Discouraging Families

Oh, give me a home where the school is my own,
Where the students are my own children,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
From my relatives, neighbors, and friends.
Is it really possible to have family members who fully support your desire to homeschool? I do not know. Maybe it is possible — if they already homeschool, too.

Most of the people reading this article are searching for some hope, some light at the end of the tunnel. You are feeling outcast, weighed down under the persecution of loved ones who just do not understand your desire to educate your children in the way you see as best. My words of encouragement may seem insufficient at this point, but I strongly urge you to “Hang in there!” It is rare for relatives to remain devoutly anti-homeschooling for a long time. Usually, family members who see you and your children with any frequency will soon begin to notice positive differences between your children and the average government-schooled children and will begin to alter their attitudes accordingly. However, there may be cases where you will need to limit your time with certain friends or relatives, steering the topics of conversation to less flammable areas, such as politics, money, or religion.

When we decided to homeschool, we only told our parents. We let them tell our siblings. Yes, it was the coward’s way out, but you probably did something just as spineless. My sister told Mom that my children would turn out “weird.” Using my nieces and nephews for the “normal” standard, my children are very weird. Using my standard for “normal,” my nieces and nephews are the weird ones. It did take a few years for everyone to “come around,” but now they all accept our homeschooling efforts — a few relatives even applaud us.

From my own experience, I can say that my children were the best “salesmen” for convincing our reluctant relatives. When we made our appearance at the family holiday dinners, even the most adamant aunts and uncles had to admit that my children did not have antennae sprouting from their heads. My offspring were able to converse intelligently with the adults, relating fantastic details of our latest field trip or interesting experiment, while their non-homeschooled cousins hid in the far reaches of the house, silently transfixed by video games and only grunting monosyllabic responses to any attempts at conversation.

When we were questioned about the schoolwork we were doing, I let my children answer as often as possible. They were perfectly capable of speech; why not let them gain a little experience at being interviewed? My husband and I were always close by to supplement the answer, if needed, but usually our children were able to give competent, first-hand testimony of exactly what they were learning. My son’s favorite question was always, “What grade are you in now?” to which he would smugly respond, “In which subject?” followed by a rapid-fire dissertation of each subject and his corresponding grade level, emphasizing the subjects in which he was ahead of his peers.

When confronted by a nosy, know-it-all friend/neighbor/relative, I was ready with knowledge of the legal requirements for homeschooling in our state and an account of how we were meeting those requirements. (Find the legal specifics for your state at http://www.hslda.org/.) I have yet to meet a parent utilizing the public school system who knew anything about the state’s laws pertaining to education. They usually changed the subject on me once they realized that I probably knew more about their children’s education than they did.

I explained what we were doing for our children’s education. I answered all the (reasonable/legitimate) questions that were fired at us. I knew legal requirements and facts, and I could throw in a few well-placed statistics for good measure. I tried to avoid arguing (not always easy for me), focusing my responses around, “This is what we are doing; you may do what you want to do.” I defended our position, but I learned not to try to recruit. When someone had specific questions about getting into homeschooling (which always seemed to be “for a friend”), they would seek us out, often in a secluded corner and speaking in hushed tones for fear of discovery. (To date, none of our extended family has tried homeschooling.)

A fellow homeschooling mom once told me about her experience at Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. When the meal was over, her children cleared their own dishes from the table and began filling the sink for the clean-up process. Her non-homeschooling siblings accused her of bribing the children ahead of time to do this chore “just to make the rest of us look bad!” Despite insistence that this was the children’s customary routine at home, the offended relatives would not be persuaded.

If you are facing non-supportive family members at this time, the most encouragement I can offer you is my own affirmation that “time will tell.” Find out for yourself exactly what the legalities of home education are in your state, comply with them, and then stand your ground, knowing that you are doing your best to educate your children and that homeschooling will prove itself. Walk away from arguments when necessary, and walk away from potential guilt feelings at the same time. Remember the old folk adage, “the proof is in the pudding” — each individual ingredient may not be tasty by itself, but when combined in proper proportions, the result is delicious. Application to homeschooling: any one lesson or subject may not make a great difference by itself, but over time, your homeschool lessons will combine to make your students into wonderful people. You still may hear occasional grumblings from outsiders, but be assured that those are probably based in jealousy.

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