Written by contributor Sarah Small of SmallWorld at Home
I am blessed to live in an area where homeschooling is not at all unusual. Everyone knows at least a few homeschooling families; nonetheless, we aren’t immune to the naysayers, the critics.
I used to be outraged. I used to bristle. I remember one of my first encounters with a lady who was quite vocal about her disgust with homeschooling. I had just moved to town and was attending a new church. Here is how my conversation went with this woman:
So where does your son go to school?”
“I am homeschooling him.”
“Oh. Well, I would never do that. We have the best schools in the state right here.”
That was the end of the conversation. She actually turned her back to me, quite literally, and never engaged me in conversation again for the decade I attended that church.
Most of us have had that conversation or one similar. We’ve heard the common babble about socialization to the audacious “why aren’t you using your degree?” and its strange partner, “do you even have a teaching degree?” comments.
We wonder what would actually possess someone to say, “I am a better mom because my kid is in school.”
We inwardly flinch when we hear, “My kid would like to be homeschooled, but I would kill him.” Our hearts break a little when they say, “I could never be around my kid all the time. She frustrates me way too much.”
I have zipped my lips a hundred times over the past 13 years. I have rolled my eyes to the back of my head while wearing a beatific smile and maintaining eye contact with someone who sounds exactly like Charlie Brown’s teacher to me. (“Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-wah.”) In my head, do you know what I’m saying? Please stop talking. Please, oh please, stop talking.
If you are a homeschooler, you’ve been there. And you’ve experienced that dilemma: should I keep my mouth shut, or should I respond? I think often we feel like homeschooling traitors if we don’t respond, as if somehow we need to launch a counter-attack to set the critics straight.
For me, there is absolutely no advice better than that given in Colossians 4:6:
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (ESV).
Years ago (and keep in mind, this is my 13th year of homeschooling!), I would stew on negative comments for days, pondering what I should have said, regretting what I did say, or having imaginary conversations in my head in which I set that person straight. (Oh, come on. You’ve done that too, right?)
These days I have a checklist I run through in my head when I find myself involved in one of these types of conversations. My mental checklist goes something like this:
- Is the person just making conversation?
- Is the person actually interested in homeschooling?
- Is the person completely off track and needs some gentle correcting?
- Is this a waste of time and energy?
Recently homeschooling came up in a conversation with a new acquaintance—one with whom I’d be sharing a fair amount of time. His confident assertions about homeschooling (he’d “met a few homeschooling families”) irked me. His opinion went something along the lines of “homeschooling can be successful if the family is highly structured and runs a tight ship, but those families that just go to the store and call it math are bound for trouble.”
In my head I’m saying, “Did you really just say that? Seriously? Because your copious research into homeschooling has allowed you to make such a grand declaration?”
What I really said, while smiling, was something along the lines of “Each family is different. Some work well with structure and some don’t.” And then I changed the subject. The conversation wasn’t going anywhere. He didn’t mean any harm by his comment, and I knew that. He was just making conversation. He wasn’t asking for my philosophy of homeschooling, and I wasn’t asking for his.
My friend recently had an encounter in which I think she responded admirably. While getting her hair cut at her usual salon, she (as well as everyone else in the salon) overheard the older woman in the next chair ranting about homeschooling. The stylist appeared to agree with her, offering encouraging remarks now and then.
As my friend says, “I didn’t want to show disrespect to this woman, but I felt like I needed to address this for my own sake.” So after the woman left, my friend approached this stylist with a few pictures of her kids on her phone. “Do you see these kids?” she asked him. He nodded, smiling. “They are smart, beautiful, friendly, well socialized kids. They are mine. And they are homeschooled.
“I’m not very outspoken, but I think you have the wrong idea about homeschooling. There are a lot of things I need to keep my mouth shut on because I don’t know enough about it, but I do know homeschooling. And I know that my kids are very socialized and educated and I feel lucky to keep them home with me.”
She was pleasant, kind, and level-headed while presenting her own views on a topic which the other client had made quite public. She stood up for her own choices without tearing down the other woman. I totally high-fived her.
We want to defend our choices. We want to make them see how wrong they are. In our ardor, we may get angry, defensive, and hypercritical. We may find ourselves engaged in a battle, determined to convince someone that homeschooling is best!
But you know what? Homeschooling is not best for everyone.
Be confident in your decision, and resist the urge to shake some sense into everyone who has a word “against” your choice.
That doesn’t mean you should never respond—but just respond thoughtfully, graciously, and with the right seasoning.
And practice your own beatific smile.
So what’s your tactic? How do you respond to the homeschooling critics in your life?