Why We Still Homeschool


This is Eli.

I have written and re-written this story about Eli at least three times, and shelved it again that many times.

I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say about it. Now I know and it’s time to finally share. This is the story of why, with two full-time jobs in the house and more money going out than coming in, we still manage to scrape together enough time and money to continue to homeschool. Why it is that we sacrifice SO MUCH for the privilege of keeping our children home and letting them be the precious, amazing individuals they are.

This story illustrates why.

It was April, 2012.  We were considering enrolling Eli, age 8, in school for the Fall. I didn’t know if we could meet all his needs at home any more, and I just KNEW this particular school would love and cherish him like we do. Everything about the school screamed “WE LOVE AND CHERISH OUR CHILDREN.” It’s affiliated with an organization we respect and admire and were once members of, the teachers seemed so sweet and loving, the walls were bright and appealing, the children were all cheerful, and the headmistress said all the right things.

So imagine my horror when, after Eli’s trial morning, the headmistress called to tell me that they couldn’t accept him into the school. His reading was too far behind. Their “reading expert” said he isn’t dyslexic. It’s just that nobody’s given him the right “strategies” for reading. What’s worse, he didn’t seem to connect with the other children. She said nothing–nothing–about him that indicated there was a shred of goodness or light to be found. She didn’t say it but I heard: He’s awkward, he’s slow, you haven’t been teaching him adequately, and he’s socially inept. He’s not good enough for us, and it’s your fault for not teaching him better.

On top, I was angry. Angry because I had told them about his reading problems and they had assured me they would work with him wherever he was. Angry because I’ve taught reading for most of my adult life, I’ve been working with him all of his, and I KNOW what his problems are and they’re NOT just a “lack of d*mn strategies.” Angry because they had said they would work with him at his level, wherever he was–and changed their tune after they got his $90 non-refundable application fee and actually met him. Angry because he DID connect with the other children, standing back and watching and learning and then telling me all about how great the other kids were, down to what they were interested in and what their names all were. How could they have missed that? Angry because they judged his social skills based on how he interacted during a single morning spent with a group of children he had never met, but who had all seen each other and worked together every single day for an entire school year. Angry because in all that, they completely missed the PRECIOUSNESS of this extraordinary child, my extraordinary, delicate, precious, one-of-a-kind, amazing child.

Below that anger, though, I was devastated. This is why:

OH MY GOD. I HAVE SCREWED HIM UP. They’re right. He’s behind because I haven’t employed the right “reading strategies” with him. He’s behind socially because we don’t expose him enough. Haven’t taught him well enough. He’s not special. He’s just an ordinary, messed up, awkward, learning-disabled, falling-behind child whose sheltered homeschooled life has made him this way.

I called my mom. I was in hysterical tears. She told me later that initially she thought I must be calling to say that there’d been a terrible accident and someone was seriously injured or worse. That’s probably why she laughed when I told her what had happened. She was so relieved.

And then she talked me down. Because she knows the truth: Their opinion of him is nothing. He is who he is. Their opinion of ME is nothing. I am who I am. We are who we are and who we are–all of us in this messed-up, crazy little family–we are wonderful. And then she helped me figure out a path for him and for me and for the family.

Which reminded me of this piece of brutally true writing advice from Anne Rice: Don’t ever take advice from someone who doesn’t love your work. When you get a rejection slip from a publishing house and all they have to say is what is wrong with your book, throw it in the trash and don’t think any more about it. They don’t get it, and they don’t get you, and their advice is worthless to you.

The only place to take advice and criticism is from someone who LOVES your work. The editor who sends you a rejection slip that says, “We’re sorry. We love your book, but we can’t publish it. We’d love to look at it again if you do these specific things with it.” Listen to that editor. That’s the editor who GETS it. Make those changes. Because the only advice worth listening to is advice that comes from a place of love.

This is true for the rest of life, too. Don’t listen to people who tell you what’s wrong with your children unless they also LOVE your children, understand them, GET them. When they know what’s SPECIAL about your particular children, and they love them for who they are… then they can tell you things that are worth listening to.

And that is why we STILL homeschool. Despite all the changes in our lives over the past two (three? I’ve lost track) years, despite all the stress we could avoid by having them officially babysat by the government Monday through Friday, despite the worries and the challenges, despite everything. We still homeschool because the people who CARE about these particular children, the people who GET them, who LOVE them, who really want what’s best for them: Not one of them ever says, “They’ll be better off in school.”

I did however just yesterday run into a lovely lady from our neighborhood who thinks all our children are precious and especially feels drawn to Eli’s delicate, sensitive soul. And she offered him drawing lessons. And so that is how I know she is someone we can learn from. She gets him. I am so grateful we left ourselves open to these kind of experiences, instead of boxing him in with a school that doesn’t even understand who he is.

So, I’m going to close with a little piece of advice. I don’t often give advice, but I LOVE your precious, one-of-a-kind, amazing, and INCREDIBLE children really really, and so I feel qualified to offer this one teensy suggestion:

Decide what is right for your children and family, and DO IT. School, unschool, homeschool, public school–whatever is right for your specific, one-of-a-kind, crazy (or not), wonderful little (or big) family… do that thing. Don’t let the world (or me or anyone) tell you something else is right, because NO ONE will EVER GET your family, your precious children, like you do.

Our crazy, messed-up, one-of-a-kind amazing and wonderful boys

Our crazy, messed-up, one-of-a-kind amazing and wonderful boys

19 responses to “Why We Still Homeschool

  1. This is wonderful, and inspiring to me from a writing perspective. But I sent it to two moms who I think will get something out of it too. Great post, Heathers.

  2. Oh my gosh. Thank you. Jaimie, that quote from Anne Rice–that was in a video you posted to your blog. So, thank YOU. Pat, thank you. Deborah, thank you. Thank you all for your encouragement.

  3. Oh my gosh. I’m sitting here with tears streaming down my face as I type. We’ve homeschooled for 3? 4? years and lately I’ve been thinking “Are we doing the right thing? Are we messing up the boys?” Our boys are quiet around other children, aren’t “into” the stuff that other kids their ages are, and have VERY few friends. DS2 is behind in reading, both of them have terrible handwriting, and they have no interest in schoolwork. It makes me question what we do everyday. BUT both of them are kind– going out of their way to help others, constantly making little gifts for family members, invent their own games, build amazing things with Legos, cardboard boxes, and anything else they can duct tape together. They make up stories, spend the majority of their day laughing and smiling, and have an insatiable interest in history. DS2 doesn’t do well with other children as he has a very thin skin– he gets his feelings hurt very easily and it takes a long time for him to get over it. But when he loves someone he LOVES them deeply. When he’s happy he’s absolutely ecstatic, and when someone he cares about is sad he truly feels their hurt as his own. I can’t help but believe that he would not be the person he is if he were in public school.

    So thank you for your post. You’ve given me great reassurance that I’m not the only one who has doubts and worries that she’s messed up her kids.

    • These are the comments that make my day. Thank you. And you reminded me of this: http://momastery.com/blog/2012/01/18/for-adam/. Glennon (the owner of that blog) is one of my FAVORITE bloggers. She’s amazing. She’s not a homeschooler, but that post pretty much sums up for me what is important in raising my children, the big thing I want them to know. It sounds like your kids understand it too. I’m so glad we connected. Feel free to look me up on Facebook and/or email me. It sounds like we have a lot in common. 🙂

  4. There are days I ride the edge of insecurity and doubt.

    On those days, I think it would be better for them to be in school because I’m blinded by standardization and the pressure of standing out from others (as though it’s a bad thing). Humans are social creatures who detest being outsiders even as we relish our rebellion.

    So I wobble on that edge, dreading the thought of them being one of a throng yet tempted by the release of responsibility.

    What draws me back, repeatedly, is that They can’t do it like I can. They don’t have the time or the dedication. They’re running a tight ship and can’t stop to wait for anyone splashing in the wake.

    I’m copying that Anne Rice advice right now. It shall be printed up and put in plain view. Thank you.

    • Yes, this is so true! One or two of my boys might do just fine in school, they’d learn to paddle along and look like they belong. At least one of them would be half-drowned, grasping a life preserver while the onlookers on deck point and laugh as he’s dragged along behind, blaming himself for not being good enough to stay on board, and apologizing all the while for inconveniencing the very people making fun of him.

      Eli is PROUD of who he is, and he should be. All of my children consider it a compliment to be called “weird” because it means they’re being themselves, not somebody else. Popular culture idolizes the idea of “being yourself” and yet we train our children to fit in, to sit still and quiet and follow the rules.

      I have to wake up every morning and make the decision all over again. And maybe some day the decision will be different, maybe some day it will be School. But for now, so far, it’s always been Homeschool.

      By the way, in about thirty seconds, I’m going in to add a link to the complete Anne Rice video on the blog where I originally watched it (thank you, Jaimie). If you’re a writer, it’s a MUST watch. Even if you’re not, there is so much truth in her words. Stay tuned…

      • Thanks for baring your soul with us Heather. Wasn’t Einstein a problem child-student who I believe had much difficulty with reading, but apparently learned his math well enough to become very successful? The purpose of going to school is of course, to learn the basics but it is also a chance to learn the things we don’t like or can’t do. Once you run into that wall you gravitate in the direction of the things that you can excel in. Therein lies the secret of learning.

      • YES, Einstein is one of our heroes here. We think Eli has a very similar brain function–many of the same weaknesses, many of the same strengths. We hope we’ll be able to nurture him to reach his potential. But more importantly, we hope he always remains the kind-hearted, compassionate, and loving person he is.

  5. Your story reminds me of why my mom started homeschooling. I wasn’t homeschooled, nor were two of my sisters, but the youngest four in my family are. My mom started homeschooling because she was so frustrated with the way the public school was treating one of my brothers, then age seven (now age 21). They said he had learning disorders, ADHD, behavioural difficulties, was antisocial, etc. They criticised her parenting and said that he had to be on medication to come to class or he would be put in special ed. He was just an active little boy who didn’t like sitting still for eight hours a day. But the teachers didn’t get him and didn’t care about him. All they cared about was their own convenience. So my mom pulled him out of public school and started homeschooling him, with his best interests in mind. It took a few years, but eventually he became a lot less hyper and is now a pretty mellow and intelligent young man.

    They did the same thing again with my next brother, also when he was seven or so. Like your son, he had reading difficulties, only he got a diagnosis of dyslexia. It was a small, rural school and they said they didn’t have the resources to teach dyslexic children and that if he couldn’t keep up in the classroom, they would put him in special ed. Again, just because that was what was convenient for them, not because it was good for him. So he, too, was taken out of public school and homeschooled. My mom got certified to teach dyslexic students and within a year, he was reading at grade level. He’s now 18 and school has never been his thing, but he no longer struggles with reading. I don’t think the public school would have ever done much to help him overcome his disability.

    After that, the youngest two never even went to public school.

    I have some complaints about the way my mom has homeschooled, but I can’t fault her intentions or her efforts. My brothers and your son are lucky to have parents who care enough about them to do what it takes to make sure they can succeed and be happy. One of my nephews in Germany is failing horribly in school and I think he would be a good candidate for homeschooling, but it is illegal there. It breaks my heart to see his future slipping away into nothing because his teachers just don’t care and his parents are prohibited from intervening. Your mom is right to say you should ignore the people who don’t understand and appreciate your child for who he is.

    • I’m the first to admit that homeschooling isn’t always ideal. Of course, “ideal” is rather a high stretch for any situation. I’ll take “good” “nurturing” and “good enough” as good enough.

      I’m sorry to hear about your nephew. I knew some countries made it tough to homeschool–I didn’t know it was outright illegal in Germany. How sad. I hope his parents are able to advocate for at least “good enough” for him.

      • Yes, in Germany children all go to state schools. There have been several cases where parents had their children taken away from them by social services because they tried to homeschool. It’s considered a very antisocial and bizarre thing to do.

        Private schools aren’t really an option there either. They track children very early on. The good students go on to Gymnasium, which is the pathway to university. The bad students are put in Realschule by age 12 or so and they will never have access to university. The best they can hope for is vocational training or an apprenticeship. So the message is sent to kids very early that in Realschule, they will never amount to anything and the teachers don’t care because they have already decided the students are dumb or lazy and make no effort to motivate them or help them to improve. It is very sad. My brother-in-law has argued with the school and the teachers many times about the quality of his son’s education, but they just blow him off because they know there is nothing he can do about it. Their schooling system was the biggest factor in why my husband and I decided we don’t want to raise our kids in Germany.

        Homeschooling is legal in Australia, but uncommon. I do like the idea of homeschooling, but there are so few resources here for homeschoolers that I’m not sure I could make a go of it. I’d definitely do it if I felt my kids would benefit from it, but the norm here is more that you put your kids in private schools if you want them to have a good education.

        When my husband’s sister (who also lives in Germany) found out that we would consider homeschooling, she chewed him out and said our children would end up being unsocialised American brats (like me, presumably) and how could he even consider such a thing because only weird people would do that. Part of me wants to homeschool them all just to spite her!!!

      • Wow, I didn’t know any of that. Thank you for sharing–makes me really glad to be an American, which is not something I say all that often, unfortunately. We certainly have our issues here, but at least we still have some say in our children’s upbringing.

        Well, if you do decide to homeschool, your kids can be unsocialised American brats like mine! 🙂

  6. We don’t homeschool. If we did, they might learn only the things I like, or they like. I spent way too much of my life so disciplined, so structured, and finally I can be me…and that really doesn’t include math or physical science. Or a bunch of social interaction. So while I question my decision, I know I don’t have the skill or discipline needed to do it. I do my best to refrain from beating myself up about it. So when I read your post, I really thought about it, especially after seeing the news about an elementary school in lockdown.
    It can be very scary to get on that big yellow submarine.

    But that works for us.

    Our kids just like knowing about dung beetles and impressing and grossing out non-farm kids, and they think everyone else is a little weird if they don’t have special clothes to catch poultry in….like barn clothes or “Chicken chasin dresses”….

    • It sounds like you’re doing a great job raising your kids! While the title of the essay includes homeschooling, the real point is that YOU know what works for you and your family, and so whatever it is, COOL.

      I also want to add that I don’t really believe in a “best” situation. That implies a sort of hierarchy, as though anything short of “ideal” is “less than.” I believe there are many good paths, and that every path has its benefits and its challenges and its problems.

      And that most paths are really quite, quite GOOD ENOUGH. The fact that you know you don’t *want* to homeschool, is reason enough to have your kids in school. And it sounds like they’re doing a GREAT job of being proud to be themselves. Which means YOU’RE doing a great job of letting them. 🙂

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