Angela’s Story: Choosing to Educate Differently

Angela Post

Our culture has become increasingly polarized politically and I believe this polarization is crossing over into other choices we make for our families. This polarization, gives parents the sense that they need to defend their choices: full-time mom vs. working mom; public school vs. private school vs. homeschool; spanking vs. no spanking. We make these important decisions for our family and we want to think we made the righteous and best choice. As Rachel Held Evans says in her book Biblical Womanhood, “I guess we’re all a little afraid that if God’s presence is there, it cannot be here.” At the end of the day, we all want what is best for our children. My family has chosen to homeschool because it is what works best for us.

We first chose to homeschool for academic and emotional reasons. Our daughter was in public school and had been moved up two grade levels. And even with the advanced grade and gifted classes, we still felt like her needs were not being met academically and certainly not emotionally. That was fifteen years ago and our reasons for homeschooling have deepened and grown. These are some of the reasons homeschooling works for our family:

1. Academics- The best reason I have for homeschooling is that I get to be the architect of my children’s education. One of the benefits of homeschooling is teaching children at their level and focusing on their interests. My oldest daughter loved to read. She began reading Shakespeare at 11. I have another daughter that struggled with reading. I was able to design curriculum around their individual needs. If my children show an interest in a particular topic, we take time to study it. I believe this helps to instill a love of life-long learning. There are no state tests or Common Core telling us what to study and yet, my kids do very well on national standardized tests that they are given each year. I get to choose the curriculum we use. I get to base that choice around their individual needs. My children are being taught one-on-one. That alone helps them exceed what they would be able to do in a classroom. My first two children began taking college classes at 13 and 15 respectively. We are simply able to do more academically in a shorter amount of time.

2. Socialization- I find it interesting that so many people claim socialization as a reason not to homeschool when in reality it is one of the major reasons we choose to homeschool. Who said that the proper place to socialize a child is by putting them in a 20 X 30 room with 20 of their same age peers, often from the same social-economic level, with one adult overseeing their interactions? My children get tons of social interactions with multiple aged people in different settings. We do field trips, soccer, ballet, gymnastics, church, youth, 4-H, community outreach, play dates and sleepovers. The beauty is that I am the guide of these social interactions. I often get to observe their interactions (especially when they are young), and I can help them maneuver through situations where they need to offer kindness or when they need to stand up to a bully. I can remove them from unhealthy situations and teach them how to interact with others, first hand. As they get older, they spend more time away from me but they have a foundation of appropriate social interactions.

3. Flexibility- Flexibility is one of the best reasons to homeschool. There is flexibility when we start and end the school year and flexibility when we start and finish our school day. There is flexibility in where we do school. We were able to go to Israel for a semester. We brought our books along, but what my kids learned being in Israel, traveling every day, certainly outweighed what they learned from books. We can spend our mornings at Disney, or do an entire school day at Epcot. We go to parks and museums when there are no crowds. One morning last week my kids begged to go swimming. It was 10:00 AM, but I let them and they spent three hours in the pool. I loved watching them have fun together. They had lunch, and finished their schoolwork in the afternoon. It was a great day!

4. Moral compass- The reasons I made the decision to sacrifice a second income and stay home with my kids when they were infants are a lot of the same reasons we choose to homeschool. I like my kids. They are smart, funny and delightful. I want to be the person that leads them, that teaches them the things that matter in this world. If we learn by example, I want to be that example. Faith, justice and mercy are very important to our family, and I want to share that with my children. I want to teach them about the love of God, family and the importance of helping the underprivileged and marginalized. I firmly believe that you assimilate to your surroundings. If a child spends at least half of their day, five days a week with others, whose values will they absorb into their lives? I don’t want to leave it to a teacher I don’t know and certainly don’t want to rest the training of the moral compass of my children on the shoulders of the kids in their classroom. I want to share my heart with my children, and I want to know what they are passionate about so that I can help them pursue that passion. I am not a pro, but have so far raised two teenage girls and they are amazing. I have beautiful relationships with both of them. They are respectful, they ask my advice, we talk, we laugh; we enjoy being together. They are strong, compassionate and confident ladies. They have missed a lot of the mess that so many other girls their ages have to struggle through. Peer pressure is real, and while my girls have had some peer pressure, the majority of their influence has been from their family, not friends. They do not spend their days trying to fit in and be accepted by others who are trying just as hard to fit in and be accepted.

After twenty-three years of parenting, I have come to realize that there is little black and white in the choices we make, but there is a lot of gray. And in that gray is a lot of room for grace, because God is in it all. God is with the mom that is at home with her children and with the mom working outside of the home. Homeschooling works for my family. For other families, public or private schools work best. As Rachel Held Evans also says, “be careful of challenging another woman’s choices, for you never know when she may be sitting at the feet of God.” We have the grace to make the decisions that work best for our families. There are multitudes of good choices to be made and multitudes of good reasons to make them. We need to offer grace to those who choose differently than us.

Socialization Can and Does Exist Outside of the Classroom

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The biggest push-back I receive when discussing the choice to homeschool is the issue of socialization.  Socialization can take on two different meanings; one  addresses an individual’s interactions with others and the second addresses how an individual is conditioned to behave in society.  As I have written in previous posts, it is a common notion in our society that socialization only occurs within a “regular” classroom setting.  Because of this notion, the general public seems to think that parents who homeschool are doing their children a disservice.  It is believed that parents who homeschool desire to limit their children’s social interactions with others, and are not properly conditioning them to behave appropriately in society.

What I’ve realized is that those who uphold this negative outlook are making the assumption that the desire to shelter one’s children is only found within the homeschooling community; as if homeschooling and sheltering are interconnected–impossible for one to exist without the other.  In reality, the desire to sequester one’s child can be found in all parents, not just those who homeschool.

The assumption is also made that socialization–in the sense of conditioning a child to behave appropriately in society–is a uniform standard for education.  Socialization in that sense of the word, is not a standard, but a philosophy that even some within the public school system do not uphold.  Not everyone views education as a means to integrate children into what society calls for and/or needs.

I met with a friend and former boss this past week to discuss the issue of socialization.  Her name is Christina Allen, and she has been homeschooling her children for years.  This is what she had to say:

“In today’s schools, recess is no longer a part of a student’s schedule, and many schools have turned lunches silent.  So, then that leads us to the classroom where students‘ desks are set up in a row facing the teacher.  This set up is not very conducive to socializing.  If the classroom is the only environment in which a student is expected to socialize, their socialization is going to be limited.”

Christina went on to explain that socializing, in the sense of interacting with one’s peers, is not inhibited by the educational path a parent chooses, it is inhibited by the type of environment the parent provides for their child.  If a child is removed from society and lacks community, then they are lacking  socialization.  This can occur in any educational path.

Christina also feels that parents put too much emphasis on the word “socializing,” forgetting what socializing leads to: relationships. If children are to only socialize in the classroom, then their relationships are typically going to be with children of the same age and same socioeconomic background.

“What our children actually need are relationships; relationships that extend beyond their generation and their socioeconomic background.”

We continued our discussion by addressing socialization as a means of preparing children for the workforce.  The common held belief is that if children are removed from the “regular” classroom setting, they will not be as well-prepared as other students upon entering the workforce.  Though Christina’s schooling may look different than the public school system, her children are still learning valuable lessons such as time management and individual responsibility.  But she does not see her role as teacher to be one of conditioning her children to do good work.

“I don’t want my children to be good at their jobs because they have been conditioned to do so.  I want my children to be good at their jobs because they have a passion for what they are doing.”

What I learned through my conversation with Christina is that to truly provide socialization in our children’s lives, we must stop solely looking to the schools.  Socialization cannot simply just take place within the classroom.  We as parents, regardless of what educational path we chose for our kids, have a role play.

For Christina, it’s all about living in community.

Christina and her family are intentional residents in a low-income neighborhood.  This simply means they are making the choice to be present and engaged in their neighborhood: making an effort to know their neighbors, to know their neighbor’s kids, and even to know their pets.  It also means they are working to be the neighbor someone can go to if they need a cup of sugar, an errand companion, or just an ear to listen.  The way in which Christina addresses the issue of socialization is through the environment she provides for her children, and that is an environment of community.

Christina’s children aware that when their school day ends that does not mean their socializing ends with it.  When their lessons are finished for the day, they go out into the community intentionally engaging with those around them

The problem with the notion that socialization solely occurs in the classroom is that parents are failing to see they too have a role to play.  Parents who expect the school to take on the responsibility of socialization are doing their children a disservice as well.  Our society needs to stop solely confronting the homeschool family on how they socialize their children, and start confronting all parents about this particular issues. It’s time that all parents face these questions.