FYI: I no longer take this position. One of the problems with thinking in public is that sometimes one thinks oneself into thinking something else. And then one has to backtrack. So, while there may be some who really couldn’t do a very good job homeschooling, I think pretty much anybody who is willing to make an effort will be just fine. Thanks for understanding.
One of the questions I frequently see other homeschool blogs and forums addressing is “Do you think just anybody can homeschool?” I believe the most frequent answer I’ve encountered is wrong. Furthermore, I believe the people who are answering this question in the affirmative, for the most part, know darn good and well that not just anybody can homeschool. I think I understand why it’s such a difficult question to answer truthfully, though, and I’m sympathetic. Pray for me. I’m about to touch the third rail of homeschooling.
Today’s Homeschooling Dirty Little Secret: Not everybody is capable of home education.
Because homeschoolers are generally libertarian-minded, at least where their educational choices are concerned, it is difficult for us to admit that some people are barely capable of teaching their children the ABC’s, let alone Algebra. In our bureaucracy-soaked society, the honest answer is a potentially dangerous one. Admitting that some people may not be properly equipped to teach their children never fails to bring hordes of meddlesome ninnies shouting “Well, there ought to be laws and regulations to stop them, then!”
Hoping to avoid this line of thinking, we often default to the easiest, most extreme answer: “Why, of course anybody can do it! It’s as easy as pie. So go away and let us raise our families, please!” We just want to be left alone to decide these things for ourselves, as free people should, so we give a too-easy answer. Do we really think that no one will notice that, while we may be doing just fine, many others would fail miserably? No one is buying this. We’re just insulting the intelligence of the people asking the question.
While I understand the emotional reasons for pretending that anybody can do a fine job, I can’t let it go unchallenged. The truth is, homeschooling is too hard for some people. Sure, those who are choosing to homeschool are, statistically speaking, doing a great job. I don’t want to sound elitist, but they are a self-selected group of academically oriented families. Even those of us with only a high-school diploma have an unusual love of learning and often (not necessarily my family, understand ) a bigger helping of brains than the average family.
I can count on one hand all the families I know who could or should be homeschooling, but aren’t. Much larger is the number of people I’ve heard say “I wish I could homeschool”, when they truthfully couldn’t do a very good job of it. It would be thoughtless and unkind of me to try to encourage them to do so. (Update: 7/6 The more I think about the preceeding paragraph, the less convinced I am that it is accurate. Most people I know would be fine. But the ones I was thinking of when I wrote this paragraph…well, they exist. Trust me.)
It’s not hard to teach a child his ABC’s, or how to read. All homeschoolers say it, and it’s true. But the people who use this as evidence that just anyone can homeschool aren’t taking into account everything that goes into educating a child.
People aren’t going to suddenly develop an interest in academics just because they become parents. Surely those who say everyone is capable of homeschooling don’t live in such rarefied social circles that they’ve never even met a person who would rather jab out an eye than read a book any more difficult than Harry Potter. I, for one, know dozens of these people (wonderful people!), and can’t imagine how they could possibly teach their own children past first grade. It doesn’t take a genius to teach, of course, but some interest in Education-with-a-big-E is going to be necessary for homeschooling to succeed. Maybe they’ll be able to teach their kids to read, but are they going to have the mental energy to continue the job for years? I don’t think there is anything wrong with a disinterest in book-learning. Neither do I think those who dislike intellectual activity should be training school-children!
Please don’t try to tell me that people who can barely spell “philosophy” are capable of developing a philosophy of education. (Wouldn’t this be a perfect time for me to misspell something?) Leaving aside those who are intelligent enough to teach, but not remotely interested in education, I’ll remind you also of those on the lower end of the IQ scale who couldn’t even work out how to teach their children phonics, let alone Shakespeare. I don’t think I need to elaborate any further. Some parents should emphatically not homeschool. (Please note that I do not believe we should try to stop people from doing what they think is best, whether we agree or not. I think we should all be free to decide these things for ourselves, the possibility of egregious mistakes notwithstanding.)
Temperament matters. Before I actually started teaching my oldest, I thought homeschooling was going to be all sunshine and roses. Here’s this beautiful, sweet little mind, ready to learn! Let’s just open it up and pour in the knowledge! But, as every homeschooling mom finds out within a week of formally beginning classes, our little students have minds of their own. And so do their siblings, who are constantly demanding equal time with Mom. A mother who is going to home educate needs the temperament to handle constant distractions, self-doubt, temper-tantrums (her own, and the child’s), new ideas, and a thousand other realities of teaching at home. This is not just a matter of self-discipline or holiness–though those things are absolutely necessary to raising children. Successful homeschooling is as much a matter of temperament as of book-learning. Some women are not equipped to deal with homeschooling because they are not built to live this way! It is sometimes so hard that even those who are built for it–seasoned mothers whom I can’t even hold a candle to–have to go hide in the closet for a few minutes. Hopefully that’s a prayer-closet, not one of self-pity and defeat!
I’m not going to say in this post what those who aren’t capable of homeschooling should do. I just want to acknowledge their existence. It’s a touchy subject, and (brace yourself for a shock) I do have my opinions–none of which involve turning the minds of their offspring over to the state to destroy. Don’t worry, I haven’t gone over to the dark side! I just think we ought to admit that the nay-sayers do have a point, here. There’s a reason mankind has been forming schools since the beginning of time. Some can teach. Some can’t. It’s that simple.