WHY I HOME-SCHOOL MY CHILDREN by Tess Riley
It still happens fairly often.
We’re standing in line at the supermarket, when someone in line behind us, politely trying to make small talk, asks where my children attend school.
“They don’t go to public school,” I reply. “We’re a home-schooling family.”
There’s usually a long pause. A stiff smile. An unspoken comment hangs in the air. “Oh. You’re one of those people.”
There currently are more than 30,000 children ages 5 to 17 home-schooled in Colorado, according to the Kids Count Census Data Online. Nationally, home-schooling is rapidly becoming a widely accepted educational option, with conservative estimates of 1.1 million American families teaching their children at home.
Yet there are still many people who believe that home-schoolers belong to radical fringe groups or have some kind of vendetta against the public school system. I can relate. Before I had children, I used to feel the same way. Why would anyone choose to teach their kids at home when public schools, staffed by trained professionals, would take them off your hands and do it for free? I still recall my initial reaction when, in the early ’80s, some friends announced that they planned to home-school their children. I was stunned. They’d always seemed so … normal. What was with these home-schooling people, anyway?
Then I had children.
When my oldest daughter reached the age of 5, I looked into her enormous blue eyes and knew there was simply no way I could load her onto a school bus, wave good-bye, and send her off into the care of strangers. For the first time, I began to contemplate home-schooling as a viable option. Although the main reasons most families home-school their children are because they feel they can provide a better education at home or because of religious convictions, those reasons, though valid, were not my primary concerns.
It wasn’t that I lacked faith in the abilities or training of teachers. Some of my best friends are teachers. My college major was education. Teachers are my heroes. It also wasn’t that I was afraid the public school curriculum would turn my daughter into a godless heathen. I, myself, am an uncorrupted, God-fearing product of the public school system.
No, it was more basic than that. Call me overprotective if you like, but when I gazed into my daughter’s trusting face, it wasn’t teachers or curriculums I wanted to shield her from. It was her peers. The cruelty of children to children. Even though the most commonly raised objection to home-schooling is a perceived lack of socialization, it was this very same issue that was behind my desire to educate my daughter – and later, my other children – at home.
For some reason, our culture has always blindly accepted the notion that children can only be properly socialized by spending all day in age-segregated groups of 25 or 30 of their peers. That puzzles me. In such a setting, children develop a “survival of the fittest” mentality. Cliques, bullying and power struggles emerge. Children face enormous pressure to conform. Wear the right clothes. Listen to the right music. Experiment with drugs, alcohol and sex. Be cool. Ridicule the outcasts.
At an age when our children are most vulnerable, they are subjected to pressures and temptations more overwhelming than any they’ll ever face in their lives. Not even the most diligent teachers or carefully implemented programs can prevent the often unspeakable terrors that many children quietly endure on a daily basis.
I vividly remember the day I sat in front of the television set, sick to my stomach, as the Columbine drama unfolded, grateful beyond words that my children were all safely accounted for in the next room. Granted, Columbine was an extreme, isolated incident, but the subtle dynamics behind the Columbine tragedy play themselves out in classrooms across the country every day.
I want my children to grow up feeling safe. I want them to learn kindness. I want them to be free to be who they really are, without fear of ridicule. I want to protect them for as long as I can. It is for this reason that I’ve chosen to educate my children at home. It’s the only choice I can live with.
Tess Riley, a former children’s librarian, is now a full-time wife and mother of four. Visit her blog at tessaegg.blogspot.com.