Five years ago this last spring, I found myself sitting in a parking lot in front of a small, cinder block building. I was literally shaking and in tears.
Did something tragic happen? Some awful events with horrific consequences?
No. I had decided to homeschool my kids.
I went into my first ever “Brown Bag Lunch” hosted by a local homeschool co-op. I had so many questions and concerns I didn’t know where to start. It was hard to know where to begin when all I really felt was fear.
Fear may be the most difficult obstacle to overcome in deciding to homeschool. Public education, which mainstreamed at the beginning of the industrial revolution, has always painted a dark picture of homeschooling- even banning it in many states until 1993 when it was finally legalized in all states. Homeschoolers were characterized as socially maladjusted, academically inept and overall “weird.” Homeschooling was something only strange, religious families or free-wheeling hippy families did. Now, five years later, when I tell people that we homeschool they are first intrigued. Almost inevitably, however, they tell me, “I could never homeschool!” The reasons people give vary, but almost all the reasons are rooted in fear. Fear that they will not provide enough education for their kids fear that their kids won’t have enough socialization with other kids, fears of what others will think of their decisions, fear of disapproval from family and friends, fear of stepping outside the institution of public education. Fear that they will fail.
My own main fears were based on several factors. I had no worries about socialization- the type of “socialization” they were getting in public school was not a type I wanted my kids to have. They were also active in sports, YMCA, and church. I was worried that I would not be able to provide enough education for them, but after watching our local school cut geography, cursive and spelling from the curriculum I realized that I could learn what I needed in order to teach my kids. In reality, the biggest fear was how society would react to my decision. I was afraid there would be unknown consequences from the big, institutionalized public education system and some form of backlash from breaking away from the way we are conditioned to believe that public education is the only and best way to receive a quality education. In a strange way, I felt like I was facing down a Goliath of the social norm.
I was also afraid that I would fail. Fearing failure is one of the main fears people have when they talk about why they could not or did not want to homeschool. While many people did not say it directly it was reflected in reasoning such as “I’m not smart enough,” “I am not good at math/ writing/ science,” or “I don’t know how to teach.” Others were forthright; “I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to teach them enough.” Fearing failure is very key- we are dealing with the future of our children. Being afraid of not being able to do enough is very legitimate.
Admittedly, I still fear failure. I am not sure that fear ever entirely subsides, at least not for me. We will always want what is best for our kids, and will most likely always question the choices we make that affect them.
I decided to start looking for support. I knew I was making the right choice, but I felt overwhelmed with the thought of facing the court of public opinion. I decided to tell as many people as I could that I planned on homeschooling, to temper myself as to how people would react. Surprisingly, the biggest support came from people within the public education system. Although the school principal was certainly not on board, my daughter’s second-grade teacher confided in me that she has homeschooled her own children. A friend, who taught in another grade, said that she thought that homeschooling was an excellent opportunity for students. Family and friends were split; some very much supportive of public education and others applauded the decision to look for another way to provide education. When I told a friend, who was a teacher’s aide in a challenged public school that I was considering homeschooling, but was afraid that I would not be able to teach my kids enough, she responded simply, “you couldn’t do worse.” Another friend pointed out, “what better way to teach your kids than to learn yourself.” Me, learning alongside my kids, has possibly been one of the best ways I have learned to teach them.
My experience has taught me a lot, but one important point in particular: if you are considering homeschooling, look for support. My search for support led me to a local homeschool cooperative. The Brown Bag Lunch that I went to connect me with others that had experience with homeschooling, and others who were also just beginning the process of shifting from public education. It was the beginning for me of becoming confident in my decision, confident that I was not alone. Today, there are so many more resources than ever- even if you live in a small or rural area, the internet is a valuable source of support. Until I reached out and searched for support, I had no idea that the homeschool community where I live was as large as it was or the number of resources available for homeschoolers. The fears are real, but so is the support!
Support is important throughout you and your kids’ “life” in homeschooling. The people you build into your support structure not only help build your confidence as you take on homeschooling, but they will also provide a wealth of ideas for education. We start to overcome our preconceived ideas of what society tells us education “should” be, and start forging the path of an education that works for you and your kids. A good support community provides encouragement for the tough days and celebrates the good days.