When I sent out my original request for questions to answer in my Q & A Wednesday series, I received quite a few asking me to talk about how to deal with homeschooling criticism. So many, in fact, that i’ve turned my response into a four part series! Here, I discuss the different types of critic you’re likely to encounter and how to manage each one.
Sadly, homeschooling criticism is very common.
While homeschooling has increased exponentially over the last few years, It’s far from mainstream. And when you do things that are a bit odd, you know that you’re going to hear all about it from just about everyone.
For many people, this is a big source of stress. If you’re already uncertain and second-guessing yourself then having other people do the same magnifies your worries. Also, we’re social creatures, and doing something radically different to the mainstream makes us anxious and uncertain.
It can also make other people anxious and uncertain when they see us making choices very different to theirs, and so unfortunately homeschoolers must learn to be confident dealing with disapproval, criticism, and sometimes even anger.
Most critics fall into three categories – and if you understand each one you’re better able to deal with them.
These are the people who will make steam come from your ears. They’re generally the most ignorant yet think that they’re 100% correct. They’re the most likely to throw out horrible comments then walk away, leaving you fuming and upset with no chance of having your own say. Even if you do get your say, none of it will ever change their opinion. Their opinions are as malleable as concrete.
They all have their reasons. People invested in the school system, such as some principals and teachers are prime offenders – they’re defensive because they don’t want to believe that mere parents can educate children without qualifications).
Other people loved school, and so think you’re depriving your children.
Conformists feel threatened by anyone doing anything different – they wish people would just toe the line (their line).
Parents whose children are struggling at school but don’t want to homeschool would prefer to believe that it’s a terrible option, so they don’t have to seriously consider it.
Whatever the reason, these bullies will skyrocket your blood pressure.
What they’ll say:
‘The schools here are wonderful! Why, little Johnny is doing 87 enrichment activities and won an award for blah blah blah…….’
‘You can’t teach, you don’t have an education degree.’
‘Homeschooling doesn’t work. I know a family who homeschooled five children, and only one turned out OK. The rest are all drug addicts.’ (insert any number of personal anecdotes here).
‘You’ll ruin your children.’
‘Homeschooling is selfish. If you don’t like something about school you should work to change it and improve it for ALL children.’
‘They need to learn how to deal with bullies and difficult situations – you can’t hide them away from the world forever.’
How to deal with them: Don’t. Avoid them whenever possible. When one manages to corner you and sledgehammer you with idiocy don’t lower yourself to their level and shout back. Look off into space, ask them to stop, or tell them you have a pressing appointment and walk off.
They have their opinions and they cherish them. Their minds are about as malleable as concrete. Trying to educate them is a complete waste of breath.
Personally, I found great satisfaction once with telling someone that their school education was definitely lacking because it completely missed manners, but I have a rather wide streak of cheekiness in me. #sorrynotsorry
These people know very little about homeschooling. They have their opinions, like everyone, but they’re not particularly strong opinions – homeschooling is not something that they’ve thought very much about nor something they care about a great deal.
A throwaway comment from them can be misinterpreted as criticism, especially if you’re having a bad day.
But it shouldn’t be. These people are more curious than critical. These are the sort of people who will listen to you and think about your answers. They’re most likely to bring up the stereotypes they’ve heard through mainstream media, and so it’s fairly easy to have a standard set of responses for them. They may argue a little, but it feels more like a debate than a war.
What they’ll say:
‘But what about socialisation?’
‘I thought all homeschoolers are really religious and have fifteen children / hippy society dropouts.’
‘You must be really patient, to spend all day with your kids.’
How to deal with them: Talk to them! Try to be brief and articulate when explaining why you homeschool, the benefits you’ve seen and the negatives you hope to avoid. Ask questions to help them examine their beliefs, ‘Do you think that everyone who has been to school can be classified as well-socialised?’ or ‘Do you really think that children are better off learning social skills from random children rather than an invested adult?’
You have an opportunity here to educate someone, even just a little bit, about the reality of homeschooling. Don’t ramble on at them or corner them, just give them something small to think about.
These critics can be the hardest to deal with, because they tend to be the people closest to you – your parents, your sister, or even your partner.
And while there’s elements of the other types of critic in them, you can’t just walk away or ignore them. Their opinion and support matters to you, you probably value it in other areas, and it can be difficult to homeschool without it.
What they’ll say:
‘I really worry that Tom won’t get to make friends. It’s very lonely at home by yourselves.’
‘But you didn’t even finish school – how will you manage to teach?’
Or they corner the children (this must be stopped) and say:
‘Oh, school is so much fun! You get to spend all day with your friends and go on excursions to the zoo, and…’
‘So Annabel, what’s 7 x 9?’ or ‘How do you spell ‘conscience’?’ (If answer is incorrect child is not receiving adequate education and homeschooling is a failure. If answer is correct they keep going until they get an incorrect one).
How to deal with them: You need to stop these people from undermining you while thinking of the long-term. Over time, many of these critics can be won over to homeschooling slowly, or at least have many of their concerns erased.
There’s a few approaches here that you can use all together.
Brag about the positives
Brag about every single positive thing that happens. The more mainstream-approved, the better. Test results, writing their own name, reading the classics, being quick at mental maths, excelling in their sport or musical instrument, finishing a workbook – all these are achievements that homeschool critics can understand and approve of.
Beverley Paine recommends writing a short and chatty homeschool newsletter to send out to family and friends. This could be a paper project that your child helps with, an email that you put together, or a Facebook group or Instagram account that you post to regularly. This helps to demystify what it is that you’re actually doing all day, and makes learning visible. Make sure you directly address their main concerns – if it’s socialisation, share pictures of homeschool group. If it’s academics, post pictures of sentence diagramming (even if it only lasted ten minutes and you both hated it. I love it, but I hear I’m not normal in that).
She even put together a set of examples for us – thanks Beverley!
In this way, you can indirectly show people that their concerns are groundless, without needing to confront them directly or bore them.
Keep it all sunshine and lollipops
Never, NEVER complain about homeschooling to these people. Ever. Any negatives will immediately erase the last fifty positives you’ve given them. Remember – never.
Set your boundaries
If they’re really bothering you, or if they’re cornering the children and undermining homeschooling, don’t forget that you are well within your rights to tell them to stop. They’re being incredibly rude and inconsiderate, so there is nothing wrong with asserting yourself and requesting that they behave better.
Your child. Your life. Your choices.
If they’re intimidating, or tend to ignore your opinions or feelings, write them a letter. However you do it, make it totally clear and unequivocal that you are committed to homeschooling, they are not to try to turn the children or yourself against it, and you will not listen to any unfounded criticism.
Make sure you maintain your boundaries once you set them – if they start to overstep, remind them that you’ve asked them not to do that.
Try the performing seal approach
This one’s a bit controversial, but it works really well. If your child can do something impressive, get them to do it for that person. Playing a piece on the violin, explaining a mathematical concept they’re excited about, or walking them through their science project are all excellent ideas (remember, school-like). In our case, our girls reciting Clancy of the Overflow together at ages 7 and 8 (the age where many children love memorisation and find if fairly easy) virtually eliminated any future criticism.
Set a time limit (even if it’s not true)
Even if you’re planning to homeschool your five year old all the way through, don’t tell them yet. It will freak them out. Give the impression that you’re just trying it for a year or so to see how it goes. Be a bit vague about the date you’ll reassess so they don’t start deluging you with school pamphlets as it approaches. And when the end of the year comes around and they ask if you’re thinking of school, simply answer brightly, ‘Well, Alex is thriving at home so I really don’t see a need to change that – we’ll keep homeschooling for a bit longer’.
Added bonus – it removes the questions about how you’ll teach advanced physics / maths / business studies.