When Susan Wise Bauer’s grandparents heard that little Susie and her siblings were going to be homeschooled, they wept. What would become of their grandchildren? they wondered. Other relatives chimed in with such supportive advice as, “Isn’t home schooling illegal?” “Is the Department of Education going to raid your house?” and “I knew a home-schooled child once, and she didn’t turn out well at all.”
Perhaps you’ve experienced similar reactions when telling your parents, in-laws, or other relatives that you’ll be teaching your children at home. Perhaps, fearful of getting such reactions, you have avoided the subject, and have kept up a pretense that your children are enrolled at Local Public School…even sewing them little fake “Go Local School Lobsters!” athletic gear to wear whenever Grandma and Grandpa come to visit, and hiding your copy of The Well-Trained Mind under a pile of permission slips for school field trips to the Local Trash Incinerator* and copies of 1001 Swear-Words Your Child Will Be Learning From Her Peers on The Bus This Year.
Well, it’s time to stop hiding. Here are some tips for breaking the big news to your relatives.
Accentuate the positive. Instead of listing all the scary things that make you reluctant to send your child to a public or private school, talk about the benefits of home education. “Since she doesn’t waste time with busywork, Aisha finishes her academics by noon and has plenty of spare time to help you clean out that old garage, Dad!” Or, “Zachary has taught himself three programming languages, which will come in handy when Artificial Intelligence turns against all humans.”
Give them something to brag about. Grandparents’ pride is one of the great untapped power sources in the universe. If scientists had harnessed its energy to drive spacecraft, we’d be taking summer vacations on the moons of Jupiter by now. Once your mom and dad realize that homeschooling gives them the chance to “casually” mention to the neighbor, the church usher, and random strangers that “Katie is chanting The Odyssey in Greek now,” or “Anthony knew more about dinosaurs than the tour guide at the museum,” their opposition will rapidly diminish.
Give them an active role. People love to be included, and they love to talk about subjects in which they are expert. Defuse your sister’s criticism of home schooling by enlisting her as your child’s math tutor, or let Uncle Jeff guest-lecture in History class on Why We Would Have Won The Vietnam War If The Government Had Just Listened to Me.
Don’t denigrate other people’s educational choices. It’s great that you’ve decided to home school, if that’s what’s best for your child. But those who have chosen other paths are probably not fascists, mindless drones, sheeple, apostates, liberals, “lukewarm Christians [Jews, Muslims, Jains, Pastafarians],” or whatever your community’s version of the bogeyman is. Odds are good that they love their children and want the best for them, and it’s possible…just possible…that they know their own children’s needs pretty well. They’ll be much more likely to respect your choices if you don’t begin your conversation on this topic with “You know who else went to public school? Hitler.” Instead of condemning others, just tell your own story. Why are you excited about home school?
Keep proper boundaries. When all else fails, remember that you’re ultimately the one responsible for your child’s education. You can listen to people’s advice and input, but then you’ll make your own choices. If they can’t respect that, you may need to ask them politely but firmly to keep their opinions to themselves. In the words of the old Ricky Nelson song: “I’ve learned my lesson well/you can’t please everyone/so you’ve got to half-please some of them, ignore the haters, selectively block people from seeing your Facebook updates, and do your best to please yourself/although even that is an unreachable goal/for who among us can say she is 100% pleased with her own child-rearing skill?”
For more support, advice, and comradeship, check out the Well-Trained Mind Community forums, where thousands of parents just like you have found a community to commiserate and encourage each other about math, toddler temper tantrums, the joys and trials of home schooling, and more.
*This is an actual field trip that one of us took in 6th grade while attending a well-regarded private school. We never got to see anything burn. The fumes made us dizzy for days. We had to write an essay about The Value of Waste Disposal afterwards. We are still bitter about this; it rivals our feelings about the “field trip” to the local “wildlife refuge” which turned out to be “let’s go to Old Mrs. Simmons’ house that smells like cat pee and isn’t so much a refuge for animals as a vivid reminder of why hyenas should not be kept in backyards.”