During Your 'Reopen Schools!' Debates, Don't Insult Homeschooling Families

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
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“We homeschool,” I tell people now. And then I have to explain. “But we homeschooled before the pandemic, so nothing really changed for my kids. They’ve, like, never been to school? So this wasn’t anything different for them.” In the will-we-or-won’t we of school opening, people have tended to forget: families homeschool for reasons other than a global pandemic, and we’ve been doing it for years. In fact, when we hear rhetoric surrounding school openings, it can sound either downright ridiculous or insulting.

I didn’t, and don’t, take homeschooling lightly. I came to it through my pedagogical studies in graduate school: academics like Alfie Kohn, Paulo Freire, Peter Elbow, and even Michel Foucault informed my decision. And when I taught my own students, I found that my student-centered writing classes resulted in much happier kids and much higher grades than your standard writing classroom. If I were privileged enough, I knew I would homeschool my children so they could follow their own academic interests, pursue their own passions, spend time playing, and learn at their own pace, rather than a pace dictated by someone else.

Reasons not involved in my decision to homeschool: Jesus, laziness, a dislike for other children, a vain attempt to regulate my children’s safety, or a misguided idea that I was somehow better at teaching certain things than public school teachers.

So most of us who homeschool have serious reasons to do it. Those are mine. And yes, it’s a privileged choice to make (I work from home and have a supportive spouse). So when people begin caterwauling about how children need to be in school, we’re insulted. Our kids aren’t in school, and haven’t been. What about them?

School Isn’t The Only Kind Of Socialization

One myth that infuriates homeschool parents: only school can socialize children. I could rant about how that’s what they want you to think, but you’d hand me a tinfoil hat. In fact, socialization occurs at many levels. Socialization occurs between siblings. One of our bright spots in this pandemic has been watching our two youngest sons becoming besties. Another has been watching our oldest son develop patience and kindness with them. Are they his peers? No. But that patience and kindness will serve him well in a world where typing “why soft skills are important” into Google yields hundreds of results.

Yes, if your kids are used to constant interaction among their same-age peer group, pulling them from it could be traumatic. But there are other ways to socialize children, and when we forget that, we insult homeschoolers who’ve chosen those other ways. I’ve watched my son really reach out and connect closely to his best friend in Florida, several hundred miles away. They’re eleven. She’s a girl. They make up dice-rolling games based on “Star Wars.” I’ve seen him make friends very easily with other kids who play D&D online: none of the awkwardness you might expect from an unsocialized homeschool kid. And on the two occasions we’ve managed super-crazy-safe, totally-isolated, almost-zero-risk playdates (one was masked and distanced; the other involved a mother who works with my husband, so we had identical risk factors), my kids didn’t even play with their peers. My 11-year-old talked Rick Riordan to a 16-year-old; my nine-year-old and seven-year-old chased chickens with another 11-year-old. On the other occasion, all of them played with a seven-year-old. This wasn’t like, desperation. This was a choice.

When you insist that our children will all emerge from the pandemic as ill-socialized monsters because they haven’t seen other children in a year, despite their online interactions and siblings, it’s insulting to homeschool parents. I am not suggesting this situation is ideal. Kids need kids and my kids miss seeing other children, too. But think of your tone.

Check Your Tone

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Some parents are down on those who chose virtual or homeschool options (because virtual doesn’t work for their kid, or because, as one of my hero friends said, “I can’t stand them forcing teachers to work through this.”) because they want kids back face-to-face. Um, where do we fit in? Are we automatically excluded from this conversation? I have some serious thoughts about schools reopening (big fat no) and I’d like to share them.

Will you ignore me because I’m just a homeschool mom with seemingly no stake in this?

Even moms who chose to homeschool during COVID-19 have needed some reality checks. One told me that since she’s decided to homeschool during the pandemic, her kids would be great writers but suck at math. Why do we perpetuate the stupid-ass myth that mothers can’t teach even simple math? (While I don’t want to be exclusionary to either men or parents of other genders, and while many share their parenting workload, hard reality: in a traditionally male/female dyad, most of the teaching burden falls on mothers).

Don’t remember how to multiply decimals? There’s this thing called Google. You often use it to play Parent, M.D.

Remember Homeschool Kids

When you say, “Kids need to go back to school because they need socialization,” try, “Kids need to go back to school because I want my child to have same-age socialization,” or “Because my son misses his friends,” or “Because I don’t think it’s a good idea for my son to stay physically distanced from his peers for so long.” My kids are socialized: in our own small, small ways, as much as we can amid this American wreck, we continue our socialization efforts. I remind my son to message his Facebook Messenger Kids friends. “So-and-so might want to say hi,” I’ll tell him. “Why don’t you check?”

Yes, they are desperate to see their friends. But when you say that this year is lost, and this year will leave kids behind — um, hi, my kids have always been in homeschool. Will they be “left behind” too? By your metric, probably, because we prioritize mental health right now to long division, but that’s another discussion.

But don’t assume long term homeschool kids experience identical learning experiences as those who have gone virtual or just started homeschooling. Their experience is wildly different. So think about, amid this debate, what you’re saying and how you’re saying it, and remember that some kids aren’t typical public schoolers. Not only that: because of community spread, we have a stake in school reopening as well. So don’t make assumptions. And please, above all, don’t leave us out.

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