Qualifying

Are homeschooling parents qualified to teach their children?

It’s a question that likes to jump out of the bushes and ambush unsuspecting homeschoolers on their way to the Shoprite or the library. I’m kidding. We’re always “suspecting” it. I got it a lot as a kid. People always asked me if my mother had a teaching degree. Actually, my mother didn’t go to college, but I usually didn’t say that. I was afraid someone’s brain might explode if I did. Sometimes I told the asker that she’d studied child psychology. Well, she had. On her own. When I got a little older I said things like, “She doesn’t really teach us. That’s not how it works.”

At which point I was either asked to solve a math equation on the spot or greeted with a completely uncomprehending look and a quick, anxious nod. Did that child just tell me that she doesn’t have to be taught? Dear Lord, what have they done to her?


A reader of this blog directed me to this discussion on Amazon.com’s Education Community forum. The post that sparked a very, very long conversation about homeschooling includes a quote from someone who expresses doubt about the teaching qualifications of homeschooling parents. Approximately a zillion homeschoolers chimed in. Some of them were talking about how school teaches that witchcraft is fun, which makes me feel like they don’t know much about school, and some of them were otherwise scary, but mostly it felt pretty cool to bump into this giant group of homeschoolers on the internet. Like, hey, what’s up guys!

It’s a little less cool that the question of qualification won’t go away. And that so many homeschooling parents feel they have to answer it by stating their supposed qualifications. “I have a Master’s in education, with a specialization in early child development.” Or “I am certified to teach K-8 in the state of Florida.” Or whatever.

I get that. When people ask me about my educational background and I mention homeschooling, I often follow it up with something about the Ivy League school I went to at some point after that. It still feels like I have to prove myself to the world in terms that most people can appreciate.

But the idea that learning is about people with degrees in things telling you about those things frustrates me. And the idea that the things that children are required to take classes on in school are the things that everyone should be learning is frustrating, too. As is the idea that the children who sit in those classes are always learning about whatever it is that they’re supposed to be learning.

I have two degrees in a thing, but I don’t feel like I even begin to understand it. I’m floating on the surface. It’s huge.

In college, I learned from some professors and didn’t learn from others, depending on how they presented material. Mostly, I didn’t really learn, even from the best professors. I just memorized and got good grades, because there wasn’t time to follow up and delve deeper and explore and try and fail. And that was college. Where you’re supposed to be able to do all of those things.

When will we stop thinking of learning as a transfer of static information from one place to another? When will we stop thinking of children as empty cups, waiting to be filled? When will we stop imagining that there are a set of experts who know what’s best, and everyone else can have very little to contribute?

This is one of my favorite comments from the Amazon thread (at least out of the fifty or so that I read): Fritz R. Ward says:

Speaking as a highly successful public school teacher, I can emphatically state that I cannot, at my best, compare with a caring knowledgeable parent. I have 32-36 kids in my classroom every day. I use a variety of strategies to teach the skills they need to pass master their math standards, but neither I nor any other teacher can compete with a parent who has the time, resources, and background to teach their child at home. At best, I think teachers should consider themselves a resource to assist parents; we are partners in raising children, not experts whose varied opinions should be treated with reverence.

Great point. Let’s stop pretending that some people have all the information and some people none of it. There’s nothing wrong with learning from someone who knows a lot about a certain subject. There’s nothing wrong with being taught. There’s something wrong with believing that learning doesn’t work any other way.

My brother and a kitten, learning about each other. Sometimes learning just happens naturally:

27 comments to Qualifying

  • Katie

    Hello!
    I’ve been reading your blog for a little while now, but hadn’t posted yet.
    I just wanted to thank you for everything you’re putting out here.
    I am a mother of three young boys. The oldest just turned five, so the questions of where he will go to kindergarten have started already. When I reply that we are homeschooling already, the hostile attitude I usually receive shocks me.

    So, I just wanted to say “hi” and thanks. Keep up the great posts. Everything you write makes me nod in agreement and strengthens my resolve that this is the correct path for my family.

    • kate

      Hi Katie! Thanks for commenting. Wow, three boys under six. I’m impressed already.

      I’m sorry people have been hostile. That shocks me, too. I always assume that people will have figured out that it’s not that weird by now.

    • Chad

      Hi Katie

      My family was pretty hostile when they found out we were going to homeschool the boys (now 4 and 5). I wouldn’t even mention it around them, because I got tired of the fights. I will say, they were concerned about the boys and were not attacking me personally most of the time. I was taking the heat from everyone, because my wife was not for it initially. They ganged up on me to try and change my mind.

      We started kindergarten this year and things have gotten light years better. Two things happened. First there was something at the Zoo in my mom’s town that she wanted to take the boys too. It took her forever to ask if we would come out, she didn’t just beat around the bush but walked across the US. She thought she would be interfering with school. I told her, this is why we homeschool. We will be there. She hoped we would stay 2 days, but I said why don’t we come out for the week. She doesn’t live that close, so this really made her month.

      The second thing was when my mom and sister took the boys to a story time/puppet thing. I never understood what it was, because they kept going on about the boys and their numbers. Anyways, the kids were asked about addition and subtraction. The presenter stopped the addition and subtraction part of the story because they kept answering everything very fast. The two of them got into a competition with each other. They really like numbers and I got a feeling they were a bit of a disruption, certainly ahead of the other kids. I got the feeling my mom and Sis were a tad embarrassed, but they were proud. The were smiling about the whole thing. They kept talking about how well they knew their numbers.

      I let them know we have not studied any addition or subtraction. They taught themselves.

      The point is that my family is beginning to see benefits to homeschooling. They are also starting to see that the boys are learning. Still not completely happy with it, but the fights are gone. Though we do not speak of that which must not be named still.

      Good Luck

  • What a great quote!

    And thank you for posting so many kitten pictures. They are adorable.

  • I didn’t realize your mother didn’t go to college. As someone who’s never stuck out college, I find that really comforting!

  • Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. I’m a homeschool grad and a homeschool mom and I am equally proud of both labels.

  • Cass

    Interesting post. I am still on the homeschooling fence BUT I am a qualified high school teacher.

    I would say that this degree (and work experience) does not qualify me to be a homeschool mum BUT it definetly qualifies me to say the schooling system is shit.

  • shevrae

    I was participating in that Amazon thread for a while – it got crazy, as Amazon threads tend to do.

    As someone with an educational pedigree that most people find an acceptable answer to the “Are you qualified?” question, I hate to bring it up. I don’t think my educational pedigree has much to do with my ability to homeschool my children but other people do and will take the opportunity to praise me while denigrating my fellow homeschoolers with less education. Then I have to get into a long explanation about why it doesn’t work that way, but I don’t really change anyone’s mind and I waste a lot of my time!

    • I just had to respond and share a story with you. My oldest child just started at public high school. He’s a totally well adjusted funny charismatic kid. He’s on honor roll and he just got an award for student of the month. (nice gesture, but our family isn’t much into this kind of thing…. though he accepted it kindly of course) Anyway, our elderly neighbor pulled my husband aside and said “You got to tell your wife and son I’m real proud of them…. after homeschooling all those years, your boy was able to go to real school and even be student of the month.”
      Here is the thing… she referred to homeschool as a “those poor kids” kind of thing…. and my husband I couldn’t help but think “don’t they see that homeschooling had so much to do with this?” Obviously we smiled and accepted the praise kindly…. and then had a good laugh about it.
      And aside from a strong appetite to learn, we have no credentials to back up our teaching qualifications. But you know, somehow that is working out just fine.
      ~Stephinie

      • kate

        I know what you mean. When I started college, people often told me that they were impressed that I was doing well academically, after, um….you know…that horrible, deprived childhood I had.

        But they always meant well, and I felt awkward handling the situation.

        I love that you and your husband laughed it off. And congratulations to your son!!

  • Another fabulous post! It totally took me years to to not be a little afraid of all the “well meaning” teachers, onlookers, friends, family etc that liked to toss their opinion my way. I used to cringe….. but now after 5 years and some really fantastic kids to hang out with (and they’re mine?!!) I know we’re doing something great :)

  • But the idea that learning is about people with degrees in things telling you about those things frustrates me. And the idea that the things that children are required to take classes on in school are the things that everyone should be learning is frustrating, too. As is the idea that the children who sit in those classes are always learning about whatever it is that they’re supposed to be learning.

    huge Kate.
    huge.

  • Kendra

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!!!! Thank you again for a great post. I would just like to add as a tie in to your conclusion that there is nothing wrong with a teacher/parent learning right along with the student/child. We do not need to already know something to help our kids learn it. My mom learned Morse code when my brother wanted to get his ham radio license and she learned all about castles and medieval weaponry with another brother. Despite being blind, she had a great appreciation for theatrical costuming, my particular love, and I would even consult her on things that you might think totally visual. She started out with very little knowledge of the things we wanted to learn about, but she knew how to research and encourage. What more do you really need in a teacher? Her response to any comment starting with “I wonder,” or “how does,” etc. was always, “Let’s find out.”

    • kate

      Sounds like you should write a book about your mom!!

      And you’re absolutely right. My whole family learned way more than we ever wanted to about dinosaurs when my brother got interested in them.

      Actually, maybe I’ll write a post about that soon :-) Thanks for the inspiration!

  • I went around that mulberry bush with someone just the other day – first he found out that I used to teach high school, then later in the conversation he learned that I homeschool. His eyes lit up and he said, “OH! You’re a qualified homeschool mom!”

    I said that I felt that any reasonably good mother knows her children better than anyone, which makes her ultimately qualified to teach her children. “But, I mean, you’re a DEGREED homeschool mom.” He was shocked to hear that I use very little of what I learned in my secondary education coursework with my own children – because so much of what I learned was, by necessity, overshadowed by the fact that it had to be applied in a room of 20-30 teenagers. I said that nothing in my coursework taught me how to teach those teenagers how to think critically about the world around them, but that I felt blessed to be able to teach my own children how to do so (largely due to my own non-traditional secondary education at http://www.imsa.edu).

    I do admit, though, when I don’t want to have that discussion with someone, it feels good to be able to silence them by saying that I have a teaching degree. :)

  • Leslie

    My impression of the training involved in becoming a certified teacher is learning the skills of teaching to groups (a skill I do not have, but don’t need as a homeschooler), as opposed to acquiring the skill of what most people think they are trained in – which is: “this is how you teach math” or “this is how you teach a child to read” (etc). Most of those hands-on teaching skills are learned on the job, and refined (hopefully) as they teach over time.

    A homeschooler does not need these group teaching/crowd-control type skills, therefore a homeschooler does not need an education degree. As you have written many times, a homeschool parent’s skill is in knowing their own children so well that they can follow their individual interests and learning styles. If we needed to be certified in this skill, then very few people could become parents, let alone homeschooling parents.

  • Mere

    I agree! Parents already are teachers. They have supported their children while they learnt to eat, walk, talk, ride bikes, potty train (wish I could have handed that over to a school teacher!) and many other things. We have to have faith in ourselves that we are more than capable of continuing on our children’s life learning journey with them beyond five years old.
    When people mention qualifications to me I always say that if parents are willing to have their children stay at home instead of sending them off to school then generally they are pretty invested in their childrens education, if not surely they wouldn’t bother?
    I am learning so much with my children. Just today we learned how coal and oil are made/formed and I got so excited I had to ring my husband at work and share with him what I had learnt.
    :-))

  • Kate, You nailed it! I love this post. It’s funny because when I tell people I am not sending the kids to school, they say “Oh, well you have your Masters Degree, so you can do that.” Um, my Masters is in Math. I’m not really sure how that makes me more qualified than other parents but ok. It’s sad that parents don’t trust themselves, but I think they learned that in school!

    I just had a post up called “I Am Not My Child’s Teacher.” I think it goes along with this pretty well: http://demandeuphoria.blogspot.com/2011/03/i-am-not-my-childs-teacher.html

    Keep up the great posts! You are an inspiration.

  • Val

    Homeschool just works. Somehow it does.

    I ran into someone I’d known years ago who asked about the kids (who are now adults.) I told her about them: Two boys are engineers. One has a second degree in applied physics. The other finished his MBA. A daughter has a degree in marketing communications and works for an insurance company. Another girl has an economics degree…

    She was startled, even gasped, “Did you know they were so SMART?” Now I don’t know how dumb they must evidently have seemed to her back in the day when they were young squirrels in homeschool, but my goodness. What on earth?

    What do you say to that? Yeah, they pursued higher education and saw it through, but what that has to do with their rowdy childhood selves, I have no idea.

    I said something like, “Well, yeah. I guess. They’re not any smarter than anyone else. I don’t run into a lot of dumb kids, actually.”

    We live in a strange world. love, Val

  • I love, love, love your blog!! I am raising my daughter on my own and would dearly love to home school her, but just can’t see how we can make this work whilst I also try and support us financially. I like to think we have a wonderful home-schooling apparoach to life in general though, this stops me getting to sad about it! I also loved reading the quote from “a highly successful public school teacher” on the Amazon thread – a great description of what teaching in a school system is.

  • So silly. When I was a teacher librarian (without a degree in the area) all I had to do is asked kids what they loved and wanted to learn about. Any kid! I pointed them toward the right books and got them started on the Internet. They read books. Read and interacted on the internet, then taught others…including other teachers. All us adults need to know is how to provide resources, point, and cheer.

  • You wrote, “When will we stop thinking of learning as a transfer of static information from one place to another? When will we stop thinking of children as empty cups, waiting to be filled? When will we stop imagining that there are a set of experts who know what’s best, and everyone else can have very little to contribute?” I really respond to this paragraph. As a trained classroom teacher, currently teaching, I have to say that this is the key idea that people respond to when they criticize. Homeschool, Unshcool, or in school, people are afraid of the idea that children already know how to learn, and are capable of directing their learning. I’m sharing your blog with many of my teacher friends as proof that this fear is misplaced.

  • I just found your site today, and love it. Thanks for writing.

    We started homeschooling our two boys in the fall. One of the most surprising things I’ve learned so far is that the thing that most “qualifies” me to teach my kids is that I love learning stuff. I love being with them as we figure stuff out together. There is still a lot about homeschooling that I struggle with, but the joy of spending leisurely hours learning about bees is not one of them.

    I wrote a short piece about my experience having our local school district question my qualifications. You can read it here: http://homeschool-chronicles.com/?p=56

    • kate

      Fantastic post! Thank you so much for sharing it here. I thought it was pretty funny that even the words “doctorate in education from Harvard” didn’t appease the district.

  • Qualified is a relative term. My kids have all attended school at one time or another. My oldest son goes to high school everyday, simply because there is no way I could teach him Japanese 4. And, you know what I am OK with that! I had a mom comment to me that if I was serious about home schooling my children I would have learned Japanese by now.

    Its not about being knowledgable in everything, its about being able to seek out the knowledge my kids crave. Today for example I get to spend a good portion googling about dragons….

    Maybe I should have gotten a degree in dragonology?? Hum, now there is an idea for my middle son…

  • i loved this. “In college, I learned from some professors and didn’t learn from others, depending on how they presented material. Mostly, I didn’t really learn, even from the best professors. I just memorized and got good grades, because there wasn’t time to follow up and delve deeper and explore and try and fail. And that was college. Where you’re supposed to be able to do all of those things.”

    I can totally relate to that. I am a full time college student and homeschooling mom and wear a multitude of other hats as well. I feel like I am not really learning a lot from college. I did go to public school growing up, but coming back into college as a adult and non traditional learner. I just dont fit in the “box” that everyone falls into and I have often contemplated why are we “learning” this stuff. It seems we just get stuffed full of information for a test and then time to move on. I really dont feel like “i am learning” that much. I have had some teachers this semester tell me as long as I can plug the equations and do the work it doesn’t really matter if I understand it or not. OK well what is the point in taking this class and why am I wasting my money if the idea is not actually to learn something. frustrating to no end.

    great post and thankfully i have only had a few inquiries during my 6 years of homeschooling as to my qualifications to be the kiddos “teacher”.

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