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The Reluctant Homeschooler

The Reluctant Homeschooler

For many — maybe most! — families, the homeschooling journey begins with excitement. Oh, there’s probably some anxiety — but there’s also a definite sense of adventure.

What do you do if this is an adventure you didn’t want to go on?

Susan’s recent Homeschooling News post mentions an unusual situation in Great Britain. Cuts in school funding have reduced the services available to special-needs students, many of whom are then labeled “unteachable” and sent home. And who teaches them then? Their parents — their shell-shocked, deer-in-the-headlights, “What in the world do I do now?” parents. These are not people who are homeschool crusaders. They have no quarrel with brick-and-mortar schools, and they’ve relied on them to provide their children with necessary services and supports. But the schools have had a change of heart (not to mention fortunes), leaving these children and their parents on their own.

Other parents become default teachers when their children are “off-rolled” — quietly removed from the school rolls because they are underperforming and likely to have a negative effect on their school’s test scores. Off-rolling is not just a British phenomenon. I have heard anecdotal reports of wealthy school districts in suburban New York City “farming out” poorly performing students to neighboring districts (at substantial cost to the students’ home districts) so that the students’ test scores don’t drag down the district average. In a less affluent school district, a cheaper way to achieve the same result might be to leave the parents with the impression that they have no other option than to homeschool. These parents and their children are then set adrift and on their own.

Still other parents find themselves out in the cold when school becomes too much for their children. One writer has described school’s effect on such children as similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, and the parents must choose between keeping their children in a toxic school environment and bringing them home. As one British parent reflected, this is not really a choice at all; you do what you must to protect your child. But if homeschooling has never been on your radar screen, you and your child are effectively on your own.

I’ve never known anyone whose child was declared “unteachable” or who was “off-rolled.” But I have known, and am increasingly hearing of, parents who are turning to homeschooling in desperation. Sometimes it’s the news of yet another school shooting. Sometimes it’s the relentless bullying that, for all the slogans and initiatives, continues unabated with each generation. Sometimes it’s the anger and frustration of seeing the school fail to provide the services (which the school promised to provide) that your child needs in order to learn. Sometimes it’s the pain of watching your once-happy child become anxious, tired, withdrawn, even suffering from headaches or stomach problems from the stress of school.

All of these parents are in a situation they didn’t ask for. They have found themselves among the ranks of homeschoolers because they feel that they have no choice. It’s frankly the last thing in the world they ever thought they’d be doing. Yet here they are. I call them The Reluctant Homeschoolers.

All too often, “real” homeschoolers — you know, people like you and me who actually intended to homeschool — have no use for Reluctant Homeschoolers. I mean, what do they know of homeschooling? Have they ever developed an educational philosophy? Do they know what a curriculum style is? What about learning styles? Lesson planning? What’s their position on state-funded charter schools or Common Core? These people start to twitch at the thought of spending all day with their children! Do we really want them and their kids to join our homeschool support group on Homeschool Park Days?

Well, where else are they going to find support? Of course, we could draw a line in the sand and leave them to their own devices — if we wanted to be just like their schools.

Do we?

If all homeschoolers need support (and they do), Reluctant Homeschoolers need it even more. They need to know where to turn, where to go, and how to get there.

Intentional homeschoolers need to welcome reluctant homeschoolers. We need to reassure them that they can do the unthinkable: teach their own children. We need to point them to resources that are a good starting point for someone who’s been dropped in the Land of Homeschooling like Dorothy in the Land of Oz. You may have different visions — you would only send your child to public school over your dead body, and your neighbor is praying that a miracle transpires so that her child can go back to public school ASAP. But what you have in common at this moment is that you’re both trying to do what’s best for your children. She’s a stranger in your land who didn’t ask to be here and wants to find her way home… wherever “home” is. Give her the benefit of your wisdom … and affirm her for loving her kid.

Lucy Watson

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