The school year began in the local public schools last week. As I watched the bus drive down the street and saw all the back-to-school photos that my friends put up on Facebook, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad. My kids are homeschooled. There is no big yellow school bus for us. There’s nothing extremely ceremonious about our first day back to more formal learning (though we do take a “first day of school” picture). Sometimes, I worry that my kids are missing out… like maybe I’m depriving them of something important by keeping them home. I get this feeling not just in late August when the buses start coming around again, but at various times throughout the year. I often ask my husband, “Are we doing the right thing?”
At those times, God tends to remind me of the reasons why we made this decision, and confirms for me that it’s definitely the right one for us. But in reality, my kids are missing out on some things. We are not duplicating the school experience at home. Downstairs in our little basement schoolroom, I can’t give them everything they would experience in a regular classroom setting. I have to accept that. But on the flip side, I don’t want to duplicate the school experience. Homeschooling is not meant to be “school at home” (unless you want it to be – but even then it can only be a vague imitation, not an exact replica, of traditional school). There are many facets of school that I’m glad my children are “missing out on.” And the kids who are getting on that school bus every day are missing out, too. They are just missing out on different things. Their teachers can’t give them everything they would experience in a homeschool setting.
Like many choices in life, choosing a type of education is a trade-off. There certainly are benefits to homeschooling. But there are also benefits to the typical school model. And there are drawbacks to both. Anyone who says otherwise is not being honest. Just because there are benefits to the choice we did not make, does not mean that the choice we did make was wrong. Just because someone else weighs the benefits and drawbacks differently than we do, and decides to make the opposite choice, does not mean their choice is wrong either.
What it comes down to for me, ultimately, is not just a cold cost-benefit analysis, but a process of discernment – seeking God’s will for my family. God has called us to homeschool (at least for now, and I suspect we’re in it for the long haul). None of the benefits of a given option mean anything when stacked up against God’s calling. And, while this may come as a shock to some homeschoolers, God does not call all parents to homeschool (just like he doesn’t call all Catholic parents to send their kids to Catholic schools, as some anti-homeschooling Catholics say). There was a new family in my homeschooling community last year who decided to send their children back to “regular” school this year. The mother told me that she felt that God had closed doors for her to homeschool her children, while opening them for her to send her children to one of the public charter schools in the area. God often speaks to us in the details of our circumstances, and I believe this mother when she says that this was God’s hand and God’s will for her family. Who am I to think otherwise?
I used to be a lot more– what’s the right word? —arrogant about the fact that I was homeschooling. I said that I would NEVER send my children to public school. Part of that was just defensiveness. People who have no real experience with homeschooling tend to be pretty negative about it, so I felt like I always had to appear uber-confident about my decision to homeschool. I wanted everyone to know that my kids were going to thrive through home education, and there was nothing about traditional school that would be missed by us.
At some point, I realized two things: 1) that attitude likely was hurtful to my friends and family who send their children to school, and 2) just because I’m proud to homeschool and think it’s the best choice for my family doesn’t mean that I have to pretend as if sending them to school would spell unmitigated disaster and misery. Overall, I enjoyed going to school when I was growing up. It’s okay for me to admit that to myself, and to acknowledge that traditional school provided some positive experiences that my kids won’t have being homeschooled. And, if your kids go to school, it’s okay to admit that homeschooled children might have some positive experiences that your children won’t have.
We named our homeschool Holy Family Academy. My husband and I are Mary and Joseph, and we have a priest friend who refers to us as “the Holy Family.” The name just seemed to fit for our school. I pray that we can imitate our namesake in their humility and obedience to God’s will. As long as that is my goal and my prayer, I can have confidence that I will not deprive my children of anything of real importance, no matter where and how they are educated.