It is not unusual for new homeschoolers to feel the sting of skepticism from homeschool critics. Skeptical challenges can seem almost paralyzing when you are new and trying to figure out your homeschooling path.
The 1st Step in Responding
The first step in creating a satisfactory response is recognizing the root of objections. Folks who question homeschooling tend to fall into a handful of groups:
- people who don’t know any homeschoolers
- retired educators who have a negative bias
- current educators who see disastrous results of homeschooling failures
- folks with a bias that education requires a ‘certified’ teacher
- former spouses who challenge homeschooling as part of a custody process
- family members who want the best for you children because they love them
Setting the Tone of the Conversation
The most important component of communication is your confidence. If you seem apologetic, insecure, or defensive when talking with a critic, you reinforce the objector’s suspicions.
It’s almost like throwing blood in the water around sharks!
The more confidence you exhibit, the less combative your critic will be. The less arrogant, defensive, or nervous you are, the more competent you seem.
Set a tone for a cordial exchange of ideas vs. a debate with a winner and loser.
When counseling homeschoolers working with a school district to have children tested, I advise:
- Walk in like an open book.
- Have examples of work products, so they can see your child’s current successes and struggles.
- Give examples of errors they make that show a trend.
- Give examples of recent obstacles they’ve overcome.
Don’t be afraid to ask the educational team questions:
- I see this pattern of mistakes. I can’t figure out what it means, but I think it’s significant.
- Do you see something I’m to close or not objective enough to see?
- Will testing will help us figure out what this issue means?
I’ve never had an educator fail to respect that kind of transparent communication because it exudes confidence. You can be confident because you know your child better than anyone else has or will. Ever.
Can All Criticisms Be Overcome?
Some folks will be so oppositional that nothing you can say will cure them of their pessimism.
My uncle was a prominent principle in the largest and best school district in his state. Imagine his disgust when word leaked out of my courageous choice to homeschool.
I lobbied. I justified. I pointed to my own experience as an educator of special needs children in a psychiatric hospital.
He was resolute in his obstinate objections as was his wife who worked as a teacher’s aide. Had we lived in the same town, I’m sure my kids would have been subjected to academic quizzes each time we met.
By our 3rd year of homeschooling, I was weary of trying to defend my choices. It dawned on me: proof would come only after my homeschool career was over.
Only when my boys thrived as productive members of society would my uncle’s criticisms fall silent.
My older son was 18-years-old before they begrudgingly acknowledged the success we had achieved via homeschooling. While it was a sweet, sweet day, the sting of their rebukes had long since faded.
Sometimes, resistance is futile. You just walk away knowing your end product will be the answer that sets your objector free of long held objections!
Finding Common Ground
Once you understand the source of skepticism, you have a starting place for mutual understanding.
My friend’s neighbor, a retired school teacher, would frequently show up at her home at 8:30 a.m. It was an obvious attempt to make sure my friend was sticking to a traditional school clock. She’d ask the preteen sibs if they wore deodorant. She’d quiz them on math facts.
The unwarranted intrusions were relentless. The lady refused to recognize the legitimacy of laws allowing my friend (a former educator herself) every right to homeschool.
Fortunately, this level of intrusiveness is rare, but it does happen. In these cases, be comfortable with setting strict boundaries of what you will and will not tolerate from a nosy critic!
Sometimes, a gentle answer can turn a conversation from a contentious debate to a place of mutual respect and appreciation.
Does Your Critic Know Homeschoolers?
When someone raises the homeschool question, quietly ask, “Oh, does someone in your family homeschool? Tell me about their experiences!”
Most often, they will admit they don’t really know any homeschoolers.
Replying with, “Oh! Homeschooling can be a wonderful educational option with all the resources available to us today!”
What will follow is a discussion like the one I described in my previous post.
When the Critic is an Educator
If a former or present teacher raises objections, it may be because they’ve had unpleasant experiences when homeschooled students re-entered the system.
Simply acknowledging that homeschool failures happen – just as they happen in traditional schooling — can diffuse raised hackles.
Educators often perceive an us vs. them mentality — assuming a homeschooling choice is a vote against them. Teachers worked hard, and continue to work hard, for the certifications to teach for a school system.
Who wouldn’t be offended if the vocation you love and give yourself up for in so many ways is considered meets resistance? Who might not feel like a law allowing parents to teach their children somehow lessons the impact of their hard work?
During my younger son’s senior year of high school, we needed testing to confirm learning issues. His college required testing within 3 years of high school graduation to enroll him in their special needs support services.
I began the consult by addressing each member of the interdisciplinary team about my appreciation for the tough challenges they faced.
I thanked them for standing in the gap for the young adults they served. Their replies included eyes glistening with tears.
My acknowledgment of their heroism provided a foundation for mutual encouragement. When testing was complete, every member of the team applauded both my son and me for our hard work as homeschoolers.
Navigating Family Face-offs
Once again, understanding the root concerns may help bring family members over to your side. It may require you being patient enough to let time tell your story of success as I did with my uncle and aunt.
Remember they love your kids, want the best for your kids, and maybe lay awake nights worrying about all of you.
My mother was never able to come out and say she was glad I homeschooled. However, she was mighty proud of both her grandsons and what they were accomplishing before she passed away.
Be as gentle with family as you want them to be with you. Give them time to see the wisdom of your choice without requiring their unwavering support.
Custody and Family Services Face-offs
In truth, the most worrisome of all homeschool objections are those involving custody fights and/or if a family’s homeschooling choice triggers a Department of Family and Children’s Services inquiry.
Understanding your state law and keeping detailed records is pivotal in both these situations.
Homeschool Legal Defense Association will not represent homeschoolers regarding custody issues.
However, if your right to homeschool is challenged, they will represent you to protect that right. The nominal yearly fee they charge is worth every dime if you find yourself in either of these situations.
A ‘well-meaning’ friend once raised concerns about our family. We showed up at the requested meeting with a tape recorder in hand and said, “Our attorney of record with HSLDA has requested we tape record this meeting since he cannot get her from Virginia on such short notice.”
By the end of the 90-minute meeting, we watched as the social worker tore up the complaint filed against us.
She ended the meeting with these words, “I am so sorry for the terrible time your family is going through. I am even sorrier your friends are not trustworthy. I wish you the best of luck in the future.”
While challenges to our decision to homeschool can irritate and offend us, we can use these opportunities to build bridges and educate others about the realities of homeschooling.
If challenged, be a confident bridge builder. Don’t worry about the ones you cannot win over. Time will be on your side. Don’t let their doubt define your day.
Love you long and strong. Come back soon.
I’ll leave the light on for you!