Taking Conventional Wisdom to School

On the weekend of Donald Trump’s inauguration social media became a smorgasbord of memes and jokes, but there was one tweet that really stood out for me: “Barron will be this country’s first homeschool shooter.” It was supposed to be funny, but it landed with a thud for many who believe the 10-year-old should be off-limits to incessant media trolling.

For me, the joke never landed at all. It’s still floating around in my head. Setting aside the fact that Barron has never been a homeschooler, I get it. The humor is built around the premise that no school shooting has ever been perpetrated by a homeschooler and it’s hard to imagine a stereotypical (religious, socially awkward) homeschooler committing such an act. Therein lies the problem. As a homeschool parent, the tweet was a reminder that society continues to view those of us who choose this path as “other,” which makes me question my choice, myself; something I already do about as often as I brush my teeth.

I see this kind of negative stereotyping all the time – from friends, family, strangers at the drugstore. Everyone seems to think that those who do not learn in a neat row of desks are in danger of not being “properly socialized,” and the choice to home educate will do more harm than good. This is despite the fact that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, homeschooling is the fastest growing form of education in the U.S. – homeschoolers increased by 61.8% from 2003 to 2012. Every day feels like an act of defiance to follow this path, going against the widespread belief that homeschooling produces socially isolated weirdos. When I need to talk myself out of worrying whether my child is going to end up living alone on the edge of town mailing explosives to random strangers, I turn to my therapist: Dr. Google.

In a study by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, counselors watched videotapes of homeschooled and public schooled children playing, and noted that homeschool students demonstrated fewer behavioral problems than their peers. National Home Education Research Institute president Brian Ray says he suspects it’s because “public school children have, as their main role models, peers, while homeschool students have as their role models, adults.”

While Dr. Google provides momentary relief, the wound still smarts, so I make myself think back on my daughter’s public school experience. She had a lot of difficulty adapting to the “sit and listen” model and was punished for it by having her recess privileges revoked. The case has been made over and over that children need regular exercise to help them learn, yet the first thing teachers take away is their only opportunity to run and stomp and jump unimpeded. It makes no sense.

Nowadays my daughter is far more active than she ever was in school; she is outside playing with friends, doing gymnastics or dance lessons, at least an hour every day and it is reflected in her progress. She has gone from reading well below the level of her peers at the end of first grade to being able to read well above grade level in less than 18 months. Most importantly, she does not hate reading anymore, a hurdle that too many kids never clear.

Still, it sends me into a perseverating tailspin when someone questions my choice. Like the other day at lunch when an old friend asked, “Aren’t you worried that homeschooling will affect her chance at getting into a good college?” I got so worked up I had a nightmare that my daughter won a trophy for being the best-dressed homeless person in our town. I visited Dr. G first thing that morning where I found an article on Business Insider titled “There’s a new path to Harvard and it’s not in a classroom,” which tells the story of one of many homeschoolers’ admission to the Ivy League school.

I was delighted to learn Harvard is not the only university that welcomes those who take a different path to learning. Educational researcher Dr. Susan Berry says, “The high achievement level of homeschoolers is readily recognized by recruiters from some of the best colleges… Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, Stanford, and Duke University all actively recruit homeschoolers.”  Learning that was a boon, albeit temporary.

Less than three days later someone else – a stranger – planted another seed of doubt in my mind. I was in line with my daughter at CVS trying to not to drop at least six different remedies designed to calm my nerves when a close-talking man in a toupee asked why she was not in school on a Wednesday afternoon. When I told him we homeschool, he asked, “Do you think that’s a good idea? Are you qualified to teach her all those subjects?” Even though I was annoyed with the man’s can opener–like prying, his doubt seeped into the cracks in my confidence.

Am I qualified? No, I’m not. And that’s okay.

No one person is qualified to teach all subjects in a way that will be effective to all students. It is my job to curate my daughter’s education, to comb the internet for appropriate online classes, to find teachers in our area to fill the gaps, and to supervise and cheerlead whenever necessary. And, even though I wish it wasn’t, it is also seems to be my job to constantly remind myself that the strong, persistent, and mostly inaccurate opinion of the masses is really just that: opinion.

The truth is, our experience disproves the prevailing attitudes and general distrust that follows us homeschoolers wherever we go. My daughter is thriving where previously she suffered. Shouldn’t results be more important than blind submission to the status quo of educating our children?

Dr. Google doesn’t have an answer for that, but I’m pretty sure it’s yes.

I wrote this for round two of Yeah Write’s Super Challenge and, along with nine others, graduated to the final round. I will know in two weeks if I place in the top three or not.

Here’s my feedback:

What the judges really liked about Taking Conventional Wisdom to School:
  • Engaging and honest voice makes a central conflict which may not resonate with all readers relatable. The essay follows a logical structure between anecdote and evidence.
  • The voice here is evident and easy-to-read without being distracting from the subject matter; it has a very natural rhythm to it.
  • The topic of homeschool as an example of disobeying authoritiy is a unique take on the prompt and works well here.
Where the judges found room for improvement:
  • The essay only casually defines what “authority” means to the author, and suffers somewhat because of that: is authority schoolmasters? Is it “prevailing wisdom”? Counterauthorities are presented. Presumably “when it prevents you from thriving” is the answer to the question, but the reader has to struggle to tease out a clear thesis.
  • What would have made this essay stronger is a more substantial look at counterarguments. They are mentioned throughout, but are not examined in any depth.
  • Focusing less on personal anecdotes and Dr. Google would lend the essay more credibility and make it more convincing. Significant portions seem more like a personal essay than a persuasive one.

4 thoughts on “Taking Conventional Wisdom to School

  1. For what it’s worth, as an educator I think many parents do a wonderful job homeschooling their kids. Sounds like you have the socialization part covered with the lessons and I’m guessing from what you wrote that you’re keeping up with curriculum. The only other box to tick off is exposing kids to diverse opinions. I’m betting you have that covered too. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Home schoolers, of which Janine and I have been a part with our two children, now pursuing their careers, understand, as do the majority of those who study education honestly, understand that education starts with each person, each student. Students appropriate when they are interested. Reading, running around, jumping on a trampoline, dreaming up their own plays, experiencing a project with fellow kids, all contribute to stoking the desire to learn. Our emphasis, more unschooling than anything, was to remove the barriers standing in the way of our kids’ curiosities.
    ‘Twas good to read your thoughts. It’s nice to run into another education advocate.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice to read something from a homeschooler who doesn’t bash public schools as inherently wrong but instead recognizes that they were wrong for her child — because that means you know EXACTLY what your child needs to be successful and I bet you’re doing a fantastic job. I have been in all kinds of education situations: public, religious, private, and home schooled. Each had their advantages and disadvantages of which my parents needed to be aware to fill the gap. All children can learn — it’s up to adults to know the best way for that to happen. Good job!

    Liked by 1 person

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