Sunday, January 27, 2013

Why Most Parents Who Want To Don't Even Try Homeschooling

Penelope Trunk blogs The Real Reason Parents Don't Homeschool which she feels is money: saying they need two incomes to survive and thrive.

I disagree. It isn't the first time. Trunk seems to like to make controversial statements which generate blog traffic and lots of comments. It's her schtick and that's her perogative. Having been in the homeschooling trenches longer than she and having interacted with lots of homeschoolers I just disagree.

I have homeschooled my kids since birth, they are 15 and12 now. Having helped provide free support via homeschool support groups and prior being a La Leche League leader for seven years working with mothers at home who talk about mothering and juggling work with mothering, and having worked with college educated women who like their middle or upper middle class income, I don't think money is the issue.

There are two reasons that people don't homeschool. The first begins with motherhood in general.

Some mothers choose not to be mothers-at-home when their children are babies because they are afraid they will be bored. Thus they begin their mothering journey as working mothers. I only know a few women who worked full or part time with their first child then became a mother-at-home for child number two (and subsequent). Most cited that child care and private preschool was too expensive to handle on their dual incomes, that it was cheaper to come home and live on one income.

Most people do not homeschool because they don't feel it is necessary (schools in our town are the best!). Why would you ever want to do that, they asked me. If you don't like the school just send them to private school. Parochial schools are often under $10K for K-8, so they think they are not that expensive (and they give scholarships for financial need if they qualify). I know less than a handful of parents who quit private school and chose homeschooling because they could not afford the private education for all the children once number two child (and sometimes subsequent) came along. Of those families one wound up using public school and boarding schools for high school after multiple years of homeschooling (and suffering with what I will discuss below all the while).

Many parents assume they are not at all equipped or knowledgable about how to homeschool (teach is what they are thinking). They worry of their inadequacy. This could be credited to fear but at the same time there is caring behind it because they feel the best thing they can do for their children is provide them with a good education and they feel they are not capable of the task. So they think they are being a good parent if they reject homeschooling and use the schools. They do not think there is anything wrong with their fear, they do not think it is a myth to bust or to question much. They take little or no action to fact search or talk to homeschooling parents to see if their fear is justified. They just march in line with mainstream America telling themselves that everything is just fine or else why would so many kids be in public school anyway?

Some who make statements that homeschooling seems good or that X at school is bad (social scene in middle school, bullying in elementary school, or learning disabled child struggling) say they are scared to even try homeschooling. They often will say they looked into homeschooling a little and think it's great for other families but not for them. They fear it will be too much work or that they will not be able to handle parenting their own children in the homeschool lifestyle because being a school parent and nagging about homework is already challenging and un-fun.

Bottom line is the answer is fear.

They are afraid to step outside of the mainstream. There are things we know from psychology that speak to human nature's desire to stick with the pack and to not do things that are too different.

They are afraid to do something radically different than their established friends and peer groups have. They worry about losing their network of contacts in the school world: they fear they will lose their own friends they met through the PTA and the ones they complain about the school with. They fear being alone and losing their established social network. Many people fear abandonment. Some fear judgement from peers and fear that they will be shunned or rejected if they reject school and embrace homeschooling.

They fear they will fail (even if the worst that could happen is if learning less in one school year is a tragedy should they choose to re-enroll into school the next year, heck, you don't even have to wait the entire school year to give up and re-enroll them). Some fear school staff will reject them and should school be used in the future for that child, worry of negative repercussions from staff to the child such as punishment by assigning the student with the worst teacher in the grade, et cetera.

They fear that their spouse will not be in agreement with them about homeschooling which may put their marriage in jeopardy. It's a fact that in some families, divorce has been threatened about the homeschool issue. They fear criticism from their siblings and the grandparents. They are scared to death that those closest to them will do battle with them about their choice to homeschool.

Parents of learning disabled kids either think the school does a lot for the kid already and wonder how they could handle homeschooling. They fought for years at PPT meetings to get appropriate IEPs and wonder how they could homeschool that child after expending so much effort to get that IEP. Some think their child needs more than the school is giving but if a school full of experts is inadequate so how in the world could they handle homeschooling that child? Don't good parents try to make sure that the best experts render the care their children need? They wonder how they could homeschool when they are not a teacher or a special education expert in that field. They think the child is too hard to handle and they are inadequate, which is a fear based issue.

Homeschooling is not a clean and concrete process. Homeschooling has freedoms which allow homeschoolers to do things all different ways and provides freedom to make changes at any time. This uncertainty of a clear path to success or an easy path to ease of delivery of the education scares some people. The number of choices for curriculum and learning materials alone paralyzes some parents so severly that they never try homeschooling. A handful of parents told me they tried homeschooling in the summer for one week "as a trial" and it bombed so that was their proof that it would never work. Funny, they didn't use one week in school as a litmus test for keeping a child in daycare, preschool, or elementary school -- if they had, many children would have been withdrawn due to "failure".

Homeschooling is like running a marathon and it can lead to fatigue and even exhaustion. Some parents face burnout at some point. People hear about these things and are scared that it will happen to them as well. It probably will, but the point they don't seem to realize is we all struggle in life with different challenges and the fact is that most of us overcome them and come out thriving, not just surviving. As with all suffereing in life we become wiser for having gone through the struggle, we learn something about ourselves and others that we then use to improve our lives in the present and in our future.

There is a perception that parenting truly full time such as is done with homeschooling is hard, and that is true in different ways for different seasons of a child's life. Those struggling with a teenager ask themselves why they felt it was so impossible to keep a baby fed and in clean diapers while also feeding ourselves and taking a shower daily. What was our problem back then that we could not handle such a thing, we ask ourselves, life was so much more simple back then.

Some parents fear they are incompetent or they do not desire to live in a way that they think is going to be harder than what they are already living. It is easier to keep on keeping on with an established lifestyle than to make a change and to face the unknown which may be even more difficult! Whole books have been written for the self-help market about opening one's mind to change and then how to muster up enough courage to make that change happen. You have to really want the change in order to do what it takes to make a change. People with this concern have fear mixed with lack of desire - there is not enough desire to build courage to research and try something new to them.

Fear is the main reason why more people do not homeschool, and the lack of desire is another reason.

There is a grassroots network of wise homeschooling parents out there who are ready and willing to mentor you through the information gathering stage and they will walk by your side when you are ready to start the homeschooling journey (free of charge). If you truly want to give it a try, face your fears, overcome them and make the change happen. When you eliminate one thing in your life you make room for the new. When you close a door, a window opens.


Karen said...

I absolutely agree with you about Penelope's blog! I read almost every new post she puts out and, I have to admit, she's getting old. LOL

I also disagree with her about why more people do not homeschool. From what many friends have said to me, it IS fear.
Fear of failure.

Why do you and I not have this fear? Well, sometimes we do! But we see it happening in front of us and, truly, the proof IS in the pudding!



ChristineMM said...

All bloggers wind up having a certain persona that their regular readers return for. Some wind up writing books or speaking live. It takes guts to be a bold voice or to talk of controversy. Trunk's style draws readership and comments. That can help her with ad revenue if she pursues that, and other ventures.

My primary reason for blogging was to practice daily writing. I thought I'd write a book someday. Truth is I am so busy with homeschooling and parenting that I do not even want to go through the motions of "finding more time" to make it happen.

Also chasing blog ad revenue is so time consuming and so little pans out in the end. Example I have spent an hour writing essay and questionnaires to submit to try to get picked for a blog ad campaign that I never got. When this happened over and over it was a big waste of time.

Deborah said...

Of the parents who would consider homeschooling but don't, I think it's likely that fear is a factor.

However, it seems that a lot of people think that homeschooling is done by creepy insular religious freaks who are deliberately stunting their children intellectually and emotionally. I've heard "Children belong in school". I've had a couple of soccer moms immediately launch into a conversation that they thought was over my head, of the elite schools their then nine year old sons would attend. I've had well intentioned people describing what a disservice I was doing my children by not exposing them to "mainstream culture". I'm not usually treated as a mental lightweight...except when I identify myself as a homeschool parent. It's even worse if I mention interest led learning, and off the charts if I use the word "unschooling": everything looks fine now but my children really will not have the skills to cope in the "real world". be fair, most of my interactions with the people who know me and my children have been quite positive...but I think it's interesting that I've been exposed to any negative stuff at all, considering that I don't usually identify myself as a homeschool mom unless asked. People can't avoid putting their two cents in on a topic they know nothing about. Granted...this could have a chilling effect on people who would consider homeschooling but don't want to be judged. Who said peer pressure was just for kids?


Ahermitt said...

Yes. Fear. But fear of what? My assessment is fear of 1. Failure. 2. Self sacrifice. 3. Judgement. But these are mostly those who consider homeschooling and for these reasons do not.

On the other hand are people who are as passionate about other forms of education as we are of homeschooling. They strongly believe in what they are doing with their kids and are unapologetic. I have a lot of respect for this as long as they don't try to vilify homeschooling in an effort make them feel justified in their choice.

elisabeth s. said...

I am on the precipice of this decision for my 5, 4, and 3 year old "second batch" of children. I have children in their mid-twenties who were absolutely failed by public school in spite of heavy parental involvement and a relatively educated family. I have been in the information gathering phase for nearly a year, and I can say with certainty that fear is the overwhelming emotion involved in this decision. Fear of failure, fear of going out of my mind from never getting a break from the kids, fear of not doing well by these children, fear of lack of support from family -- you name it, I am pretty much afraid of it.

I live in an area of Texas that has a vibrant, strong homeschool community so I don't have the fear of being labeled a weirdo, although I know some of those homeschool families. The sheer number of homeschool groups is another source of confusion and fear -- do I sign the statement of faith and go with the fundamental Christian group, or the hippie group that is sprinkled with Wiccan believers? Do I choose the group whose kids are all athletes or the on that has a required play date once a week? Do I have to teach co-op and if so, where do my other two babies fit in at that time? I've gone to two meet ups with homeschool groups that were supposed to be learning centered and really were just sit around the picnic table and breast feed, gossip and feel earthmothery dates. I don't think the kids got much out of it past the age of two. Or in some cases four.

I have narrowed my preferences down to a program that seems very much like the coop that isn't a coop you write about. Classical program with some Charlotte mason thrown in in the younger grades, and the kids go to school twice a week and homeschool three days a week. I think this might be a great way to get our feet wet. It is rigorous. It relieves me of the insane pressure of designing the educational program from scratch or choosing from among the thousands available. One fear addressed. It is expensive at 2800 a year, but I don't think it is more than I would spend trying curriculum and changing my mind.

I love your blog. Thank you for informing my decision to homeschool or not.

Kay said...

I read both your and Penelope's blogs. I like you both. Penelope travels first class and flies to CA for a haircut so perhaps both you and she are right in the reasons why people choose not to homeschool. Maybe the mom's she runs across are all selfish, self serving bozos who want to shop all day and don't give a hoot about cherishing time with their children. I don't know. I don't know Penelope's friends, nor yours. I think the number one reason people don't choose to homeschool boils down to one. They're ignorant. If they knew better they would do better. Imagine all adults are pies. Any human being with basic math skills would understand that splitting a pie into 30 pieces is not going to amount to much in regard to sustenance. A sliver is all anyone will get. One to one education or one to two/three will always give the kids in question more (everything) then one to thirty. The fear remains for all of us on some level who continue this path. The knowledge of the benefits outweigh the fear and financial loss though. We know that because we're not ignorant. Penelope is a homeschool mom too. It doesn't matter if she's less experienced, she is still part of the pack. I really think homeschoolers are far more like wolves (pack animals) and school people are more like sheep (herd animals). That is the only word I'd change in your most recent post. School people are sheeple. We tend not to be so regardless of our social status. We're capable of going it alone but also enjoy the company of our wolf pack.

ChristineMM said...

Thanks everyone for the opinions. Love hearing them!

ChristineMM said...

Elizabeth S,
Are you anywhere near me?

See my profile for my info.

In CT the strongest network was inclusive and it was filled with all kinds of people and all religions including Christian.

I am disappointed in the inclusive or secular groups in my area.

I also don't like some of what I heard from the Christian moms when I went to a HS park day right after moving here, it was my only option to meet anyone who homeschools. The secular group was also there and the two groups avoided each other like the plauge. I have never seen anything like it in my life. I am not used to that kind of division.

Deborah said...

Elisabeth, I wonder what you mean by "rigorous"? It is not the first thing that springs to my mind when thinking about education for young children...more important for me would be fostering a sense of inquiry and exposing children to a rich set of experiences.

elisabeth s. said...

Christine, we aren't close to one another. I am about an hour northwest of Austin, and if memory serves you are outside of Houston, right? The dynamic you saw between those groups is very near what I see here. That makes it hard to choose, especially when you add more groups.

Deborah, what I mean by rigor is that there is an high expectation of learning in the program, and a well designed organization system in place. Organization and discipline aren't my strengths, and won't be easy for me to impart to my children, so I sought a program that would help with that. We have passion, and love to try new things and to learn all about them, and to play. We do provide the kids with rich and varied experiences as a practice of our family values said...

The fears I hear most often are about inadequacy to teach difficult subjects, and fear of being 'stuck' with one's own children all day.

I can understand the trepidation a parent might feel about teaching, especially if they are looking at homeschooling from the outside, and from the perspective of homeschooling being 'school at home'. Schools are manned by education 'professionals', and at first glance it might seem arrogant to claim an expertise for which one has not earned a degree.

These are misconceptions that are usually dispelled after a few months of homeschooling.

The second fear bothers me a bit. I can't imagine not enjoying the companionship of one's own family. Perhaps they already have strained relationships at home, and feel the conflict will be exacerbated by more time in each other's company. Of course, just because I can't wrap my head around it doesn't mean it isn't valid.

However, I am not in the physical presence of my kids 24/7. Right now one of my kids is making lunch, one is DVRing Clone Wars, and the other is writing an essay for composition. I'm in my office space (a corner of the family room) puttering. We are often engaged in different activities in different rooms. One of the first things I try to accomplish with homeschooling is teaching independent learning and the ability to work alone unsupervised.

It is unfortunate that many groups end up with unpleasant dynamics. It's like living high school again, only without the jocks and cheerleaders running the show. I'm part of a Christian group of over 200 members. We have a Statement of Faith, but its intention is not to exclude, but to allow parents to be able to take certain things for granted, so to speak.