it to others. That is why I said I tell my kids that…. not other silly things like I love them more.

    Aliana I come from a family of public school teachers. I know it is a hard job that deserves much respect. However, I do not believe you have authority over children unless the parents have given it by placing their children in your care.then you should be respected as all authority should.however a teacher will never have the same authority from God as a parent nor the accountability.

    For what it is worth my girls have made the comment sbout “cant blame me I am homeschooled” in both settings of hsers and psers.

    Wish I could feel the unity in this blog.. really wish I could.

    • Kristin,

      I really don’t know where to begin, and I feel we’re probably not going to get anywhere, anyway. Please hear my heart, filtered through some of my experiences, and see how I saw your original comment.

      I’ve seen many children come from a homeschool environment into the public schools, for a variety of reasons. Can you explain to me why I have been told (by more than one parent) that their children should not have to listen to me because I’m *just* a teacher. I even had a parent instruct her hearing-impaired son (formerly home-schooled) to turn off his hearing aid when he was in my class. Why time after time I am treated with such disrespect from students in homeschooled families? Is it the attitude that teachers don’t deserve respect and parents are “settling” for public school? I had a kid literally knock me off my crutches after I sprained my ankle last year…looked back, laughed, and kept running. These are NOT one-time experiences. This disrespect has happened again and again and again. It has even happened in faith-based settings where I’m working with a variety of children – not a public school environment at all.

      This is NOT the attitude of most homeschool families. I really, truly believe they are the exception to the rule. But they DO reflect. Just as Maralee’s examples are probably the exception. This is a time for homeschool families to rise up and prove the perceptions wrong by seasoning your words with grace.

      I LOVE my friends who are doing this, and doing it well…teaching their children respect for ALL adults. But comments like yours above contribute to the undermining of public school teachers and administrators. You pretty much said your way is the only way (and please correct me if I read that wrong) and parents who don’t choose to homeschool aren’t wise.

      That is divisive. I’ve seen very little divisiveness anywhere else in these posts. I’ve seen differences of opinion, I’ve seen respectful disagreement. But the yuckiest feeling I have had was reading the comment you left above.

      I truly hope I’m missing something in what you’ve said. I WANT to find common ground with you. I WANT to find a way to come alongside parents who homeschool and champion them, support them, laugh with them and cry with them. And I appreciate those who respect what it is that I do and know that we, too, are following God’s specific call for our family.

  12. I think that Kristin was responding to previous post / comment about how children perceive why their parents make the choices they do. She articulates these reasons To Her Children. One of them is not ‘because we love you more than your friends ‘ parents do.’ She publicly and vulnerably stated her reasons and you state, “This is divisive”. You are free to disagree and so is she. That is not being divisive. Truth is, kids don’t always get it. It may take their walking in your shoes to be even sympathetic.

  13. Alaina,

    I am going to try and say it clearer because I don’t think what I am saying is coming across clear.

    My brother teaches currently and gets that kind of behavior from kids that were never homeschooled. Are you saying that you never get that kind of behavior other than from homeschooled kids? I am assuming not. So then only the homeschooled kids have to be addressed? Or does the behavior no matter where it is coming from have to be addressed? My point is that the behavior is unacceptable no matter who does it. So why single out homeschoolers? The next blog post was even worse about this.

    Do I believe as a teacher the children should listen to you? Yes. Should they sit there respectfully Yes. Should they do the work assigned to the best of their ability? Yes. Should parents participate as much as possible to assist in their child’s education and making your job easier? Yes. I would expect my children if in public school to treat their teachers with the utmost respect as I would with anyone in authority we have allowed in their lives. I am sorry you have had parents/kids that do not. I know that adds extreme stress to your job. It isn’t right. If a teacher was teaching or doing anything I didn’t agree with I would still not allow disrespect. I would pull my child from that class. As much as I think you have a great responsibility and ability to have a huge ministry and influence in children’s lives (and I believe you might be the ONLY good influence in some child’s life) you still do not have the same authority as a parent. That is all I was saying. A parent is a position giving by God in a chlld’s life. It was from the beginning. A teacher was not. Does that mean you don’t have a calling… NO. Does that mean you don’t have an important ministry?…. NO. I think my concern is that there is a huge trend leaning toward the equality of rights in children’s lives…. parental rights as trying to be stripped as in the United Nations treaty for children.

    I think homeschooling is right for us. I think it is the best way. However, I fully believe in the freedom of others and their personal walk with God. The reason I gave above is a very very short answer on why I believe in hsing. Again it was in response to what was implied we tell OUR children.I am going to say you have the freedom to choose for your family. I am not going to say that public school is an equal choice (in our beliefs of what we do). I do not think it is. If I thought it was I would have stopped hsing many years ago during some trying years and through some major disabilities. (try hsing an autistic child) But because I think it is best …. doesn’t mean I don’t respect your decision. I respect your freedom in Christ.

    So I think hsing is the ideal. I also think an intact family is ideal. It isn’t always the reality. We are under grace. That gives a lot of freedom. So as my best friend’s kids are in public school …. so do I say anything about her not doing what I think is ideal? Do I lecture her “if your kids were at home?” NO. I support her. I love her through hard times. I rejoice with her when her children do well in school. (Oh BTW… she is also a public school teacher… and a darn good one!) I figure each family does what they believe is best for their family. Why wouldn’t you? Who could live in conflict of maybe this is best or maybe it isn’t? Or in we are having a bad month/year…. maybe we should ps …. things are bad at ps … maybe we should hs? I don’t care what someone else thinks about what I do is best or not. It surprises that someone would care what I think about their choice. Those who are children of God are not under condemnation. It isn’t living a perfect life. It is living a walk that grows in God. A walk that grows in holiness. I give freedom for others to grow as I hope they give me. But ultimately it is only God’s approval I seek. I also know when it comes down to it….. there is so much I will have wrong… but it doesn’t matter God loves me (and you) anyways!

    So in short, I don’t think we need to believe what anyone else does is best, better, equal or not. We just need to give the freedom for them to be their own family and not worry about it. Just worry about what your own family does and choose the BEST for yourself. Seek God’s direction, character and heart for yourself. Hope that helps. I never mean to make you feel inferior or condemned.

    On the day of judgment, even the most consecrated Christian who ever walked the planet will only have grace to vouch for him. – Paul Washer

    • I have seen many poor behaviors. But the only ones whose parents have told me their children didn’t need to respect me have been homeschool parents. Again, fortunately, I know that’s the exception to the rule. But it’s there.

      Authority, in whatever shape it takes, is something God ordains. I never said a teacher has more authority than a parent. That’s simply foolish. But all of our children (HS and PS) will have authority throughout their lives…some good, some bad. Allowing a child to be disrespectful to any authority is wrong. And it starts at home.

      There’s probably much we can agree on, and so I’ll let it drop where we’re probably not going to find common ground. I wish you well!

  14. I know this is a very old post, but I just found your blog and I’m binge-reading everything, so I’m commenting on this old post anyway.

    My husband is a public school teacher and I homeschool our children. We hear every possible insult and put-down from both sides. He hears the public school staff say rotten things about homeschool families, I hear the homeschool moms talk about what a sub-par education the public school is giving out. You wouldn’t believe the way people back-pedal when they find out you’re standing on both sides of the fence. There’s nothing like a little even-tempered middle-ground to deflate pompous speech in a hurry. 🙂

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