Things I Can’t Get Homeschoolers to Admit (Part 2)

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.

If you missed it, Part 1 is here.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tara July 5, 2010, 10:03 am

    I adamantly disagree. I think anyone who has a desire to homeschool, can and should. I think your argument is flawed, not mention full of judgment and misinformation.

    Why do *I* (solely) have to teach my child Philosophy OR Algebra if I can’t or don’t feel like it? I can still successfully homeschool whilst using a variety of resources at my disposal. I can call Uncle Frank who has a degree in Philosophy to lend a hand, I can investigate Algebra tutors or a similar facility (like Sylvan). We can learn concepts together! I can utilize many, many of the cheap or even free learning tools to help her. I can utilize a free virtual school (my state has one through the Department of Education for homeschooled students). I mean, there is a middle ground between teaching your child every subject from K to college age, and not doing anything at all.

    The same way I wouldn’t tell my child, “well, ballet is out the window” because I couldn’t personally teach it to her myself — I wouldn’t tell someone not to homeschool just because they may not be capable of solely teaching their every.single.subject. until college age.

    The point I do agree with is, if one has no desire to homeschool, they shouldn’t. I think though, that any loving, connected, involved parent who has a desire to educate their child at home has the right to and I will support them 100% in their endeavour.

    I mean, for as much contempt as you give unschoolers — my unschooled five year old has taught herself fractions and is exploring science at a middle school level. She’s at or exceeding every other ‘subject’ for her age as well. As much as I like to believe she’s a genius (and she may be), most of it was born of an excited desire to learn — and not because I sat down and ‘taught’ her. You can’t ‘teach’ a child to love and to passionately seek out opportunities to learn. You can only facilitate an environment for learning. Forcing a child to lean is like forcing someone to laugh. They can pretend to laugh and even go through the motions of laughing, but at the end of the day…. they didn’t laugh *truly*.

    Maybe if you allowed yourself to drop a bit of the judgment you have, you’d see that not all of your homeschooling beliefs are as black and white as you think and that you are far from the majority or authority on how most homeschoolers think.

  • Cindy July 5, 2010, 10:16 am


    1) If you’ll refer to part 1 of this series, I’m well aware that we can hire help for those things that we can’t teach.

    2) When did I say anything about unschooling?

    3) While I may have my own opinions about whether some people are equipped to homeschool, I don’t give a rat’s patootie whether they do or not. It’s quite up to each person to decide whether they can or not! If you want to homeschool, I wouldn’t dream of standing in your way.

    4) Yeesh!

  • Tara July 5, 2010, 10:24 am

    I’m not going to engage further, but rather prefer to unsubscribe and seek out Christian blogs who I perceive have a better grasp on the concepts. Blessings.

  • Cindy July 5, 2010, 10:36 am

    If you want to unsubscribe, be my guest, but I don’t think you actually read my post! I’d agree with every word you said, if not for the fact that you think you were arguing with me. Not one word of your first comment addresses anything I’ve said! I think if you’d clear your head and re-read my post, you’d find that you’ve made some errors in reading. I haven’t judged anyone! Wouldn’t dream of it!

  • JessD July 5, 2010, 7:13 pm


    I don’t believe anyone suggested *you* (solely) have to teach your children every subject if you can’t or don’t feel like it; it’s teaching your child any subject if you can’t or don’t feel like it that Cindy’s discussing. Using tutors is outside the scope of the article, so I’m not certain as to the nature of your complaint.

    Unschooling, again, doesn’t show up in the article. Could you be thinking of another post? I can’t think so, in light of your agreeing with her on a point that she did make in the article.

    Let’s see, that’s two disagreements on non points, which cancel themselves out, and one agreement on a point she did make. Why are you unsubscribing again?

    I think I can hazard a guess. Cindy is a Christian homeschooler who suggested that homeschooling isn’t for everyone. Could it be that we have emotionally mixed up homeschooling and the gospel of Jesus Christ?

    I can say, knowing Cindy as well as I do, that she would never exclude the message of our Saviour from anyone. I can also tell you that she knows that the two concepts are mutually exclusive. You do not have to be a Christian to teach your children at home. You do not have to be a homeschooler to teach your children the word of God. It helps, but you don’t have to.

    One other point.

    When Jesus told us to “Judge not, lest ye be judged” in Matthew 7:1, He didn’t stop talking. He went on to say, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

    Judge, in the Greek , is “krino”, or to decide, and by implication, to condemn for a crime. In the context of the language, therefore, it means to decide upon the guilt of another’s sins, or crimes.

    Cindy has done none of these things. She has offered her opinions on the potential pitfalls of telling a person ill equipped for the task to do so regardless of that fact.

    Wether you agree with her or no, your evidence for your finding a judgement of guilty for the crime of “black and white homeschooling beliefs”, which you defend on the basis of logical fallacy (appeal to authority), is shaky at best.

    Worse, by doing so, you commit the very act you accuse her of; you judge her as guilty of some sort of sinful act, and you seem to season the charge in your ending passive aggressive sally about seeking out “Christian blogs”.

    Those of you reading, this post has nothing to do with the owner of this blog. I simply can’t stand to see my wife spoken to in such a manner. And you Tara, I mean no disrespect to you, either. I’m sure you spoke from a well intended platform. I believe that if I think it through just the right way, I can even see the path that led you here in thinking, and I assure you, that’s not what Cindy meant. Read it again.

    As you so eloquently dismissed my wife earlier, Blessings.

  • Beth Zimmerman July 5, 2010, 8:39 pm

    Bravo to you for stepping on the third rail! And kudos to your hubby for jumping on there with you! I am no longer home schooling because my youngest has moved on to college but I spent 20+ years in our home school before my natural retirement. And I agree with you 100% … not everyone can do it. And not everyone is so called! :)

  • republicanmother July 6, 2010, 4:51 pm

    One thing to consider about the low IQ types (Cletus, the slack-jawed yokel) is that they aren’t going to do well in public school either, although they might have more of a chance. I have had people come up to me in public who were uneducated (cynical word for not having a college degree) and really curious about how to get started in homeschooling. I got the impression that they wanted to break the cycle, for their kids to have something better. In this case, I think motivation can overcome a lack of knowledge.

    As far as high school level stuff, the vast majority of the human race has not been required to get to that level and the trend will continue. For hundreds of years, we had apprenticeships for this age, and I do know that homeschool apprenticeship programs are superior to the Soviet-style school-to-work programs of pubic school.

    With the advent of industrialization, and the subsequent fragmentation of the family, the natural learning patterns that God has ordained for families have been disrupted. Remember that the old (1828) definition of education was to develop the temperament and character of a child along with making them fit for the world. Learning the times tables and facts, etc. is actually only a small sliver of the original definition of education. I know that God has used homeschooling to really change my temperament and develop my patience. One thing I have learned is not to “play school” with my kids, but to roll with punches until we get all the work on our list done. I don’t know that I have a philosophy of education except I want them to progress in their work (and score above grade level on the SAT!)

    One group that I really don’t think should be homeschooling (and have had them in my family) are the psychos. These are the controlling-types who are using their kids’ education to address their own emotional/mental issues. They don’t physically abuse their kids or are even outright mean to them, but they keep them sheltered to a disturbing level, not letting the kids get involved with any group that they can’t control. It’s kind of like Munchhausen’s by proxy, but they use the social protection of their child angle instead of the medical one. They don’t do anything technically illegal, but their kids grow up warped. But this is a small percentage, especially compared to the percentage of public-schooled kids who grow up warped.

  • Christina July 18, 2010, 8:24 pm

    I agree with Republicanmother on the controling types. I do not have children nor do I homeschool (obviously :P) but I work with families within the Body of Christ and without. People who are hyper controlling and fearful should not homeschool their children. There is a difference between being responsible and shielding your child from evil vs. dibilitating your children so they are incapable of dealing with life.
    I also know a lot of people who want to homeschool and truly should not. They have great aspirations and true desire but their lack of responsiblity and chaotic life style (and/or many other things) would make it nearly impossible for anything positive to come out for their children.

    • Cindy July 18, 2010, 8:41 pm

      Just between me, you, and the internet (which my mom is fortunately not interested in), my mother would have been one of those controlling types. She has always been a wonderful, good-natured person. She is, in fact, the best person I know. But she is also a worry-wart, and was terribly over-protective of us. She was nervous about every little thing, and emotionally a little bit detached from her kids, too. I know she loves me and my sister. I’ve never doubted it! She had an upbringing that damaged her so much that she just couldn’t let go of emotional difficulties, though, and I’m glad she had us in public school. She’s the best mom in the world, but if she’d tried to homeschool me, we’d have been in huge trouble once we hit the real world. She’d have sheltered us far, far too much. So it’s not just abusive types who are likely to fall into that category.

  • Nichole
    Twitter: justbooks4kids
    May 26, 2011, 9:06 am

    One of the first homeschooling families I was acquainted with was a woman who had major issues with spelling and basic grammar.

    I was tasked with reviewing articles she submitted on the topic of homeschooling to a former client. These articles were painful to read in both style and content. She often talked about how today’s lesson included a viewing of Cars, Shrek, or what have you and how they simply cooked or cleaned for school. (I see you addressed this Part 1! haha)

    I’ll admit, I had a lower opinion of homeschoolers because of her and even told people that I felt parents should be tested before being allowed to homeschool!

    Thankfully, I’ve since met other homeschoolers that have swayed my opinion back some but I think I will always have a nugget of concern based on my initial experience.

    I guess the ultimate answer is no system is 100% perfect and children can fall through the educational cracks whether they are in public, private, OR home school.

  • Donetta
    Twitter: donettadalman
    June 20, 2011, 10:22 pm

    First of all, I just realized that these posts that I’m reading are a year old! Better late than never though, right? haha!

    Secondly, YEESH!! Tara has issues doesn’t she!?!? WOW! I’m glad you had some other comments after hers that were a completely different tone! I’ve had commenters treat me like that before (on an old blog I had) and it’s very hurtful when people attack like that. Especially when it’s completely inaccurate and unfounded!

    Thirdly, yea to your hubby!! What a guy to jump in and defend you! I was almost teary by the end when I realized it was your hubby standing up for you. That was awesome!

    And lastly, to the point of the post – because I did have one! – I used to be one of those who thought anyone could homeschool and honestly I still think most people can… but I have definitely come across some parents that I’m glad are not homeschoolers.

    The key is being the kind of parent that a) knows their limitations and b) is willing to seek help when it’s needed. I feel like the parent needs to have the drive to want the absolute best for their kids and be willing to do what it takes to make sure that happens. If the parent is lackadaisical in regards to education then they probably shouldn’t take on the role of educating their children. If, on the other hand, they have the desire to teach and the desire to learn – even if they don’t possess all of the knowledge they need – I think they can be successful. There is so much available to homeschoolers now that, even if the parent is not academically capable of teaching something, there are plenty of other options. I’ve known homeschooling families that seem to just float through the school year not doing much schoolwork and not teaching in a very rigorous or academic way. It always surprises me. I know that not everyone has to teach the same way I do and we each have our own methods that work for our families but we do need to be doing what’s best – academically as well as all other areas – for our kids. As another commenter already said though, no system works 100% of the time and those same kids might have fallen through the cracks and been even worse off in the public school system so maybe it did work out for the best?? That’s up to each parent to decide. And as I think someone said above, we may not agree with them but we can support them and their right to do what they feel is best. That’s why we have academic freedom – which I’m very thankful for – and it’s up to us as parents and not the government to decide what’s best for our kids.

    Sorry…that ended up being a really long comment!!! 😛

    Again – loving your posts!! You’re a great writer!

    • Cindy June 20, 2011, 11:10 pm

      And you’re a great commenter! Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Kelly June 22, 2011, 2:45 pm

    I must say that it scared me reading this! We are about to start our second year of homeschooling and I still have no idea what I am doing. I do not have more than a high school education and I don’t remember most of what I do have. I also have some of the controlling and worry wart tendencies. I am fully aware of these flaws and make every effort not to pass them on to my children. I rely heavily on my hubby who is the exact opposite of me. I thank the Lord for that!! As I was reading, I kept seeing myself in the people you were describing-the ones that shouldn’t homeschool. I, however, am still convinced that we can and SHOULD homeschool our children. I am excited to learn all of the things that I don’t know, right along with my kids. I spend a lot of time finding tools that will enable them to gain the knowledge that I don’t possess. I KNOW that we can do this!!

    • Cindy July 25, 2011, 6:27 am

      Kelly, I see I’m a few days late catching your comment. Sorry about that. My blog is supposed to notify me of new comments, but it hasn’t been doing that lately. Really annoying.

      Anyway, just wanted to let you know, my husband and I are both college drop-outs. The amount of formal education you have is not something that I think you should take into account when deciding whether to homeschool or not. Some of the brightest and most well-informed people in the world are in the same boat! What matters is that you feel led to do it, are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to do it, and love your kids enough to see that they get the education they need! I’m rooting for you!

  • Nebby June 22, 2011, 4:05 pm

    I found your site through the blog carnival. This is a great series. We homeschoolers tend to be too defensive and hate to admit any negatives or limitations to homeschooling. I agree there are probably some who shouldn’t homeschool but I think that number is probably pretty small. What I hate is to hear people use their sinful natures as an excuse not to homeschool as in “I am not patient enough to teach my kids.” if you know you have weaknesses, work on them. Don’t use them as am excuse not to do something.

  • Mia March 5, 2012, 9:41 pm

    Thank you for this! I homeschooled my oldest three children for 11 years – one through graduation, the second through all but two years of high school and the third through middle school. I have a lot of homeschooling friends and contacts. I have seen A LOT of faux graduations. A lot.

    Is it better to ‘pretend’ to homeschool or to admit defeat and find another way? I know what I believe!

  • Jessie August 14, 2012, 9:34 pm

    It’s pretty hard to judge accurately what is and isn’t being accomplished in a homeschool- often the proof comes after that child moves on into adulthood. I know some of the more “relaxed” parents and some of the less “relaxed” and to outward appearances they might be more impressive in one way and another. I suppose that your goal in taking the homeschool approach would determine success for your family more than anything. Many parents aren’t that interested or really available for the level of academics they expect in their children. My personal reason for homeschooling is to help my children keep that wonder that they have when they are small for learning about the things that move them- rather than someone else’s idea about the “right” things to learn and the “right” way to learn them. My very much more structured relative is quite astonished at the fact that my kids remember the things they learn and have always loved reading despite the fact that I don’t homeschool my kids the same way she does- and she tries and tries to get them to want to read and want to remember the units they have covered. She could reasonably think that I am less responsible than she as I don’t do the same hours or whatever. My attitude and every other parent’s attitude is what makes the difference..not skill level. There’s no pill for stupid and we all have our areas that we might need one. I appreciate that you cover that in the article and for Republicanmother’s comments as well. If you have the desire to teach you can always figure something out. If you want an easier out or to look good in some way you will reap those rewards.

  • katherine September 3, 2012, 3:15 am

    Thanks for addressing a sacred cow. We are about to start homeschooling (4 kids 7 and under with 1 on the way) and although I have been trying to prepare for it for years I’m still scared. Not to mention the rest of motherkind who tell me ‘oh, you’re so __ and I could never do that b\c I am so __”. It is good to hear a realistic appraisal of the cost and ability needed to homeschool well. One thing I thought you might find interesting – in Singapore (where I have lived and where some dear friends are headed back to) you are only allowed to homeschool IF you can meet the stringent requirements set by the gov’t, including a degree and passing a home visit. If your homeschooled kids pass the states tandard tests with flying colors, they are still put at the very bottom of the lis t for getting into better secondary schools. Just to show that the danger of getting big brother involved with educational choices is very real.