by Melissa Coffey
Sometimes being a military family has its advantages, particularly when explaining to the folks back home that you will be homeschooling the kiddos. The assumption is that the schools are sub-standard and you’re doing the best you can until getting to an area that has a “good school district.” Then you move again and the kids still stay home and you start hearing undertones of worry over the phone line, which progressively get a little more intrusive as each grade level passes. You can tell they are holding something back, but they don’t ask and you don’t tell. Suddenly, the unthinkable happens: Your family moves back home and you don’t rush to the nearest school to enroll. Then it all unwinds.
Such is the experience with our family. After eight years of the Navy life, our family was geared up to get out and settle down closer to my husband’s hometown. As the time drew near for our big move, the phone calls home took on a new tone. During a phone conversation with my mother-in-law, small hints were dropped about how good the area schools were. It was then I realized that my husband’s family assumed our homeschooling choice was just until we relocated there. All I could mutter was, “I highly doubt we will ever enroll them…we love this lifestyle.” What I got on the other end was “Hmmmm….”
After the phone call ended, I approached my husband very concerned. This wasn’t an issue I was prepared to deal with, especially after 7 years on our own, and I certainly didn’t want this to be an ongoing discussion. The next time my mother-in-law called, my husband chatted cheerfully with her. He told her how much we were looking forward to being closer and that we were so happy that the next holidays would find us all together again. He then said jokingly, “It will be great BUT you’re just going to have to stay out of our business. We’re going to have 15 kids, be hermits and homeschool.” This was his way of making light of what could have been a very heated discussion. The rest of the conversation went something like this:
Dear Husband: “You have always said how much you like our children and how much better they act than others their age. You need to realize that it is not a coincidence…We don’t have a ‘good kid’ gene that we’re passing on here…”
Mother In Law: “Oh I know, I just worry about them.”
DH: “Well, how much more do you think I, as a father, worry about them? That is exactly why we are doing what we are doing. Let me ask you something. How much research have you done on the whole homeschooling thing?”
MIL: “Well, none…”
DH: “Okay, well, Melissa reads at least a book a week on homeschooling, learning styles, teaching styles, different philosophies of education, anything of that nature, plus is always listening to seminars on tape. We take this very seriously. We aren’t striving to be cool; we didn’t just start this to “try it on.” This is our long term plan for their education. If you want, we could recommend some really good books…”
The conversation pretty much ended there. At least for him and his mother, but for me, hearing how this went was a light bulb moment. For all the decisions we make as a Christian homeschooling family, there is always some sort of opposition. And it’s mostly an uneducated opposition. It hit me right between the eyes that the negative opinions we tend to get come from people who haven’t done their homework. All they know is “normal” and anything that goes against the grain is just plain wrong! People give lip service about college, algebra and socialization in the same breath as complaining about bouncing a check, getting passed up for a raise and the nasty way Junior has been talking to them lately. Their concerns aren’t that they honestly think your child will end up a dysfunctional, anti-social illiterate; their concern is that you are doing something different and they do not understand it.
This experience has taught me a lot about how I want to handle comments in the future. Do I simply want to appease someone with a generic answer about homeschooling being “right for our family”? (It is.) Do I want to bolster my own ego by accepting the compliments about my superhuman patience and above average intelligence? (Sorry to disappoint.)
Or are the comments the perfect springboard to make people stop and think?:
“Oh I could never homeschool!”- Really?? Why not?? “I’m just not patient enough.”- They don’t teach patience in college. Patience is not inherited, it is developed and you can be certain that the love you have for your children is greater motivation for developing patience than the fear of losing a job.
“I was no good at Math (or Science, or English…)”- Me neither and I am so grateful to have the chance to re-learn this with my children. It’s amazing how complicated it seemed back then. Most children fail needlessly in at least one subject (or end up hating it) and that is so sad.
“What about socialization?”- Oh wow, am I glad I don’t have to worry about that. What a shock for these poor children in school who get out and realize they have to interact with people of all ages. Or, you know what amazes me? If you got all the parents of one classroom together, there would be at least one person you would choose to avoid. Yet, we make our children spend day in and day out with that person’s child!
“What about college?” – That is one comment that always astounds me. First, how are we to know that our children will want to attend college? Secondly, one thing my husband frequently complains about, while getting his degree, is that the format of public schools in no way prepares students for the type of learning they will be expected to do at collegiate levels. In college, students are expected to know how to learn, and yet through their whole school career they are spoon-fed facts to regurgitate come test time. Are you worried about your child not being prepared for this level of education? Have you even thought about it? Most parents that comment haven’t even been to college themselves!
It doesn’t matter what the remark is, I have resigned myself to trying to answer them all with my own thought provoking question or opinion. I will establish that I have, indeed, done my homework and have put a great deal of thought into my child’s education. If that person can look me in the eye and honestly say they have looked into homeschooling but just cannot allow their child to be deprived of paste-eating, school bullies, spelling tests and cafeteria food then so be it. At least there was some further thought involved than the need to follow the crowd.♦