What about everyone else? Is homeschooling elitist?

This is a guest post from Katie Traylor. She wrote to me a couple weeks ago with a concern about homeschooling. Her concern was so well articulated that I asked her to write this post. It’s a concern, after all, that comes up a lot, and requires some discussion. Here she is:
Homeschooling my (future) kids was not even on my radar a year ago.

My public school experience was mostly good, and I’ve grown up to be a huge supporter of the public education system. It is the reason why a child born to a poor, uneducated family can grow up to become a leader for social change, a successful businessperson, or an emergency room doctor.

I am such a firm believer in the power of public education that I want it to be my career. I want to be out there, day after day, making a difference for kids. But, due partially to circumstances beyond my control (the economy. yuck.) and partially to those within it (moving states two times in three years) I have not yet had an opportunity to do that. I am still teaching-jobless, three years after college graduation.

Because of this, and other changes in my life, (getting engaged + getting older = beginning to think of having kids as something that is actually going to happen, not just an abstract idea) my perspective on the public education system has started to shift. Instead of looking at it only as a future teacher, and thinking of all the good I can do, I have started to see things from a future parent’s perspective, and some of the potentially bad things are becoming more obvious.

The future mom in me says, “Why would I put my kids in the public school system, with it’s many, many problems, when I know I could do so much more for them on my own?” And that totally makes sense.

But then the teacher in me speaks up, “Sure, homeschooling would be totally awesome for my kids. But what about everybody else’s kids?” Everyone else’s kids are, after all, the reason I wanted to be a teacher in the first place.

That is my BIG ISSUE.

Because the parents who homeschool their kids are those who are have the means, the desire, the education, and the time to do so. What about parents who are not invested in their kids’ education, or who have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet? What about parents who don’t speak English, or who don’t have much of an education themselves? It is the children of these parents who I worry about.

No matter how flawed our public education system is (and it certainly is), it’s still a great equalizer in this country. Free public education provides an opportunity for a lot of kids to create better lives for themselves. If I give up on the public education system, aren’t I also, in a sense, giving up on those kids?

Homeschooling is a wonderful thing, but it’s not an option for every family. And if every family who could home school, did home school, the kids left in the public education system would be the ones who are most at risk.

Can I justify turning down the opportunity to help maybe hundreds of kid, in order to benefit two or three (even if they are my own)? Especially when my own kids will have parents who are invested in their education, and who will provide tons of enrichment opportunities and academic help, whether homeschooling or not.

I can’t help but wonder: Rather than pulling myself and my (future) kids out of the public education system, wouldn’t it be better if I tried to help change it, to bring to it some of the elements that make homeschooling so great?

* *

Katie Traylor loves reading, being outdoors, children, and teaching. She’s currently working in the reading classroom at an elementary school, and has her fingers crossed that next year she’ll get a whole class all to herself. Born and raised in Oregon, and with very sun-burnable skin, she only lasted in California for a year. Now she lives in Northern Idaho, is considering homeschooling her future offspring, and likes riding on her fiance’s motorcycle, all going to show that anything is possible. Her own blog is coming soon.

50 comments to What about everyone else? Is homeschooling elitist?

  • […] out a new guest post on Skipping School (I renamed Un-schooled!), which raises a big question about homeschooling. Is it […]

  • Kate,

    “What about all of the other kids?! ” This accusation, leveled at myself, was the reason it took me so long to pull my kids out of school. I taught high school at a public, alternative school in New York City for eight years. I loved it, even as it was heartbreaking in many respects. I loved the students, the teachers, the families, and all the promise that public school held for all of us.

    I have a doctorate in education. I was a professor at the Education School at Harvard. I don’t want to live in a country without public schools that kick butt. Homeschooling was never about giving up on public education.

    Leaving our bi-lingual school was a difficult decision. When I left, I took all of my agitation for change with me. I took all of my creativity and energy with me. We left friends from across the spectrum of race, class, and ethnicity. It’s a real and painful loss – for both me and my family.

    Here’s what I do to mitigate some of that loss. I go out of my way to stay in touch with the families and friends we left behind. I vote for people who advocate for the kinds of schools I care about. I continue to work in an after-school enrichment program. And I pray for the school and the families we left.

    But I don’t regret leaving. I love being around my kids (except when I can’t stand being around my kids). I love providing them a childhood that allows for the exploration, challenge, comfort, fun, life outdoors, exercise, gardening, fort building, and snuggling that couldn’t happen in our public school.

    I don’t regret leaving, but I make no promises that we won’t go back at some point. In the meantime, I live with lots of loss, tempered by lots of hope.

  • Katie, as a former homeschooler/unschooler kid (I didn’t start attending formal school until college; my siblings went to public high school part- and full-time respectively), I think you ask REALLY GOOD questions about home education and, indeed, the systemic-vs.-individual social change conundrum as a whole. You questions you ask have been raised at least since the earliest days of the modern home education movement — Kozol’s scathing Free Schools attack on grassroots educational experimentation raises many of the same issues. John Holt, the “grandfather” of the home education movement, argued in response to Kozol ALL children deserve the sort of caring and attention that home educators were trying to provide for their children (and often others as well, in informal ways), and that continuing to subject them to the violence (as he saw it) of public education was not the solution…even in the interim as adults struggled to make the public options better. Holt himself was a public school teacher for many years before becoming disillusioned with school structures entirely.

    I would say, on a personal level, that home education does not HAVE to be mutually exclusive from trying to provide alternatives for other, less privileged kids, as well. I don’t know what your partner’s work is like, but co-parenting and flexible work hours might make it possible for both of you to home educate your kids at the same time you’re pursuing work as a teacher outside of your family. You could also volunteer if working simply isn’t a possibility. My mother did ESL tutoring a couple of evenings a week when she was home educating us, and now that we’re all grown she works as a childcare provider for other families with young children — usually one family at a time, more or less replicating the sort of home education atmosphere we had as kids. The family she’s currently working for as a nanny (essentially) are public school teachers who work with bilingual and physically disabled students.

    This isn’t to say that the flexibility my mother had to be a primary parent (i.e. having a spouse with job security and enough income for our family to live modestly but adequately), and the fact she can now work for basically minimum wage without worrying about retirement benefits, etc., isn’t in itself a privilege. These are complicated life choices to make. But my basic point is that parenting in the way you believe works best for you family AND trying to improve the world for other families and children is far, far from mutually exclusive.

  • It might be better but it’s hard to say until those potential kids are here and we have to make decisions based on their (and our) reality. That is to say, I worried about this, too, but then I realized how many of my values are at odds with the educational system entirely and the ways I’d want to change it wouldn’t suit most of the parents who are happy with the status quo. I personally don’t want to spend my time trying to convince their values are bunk just like I don’t want anyone else telling me that mine are wrong. I mean, I’m all for public schooling and I DON’T think homeschooling makes the best sense for most families. I’m happy to pay our school taxes and vote for teacher funding; I just don’t want my kids to go there.

    The other thing is that even if Katie takes time out to be in charge of her own kids’ education doesn’t mean that she will never again work to help other kids get a better education. She may work part-time or flexible hours in the school district or volunteer to serve on the school board. She may work as an education activist or go back to the classroom when her kids are older. She can still be part of the change she wants to see even if she decides to homeschool.

    • Katie Traylor

      You make a great point, and its something I have thought about too. Even if I did stay home and homeschool my kids, there would be plenty time once they are older for me to get into teaching and do a lot of good work for kids.

  • Hmm. First off, I don’t see it as an either/or situation. Parents can homeschool their kids AND help try to change the public school system. For instance, homeschooling parents often have the luxury of some extra time to volunteer at a public school or a library, or to be a Big Brother/Sister.

    Secondly, let’s face it, even among those parents who are not recent immigrants, are highly educated, etc., not all of them would homeschool their kids. Just because they CAN doesn’t mean that it suits their lifestyle, or their temperament, or their kid’s temperament. And that’s fine — I’m well aware this gig really isn’t for everyone. But I think those parents who do homeschool their kids do more benefit to public schools than harm.

    I live in Manhattan, in a predominantly low-income, immigrant neighborhood. Something like 85% of households speak a language other than English in the home. The neighborhood elementary school is pretty crowded; the kindergarten kids’ classroom is a couple of trailers outside in the parking lot/basketball courts. It’s not going to benefit the kids in that overcrowded second grade for me to add one more by sending my kid in with them.

    • Katie Traylor

      The issue for me is that I have the desire to help change the public school system (or at least the experiences of kids that I work directly with), not by volunteering a few hours a week, but by being the teacher (the one who has the most control over what that classroom experience is like).

      • Kimberly

        I’m still contemplating the entire piece and comments, but my first thought at this is that the teacher is *not* the person who has the most control over what the classroom experience is like. Federal and state governments, as well as local school district administrators, control the classroom experience. Teachers don’t choose the curriculum nor can they choose the methods they use to teach. I know too many teachers who would rather not spend all their time doing assessments, teaching to the test, and administering tests. Between those things and the time spent in classroom management many teachers tell me that there is very little time for real learning (outside of what must be taught so that students can pass standardized tests). I know teachers who look at what I do with my boys and tell me they wish they had the time to do those things in the classroom, and to take their classes the places I take my boys. Even the parents I know who “homeschool” using public charter schools lose control over what they teach and when, and their children are offered less opportunity to learn (vs. be taught) because of the rules.

        It doesn’t mean that we don’t need excellent public school teachers, because we do. But teachers in the trenches will point out how very little control they have.

        • Katie Traylor

          I may be a little idealistic, but I really do think the teacher has the most control over what the classroom experience is like. They don’t chose the curriculum, or the state standards, or how much standardized testing goes on. But still, the the teacher is the one who walks into the classroom everyday, sets the tone, shares her (or his) enthusiasm. No politician, or administrator, or parent has that kind of control over what a classroom is like.

          I have been in many classrooms, and have seen firsthand the amazing difference that an outstanding teacher makes.

          • Hannah

            The teacher can’t change the curriculum but they can help the kids directly. The difference between a good teacher or a bad teacher can be life-changing. Just being enthusiastic can make the kids more interested no matter what they are learning.

  • One of the fastest ways to effect change in a capitalist society is for a significant number of the consumers in a population to stop using those particular goods or services. Schools are beginning to get the message, too. In our town we have a healthy charter school and a new expeditionary learning school. My problem with the public schools is similar to many homeschoolers’ in that the “separation of church and state” is interpreted to mean that Christianity can’t exist at school. They teach about every other religion, calling it culture, but my religion is taboo. Having been a public school teacher myself, I’ve seen from the inside what happens. (An example: in my choir class, we did not do a historically and musically sound piece because it was “too religious,” but we did several pop songs with less musical merit that were secular and therefore acceptable.)

    Another positive thing about homeschooling/unschooling is diversity. America thrives on differences. So why should every child have a cookie-cutter learning experience? We can, and should, exercise our right to make free choices concerning the educations of our children. Ironically, in my family, we still have to pay for the public education we’re not using. That it’s free is a myth, folks, at least if you pay your taxes. So, whether willingly or unwillingly, I’m still contributing toward the education of the socially needy, and since my kids aren’t dipping into that pot, it all goes to other kids who need it.

    So hello from another Northern Idahoan! Thanks for starting this excellent discussion. I think these kinds of issues need to be addressed.

    • Katie Traylor

      When I say “free public education,” I mean that it does not cost parents per child to send their kids there. Of course I realize that public education is paid for by the tax payers, and is not “free” in that sense.

    • Katie Traylor

      Also, hooray for Idaho! It is beautiful up here :)

  • Question: Is homeschooling elitist?

    Answer: Yes, if “elitist” is defined as the ability to make choices. Most of us are elitist and that will not change regardless of how we decide to education our children.

    I have a friend who homeschools. She is well-educated and low-income, and one year ago her husband died of a brain tumor. Continuing to homeschool under such circumstances is incomprehensible to many people—for her, to NOT homeschool her children would be a terrible loss.

    More people can homeschool than we are often led to believe, even those who don’t appear to have many options available to them.

    One more thing: there are many other ways (besides the public school system) to help out impoverished kids. Have you thought of fostering? Or becoming a Big Sister? Or hosting Fresh Air kids? Or signing up with a social services agency to be a mentor for high-risk kids? The options are endless. Don’t allow the big brick schoolhouse to block your path.

  • Oh, and one other thing. If you WANT to teach in the public school system, by all means do it. My mother homeschooled me and my brothers while my father taught science in the public schools.

    • Katie Traylor

      I absolutely do want to teach public school. That’s why I wonder if I would ever really choose to homeschool, because I can’t see myself doing that and teaching public school at the same time.

  • I think considering one’s theoretical children and their needs is so far removed from the reality of parenting the children who are actually a part of your family that it is almost a waste of time. (I think of all the times I said or thought, “Well, MY kids will _always_ ______________” or “never ______________”….and then I had real kids. Ha! Joke was definitely on me. :) )

    When we brought our first one out of the public school, it was at her request (and “request” is a mild way to put it). She was sick to death (almost literally) of the whole “mean girls” attitudes in _second_ grade, tired of being too smart in reading and not fast enough in math, and losing her love of life, her joy in learning.

    I had been trying for _years_ to effect change at her school (she has an older brother, after all – complete with IEP, 1:1 aide, etc.)…but it was one boat that refused to be rocked. Yes, I could have kept my kids there because of the ideal of helping the whole school to change….but at what cost?

    I think if and when Katie has her own children and possibly sees them being damaged through a public school experience despite her best efforts and intentions, the choice will become much clearer.

    Just my two cents! 😀

  • Ami

    My first responsibility was to my own kids. As is yours. We all make decisions based on what’s best for our own families, or at least I like to hope we do.

    Now that the kids have grown past the age of homeschooling, I am working in a public school and applying the knowledge I have and the natural curiousity of the children in my care to benefit ‘other people’s kids’.

    I am sorry for other kids who may not have had the advantages mine did (although we were seriously poor and it was a huge struggle for me to stay home with them)but those children were not my responsibility. That’s all. I am not elitist. I am honest and pragmatic.

  • Joy

    I think homeschooling is about as far from elitist as you can get. Worry about expensive private schools if that is your concern. I grew up in a single-income family of 5 children. We were not impoverished, but definitely on the very low end of middle class. For perspective, a night out was going to Taco Bueno for the value menu. Neither of my parents finished college, but they could read and understood the value of intellectual curiosity. That’s really all you need. Well, the ability to understand basic math is helpful too. My dad was good at math, and my mom guided us through most other stuff. I got sick of hearing “go look it up” every time I asked a question, but you know what? They were right. That’s what learning is about. If you can read and know how to go do some basic research (the encyclopedia/dictionary, at the library, or now, on the internet), then you really can learn whatever you need at any point in life. By the time we were hitting our teens our learning was largely self-directed. We had text books and assignments, but it was up to us to read and learn the information, do the problems, etc. The format might not work for every child, but that self-direction paid off for me. I took classes at the community college in my senior year of high school to get some classroom time under my belt, and some outside evaluations for college applications. I ended up graduating from an Ivy league school (with the help of a lot of financial aid). I think almost any parent with a strong desire can homeschool their child. It doesn’t have to be very expensive – you could base most of a curriculum off books available at the public library if you had to. Time is a bigger issue, particularly when children are younger and need full-time supervision. Not speaking English is a challenge, but young kids are great at picking up language – from tv, from playmates, you name it. Grammar can be learned from a book, and I think being a voracious reader goes a long way toward being a good writer. In summary, there may be extenuating circumstances where homeschooling is simply not practical, and yes, it is a blessing to have a public school system available then. But, I also think a lot of those circumstances can be overcome if the desire is strong enough. It does come down to determination that their child get a good education on the part of the parents. I think that is true of the public school system as well in many cases, though.

  • kate

    I’m at an airport in Columbus, but I wanted to pop in and clarify that the title of this post was mine, not Katie’s. I used the word “elitist” because I sometimes like to try to come up with exciting, controversial titles :) I hope no one was very offended!

    I grew up with a bunch of homeschoolers whose families were just scraping by. It didn’t feel very elite! But still, this really is an important conversation, and I’m glad it’s happening here on the blog. I knew you guys would have great responses for Katie!

  • Dana

    Hi Katie, your post really resonates with me. I tried a number of professions before I finally entered teaching. It was what I always wanted to do but everyone else seemed to think I should be a lawyer. I really, really, really just wanted to teach. So I did and I absolutely loved it! Homeschooling never entered my mind until we began a series of soul-searching movies the same year my oldest child was to begin school. Since I felt like I was a confident teacher, I decided it was better to wait until we were settled somewhere to enter him into school. Well, the lifestyle and convenience became addictive. Now I am somewhere I love with a great little public school and the principal recently sought me out to offer me my dream position. Gulp. I spent several months soul-searching some more and finally, decided that my children were thriving and I just wasn’t ready to change a situation in which they so clearly thrive. Their world rocks. The travel, lifestyle, convenience, flexibility rocks. I went to see the principal and… cried. I went home and cried. I still get deeply sad when I think about all the other kids’ lives I’m missing. But here’s the deal: school would wreck my oldest child. Large groups, lots of changes, sitting at desks all day, learning from the books without tons of movement and kinesthetic learning opportunities would undo him. He gets terribly anxious. So my love for teaching takes a backseat to my love for him. My youngest child would love it, I think, and so we take it year by year. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll teach while my youngest attends school and my oldest stays home or goes to work with his dad. When your kids arrive, you will know.

  • Sorry, I didn’t read the other comments, so hopefully I’m not repeating everyone else.

    To this post I would say: You are only given a relatively short window of your life to parent your own children. And it is EASY to lose them along the way. So my advice would be to take FULL advantage of the years with your little ones. You can always spend the other parts your life serving other people’s kids.

  • Beverly

    Public education is a great idea, but it’s also a cookie-cutter approach that doesn’t fit all ability levels and temperaments. My son is academically very capable, but he has some borderline autism-like issues that make it almost impossible for him to comply with the ‘sit still in one place all day and focus on what you’re told to or else’ approach. Public education is about to be hit with an epidemic wave of kids with these types of issues, and they are poorly prepared for it. The parents of these kids are looking for options that don’t let them fall through the cracks, but as this post points out, not everyone can do homeschooling. I would be interested in connecting with anyone who is coming up with something that looks like a plan. I say this from what feels like a close to completely powerless position. My head is full of ideas about what might work, but I have no ability to act on any of them.

  • Katie Traylor

    You are absolutely right. And that is part of why I want to teach public school, so that I can try to figure out how to improve things (on whatever small scale I may be able to).

  • Most of the homeschooling families I know are smack in the middle of the middle class, or possibly even poorer. So I don’t think homeschooling is a matter of luxury, necessarily. I think most homeschoolers make the decision to homeschool because it’s what’s best for their family and their kids. I know that’s why we do it. And I agree with some of the other commenters that homeschooling your own kids isn’t stopping you from making time to help other people’s kids! Heck, you can probably find ways to volunteer in kids’ programs or public schools and involve your children, so they learn the importance of education and community service!

  • This is a well-written and articulated post. Here’s my two cents – 1) “People who have the means” My wife and I decided to homeschool when I was making less than $30k, and will still do so now that I have started a business and will make three times that. My wife has been a full-time mom since before our 4 yo daughter was born. Money (or lack thereof) was never a consideration. We drive used cars, have no debt, and live within our means. Just not having car payments frees up enough cash to homeschool. In my opinion, the “means” to homeschool is simply a lifestyle choice for 90% of families in America today. 2) “What about everyone else’s?” If one family chooses to homeschool their 2.5 kids, those 2.5 kids will be more likely to enter the marketplace and be job creators. As a self-employed entrepreneur, my kids will be encouraged to be self-employed as well. They can be anything they choose, we will support them no matter the choice, but being totally in control of your destiny is not as scary as it seems from the outside. 3) The public system will never go away. It will be there for people who want it. My hope is that someday they will see the error of their ways (punctuated by the numbers of parents pulling their kids) and trim the fat, tell the Federal Government to step off, and get back to the basics of education. For the sake of context, one of the biggest reasons we chose to homeschool is that parents send out-of-control, undisciplined, children with no boundaries into a system and the DARE the system to discipline them. The teachers are screwed from both sides – the administrations and the parents. The system is just not safe, and IMHO it is the parents to blame.

  • Kristin

    The question “What about everyone else?” is totally appropriate. I think the answer is unique to each parent (future or current) based on his/her circumstances and experiences in life. I do think this question is unfairly asked of homeschoolers more often than private schoolers or Montessori and Waldorf schoolers.

    For me, the answer is this: Many people have tried to reform the public school system and most of the efforts have failed. I believe that sometimes you have to work *outside* the system in order to change the system itself. Homeschooling has become a buzzword in the media lately because the public is discovering the parents are tired of seeing their children altered in a negative way by the school system. Many of those parents have tried to become involved in PTA or other groups to help their kids, yet have been disappointed when things didn’t improve.

    Parents often pull their kids out of school as a last resort because they did everything they could to improve their children’s experiences in school. Is it fair to say to them, “Hey, don’t pull your kids out of school — what about Joe Schmo’s kids down the street? Don’t you care about the quality of their education?” We probably *do* care about Joe’s kids, but we’re each responsible for our own children and we can’t control what others do with their kids.

    It simply doesn’t make sense to say, “I’m going to leave my kids in a miserable school situation where they cry about going to school everyday, get lousy grades, and don’t seem to learn anything — all because I want to continue to support the system and the other kids.” I can’t find the logic in that.

    What homeschoolers are doing now is encouraging the world to look at education differently. It’s been very slow in growing, but the unschooling/natural learning movement teaches us to respect each child’s unique personality and way of learning. I believe with all my heart that the “system” will come around and start listening to what homeschooling parents have to say. Only then do I believe that REAL school reform will take place.

    • I think Kristin makes an excellent point. Public education is ripe for a pendulum shift, and homeschooling is a model that progressive educators are beginning to pay attention to.

      I taught elementary school back in the early 90s, when public education was much more child-centered. No Child Left Behind has absolutely changed the classroom. Teachers are told what to teach and how to teach it. They aren’t allowed to be the professionals that they always have been. As writing educator Barry Lane writes, “..the federal government got into the business of managing school curricula. Up to that point, teaching was an art; now it has been declared a science.”

      I’m a longtime homeschooler. Three kids. My personal interest, both in the classroom and as a homeschooler, has been in the teaching of writing. Lately I’ve been researching what’s happening with writing in public education for an article, and overall, it’s a mess. So much progress made in the previous decades has been sidelined due to the testing and accountability culture in our classrooms. But what interests me is that progressive writing educators are calling for a writing revolution–and their recommendations look very much like what we homeschoolers do already!

      My guess is that public education will begin to shift again–and child-centered, interest-driven, project-based learning will be the mode of the future. It’s already happening in the business world. Just read some Daniel Pink to get a sense of it. Educators are beginning to pay attention to the homeschool movement. As homeschoolers, we’re in a position to change public education, simply by offering up a more effective model.

      It’s funny–I left teaching to homeschool over fifteen years ago. I don’t think I could ever go back to teaching in a traditional classroom, but my concerns about public education still have a strong pull on me. I’ve chosen to work from the outside–I’ve queried an article about my concerns with public school writing education, and I’m working on a book about writing for parents. Originally I intended the book to be for homeschoolers, but have since expanded it to address parents of schooled kids as well, because I know those kids could benefit from it too.

      My point is that once you care deeply about public schooling, it never leaves you. And you can still make change, even if you’re homeschooling your own. You just may make the changes from the outside in.

  • Just like all homeschooling situations shouldn’t be painted with the same brush, so be it with public schools. Disclaimer up front: I was a public school teacher for 35 years and am related by marriage to Kate. I taught in middle class communities where generally both parents worked to be able to afford living in New Jersey. Over the years I found those parents to be just as concerned and loving about their kids’ education, while maybe not so focussed or obsessive (in a good way). If all things were equal in terms of academics (and I am not saying they are, while there might be gaps in the public schools there are also gaps in what parents are able to deliver academically as well), I think that the one thing that public school offers that homeschooling may not is: choice. Yup, choice. Growing up, you need to learn to make choices, and you also learn to know that sometimes you have NO choice. For example if you have no head for numbers, you have no choice but to take math at the prescribed time and place in school. At home, math may be scuddled, or rearranged, or put on the back burner. While we can argue over whether math is important or not in life, I think for example it teaches problem solving, logic, and a way of seeing things. (Ok, another disclaimer, I was gifted and talent teacher, art teacher, and puppetry teacher, who started out as a math major in college, but found math too boring). Another lesson in choice: friends. While most homeschoolers will tell me that their kids have oodles of friends, these friends are prechosen through connections by their homeschooling groups, or extra activities their parents have steered them into. Kids need to learn about human interaction early on. (I hear you all saying words such as “bullying”, etc). Yes, the world is a cruel place, but it is also very loving, and kids need to read the clues to make it through the mine fields. I think this is accomplished through interactions at school. Anyone who has taught in public schools can tell stories of kids supporting and loving each other in ways that you wouldn’t expect, mixed in with those stories of cattiness, rudeness and outright cruelty. All things that will happen when you are an adult, and thus learning the skills to make it through our society is part and parcel of going to public school. Early on you will learn you are not the cutest, smartest, most clever kid on the planet, your friends will tell you so. Bubble burst, then you move on to build who you will become.

    I will acknowledge that there are horror stories about public schools. And I will also tell you that when I first started teaching in the 70’s I was astounded to see how little school had changed since I went to school. But that said I think schools (whether public or private) have experts in a variety of subject matters, have opportunities for students to interact with a wide range of adults, and other students, offer students to grow in a way that is untethered in some ways from parental expectations (i.e. “I didn’t know he wrote poetry, geeze he rarely talks at home”).

    So, Katie, go for it. Jump into public education, help those students see that there are adults that care for them, have something to share with them, and will support their dreams. Guide through the morass called life. Help them see that society is full of rules, expectations, responsibilities, pitfalls, goals, grades, disappointments, as well as incredible highs and self satisfaction.

    • I have to disagree about public education offering more choice than homeschooling. If you do a lot of research into homeschooling, like many homeschooling parents do, you’ll find an endless number of options. You can enroll your kids in a public charter school in California where you receive funds each year and regular guidance (every two weeks or so) from a teacher. The funds can be used for a very wide selection of classes and you can be assured that your child is satisfying the state curriculum. There’s probably no public school requiring bottoms in seats that could offer that kind of personalized education for a child.

      With homeschooling, a child can choose to take classes from all kinds of places on their own family’s dime. They can take cooking classes and learn about math and science, they can take art and/or science classes at community centers, they can take any kind of class at community college when they reach a minimum age, they can attend workshops or conferences with a wide variety of classes, and most counties or municipal systems have a huge list of kids’ classes. I don’t think any public school could offer that kind of choice.

      Also, the other “lesson in choice” you mentioned, friends, is completely wrong in my opinion. Kids in public school are *stuck* with the same friends everyday, they sit at the same desks everyday, and they’re required to do group projects with the same kids over and over. By contrast, homeschoolers have friends in a wide variety of circles. My daughter has friends at church, in her very large homeschooling playgroup, in our neighborhood, and in every independent class she takes. There’s literally no way she could have this many friends if she were in school full-time.

      I really think only those with direct experience in homeschooling are qualified to draw conclusions about it. Homeschooling is so varied from family to family and the programs available to homeschoolers are growing exponentially all the time. It’s just not possible to know what’s out there in the homeschooling world unless you’re knee-deep in it.

  • Hockey Mom

    I looked at all the options including the local public school and private schools up to an hour away. I looked at correspondence schools and virtual schools. I have looked at a dozen different curriculums. My reason for not putting my child in school comes down to the simple fact that he has only one chance at an education and it is my job to make sure he gets the best education possible. His education is not an experiment and there is no ‘do-over’.

    As far as what is happening to the other children. They are benefitting. My son is one less student in an over crowded classroom. Look at it this way, if every child who is homeschooled or attends a private school were to enroll in public school tomorrow, classroom sizes would significantly increase and the schools would not be able to handle the overflow of students.

  • Marina

    Two things:

    1) The main thing I don’t like about public school is that it’s a mandatory one-size-fits-all approach. The basis of public school is the assumption that the best educational choice for every kid is to be with a group of other kids their age, almost always with one or two adults at a time, almost always in a building, for 8 hours a day. I support homeschooling I don’t think there’s one best educational choice for every kid–so why would I want everyone to homeschool?

    2) Is having kids in school the only way to support the public school system? What about community members who don’t have kids, or who have adult kids? I would argue that one of the great things about public school is that non-parents CAN participate, can support the system, can contribute to the education of the community. Public schools belong to all of us… including homeschoolers.

  • I don’t know about affecting change in the classroom as a teacher. My sister taught in public schools for 10 years. She finally quit because she hated that she couldn’t shape what she taught to her students needs. Everything was focused on the Standards of Learning. If a kid couldn’t keep up, the kid was labelled LD. The amount of pressure put on the teachers and the kids to measure up was enormous and very unhealthy. Schools are all about image and they manipulate things so they can look good whether it truly serves the child’s educational needs or not.

    I have a dream though of starting a democratic school for non-English speakers. I don’t know how I’d fund it but it would basically be a combo of unschooling/ESOL. I thought about this because I know someone’s son who immigrated here from Sierra Leone. He didn’t speak English well at all and he was dying the Public School system. He was so lost and the school (and this is Fairfax County, one of the best school systems in the country) was just ruining him. It was tragic, really.

    I think thinking outside the box is a better way to serve others than doing so inside the system where truly your hands will be tied and you will have to confront so much frustration and politicking.

  • John Holt said it best somewhere in one of his many fabulous books-something like this:just because we could not rescue every slave (during slavery in the States) didn’t mean that we shouldn’t rescue those that could be rescued. In the same way, just because we can’t ‘rescue’ every child from public schooling doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t rescue any.
    Wish I could find that quote!!

  • Grace Llewellyn’s book The Teenage Liberation Handbook is a classic that the author of this post would do well to read. She was a teacher who saw the damage inflicted by schools on kids. She left the system and is helping kids grow and learn outside of school.
    John Taylor Gatto also quit school teaching after 30 years saying that he never wanted to hear the word school again-for the rest of his life.
    Compulsory schooling has served it’s purpose.The new age DEMANDS a new way of educating,learning and living.

  • Val

    It might be. I’ve heard this said, and honestly I can’t sacrifice my kids over some idealistic idea of how a school ought to be.

    The kids go to a public school for high school, and they have all enjoyed it immensely. At 15 they’re ready for an adventure away from me, and this serves that purpose. They love having experts in the subjects teaching them, available to help. The choices in the lunchroom! The weight room with coaches! The media center with helpful ladies!

    And yet, high school doesn’t work for a lot of people and they should feel free to find a way they like. Be education consumers, not slaves to a system.

    I’m not anti-school, just maybe anti-elementary and middle school. We’ve loved preschool, had so much fun there. And high school has been great. But everything between age 3 and 15 we have skipped.

    Do your own thing. That’s not elitist, really, is it?

    They have a product. Are you interested in it or not? Decide for yourself. love, Val

  • I am waiting for someone to ask me this question. Because I have a great answer. My husband is a public school teacher–and a homeschool grad. Being a homeschooler gave him a great education and foundation for college, and now he shares his knowledge with children in the public school.

    Homeschooling allows you to make a great difference in your child’s life–and that child just might grow up to make a huge difference in the lives of many children.

    We homeschool our own children, and interestingly the teachers at my husband’s school have never asked why we homeschool. They understand completely.

  • Colleen G.

    I am going to be lazy and not read the other comments, so forgive me if I am repeating ideas. The public education system is broken. It is employing the worst methods based upon social engineering ideas that do not mesh with reality. Compulsory education worked when it was based on getting kids to read, do arithmetic and write coherently. The rest of their learning was supposed to be taken into their own hands once those skills were learned. Where do you think Enstien, Ford and Edison came from and why do you think we cannot replicate those kind of people? Now schools run all over the place teaching kids whatever the current political agenda is. Also a lot of money goes into sports, while good, they shouldn’t have a higher place in the budget than the teaching. Keeping your kids out and getting them a real education is going to show the world what real education is.

  • passerby

    “…Rather than pulling myself and my (future) kids out of the public education system, wouldn’t it be better if I tried to help change it, to bring to it some of the elements that make homeschooling so great?….”

    There are 2 fatal flaws in this logic:

    (1) The public school systems have shown themselves to be utterly resistant, indeed, actively hostile, to any parent-driven reform, or indeed, any reform at all. Trying to improve the system academically, or (harder still), stop the social(ist) engineering which is embedded throughout the warped curriculum, is like beating your head against the wall.

    (2) Even if there were any rational reason to believe public schools *could* be meaningfully reformed SOMEDAY, our kids are growing up NOW, they need to be educated NOW. We CAN’T WAIT a decade or three, for the system to change.

  • Cary

    My small scale as you put it is just with my 3 kids for right now. I’d really like to bring inner peace to the whole world (and I’m not being flip at all) and I now think that that peace has to start every day and in every moment in me. For now, the action I choose to take is in nurturing my family and that has to be enough. We are an unschooling family, living out our simple lives. I try to do no harm. I hope to let judgment go. I hope that by walking in peace and living with a whole lot of humor and love, we’ll link arms with more and more folks who are wanting that too and over time, that’s a lot of peaceful people. I’m thinking now life is changing our own state’s of mind rather than trying to change what we don’t like “out there.” I think “out there” finds it’s way to peace eventually. Maybe all those kids you want to not leave behind will find their way to you anyway. Who knows? Good luck on the journey though. :o)

  • I totally understand wanting to change the world, but do you really want to spend your time “fixing” everyone else, while your own children suffer? (And by suffer I mean anything from being bullied or damaged by public schools to simply not getting the full advantage they could receive from your careful attention and being home with you). I agree with whoever said you have SUCH a limited time with your own children. Give them your best, give them your drive to be and do and change and improve, and send them out equipped to multiply your work in a needy world. When they’re started on that path themselves, you then have time to go help other children as well.

    How would you feel if, after spending your life improving a crop strain to feed future children, you found your own children had starved to death while you were working?

  • Nathania

    I think your desire to help children is a good one. But I would be careful about your idealism. The kids in schools who really need the kind of help you want to provide are the toughest to reach. They don’t need a teacher, they need to not go home to an empty home. They don’t need a teacher, they need violence to stop in their neighborhoods. They don’t trust adults, because adults let them down.

    My kids went to a school full of kids like this. I feel *so bad* for the other kids. But at the end of the day, my kids came home bullied and undereducated.

    Trying to fix the schools is like putting a bandaid on an amputated arm. If you really want to get involved with impacting children’s lives, think holistically. Get involved with programs that help strengthen parents or rehabilitate low income neighborhoods. Help a community be a place where good education can take place. That’s far better than teaching a kid math tables knowing he goes home to an abusive household. Math isn’t going to keep a kid from getting a beating that night. Teaching adults how to be better parents will.

  • Nathania

    One more thing….. as someone who has a severe savior complex (i must save everyone from everything bad!), I’m also a wee bit concerned about your reasons for wanting to teach. Perhaps you just didn’t say it in this post, the love of instructing and explaining things to people. But wanting to fix something that’s broken is dangerous territory. If you’ve got the complex (and I totally don’t know if you do or not), you may actually be avoiding dealing with other things (self-esteem, death, etc), and fixing other problems is a way of making up for perceived past failures. Or there are expectations that rise up later when we don’t fix things fast enough.

    So just be careful. Having said all of that, you have a tremendously good heart. And there are many who will benefit, just you wait and see :)

  • katie, i really appreciate your perspective and understanding there are few one-size-fits-all answers for every family. if you have a passion for teaching in the public schools–DO IT! not everyone is called to be a home school mom, and God knows public schools need good teachers, too.

    i went to public school kindergarten through college and wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. i am a parent, too, and will most likely send my kids to the public schools. it is ridiculous for anyone to say that public school will ruin your hypothetical kids. can we please stop telling others people what’s best for their families?

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