Talking Points: How To Have an Engaging Conversation About Educational Choices With Non-Homeschoolers
A friend recently asked me, “How do respond to non-homeschoolers asking you about your reasons for homeschooling without coming across as rude or condescending about public school?”
It’s a good question. Challenging the status quo is not only hard because it isolates you from a majority of the population, but also because it can cause people to feel threatened by you and your decision to opt out of public or private education. Many, if not most, of my family and friends do not share the same views I do about homeschooling and the last thing I want is to feel isolated from them or to have them feel as thought I am judging their decisions about education in a negative way.
As my friend and I walked and talked we discussed the nature of these conversations and as I thought about it later, I realized that the the approach usually take in these instances is to be honest and respectful, show gratitude and to acknowledge the potential for change.
Honesty and Respect
When discussing the schooling choices for our family, I don’t typically hold back and most people gather fairly quickly that my husband and I have pretty strong feelings about the public education system. I discuss openly my concerns about my boys being labeled as ADHD and how I worry that their love of learning may be in danger due to a lack of choice in what they learn about. However, when speaking to other parents I think that it is important to state that one family’s choices are one family’s choices-they do not belong to anyone else and are not meant to be a one-size-fits-all solution. What works for one family might not work for another. Choices about schooling are as personal as the choices we make about how we will discipline our children, how we raise them spiritually, whether or not we chose to vaccinate, what foods they will eat, when they are potty trained, you get the idea. So while I am honest about our beliefs, I am also respectful of the fact that people make other choices and it is not my job, or my desire, to be critical of said choices.
Not every family is in a position to homeschool. Many parents I've spoken with think it would be a wonderful option for their families, but you guys, life happens. Most families need two incomes to live comfortably, single-parent households are not uncommon, adults are busy caring for family members with health issues. As I interact with more and more families, I learn about the strict regulation placed on homeschoolers in some US states. (In North Dakota, the homeschooling parent must have a high school diploma or GED and standardized tests and year-end evaluations must be administered by certified teachers. Homeschoolers in New York must track attendance and submit lesson plans, but all of that is a topic for an entirely different post.) Not only are Texas laws extremely lenient, there are several countries in the world where homeschooling is illegal. My choice is a privilege and when talking with non-homeschooling parents, I am sure to present that point.
“Be transparent. Let's build a community that allows hard questions and honest conversations so we can stir up transformation
in one another.”
Acknowledge the Potential for Change
In addition to expressing my gratitude, I almost always mention that I am not certain that homeschooling will always work for us. Our family dynamics may change, we might find an incredible school that meets the needs of our boys and our expectations as parents, or they may simply decide they want to give school a try. I might decide to go to grad school or an amazing teaching position might become available. Who knows? As I type this, I am sitting in a local cafe, eating chicken and waffles and drinking tea while my kids are enjoying themselves at Space Camp. I’d be lying if I didn’t think I could get used to this!
In all seriousness though, as parents, as people, we should be able to discuss our differences without feeling insecure or threatened. Debate is a great thing. Surrounding yourself with people only of like-minded values doesn’t broaden your horizons in the least. If what you want is to learn as much as possible about the world, you have to be willing to listen with an open mind and speak without the fear of ridicule or rejection. So the next time you find yourself in a conversation with a non-homeschooling parent, be honest, be respectful and acknowledge the potential for change.