Shutting down the homeschool fight (before it even starts)

moviemain

Written by contributor Kara Anderson of Quill and Camera

We were invited to our new neighbors’ house for a backyard movie night – and I knew it was going to come up.

Because we’re homeschoolers.

And he’s a public school teacher.

There was going to be that question – that “why?” that strikes fear in our hearts, because if you’re like me, you’ve been down that road, and you’ve gotten smacked head-on by a 18-wheeler of judgment and misunderstanding.

My semi-truck moment came several years ago with a man my husband knows crashed my mom’s birthday celebration. (Truly.)

“So why do you homeschool?” he asked.

We were new to homeschooling, and so stupidly, I tried honesty.

(My son was an early reader, but had little patience for the letter-of-the-day worksheets so loved by his pre-school. Rather than send him to a place where he was just bound to get in trouble …)

“Well, my son was an early reader …” I started.

And before I could explain further, the man pounced: “So was David Koresh.”

Seriously? For clarification sake, I want to point out that he wrong. (I think he had confused his cult leaders.)

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I learned an important lesson that night, though – that sometimes, a heartfelt rainbows-and-cupcakes monologue isn’t the best approach when somebody wants to pick a homeschool fight.

Here are a couple of things that work better:

1. Oh, I don’t like to debate my family’s choices.

This one works on everything from cloth diapering to why your child can’t watch PG-13 movies with Grandma. I find it most effective when stated in a very relaxed way, because I’m not looking for a fight — I’m looking to be all done with that particular topic.

“Oh, I don’t like to debate my family’s choices,” I’ll say with a wave of my hand, as if I’m incapable of getting worked up, and have never, ever attended a nurse-in or written an emotional 3-page letter to the editor about library funding cuts.

Nope, I’m quietly strong and graceful. I am Princess Diana and the Dalai Lama.

And I am changing the subject to the weather now.

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2. I focus my attention on educating my children, not strangers.

I like this one at the grocery store, but I rarely say it aloud. I do repeat it to myself, while smiling politely at whoever is standing in front of me questioning our life and everything that defines us.

Because sometimes it is worth it to make a point, or to defend your choices, and sometimes, you just really need milk and bananas.

3. We enjoy it.

I know. This seems too simple. You need to hit folks with more reasoning, right?

No. Because reasoning only works on the reasonable, and then only sometimes.

When I tell someone that we LIKE homeschooling, it immediately shuts down most potential negative responses.

Because expressing your own joy:

  • isn’t judging their choices, which can make people feel defensive.
  • isn’t an attempt to educate them, which only works if they are open to new ideas.
  • isn’t indicating that you are up for a debate, or that you want to continue that particular line of questioning.

Why do we homeschool?

Because we love it. Thank you for asking.

Perhaps at this point you are wondering what happened during that backyard movie night.

Ready?

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Absolutely nothing.

Which brings me to my last thought:

4. Cool it, John Wayne.

Don’t go into every interaction looking for a fight. Most people who ask about homeschooling are just making conversation, and the entire time you are carefully constructing a well thought out answer, they are trying to remember their grocery list or their brain is otherwise consumed with their own business.

Some are genuinely curious, but most don’t want an argument. (And even if they do, disagreements are one thing, but fights often aren’t worth the time and energy, so choose wisely.)

My neighbor the teacher doesn’t seem to care whether we homeschool our kids, because really, it doesn’t affect him in any way. I could ask him why he chooses to teach public school, but the truth is, that doesn’t affect me.

He’s nice to my kids, and patient with my poor landscaping. He’s a good neighbor and we’re blessed to have him.

So instead of entering into a verbal sparring match about our differences, we found a lot of common ground that night, while watching a movie about creatures from different planets learning to get along.

movie1

Really.

Our families laughed as we indulged in sugary snacks, and I think it’s safe to say that we accepted each other, despite being on slightly different paths.

And while the kettle corn and ice cream were great, I think that the quiet acceptance we found that night might have been the sweetest treat of all.

About Kara Anderson

Kara is a freelance writer and homeschooling mom, driven by an unknown force to write everything down. She takes too many pictures, and never leaves home without a notebook. Read about her adventures with her two amazing kiddos at Quill and Camera.

Comments

  1. Meg says:

    WOW! One of the best posts I’ve read on this blog! Much, much needed for new homeschoolers as well as veterans. Thank-you!

  2. Amy says:

    I love this. It’s a good reminder that we don’t need to justify our parenting/educating decisions to others. I need to keep telling myself this over and over.
    Amy’s latest post: 3 Easy Steps To Help Your Child Sleep Through The Night And Become A Genius By The Time She Is 3 Weeks Old

  3. Bravo. We have home schooled for 8 years. Both of our children are incredibly bright. We wanted an environment that was stress-free and safe for the best learning experience. Our oldest is a high achiever, our youngest doesn’t see the need for school. If I sent our youngest to school, he would labelled…something. I know that people really don’t need to know all this and loved your simple answers. If they want to know more, they can certainly ask more questions, or they can watch home schooled children and see the difference for themselves.
    Lynette @ Victory Homemaking’s latest post: Pumpkin Pie Filling Sans Sweetened Condensed Milk

  4. brooke says:

    GREAT post! It is not worth getting in to this conversation with 99.99% of the people I run in to or are asked by. My children now answer the ‘Is there no school today?’ question we get when out. I also always shrug my shoulders and say, ‘It works for us!’.

  5. Lisa says:

    Thank you, this is such a breath of fresh air. Like Brooke (comment above) I tend to rely on “it works for us” although there are those out of the blue moments when feel like I was blind sided with someone else’s personal issues. What I’ve come to understand is that the only reason folks get haired up about my choices is because they are uneasy or uncertain about their own and I am not going to go there with them on that one!
    Lisa’s latest post: Some Link Love

  6. Michelle says:

    We’ve been homeschooling for 12 yrs and sometimes I’m still caught off guard – usually when I have all four kids with me and I wasn’t focused on the question :) I’m really guarded in my initial answers to questions, but then I “feel” the person out based on their responses. If I see the conversation headed in a direction I don’t want to go, I’ll just shrug my shoulders and say, “Oh, well. It works for us!” Great post!

  7. wanderingsue says:

    Thanks so much for this- I’m a relative newbie, lots to figure out…

  8. Chris says:

    Well said, and a great reminder that not everyone cares anyway. I’ve taken to responding something along the lines of “I could give you all the different reasons about why we do, but really it just feels like the right fit for our family.” Those who are interested will ask more about those reasons are. Those who aren’t interested may tag on with some comment about how they prefer their choice, or just let it rest. So far, my go to resonse hasn’t started any heated discussions or arguments.

  9. Kara says:

    Definitely Chris! I think focusing on how homeschooling makes us feel (instead of the pros/cons, etc.) is an awesome way to keep the peace.
    Kara’s latest post: Hello, friends old and new …

  10. I love love love this post!
    priest’s wife (@byzcathwife)’s latest post: What are you giving up for Advent?

  11. julie says:

    This is one of my faves! Love it, and so much wisdom for me to tuck away.
    julie’s latest post: friends near and far.

  12. Laura says:

    I really appreciate the “because we enjoy it!” Response. That IS our primary reason for homeschooling, but often I feel that it isn’t enough in conversation. If it’s enough for us, it should be reason enough for anyone asking as well.

  13. You might be surprised at some public teachers (referring to your intro). My husband is a public school teachers and we plan on doing part-time university model homeschooling once our oldest starts K next fall. We have neighbors down the street who also homeschool full time while the dad is a public school teacher. :) It’s OK to support both.
    Erin@The Humbled Homemaker’s latest post: Pumpkin Cream Smoothie

    • Kara says:

      I agree Erin. We too know families where one parent works in a school setting, and have friends whose older kids go to public school part-time. This is why it is so important, I think, to stay open, and realize that most people aren’t looking for a battle. Many are actually looking for a connection :)
      Kara’s latest post: Hello, friends old and new …

    • Carol says:

      Yes, it is OK to support both. I teach public school part time, my son is homeschooled, and my daughter goes to a charter school in another school district.
      I really agree with number 4 and I constantly remind myself, when people ask about our homeschooling, that people are usually just curious or making conversation.

  14. Mark says:

    I just tell them our kid is one year ahead in math and a year ahead in reading. She also programs in computer languages such as HTML, CSS and PHP. She also has her own website as well as a blog (blogger platform). She is interested in circuit boards and is beginning to learn to program and build robots. And she just turned eleven…

    That usually shuts people up…

  15. Tara says:

    Kara, I really enjoyed that, thank you. Good applicable advice and I love your sense of humor :) Tara.
    Tara’s latest post: Kindle {Carousel Saturday}

  16. Dianne says:

    Yes! Thank you for pointing out what is important. I am happy to say that this kind of scenario has been very rare for us, but I did get a surprise on my last jury call. Because the trial I was tentatively on was going to be long, the judge interviewed all of the jurists, one by one. Fun. Imagine being in front of the judge, telling him you homeschool, and having him ask “how do you do THAT?” in front of everyone. Haha talk about being taken off guard! I don’t even remember what I said, but I didn’t get put on the jury, so it was either really good or really bad, depending on your point of view!

  17. John says:

    Ten Zingers for “Why Homeschool”…
    1 – The Commute – it’s just too far and takes too long.
    2 – Teachers are overworked and underpaid
    3 – Teasing, bullying, and hazing, are incompatible with your notion of “properly socializing children”
    4 – Your children deserve more one-on-one time than a teacher with 25-30 students can be reasonably expected to provide.
    5 – Parents who homeschool are more engaged in their children’s learning which studies show is crucial to their success.
    6 – Public Libraries, Museums, and the Internet make learning a more individualized and self-directed process which results in a higher quality education than standardized, institutional group learning methods.

  18. John says:

    7 – Home schooled children routinely graduate sooner and perform better in College.
    8 – You have nothing better to do with your time than raise your kids and personally oversee their primary education.
    9 – Your religion forbids you from allowing godless heathens from indoctrinating your children.
    10 – You’re still waiting for their letters form Hogwarts to arrive.

    • Ann says:

      Excellent! I love defeating ignorance with humor. :)
      Personally, I have a very strong (some would say sometimes intimidating) personality, as does my husband, so I can’t imagine anyone ever getting in my face about our choice to homeschool our son. But we’re new on this journey as he started “kindergarten” this year. Quite frankly, I think my response – if anyone dared to ask – would be a glacial glare followed by “mind your own business”. And that’s the nice version. But then again, I do like your witty suggestions so I may steal a few of them instead of punching someone out. ;) Thanks!

  19. Rosa says:

    My kids aren’t old enough for homeschooling yet (7 months and 23 months), but I can relate to the negativity a person is subjected to for not conforming to the “norm”. I’ve been self-employed for several years and still have problems with comments, eye-rolling and just plain disrespect for my time, work and life choice. Even from some family members. Apparently, working for myself isn’t a “real job”. No matter how successful I am or how much money I make, I still catch attitude and unwanted employment advice (I spent years in the labour market field and they want to tell ME how to get a job!? I LITERALLY wrote the book on that subject!).

    I foresee the same attitude from the same people when we start homeschooling, so I plan on simply smiling and saying, “Since we get to work from home, it only seems fair that our children have the same luxury.”
    Rosa’s latest post: How to Help a "Quitter"

    • Lori says:

      I love that! I work from home and my husband is home a lot, too. We live and work together, and it’s a beautiful thing. We are very fortunate.

  20. Alasandra says:

    Great post.
    Alasandra’s latest post: Carnival Of Homeschooling – Creative Learning Edition

  21. Erica says:

    Alas, It’s not quite so simple when all of your siblings and some of your in-laws are teachers in the public school system. I still haven’t figured out how to navigate all of their “concerns” about both my children and myself with as much grace as I would like.
    Erica’s latest post: 15 Fun Things to Do With Three Panel Story Paper

    • Karen says:

      Actually, it really can be that simple. Just because they are family do not mean you must address their concerns. It is not your responsibility to navigate their concerns. Their concerns are their issue, not yours. I am sure you have talked about this with them before. There really is no need to do it again. If it is brought up you can simply smile and say, “Oh let’s not rehash that again.” and then change the subject. Did you see the adorable pic I posted on Fb? How about favorite sports teams? Can you believe this weather? You do not have to attend every argument you are invited to.
      Karen’s latest post: Where I Am Today

    • Kara says:

      I can see how that would be especially tricky to navigate Erica. I have some friends in a similar situation. I know it’s a lot of hard work at family gatherings :)
      Kara’s latest post: Hello, friends old and new …

  22. Kelly M. says:

    Great post. So often I want to respond to nastiness with more sarcasm or cutting remark but a positive attitude and answer is always the best solution. I have less tact when people go straight to my children with their questions, rather than ask me. And if my child’s answer isn’t to my liking, then I feel more threatened and it’s harder to remain calm. Thankfully, now that my children are older they keep the comments about “hating math” to themselves more often than not.

  23. You’re using principles of non-violence here brilliantly and intuitively. Love it.
    Laura Grace Weldon’s latest post: Lollipop Epiphany

  24. Fatcat says:

    “Because reasoning only works on the reasonable, and then only sometimes”
    That’s gold. That should be in all the quote books and all the quote websites with your name after it.

  25. Admittedly, this is a problem area of mine. When we first began talking about homeschooling (my husband and I), we let it slip to his mother and sister-in-law (she has a degree in Early Childhood Development). I’m pretty sure the gates of hell opened up and, since they enjoy talking about me behind my back anyway, they took it upon themselves to tell me, every chance they got, that I was wrong. Never mind that my husband and I came to this decision together. Never mind that they never asked me a single question about why or what curriculum we were thinking of going with. It was my idea and I am never allowed to be right. This went on for months until I stopped speaking to either of them. My husband returned from Afghanistan in May and his mother came to visit in June. Mind you, she still had not talked to ME about any of this, she chose to go to him and ask her questions there. He had little knowledge because I had been doing the searching and researching while he was fighting a war. They still don’t ask me about it. They don’t talk to me much at all and if it weren’t for the kids, I’d keep it that way. They won’t apologize for their rudeness, or the fact that, when my husband says it, it’s pure gold, but I spew coal instead of words. I’m always on the defensive about homeschooling now. I can’t help it. The only family we have ripped me to shreds over this small thing (and given what our special needs daughter was facing in public school, this was a small choice, we had to get her out of there). I honestly look forward to next year, when we tell them our son will never set foot in a public school. I can imagine that will go over just as well. (Particularly since I should be pregnant by then and they’ve already made their opinions on me having more children abundantly clear.)

    I really try to be patient with people in these areas. It’s just a very difficult thing to do when those closest to you can only see how “wrong” you are. Every choice you make regarding your children is wrong in their eyes.
    Rainshadow Noba’s latest post: September 11, 2013

    • Kara says:

      I am so sorry that you have met with so much negativity from your husband’s family, especially at a time when you were both sacrificing so much. I know how hard it can be when you don’t feel support (and in fact feel discouragement) from family members. But I am glad you and your husband are on the same page. Certainly every family is different, and in some cases, even when you approach things with peace in your heart, you’re going to be faced with the opposite. I hope the two continue forward with what you feel is best for your family.
      Kara’s latest post: Hello, friends old and new …

  26. Kerry says:

    We’ve used a version of your “we enjoy it” response for years. My simple answer has often been…”homeschooling lets us have the opportunity to fall in love with learning all over again every day…myself included.” I mean, how can you argue with that??? :D

  27. Kelly says:

    Best.
    Advice.
    Ever!

    LOVE focusing on the positive as I’ve grappled with this as well – how do I respond to the *question* (and I’d love a follow-up to the positive *socialization*… the *we’re all here together!* with a smile has lost it’s efficacy!):
    Polite? Educate? Defend? Ask if prayerful guidance let to their educational decisions as well?

    Thank you – you are a beacon of light!

    Best.
    Advice.
    EVER!

  28. GC says:

    We’re blessed that my wife has an elementary education degree and many years working in for profit education on top of a passion to home school. I usually feel comfortable quelling any potential conflict with those details. I laughed out loud at the simplicity and wisdom of responding with “We enjoy it.” I think I should probably use that answer more often. Appreciate the suggestion.

  29. Shell says:

    Great post!!!
    Shell’s latest post: Adios, October!

  30. That Teacher says:

    As a teacher who wholeheartedly supports homeschooling/unschooling, I don’t think I could offer any of the answers you suggest. There is so much misinformation about homeschooling that I simply can’t resist the opportunity to explain the facts to curious minds. Of course there are exceptions, like those who are looking for a fight, but as you mention, many people honestly want to know. By refusing to share your reasoning, the myths about homeschooling are allowed to persist.
    One of my primary reasons to support homeschooling is that the public education system is so broken. I see, on a daily basis, students who think they are dumb only because they get a poor grade or fail a test. Standardized education defies what research has proven about how children learn– no two children learn at the same pace or in the same way, so why are we expecting millions to do just that?
    I think your suggested responses are perfect for those individuals who are looking for a fight, but otherwise, I’d encourage people to share their reasons and educate those around them.

  31. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the reminders! Since moving to the UK I have been asked “why” more in a year than in my 5 years home educating in the States. I do have a prepared monologue but it simply doesn’t work and I end up feeling defensive 99% of the time. The general mindset towards home ed here is so very different, it is very “fringe”. I think I am going to adopt the “because we love it!” option. Although I need to have a follow-up as people tend to keep pushing if they aren’t satisfied with my answers. Thanks again for the encouragement.

  32. Rita says:

    I love, love, LOVED this post! Thank you so much. I have recently had the epiphany that I need to find away around the debate. I am so tired of it. Your answers are priceless.
    Thank you so much for sharing this.
    Rita’s latest post: Kyle’s Great Grandma’s Pumpkin Cookies

  33. Sam says:

    I have responded to people looking for debate (regarding homeschooling, religion, politics), with something along the lines of “I’m here to {focus on this event for the kids, watch the kids, enjoy your company, etc.}. Let’s focus on that together…” and then I change the subject to whatever is in front of us and look for common ground.

    Guess that’s sort of like “I don’t like to debate my families choices” which I love.

    I’ve also followed the why question with another question and an offer – “Is homeschooling something you’re considering? If you’re really interested, I’d love to get together with you sometime and talk about our choice.” Only works for people with kids, of course, but I’ve never been taken up on the offer – and the subject changes naturally.

  34. Tanya says:

    This is great! Love it!

  35. Kathy says:

    I have found that most people who learn we homeschool are very positive and supportive. If there are questions, they arise out of interest. The only negative response I have gotten, and I’ve gotten it a lot, is “I could never do that. I don’t have the patience. ” To this, I respond something along the lines of, “Well, my oldest went through 13 years of public schools, that used up all my patience for school”. Mostly though, if people pursue the topic, it’s because they’re curious and interested.

  36. educator says:

    What a good idea. I always use the logical approach, but this is far better. Thank yhou.

  37. Beth says:

    We too run our own business from home, so I may have to use Rosa’s answer, it certainly is true! We usually use a variation on “It works for us.” or “We enjoy it.”

    On the flip side, my 15 y.o. recently enrolled in high school (his choice) and at parent teacher conferences one of his teachers, upon learning that he had been homeschooled up to this point asked “Why did you send him to school?”
    Beth’s latest post: Never the Same

  38. Katharine says:

    I usually say, “‘Cuz we can’t afford shoes…?” with a wink and a big silly grin. Almost always makes ‘em laugh. Then I say, “No, seriously, all parents home school,” still, really pleasantly, and wave and walk away. They usually get that “hourglass STILL turning” look. I’ve checked. They really do.
    Katharine’s latest post: Life is full of layers.

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