Living Outside the Cultural
Explaining Home-Based Education
By Marty Layne
Home-based learning has become recognized and legitimized.
Home-educated students attend Harvard University, win spelling bees and
tennis championships. There are even cartoons about it.
Yet, it is still different and outside the cultural
norm. We live in a time when the phrase “surprise your family with a home
cooked meal tonight” used in a radio ad assumes that most families spend
very little time together. They hardly have time to eat together, much less
make a meal from scratch. For many parents the thought of school closing
for the summer is enough to give them the jitters. Why would anyone want
to homeschool and be with their children the whole year long?!
This can be a difficult question to answer. I found
it important to frame my answers in positive ways, i.e. “I want my children
to develop a relationship with their siblings, to have time to play together
and to learn about each other.” The problem with this answer was that sometimes
my questioner felt that I was accusing her of not wanting this kind of relationship
to develop among her children. If you say something like “I don’t want my
children subjected to playground bullies,” you will also get a negative
reaction. Most parents have at one time or another heard a variation of
the refrain: “Life isn’t easy. They have to learn that not all people in
the world are good, kind, etc.”
So there you are trying to sail yourself between
the proverbial rock and a hard place and finding yourself smashed from both
sides. If you look at the difficulty as a conflict of values, it may take
some of the tension and emotional dynamite out of the discussion for you.
Forewarned is forearmed. Conflicting values have led to wars but they can
also lead to a decision to agree to disagree and a mutual decision to respect
each other’s choices.
I find it helpful to use the shoe store analogy when
I try to describe to someone why I chose to help my kids learn at home.
When buying shoes for a child, everyone knows that not every child is going
to wear the same size or style of shoe. We look for a shoe that fits the
child and the family budget. Educational choices are like that – finding
the best fit for a child and family. And like shoes, the education a child
receives changes and grows to accommodate a child’s needs. For some people
who question your decision, this may be enough. However, human nature being
what it is, some people will not hear what you have just said and feel threatened
and become either defensive and apologize to you for not home educating
or attack you and tell you how your children are being deprived.
It is important to keep in mind that you do not have
to convince anyone of the rightness of your decision to help your children
learn at home. It is legal in all fifty of the United States and all the
provinces and territories of Canada. Most people don’t really want a long
drawn out philosophical treatise of why you are home educating, even if
they have asked. It is OK to answer with just a small bit of information.
“I wanted to be there as my kids learned things. I wanted the pleasure of
seeing their excitement and new found understanding” is an answer I’ve used
that often ends the discussion. It may also lead to more questions like
“What did you do about chemistry in the high school years?” There are times
when I want to answer flippantly “nothing” but most times I control that
urge and respond with something along the lines of: “My children didn’t
show an interest in learning more about chemistry than I was able to help
You may have a budding scientist and have found a
tutor for your child or you may be a chemist and shared your knowledge and
love of this field with your children. You might then be asked about the
arts. You can try to explain to someone but be prepared for confusion. The
concept of children learning about the things that interest them is a concept
that is difficult for most people to accept. It’s like speaking a foreign
And that is what places home-based learning outside
the cultural norm. A home educating family begins by redefining what it
means to educate children and in the process, we observe how our children
learn. Families discover that each child has interests and learning styles
that take place within the child’s unique time frame. One child may be reading
at age five and another at age twelve. But just like no one asks adults
when they were toilet trained, the question of how old one was when he or
she started to read doesn’t come up once a child reaches adulthood. It is
The next time someone asks you why you’re home educating,
you can answer:
1. briefly – “Because I want to.”
2. with a question – “How much time have you got?
3. with empathy – “It concerns you that my children
are not going to school.”
4. or with your usual answer.
Just keep in mind that whatever you answer, it is
OK not to say more than you feel comfortable saying. Remember, homeschooling
is the fastest growing grass roots educational movement in North America.
Although you are not part of the cultural norm, you are a part of a fair-sized
group who have decided for various reasons to educate their children at
home. You’re in good company.
Marty Layne is the mother of four successful
young adults who never went to school. As a result, she wrote and published
Learning At Home: A Mother’s Guide To Homeschooling, Revised Edition and
recorded and produced a children’s music CD “Brighten the Day - songs to
celebrate the seasons.” She also speaks at conferences in Canada and the
US. You can read more about her at www.martylayne.com.
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