Reprise: Delicious and Nutritious

June 10, 2008 @ 7:07 am | Filed under:

I’m getting a lot of mail this week about a post I wrote two years ago which was recently reprinted in a homeschooling newsletter. Thought I might as well repost it here too for newcomers to Bonny Glen.

Home Education: Delicious and Nutritious

originally posted March 26, 2006

Homeschoolers talk a lot about the reactions and comments they get (so often negative) from people who don’t know much about homeschooling. Nearly everyone has encountered a critic in the extended family, a naysayer in the neighborhood, a cross-examiner in the grocery store. Then there are the articles and editorials, a handful every week, in which some “expert” wags a warning finger about the shortcomings of home education.

This fascinates me. Ten years ago, when we decided to tread this path, people’s negative reactions often upset me. Now I am simply amused and somewhat perplexed. It puts me in mind of the stern admonishments I used to get from the little old ladies in my Queens neighborhood who were appalled that I wore baby Jane in a sling. “It’s not good for her to be squished up like that!” they would scold. “She can’t be comfortable!” And I’d look down at my contentedly snoozing child and have to stifle a laugh. Babies are really, really good at letting you know when they’re uncomfortable. Discomfort generally evokes a different reaction than the blissful slumber Jane slipped into when I walked around the neighborhood wearing her in that sling.

At first the old ladies’ disapproval bothered me, but eventually I decided it was an interference borne of good intentions. They genuinely cared about the well-being of random babies on the street, including mine.

And over the years I’ve decided that it’s that same genuine concern that prompts a lot of the negative responses people have about homeschooling. I just wish these folks would stop and think about what is REALLY bothering them, what their concerns really are. Usually, their objections are based on assumptions they have never seriously analyzed.

Like this one. If I had a nickel for every time someone has said to me, “But you’re not a scientist. How are you going to teach them biology, chemistry, trigonometry?” I could pay my mortgage and have change left over. I always answer, quite seriously, “Well, I took those classes in high school. Didn’t you?”

“Of course,” the skeptic will say, “but it’s not like I REMEMBER any of it.”

This cracks me up. Sometimes I’ll say, if I’m feeling snarky, “Then surely I can do a better job than your teacher did!”

But I’m not really slamming the teachers. I’m slamming the skeptic’s ill-considered argument. You can have the best teacher in the world, but if you don’t have a reason to use the knowledge, ten or twenty years later you’re probably going to have forgotten it. Since none of us can predict exactly WHAT knowledge our children will need in their lives to come, many homeschoolers approach education not from the perspective of “What do our children need to know?” but rather “How can we help our children retain the love of learning they were born with?” There’s a reason that Yeats quote about education being “not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire” is so popular with the homeschool crowd.

The skeptic’s question presumes I’m going to be teaching in the textbook-and-test style that has been deemed most efficient for classrooms full of many students at various ability levels. I think most people who come at homeschoolers with the “are you qualified” argument are imagining a scenario in which Person With Knowledge imparts said knowledge to Student Without Knowledge (Yet). And that’s just so different from how home education really seems to work—no matter what method, philosophy, or curriculum is applied. We’re working one-on-one—an unbeatable student/teacher ratio—with a teacher who knows the student intimately, knows his interests, abilities, moods, sense of humor, learning style, sleep patterns, and diet, a teacher who has the strongest possible attachment to the student. This creates a whole different kind of learning environment. School vs. homeschool becomes apples vs. oranges. They are such very different experiences that it becomes nearly impossible to compare them. But I think that when the skeptic says, “Are you qualified to teach subject x,” he’s looking at my orange and thinking what a misshapen apple it is.

Rarely in these encounters is there an opportunity to explain in glorious depth what home education is REALLY like: the freedom to explore, the excitement of following rabbit trails, the lack of testing or administrative pressure, the absence of certain social pressures, the luxury of time in which to immerse in a subject, the spontaneity, the opportunities for hands-on learning, the lightheartedness. It’s a really delicious orange, see. But if you’re expecting it to taste like apple, then of course you’re going to look askance at it.

Other critics will allow for the academic advantages of a low student/teacher ratio. After all, there are all those statistics about high test scores among homeschooled students, all those geography and spelling bee winners, all those dazzling science fair projects. “But,” comes the objection—that persistent, prevalent, popular “disadvantage” you see in almost every single editorial about home education—”what about socialization?”

Honestly, I’m amazed that people are still beating this particular dead horse. Homeschoolers packed it off to the glue factory a long time ago. (That’s how we stick together all those sugar cubes for our model Egyptian pyramids.)

When I hear this question, I always ask a question of my own: “What exactly do you MEAN by socialization?” Because I don’t think most people who toss the word around are really thinking about what they do mean by it.

Do they mean, “How will your kids learn to get along with other people if they’re holed up in your house with only YOU all the time?” Because if that’s their question, they’re leaping to the assumption that most homeschooled children ARE “holed up at home” all the time. I have yet to meet one family for whom this is the case—and between real life and online, I’ve met thousands of homeschooling families. The person who harbors this concern could lay his fears to rest by doing a quick bit of investigation. Homeschooling blogs, websites, books, and magazines are jam-packed with examples of kids getting out in the world and encountering other people in all sorts of situations: co-ops, clubs, sports teams, orchestras, drama groups, church groups, animal shelters, internships, apprenticeships, gym classes, volunteer groups, museums, nursing homes, playgroups, and on and on and on. We can hardly walk for tripping over opportunities for social interaction, both in peer groups and mixed-age groups. Two minutes of conversation with my kids, and the person who was worried they were stuck with just MY company all day, poor things, can breathe a sigh of relief. Good luck catching my kids to ask them the question, though, because they’re out playing with the neighborhood schoolchildren who flock to our yard every afternoon. (The neighbor kids must not realize how unsocialized my children are.)

But maybe the Socialization Worrier meant something else. Maybe she meant, “See, I know this family who homeschools, and their kids are just plain weird/socially awkward/obnoxious/wild/[insert unpleasant adjective of choice].”

To which I must respond: And you’re saying that there are no weird/socially awkward/obnoxious/wild/etc. kids in schools? Because, um, I beg to differ. They were there when I was in school, and I know they’re there now because I hear about them (or read about them in the news) all the time. Some of the weird ones—the nerdy guys in the computer club—grew up to become multimillionaires (and usually really nice people—but then, they were nice all along, just weird). Some of the obnoxious ones now draw huge crowds at the comedy club. Others are in jail.

Maybe, dear critic, that family you know does have some really weird kids, total Napoleon Dynamite types. Are you saying those kids would be better off in a school situation, where their awkwardness will be rubbed in their faces all day long? As for the obnoxious/wild/rowdy/ hooligan kids—are you saying you’d PREFER to have them in your kid’s classroom, causing disruptions? Do you really think they’d be less obnoxious in a school setting?

That’s what I like to ask the “I know a homeschooling family and I don’t like them” skeptics. Because I don’t believe that if they really thought the matter through, they would believe that the problem with those kids would have been avoided by “socialization” in a school setting. The obnoxious kids would almost certainly be just as obnoxious (what our skeptic is really objecting to is probably a parenting issue, not an educational one), and the weird kids would be just as weird and probably a whole lot more miserable. After all, “weird” in this context just means “different,” doesn’t it? Kids who just don’t fit in? How many times have we seen the school misfit blossom and thrive as soon as he finishes school or college and is finally freed of the pressure to squeeze into a mold that doesn’t fit him? Heck, how many of us experienced this ourselves?

Sometimes people say, “Look, everyone has to learn to deal with unpleasant people sometime. One of the things you learn in school is how to put up with difficult personalities.” To which I am tempted to respond, “And you think my kids aren’t learning that at home? Have you met my husband?”

KIDDING, honey! But really. Does anyone truly believe that home educated children are growing up completely free from exposure to “unpleasant people”? Because if there are kids like this, I’d love to know where they live so I can move there too.

The “you might as well get used to putting up with bad stuff now” argument is perhaps the weakest homeschooling criticism there is. I don’t think anyone who utters it really means it, not REALLY, not for their own kids. No one wants his child bullied. No mother tucks a lunch in her son’s backpack, zips up his windbreaker, and thinks, “I hope he gets picked on today because that’ll make it easier for him to put up with jerks in the office he’ll work in someday.” No father watches his daughter climb on the bus and hopes she’ll be called names all the way to school in order to accustom her to receiving verbal abuse so that it won’t come as such a shock when her future husband inflicts it upon her later in life.

Mind you, I’m not saying that every kid who goes to school will be bullied or abused (or that no homeschooler ever will). I’m not saying anything about school at all—I’m just saying that the “learning to deal with unpleasant people” argument against homeschooling doesn’t hold water.

As for “learning to deal with unpleasant experiences“—surely life outside school affords plenty of practice at that, whether we want it or not? The dentist’s office, the doctor’s office, the death of a pet, the stomach flu…Again, I don’t believe any parent sends a child off to school actually hoping he’ll have an unpleasant experience that day in order to toughen him up for future adversity. And I don’t think the people who offer this glib statement as a criticism of home education are really thinking about what they’re saying.

What else do people mean by socialization? I’ve actually heard some people say, “How will homeschooled kids learn how to stand in line and take turns?” That one is my absolute favorite. Um, ever been to the post office? The grocery store? Or, gee, how about the line we stand in for Holy Communion every Sunday at Mass? I have to say, despite the lack of institutional training, my kids have picked up that skill just fine. As for taking turns, well: one mom, four kids—yup, plenty of turn-taking opportunities here.

I’m not out to convince the world that homeschooling is for everyone. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe it is. I have plenty of friends who have no interest in living this lifestyle themselves—and it is definitely a lifestyle choice. Mind you, I’d love to see schools enjoy the educational freedom we homeschoolers have; I think schools would work much better if they were giant resource centers where kids went because they wanted to know about stuff. I’m against grades and standardized testing; I think those things form a barrier between the student and knowledge, and most of the teachers I know (including some very close friends) spend a lot of time and energy working darned hard to get around that wall. I most earnestly wish those hardworking teachers had the freedom to spend their time lighting fires instead of filling buckets.

But modern American institutional education is what it is, and it doesn’t happen to be the choice I’ve made for my kids. Happily, the state acknowledges my right to make that choice. The grocery-store skeptics and the newspaper editorial writers, on the other hand, are uncomfortable about the choice I’ve made. If just once they expressed a concern that actually held water, I would relish the discussion. Until then, I’m savoring every juicy bite of this orange.

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36 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Anna says:

    *wild applause*
    I had a run-in with a friend yesterday who granted that at least my husband and I are credentialed teachers.
    We’re not! ha! But, we do still have his respect, I think, so maybe this one person’s perspective has changed.
    I’d also like to link to you, if you don’t mind.

  2. Anna says:

    Here’s the link, this time.

  3. Allison Fouse says:

    As Anna said, this article deserves some wild applause! You are so thoughtful and eloquent in your writing.

  4. Janet says:

    We aren’t officially homeschooling yet (oldest is 4), but I’m already getting the socialization question. Thanks for a well-written post. I think I’ll be reading it over a few times, so I can remember the arguments!

    On second thought, I’d like to link to this post on our blog. If you don’t mind!

  5. Elizabeth H says:

    Fabulous post, well worth repeating.

  6. Seastar says:

    Well said! I have always thought the same things. You have just written it out better then I ever could.

  7. patience says:

    What a great article. It included some interesting perspectives I’d never considered before.

    I’ve been lucky in that the only negative comment about homeschooling I’ve had was from my control-freak teacher cousin, who downright disapproved of me taking my dd’s education into my own obviously incapable hands (because they weren’t my cousin’s hands), and who hasn’t spoken a word on the subject since – except to ask in shocked amazement whether I really did continue homeschooling through the summer holidays. Another cousin did ask about socialisation, but she was genuinely concerned, and not meaning to be negative.

    I’ve had my whole list of clever responses stored up neatly for years now, just waiting for someone to ask me … But alas, mostly I get people saying “wow” and “I wish I’d been homeschooled” and to my dd, “gee, you’re lucky!”

  8. HopiQ says:

    Oh, you said this so well! Thank you, thank you. The naysayers can make me kind of glum, but when I remember all the wonderful reasons WHY we are doing this, I am thankful all over again for the opportunity to educate our children at home.

  9. Rainypm says:

    This was extremely well-said. My oldest is 3 so we still haven’t started anything, but my mother-in-law has already offered to pay for private school rather than allow me to turn my kids into the backward, uneducated, unmannered heathens she seems to believe they will morph into if I continue to teach them. They’re pretty great kids now though, so I’m not sure exactly what she expects will change.

    I did have one question though. You gave us a lot of responses that you’d like to say, but what do you really say? Sometimes it seems not worth the hassle to try to educate someone that already has their mind made up. I’m sure it’s a case by case thing, but have you ever really given the responses from your post?

  10. Marsha says:

    Interestingly enough, I had a friend, an avid public schooler and early schooling at that, and herself a former high school teacher……….tell me that when her son starts full time pre-K, she will hold off on running most of her errands until she picks him up because being in school all day he misses out on life stuff like the post office, grocery store, library, and so on that is so important!

    It kind of cracked me up, but it struck me as interesting that she in some way perceives my children as having an advantage. She says the only reason she sends hers is because of their “disabilities” that school can help them catch up with , etc. Our oldest daughters shrae a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder and her younger has some mild delays in fine motor skills that I think are explained largely by him being a boy and just turned4……….but I digress.

    My most worried “opponent” of homeschooling is my mother in law. And even she has to admit that her granddaughters are beautiful and wonderful in every way LOL.

  11. Melissa Wiley says:

    “I’m sure it’s a case by case thing, but have you ever really given the responses from your post?”

    Oh absolutely! Many times. The truth is, after fielding these kinds of questions for years, I’ve come to really enjoy these encounters. It’s a chance to be a kind of ambassador for home education. Lots of times, people blink a little and then respond positively. Bombard ’em with cheerful enthusiasm, that’s my advice!

  12. Laurie says:

    Melissa!!! HUGE STANDING OVATION!! Encore!! ENCORE!!!

    Wow – definitely my absolute favorite homeschooling article ever.

  13. Cheryl says:

    Wow, I couldn’t have said it better myself! Eloquent and precise. Well done.

  14. Rachel29 says:

    Gosh, Melissa, you are *such* a wonderful writer!! I have encountered all of those same arguments against homeschooling and have always been most perplexed by the socialization one myself. As the parent of a few ‘weird’ kids, I can attest that homeschooling is a very life affirming choice. Regarding the weirdest of my 3 kids, he is actually going to a private school this Fall for ‘weird kids’ (for lack of a better term) because homeschooling didn’t work for him, but public school ‘socialization’ darn near did him in.

    Thank you for reprising the article for all of us to read.


  15. mamacrow says:

    thank you thank you thank you for this post. articulates my feelings beautifully and elequently 🙂

  16. DeputyHeadmistress says:

    This post is just as good second time around as it was the first time- and timely for us, in a totally self-centered fashion.=)
    Our second daughter and her new husband will be moving right back into that house in November.

  17. LockhartFam says:

    Wonderful! You put my thoughts in very understandable words. WOW!

    Are we allowed to link this to our blogs?
    Please??? 😉

  18. Andrea says:

    Me? I’m thinking ‘the times, they are a-changin’! I get lots of kudos for my kids (and myself) for making this home schooling choice: compliments on their presence, their friendliness, their intelligence, their non-cynical, mannered “kidness”…and these are two children that were labelled with multiple disabilities/special needs by the district…

    The only negative feedback I’ve received has been from my school district…and come to think of it, they’ve *mostly* talked about what a positive contribution my children would be to the school community at large. And then? Followed that up with concerns over socialization…

    The only other cautionary voices I’ve encountered have been from people who are concerned that *I’m* taking on too much so that I don’t have enough “me-time”. Which is sweet, at times legitimate, and true of parents EVERYWHERE, right?! 🙂

  19. JoVE says:

    Excellent. I have 2 additions:

    First, I think many homeschoolers do worry about socialization (what with all this questioning) and sometimes that can lead to doing too many outside activities. I’ve certainly had conversations with homeschooling moms where they are wondering “what to do for socialization” (like it was a subject or something) and I’ve said, why don’t you just do whatever your kids seem interested in, I’m sure they’ll end up meeting kids through some of that. And some kids are introverts and don’t need or want a lot of social interaction.

    The second is a response to your final question. I think a lot of people don’t like it because to take any other position would be to accept that they had a choice. A LOT of people are unhappy with the school their kids/grandkids go to (whether public or private) and they live with themselves by telling themselves that they have no choice. While no one WANTS their kids to have unpleasant experiences at school, many people’s kids do and they are telling themselves that this is good for them in the long run because otherwise they would have to accept that they could do something different.

    MotherCrone had a very good post about just this attitude (in a, now former, good friend of hers) a few months ago.

  20. Marsha says:

    So very well said! You put my thoughts into words… and even better organized than my own thoughts! 😉


  21. Karen Edmisten says:

    Just as delicious and nutritious the second time around. 🙂

  22. Deb says:

    I believe JoVE has a point. Many of us have made choices we wish we could change. My own mother thought of homeschooling us and didn’t. She regrets it a little – she thinks my brother was smothered by stupidity in the public schools. He has a super high IQ (one just needs to sit and talk a minute to know it)and no initiative to use it. He had problems in school because he didn’t like the tediousness of all the work he was forced to write out instead of just answer, sit in a class with a teacher repeating stuff the other kids didn’t understand, etc. Now, my brother works in a very low tedious job that pays the bills with no initiative to use his still-sharp and learning mind.
    But like many moms out there today, she didn’t have the self-confidence to homeschool – and that was back in the day there were few. It takes a lot of guts to say to society at large “I can do a better job” and hold to that. The “what if I fail” holds many back, thus the “what makes you think your qualified” argument. Perhaps our response should be “would you like me to show you how you can homeschool, too?”
    Then there are those who live in states that make it very tough to homeschool. We are very priveleged to have the opportunity and we are thankful to our Lord for that.

  23. Philippa says:

    Fantastic post thank you! These were all the concerns that I had before I started to home educate my children. After they had been out of school for 6 months, all of my concerns had been blown out of the water! Thanks for putting it way more eloquently than I could have!

  24. Michelle says:

    I have been hearing the socialization argument for years. My oldest graduated in May and was homeschool K-12. My response has always been that if the kids are doing what is expected of them in the classroom they will not be “socializing” with the other kids. We all know they are not supposed to be talking or passing notes, etc. in class so if they are “socializing” in class they are being disobedient. I for one want my children to learn to be obedient not disobedient. And exactly how much socializatin happens at lunch when they are stuffing their faces as fast as they can because they have a limited amout of time to eat the “delicious” school lunch. And how much socialization happens when the child who is disruptive or rather “socializing” in class has recess taken away from him? Not to mention when at any other time in a person’s life are they surrounded by 30 or more people of the same? Real life requires that we learn to socialize or interact with people of various ages.

  25. Sheri says:

    I really enjoyed this article! A link was posted on our local homeschooling support group’s website ( and I logged on here and soaked up every word. We have been homeschooling for 6 years now and I wish I’d come across such sage advice w-a-y back when, at the beginning of our journey!

  26. Mrs. G. says:

    Seriously, the whole socialization issue is as tired as the “you can get pregnant from the toilet seat” myth. I am ready for some fresh and new criticism.

  27. Melissa Wiley says:

    You’re right: if the skeptics can’t come up with something better than the socialization thing, we’re going to have to help them out. My kids STINK at filling in those little ovals all the way on Scan-tron forms.

  28. Joe and Jean says:

    Thank you for articulating this. I started writing my own answers to these questions and found a link to your piece.

    My own frustration with being asked these questions is the insinuation that I haven’t done my research, that I’m negligent or naive. The opposite is true! The irony with this kind of scrutiny is that the most hands-off parents and the parents who are not involved in their children’s educations put their kids in public schools, they would never sign up for homeschooling!

  29. heather g says:

    loved this–amen and amen.

  30. Andrea says:

    I love it! I totally agree. I was homeschooled from day one (my mother decided to homeschool me when I was two). That was well over 20 years ago. Boy, oh boy, we stuck out like sore thumbs. 🙂 People stopped us in the grocery store and asked why we weren’t in school! We answered questions like these all the time. We finally made up a school name for ourselves so we could tell people what school we went to when people asked just to avoid the questions! I am so glad homeschooling is growing in popularity and understanding. I am looking forward to “officially” homeschooling my daughter.

    One of the arguments I hear that makes me mad is that Christian children should be in school so that they can be “witnesses” to the world. Oh yesh, I need to send my 6 year old off to a school full of unbelieving people so that she can convince them that God made the world. Even high school kids are often so emotionally needy and confused that they are not ready to stand up to their peers, let alone convert them to Christianity. Yes, we should be loving people and meeting people and blessing people, etc. etc., but we are to be examples to OUR kids and doing these things along side them until they can do them on their own.

    Oh, and Raymond Moore wrote some terrific books with some amazing studies in them, even as old as they are, that are very encouraging. “Homeschool Burnout” is the best.

  31. Lenetta @ Nettacow says:

    I linked to this here(had to look it up by the key word “snarky” :>)) and also linked to it on my weekly roundup.

    I saw a portion on a parenting e-list with a link to the full post – the first one, I’m pretty sure – and that’s what kindled my desire to homeschool (even though I didn’t have any kids yet!). I also just realized that yours is the first blog I ever read. Wow! Anyway, thanks!

  32. Heather says:

    Here via Nettacow’s link. What a great article. Our little guy is 19 months and we’ll be thinking about/praying about/discussing this for a while to come. We have many options in our area and are lucky to have them, but homeschooling really seems to be calling me 🙂 Really well thought out, good responses to those who do not know better!