Choosing homeschooling as an education method can draw a lot of heat from people who don’t understand exactly what you are doing. As you get started (and even when you’ve been homeschooling for a long time), you will discover that some people you encounter are prone to drilling you with questions about that choice, will argue with you about what you are doing, and flat-out refuse to accept your decision to homeschool as valid. This homeschool opposition can be unsettling – especially if you are a new homeschooler who doesn’t have a solid foot on the ground yet.
From our standpoint, there are generally two responses to situations where people get up in our faces about our homeschooling decision. The first is to let their words break in and fill us with doubt, uncertainty, and concern – undermining the decision that we have carefully made. The second is the fight reaction – standing our ground with our fists clenched, ready to prove why exactly homeschooling is best.
But before we submit to flight or fight, it’s important for us to understand why people oppose homeschooling – so we can see the picture from their point of view.
Why People Oppose Homeschooling
#1. It’s Different.
In general, anytime that something doesn’t follow the traditional plan, it creates a natural oppositional and negative response. Different is scary. Different is unknown. Different is dangerous. Why? Because they don’t know what to expect. It is much easier to just go along with what everyone else is doing than to do something outside the box. It’s safe that way – you don’t run the risk of hurting yourself or others.
#2. Preconceived Ideas of What Education Should Look Like.
Most people have this idea of what education needs to look like in order to be successful. They have a picture of a traditional classroom, with a blackboard and desks for each child, where a trained teacher leads the lessons, following an approved set of learning outcomes that are followed in a specific order which are based on age and development. If this is the picture you expect when you think of school and education, it is incredibly hard to wrap your head around the thought that it can be done differently. They can’t understand how homeschooling can offer a viable and complete education if it doesn’t follow the idea they have.
#3. They Don’t “Get” Homeschooling.
Unfortunately, most of the mainstream society has only had a glimpse of homeschooling through a filtered lens – specifically that of the media. The news and online world don’t paint the homeschooling community in the best of light. As such, homeschooling is typically seen as:
- religious nuts
- sheltered, unsocialized kids
- abusive parents
- not learning anything
- failing kids for real life
And, of course, there is always that one homeschooling horror story that people have heard that sticks out in their mind. Because of these negatives they see and hear, people tend to see success stories as a fluke (even if they are 99% of the experience from the homeschooling community!) If they have this idea that homeschooling is only these bad and terrible things, of course, they are prone to being suspicious and oppositional about the homeschooling experience.
Handling Homeschool Opposition: When They Are Willing to Learn & Listen
If the person you are talking to is open to a true discussion about homeschooling and are willing to learn from you, you can have a great opportunity to debunk those myths and ideas that people tend to have. Teach them that they don’t need to assume that everyone who homeschools does so for faith reasons or abusive, controlling issues. Explain that the one story they’ve heard that made homeschooling seem like a horrible thing was the fluke – not the success stories.
Help them see past the paintbrush and see the artwork underneath instead. Use examples from your own experiences with your kids, if possible.
Try really hard to avoid the tongue in cheek responses because, although they can at times be fun (and truthful), they aren’t going to add any positive points to a debate. They won’t provide an opportunity to educate people about our decision.
Some Common Questions People Ask & How To Answer Them:
Question: What About Socialization? (As if we bubble wrap our kids and lock them in the basement forever…)
Socialization teaches us how to behave in our society and communities: culturally, emotionally, responsibly. It teaches us how to act.
Do you remember being in school and hearing a teacher say, “You aren’t here to socialize!”? The truth is that school was never designed to be a social activity. It’s intended to be an educational activity. So, why do people generally think that school is the place for optimal socialization?
Don’t worry about socialization. Wherever people congregate, there is going to be interaction and socialization. Where is it written that it needs to be in schools? ~Mary Kay Clarke.
As long as we are able to offer chances for our kids to learn and develop those skills of behaving in the world, we are doing fine. Kids are smart – they pick up skills needed quickly. How many homeschooled kids realize they need to put their hands up to speak in a group setting? How many are able to stand in a line up when needed? How many can hold conversations with grown-ups in a respectful and engaged way? It’s not a school that teaches them that. It’s the opportunities they have with people in their every day experience.
Possible Response: “Thankfully our children have lots of opportunities to socialize with a wide range of people. One of the benefits of homeschooling is that we have plenty of time to have experiences that allow our kids to connect not only with kids their own ages but with people of all ages and walks of life.”
Question: What About University? (As if we have ruined our children’s chances for a post-secondary education…)
This question gets asked a lot – even if the child they are talking about is only in preschool! Typically people ask this a) out of concern for that child’s future successes or b) out of the idea that university is the only viable option for life after high school.
The truth is:
- There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of homeschoolers being accepts to and graduating successfully from post-secondary education – both in the past and currently.
- Many universities have homeschool specific admissions policies – many of which are listed on their website – and are actively recruiting homeschoolers.
- There are many ways to apply to post-secondary school, such as through an open university and transfer credits or as a mature applicant if homeschooling was an issue.
- Plus, university isn’t everyone’s final goal. There are plenty of other options for life after high school! Different kids have different callings and they can make that choice for themselves.
The most important thing to remember for the option to go to university is “Proactive.”
Possible Response: “If my child decides that they would like to go university, we will figure out a proactive plan, see what steps are needed to get there, and work together to make it happen. And if not, I’m totally ok with that, too.”
Question: Are You Trained To Be A Teacher? (As if only “official” teachers can teach anyone anything.)
Don’t get me wrong. I 110% appreciate the people who have chosen their profession to be the guiding and teaching children. Their job is incredibly hard and emotionally exhausting. I’m glad that they are trained because they need tools to be able to handle a classroom environment and skills to evaluate groups on their learning, amongst many others.
But a homeschooling experience is different. We have some advantages that can’t be found in a traditional classroom:
- smaller “class sizes” so our teacher/student ratio is much better
- the ability to outsources any subjects we need help with
- we can learn along with our kids when needed
- we know our kids and can personalize lessons based on their learning styles and interests
- we can go as fast or as slow as we want based on their needs
Possible Response: “You are right. Trained teachers ARE important, especially in classroom settings. One of the best things about homeschooling, though, is that I get to work with my child one-on-one and adapt our lessons to his interest and needs – something teachers in a classroom of 30 don’t have the time or the opportunity to be able to do. Homeschooling allows me to personalize my child’s education. Plus, there are many amazing resources available to help me if I need to learn more about teaching my child.”
The Top Secret Tool For The People Who Won’t Ever Listen
There are some people who, no matter how much data, personal observation, or anecdotal evidence they are presented will ALWAYS oppose your decision. And for them, it’s time to pull out a secret tool. What is it?
This is a powerful tool for any parenting or life decision that you make that brings up arguments and negativity from people. It helps you set boundaries for conversations and lets you be in charge of deciding what is available for discussion and what isn’t.
Here is the phrase you need to remember: “Please Pass the Bean Dip.”
For Strangers and Acquaintances:
“The ‘Bean Dip Response’ is best used when you do not wish to defend or engage with a person over a parenting choice. “
This is important. This tool isn’t for someone you are going to have an open conversation with. This is for people who you need to stop the conversation because it’s not worth the time or energy. We need to set some boundaries.
“[…] Don’t confuse setting boundaries with trying to convince someone of the rightness of your choices. It’s a common and understandable desire to present the same information that led you to your choices. The problem with that in dealing with a person who has boundary issues is that engaging with content invites discussion. […] The boundary is that no one else has an inherent right to tell you how to parent.
“[…] New moms often invite problems by citing authors, studies, and sites to “defend” themselves. Each time you do so, you create more time for discussion and rebuttal and send the message that your decisions are up for debate. Don’t defend your choices beyond generalities, and then only once or twice.”
These quotes are from Joanne Ketch who wrote an amazing article about Parenting Choice Boundaries. (Sadly, this article seems to no longer be available online other than through the wayback machine link above.)
Often as a new parent (or a homeschooling parent), we want to prove that we are right. However, we don’t need to defend our choices. We need to accept that not everyone is going to accept our decision and instead, change the conversation.
Examples of the Bean Dip Response:
- What About Socialization?
- We belong to a great homeschool community. Can you pass the bean dip?
- What About University?
- We’re considering our options carefully. Pass the bean dip, please.
- But you aren’t a teacher.
- Good thing I have access to so many resources. Could I get the bean dip?
Now, if you are thinking “Why the heck are we talking about bean dip anyways?!” or “I don’t even like bean dip!” – don’t worry. It’s just an analogy. The main idea is to change the focus of the conversation from what you aren’t willing to talk about to something that you are. It can be anything. (Bean Dip is just funny!)
For Family & Friends
“With some people you will need to set firm boundaries. The offer of bean dip will not be sufficient to redirect them. […] In these cases, the redirect will need to be backed up with action (like hanging up, leaving the room or even the event, unfriending them). Remember boundaries are not about forcing another person to comply. […] Boundaries are about what YOU will do / not do.”
It is INCREDIBLY hard to set firm boundaries, especially when they are friends and family members and people that you care about. Why? Because you run the risk of damaging relationships and hurting people’s feelings.
Examples of Boundary Setting Statements
- “We know that you love us and our children and want the best for us. This is the decision that we have made for our family. It is not up for discussion.”
- “I want us to have a good relationship. Please enjoy my children, but remember that I am their parent. I make the decisions for their education. If you bring this topic up again, we will leave.”
- “I know you don’t understand our choice, and that’s ok – but I will not have this conversation anymore. Let’s talk about something else, or I will have to go.”
Setting to the point boundary lines makes it clear that you will not talk about this anymore. It is so hard to set up these boundaries but it’s an important skill to have if you need to counter constant arguing and opposition to your choices. Yes, you don’t want to have to sacrifice an important relationship over this, but sometimes, it is a decision you have to make to be able to move forward in your homeschooling journey with success. Putting the line there clearly puts the onus on the other person to make the decision whether they want to value their relationship with you over the need to argue and debate.
If you don’t want to deal with opposition or disapproval, take charge of the conversation. Use the bean dip response in your head (or real life if you want!) Don’t engage on topics you don’t want to – direct the topic elsewhere.
You are not obligated to explain your choices to anyone. You are not required to convert anyone to your side or to make them the newest homeschooling cheerleader.
Set boundaries that you are comfortable with. It’s up to you and your responses. You will never be able to decide how other people are going to react but you can be in control of your response.
The Key To Handling Homeschool Opposition?
Understanding why they don’t agree, having solid responses, and a little more bean dip.
Homeschooling is a great choice, but not everyone is going to understand or appreciate that decision. Hopefully, this post helps you feel more confident in your choice and how to interact with those that don’t agree – whether they are just not understanding and want to understand more, or if they are super-opposers who aren’t ever going to change their mind.