Whose homeschooling is it, anyway?

My mom has really been pretty cool about me writing about my life online. Sometimes she makes a comment like, “One day you’ll have kids and they’ll grow up and complain about you on the internet. Then you’ll understand.” But mostly it’s fine.

I mean, let’s get real. That’s not going to happen. By the time my eventual kids grow up, it definitely won’t be called the internet.

And I try not to complain. Even though, honestly, sometimes I get the urge.

(I mean, really, who lets their daughter go around wearing silk scarves as an entire outfit? I’m kidding, that was a great outfit.)

One of the things that’s confusing about homeschooling is that it is personal and educational at the same time. This shouldn’t be confusing. It should, in my not-so-humble opinion, be way education obviously works. But because education and relationships, especially familial relationships, have been constructed as surprisingly separate concepts in this society, the thought of mixing the two can feel convoluted and weird.

When I write about my education, I am also writing about my family. I can’t help it. They’re inseparable. My education is wrapped up in personalities and interpersonal dynamics and my relationships with the people most closely related to me. It’s not exclusive to these things. I give myself a lot of credit for my education. I did a lot on my own. I give my community a lot of credit for my education– As a teenager especially, I was always outside the home, learning from/with mentors and groups. I give the world a lot of credit for my education– it’s a seriously educational place.

But it’s hard to talk about homeschooling without talking about my mom, who started it all, and who was there, every day, for all of it.

My mom doesn’t really like to be talked about. I mean, unless I’m saying, “My mom is the most amazing woman in the whole world. ”

It’s her life, she tells me. It’s private. It’s personal.

“But,” I say, “you made this radical decision, educationally. You opened yourself up to conversations like this one.”

“It didn’t feel radical,” she says. “It felt obvious.”

“Ok, ok, but it WAS radical.”

“Not really. People were accepting. There were other homeschoolers.”

“Not that many!”


“Not that many!”

“It made perfect sense. It wasn’t radical. It was normal. It was just our lives.”

Well, that’s true. It was totally normal. When I first realized as a kid that other kids had to go to school every day, I felt so sorry for them. I felt so lucky to be able to live a normal life, while they had to get up at some unreasonable hour every morning and go do things a random grownup told them to do all day. No thanks.

But my education was radical, because not very many people do it. And when you do something really different with your kids’ lives, you can probably expect them to want to talk about it. Or write about it. Or tell people about it. Or at least be interested in it.

Which leads us to the title problem: whose homeschooling is it?

Is it my mom’s? Her life was impacted by it at least as much as mine. Is it mine? Is it our family’s property? Is it owned by the general discourse on education?

It is all of the above.

“I remind myself that you and I have different perspectives about your childhood,” my mom tells me. “We have different realities.”

There we have the crux of the parent/child relationship. And sitting on top of it, we have homeschooling.

My childhood was my education. But like all childhoods, it isn’t only mine. It was a family effort. I try to be respectful when I write about my family. I also want to be honest, because I think it’s important to be honest when you’re talking about homeschooling, since it’s still pretty mysterious in the world’s opinion. It’s all about finding a balance, I guess, like everything else.

But maybe I really won’t understand until my kids start writing publically about how I raised them. That’ll be interesting, I’m sure.

Totally not teaching them how to read or write.

That was a joke. They’d learn anyway.

16 comments to Whose homeschooling is it, anyway?

  • Katharine Lilley

    I love this. It’s so interesting how there can be so many perspectives on any any given act. My mom homeschooled us, and I know it felt like a normal thing to her. I never understood until I had kids and finally made the decision to homeschool them. It still seemed radical to me as an adult until I made that choice. Now it seems common and “normal”. I wonder if that’s because it’s much more accepted and mainstream now…..or if it just feels that way because I am immersed in a sub-culture that considers it normal. We’ll begin Kindergarten with our oldest in the fall and I am so super pumped to not have to send him away for 8 hours a day of sitting in a box. I try not to say that to my friends who have kids in school. 😉

  • Dear Kate,
    I love reading your article. I am a mother from Malaysia who homeschool her 2 sons ( 12 and 16). Keep on writing about what really you want, I mean if you have a choice what should homeschooling is all about during your childhood. Some of your writing really give me ideas how to make a homeschooling plans for my sons eventhough girl and boy need a different approach. Do visit my homeschooling blog and drop a line.

  • Isn’t your mother flattered that you write about homeschooling in such a positive light? Even though you mention the warts (the hairy ones, too, oh my!), you still make her out to be one heck of an awesome woman. I like AND admire her.

    (Would she ever consider doing a guest post?)

    • kate

      nothin’ wrong with hairiness! :-)
      Actually, that’s a great idea. I hadn’t even thought to ask her. If you were going to read a guest post from my mom, what would you want the topic to be? I feel like asking her to write “My Experience as A Homeschooling Mom” is a little overwhelming and unfair.

      • If your mom were to do a guest post, I would be most interested in hearing what some of the low points were for her as a homeschooling mom and how she got through those. There are many, many days I am thrilled with my life as a homeschooling mom…but from time to time the doubts creep in, “what if my boys never amount to anything and it’s all MY fault because I homeschooled them?!”

      • I’m not sure what I’d want your mom to write about, but I know I’d love to read whatever she would have to say. I often wonder what my reflections on our homeschooling experience might be 20 years from now when our kids are grown.

        I should introduce myself. I’ve been a lurker (and for that I apologize) for a little while now. My real life friend, Jennifer Jo, was kind enough to tell me about you and I’ve been enjoying every post since.

      • I, too, would like to hear about the low-points, the struggles, the questions, the self-doubts. Those always make the best stories, right?

        One of the things I’m repeatedly having to reassure myself about is that kids will learn what they need to know for the adult world without the aid of workbooks and lots of explaining. I’d like to know if she ever found this NOT to be true, or was it a truth she could relax into?

  • Val

    It’s true, different realities.

    I do wish I had no shortcomings. My kids know better than anyone what they are, and the various ways I annoyed them, frustrated them, and let them down.

    (It’s not about love. We’ve got that plenty. Or the sincerity of my effort, but life is so complex.)

    Your mom sounds like a complicated and interesting woman.

    Who also raised one.

    But be gentle with each other, really. It’s all much harder than it looks, and that’s the truth.

    And isn’t it lovely to sleep when you’re tired and spend time on what you find interesting? I love homeschool so much, and that was the biggest surprise of all.

    Just the freedom of it–I hear other parents complain about their kids behavior, and mine aren’t perfect, but I don’t care, and mostly they’re not crabby. They’re well rested, and random adults, as you put it, aren’t bossing them around.

    Oh, ask your mom about her favorite thing about homeschooling and also her least favorite.

    For me–my oldest is 32 and the youngest is 6–the freedom is the best part, the sleep, the quiet, the family rhythms given respect.

    The least favorite? The isolation. That’s always been the most difficult part. It’s hard for me to cope with that at points–less now because my baby is big, and life has evolved.

    Just from your comments in your blog, I like your mom a lot.

    There should be a club for mothers of grown homeschool children, lol. love, Val

  • I am a grown home-schooler, who is now homeschooling my own kids. I do not think I have ever commented here but I have been lurking here for a while… I really enjoy reading what you have to say. I do hope you will be able to convince your Mom to post. I think Val is right… there should be a club for grown homeschool moms and they should write blogs or books about their experiences because we are dying to hear what they have to say. Especially those who did not feel particularly radical and are not going to try to write a how to manual to tell us how they think we should do things.

    • Perhaps you would start that blog, Anne? You would be helping the up-and-coming, those of us who don’t know how this is all going to turn out (and wondering whether our kids will be functioning adults).I am a first-generation homeschooler who was raised in public school.

  • I think about this a lot because I blog about family life, including my family of origin. I have a handful of aunts who disowned me because of one line about my grandmother in a post about how family traditions die (they didn’t even read the one about dirty laundry; that was a doozy). And now I have these unschooled kids who are “digital natives” who might write about me someday. And it won’t be flattering all the time. Already, my older girls are only 12 and I’ve seen that I’ve hurt them when trying to help them, and offered advice when they just wanted me to listen, and sometimes I’m so exasperating, etc. My mom always says, “Don’t stress so much about making everything right for them because, believe me, they’re going to resent you for something that you don’t even see coming!” She speaks from so much experience with that. I should probably call her.

    As parents, we are always doing what we think is right and good and lovely. Sometimes it’s what we wanted our parents to do for us. Sometimes we’re projecting and we know it, but sometimes we don’t know it. And our kids (and we) do not have a frame of reference for their (our) childhood. It’s almost impossible to say, “Well, I’m so thankful that my mom did xyz, so I can chill about abc.” No, we say, “My mom was so good about xyz, so how could she have completely let me down about abc?” and then it’s hard not to dwell on it because abc comes up over and over again, and when you have a relationship where the mom and the kids can actually talk about this stuff, Mom is always saying, “But…but…you had it so much better!” and the kid is always saying, “Yeah, except for abc, which were the things that REALLY mattered to me.” I fear this might be especially true for homeschoolers. *sigh* I think it’s just the nature of parenting. Your mom is right, you’ll understand more someday, but you’re also right. It’s your story and you have a right to tell it. And it might be difficult for your mom to read sometimes, but anybody who is a mother reads what you write about her and understands that she’s an awesome mom and you love her, you loved your childhood, you argue passionately and then move on (that’s a gift, by the way), and you guys are great together. Great and complicated, just like every relationship worth having.

  • When people ask me why I decided to homeschool my 3 kids, I think they expect a huge big dramatic explanation. In reality, I just wanted to learn with my kids and be a family…not to feel obligation towards a system that really does not have my children’s best interest in the long run. I love this post- it made me think it’s okay to homeschool. :)

  • Hi, Kate! I have been reading your posts for quite a while and just love your writing. I’m a former public and private school teacher who is planning to homeschool my two sons this fall. For the past three years I’ve written a blog about my journey as a Montessori preschool teacher on the blog http://mymontessorijourney.typepad.com. I have a bunch of readers from that blog who are now just starting to read my new homeschooling blog. I posted a quick note over there tonight telling them to head over here and check you out. They are supposed to leave you a bunch of kind comments, which I hope they do. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective on education and homeschooling. I look forward to reading everything you write, both here and on your other blog. By the way, you and Bear make an adorable couple. Best wishes on your life together!

    • kate

      Thank you for this!! And thanks for sending readers my way. I can’t wait to check your writing out! I’m always interested to hear about people’s experiences with Montessori.

      And I’ll pass the compliment along to Bear, as well, since he’ll appreciate that a lot :)

  • Kathy

    Hi Kate,
    I look forward to reading more of your blogs. I heard about you from Laura & her Montessori Journey. Thanks for telling us about your experiences.


  • I am going to enjoy reading your blog. I followed Laura’s Journey for a long time. I used to use Montessori methods in a public school setting. Now, my daughter is homeschooling her children and doing a wonderful job of it. I am looking forward to reading your past blogs. I especially enjoyed the comment about missing out on ‘abc’ when growing up. I am hoping to read what you wrote that inspired the comment having heard that same complaint from my children: ‘…but I wanted to do abc. I didn’t want to do xyz!’ Thanks for sharing your experiences. You will be helping us all… and, from an old Mom’s point of view, we will all get thru it by continuing to love each other!

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