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Why I Shouldn't Homeschool

Home Education Magazine - Articles and Columns
Ask Carol - Carol Narigon

Home School - discussion about not homeschooling

"I've read lots of books and articles about homeschooling and I've talked to some homeschoolers. You're all so positive about homeschooling and you've got an answer for every question. It seems like anybody could and should do it. It's almost too good to believe, so tell me, what are some good reasons to not homeschool?" -- John

John, I rarely tell a parent she shouldn't homeschool. I've heard lots of excuses from people why they don't homeschool, and I try to be supportive of whatever educational choices a parent makes because I expect the same in return from other people. There is something about the simple fact that we do homeschool, though, that makes some people feel inadequate, guilty, and defensive. I'm pretty sure it's their problem and not a correctly perceived judgment on my part -- at least most of the time. I can usually counter any argument against homeschooling with 40 reasons why a family should homeschool, even when the excuse seems so valid to the individual putting it forth.

For example, some moms say they don't have the patience to homeschool, as if maybe I am going to be submitted for sainthood within minutes of my death due to my extremely patient nature. After I finish yelling at my son... I mean gently reprimanding my son for interrupting our conversation, I reply that homeschoolers aren't necessarily more patient than other parents. In fact, I may find it easier to be patient because I don't start my day getting my kids out of bed at the crack of dawn and end it trying to force them to finish up their homework before they go back to bed. During much of our time together, we are doing what we choose to do when we choose to do it. But I don't try to put a false face on it. Sometimes I'm impatient and sometimes I lose my temper. We all do. Setting up impossible criteria isn't a reason to not homeschool.

Another excuse I hear comes from moms who don't feel they are organized enough. It's another false perception of the perfection of homeschoolers. Some of us are highly organized while others sit at the opposite end of the spectrum. We run the gamut from those who are up at 5:00 (that's 5:00 A.M.) reading Bible devotions before chores and breakfast to those who get up when they wake up and change out of their pajamas only if they have to go somewhere -- and get out of the car. Some homeschoolers follow a strict curriculum outline and never deviate -- math at 9:00 A.M. every day, reading at 10:00 A.M., and science on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Others don't plan for learning, but tend to notice it after it happens, like when last Thursday's leftovers become an experiment for the 11-year old who forgot to do a project until the day before the homeschool group science fair. We do what works for our families, and some families work best flying by the seat of their pants. I've never told a mom she was too disorganized to homeschool (although I've thought to myself that some were so organized their kids might be happier in school).

Being a single parent can also seem like a good reason not to homeschool, and sometimes it is. A single parent truly may not be able to work out child care arrangements and at the same time hold a job that brings in a sufficient income. On the other hand, many single parents manage to find jobs that can be done at home or arrange to work when the kids are with the other parent or with other family members or even take their children to work with them. To homeschool as a single parent takes creativity and dedication, but so does any kind of good parenting.

Why not to home school, at home school reasons to not homeschoolingUnfortunately, sometimes a single parent has no choice. I have a friend who recently lost her right to homeschool in a custody battle. Circumstances can dictate that a family not homeschool even if one parent and the children want to. In a choice between jail and homeschooling, I would recommend the parent not homeschool.

I can list a number of other reasons that sound good on the surface, but can be overcome if a parent really wants to homeschool. "I don't have a high school degree," or "I didn't do so hot in school myself" are two I've heard often. My answer: Most adults can get a GED, and maybe it wasn't your fault you didn't do so well in school, making you the perfect person to teach your child in a way that ensures success. If a parent really can't understand how to add two-digit numbers or write a cohesive sentence, even I might suggest school would be the better option.

Poverty can be a reason, but I wouldn't necessarily tell a family to not homeschool for that reason. Most homeschool families live on one income and we manage to find deals and take advantage of educator discounts. Libraries are free and so are lots of other activities. Nobody needs a $600 curriculum for each child. If a family is living in a shelter, then obviously finding employment trumps homeschooling.

Of course there are other legitimate reasons why I might tell a family not to homeschool. A serious illness can tax a family's resources --especially emotional resources. If the child being in school helps a family through the crisis, then it's surely the right thing to do. Other families have continued to homeschool though, and accepted the learning experience. If the primary homeschool parent is seriously and chronically ill, I would probably advise finding alternatives unless the family has lots of outside support people willing to take on the homeschooling.

What about parents who hate their kids? Yes, some parents do hate their kids, some merely dislike them, and others simply can't stand to be around them. I've heard it all. I don't think any child should have to spend time with someone who dislikes her, so of course school seems like an option. In some cases, though, I'd want to know if being in school is causing problems that make it difficult to deal with the child. Sometimes spending more time together helps a parent and child become close, as might therapy. After all, spending more time together is often the antidote for marital partners who have grown apart. If a parent disliked a child enough to become abusive though, I would definitely suggest an alternative to homeschooling (as well as an alternative living arrangement). Although there's no guarantee every teacher is going to like every child, at least the school day and year are finite.

I can think of some reasons other than custody issues where homeschooling is a bad idea. Obviously if Mom is the neighborhood drug dealer, homeschooling is out. Weighing, measuring, handling money and learning the family business aside, the kids should have to go to school to buy their drugs.

I would suggest to a parent with severe mental health issues that she not homeschool, and I have done so.

If a parent really hates homeschooling, then she shouldn't do it. Nobody should be forced to homeschool, whether she's doing it out of personal conviction, peer pressure, religion, or just garden-variety mommy guilt. Homeschool parents can become burned out and miserable. Smart people have written books and articles on how to avoid or treat burnout. Sometimes the only cure is to stop homeschooling.

I have seldom suggested a family not homeschool, although I support any family's right to do it or not. More often, I've heard non-homeschoolers comment that a certain family shouldn't be allowed to homeschool, and I can usually understand why they say it. However, I rarely think the child or children would be better off in school. What is seen as dysfunction by other people will probably be honey on an ant hill for bullies at school. Family dysfunction doesn't go away just because the kids go to school. Kids who are a little slower or who don't socialize well or who can't dress well are targets at school. At home and in homeschool groups those differences might not make a difference at all.

Remember, the day I tell a mom who wants to homeschool that she shouldn't be able to is the day I give up my right to homeschool as well. I'm not willing to do that. So the only time I will tell a family homeschooling is a bad option is when someone in that family describes to me a situation where homeschooling is a bad option. I don't judge for other families whether they should or shouldn't unless they ask me to. Even then, I try to support their decision, not make it for them.

The short answer, John, is that there should be no reason why a family shouldn't homeschool. The reality is that reasons exist, but each family has to base its own decision on whether those reasons are compelling enough.

2005 Carol Narigon

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