I’ve been a homeschooling parent for six whole months now, after pulling two of my three kids out of public school at the end of the 2018-19 school year. But my oldest, who successfully argued for completing his final two years at public school, is now on the COVID-19 hiatus along with his sisters.
“I told you God wanted you homeschooled too,” I taunted him when schools cancelled classes last week. He smirked with that expression of acidic faux-charm that only a sixteen-year-old boy’s face can produce.
A friend asked me this week if I had any helpful suggestions – being a new-but-sort-of-experienced homeschool parent – that I could share with those who’ve had homeschooling thrust suddenly upon them.
Why, yes. I have three.
1. Take everything that experienced homeschooling parents tell you with a big fat chunk of pink Himalayan sea salt.
Homeschooling parents are wonderful people, many of whom have graciously come alongside me in my hour of desperate need. But watching the nation’s public-school parents clamber in fear because their kids are going to be home all day has turned a certain cadre of homeschool parent into a blogging horde of humble-bragging posers. I’ve seen imperious self-validation dressed up in the costume of magnanimous concern, as self-minted experts launch into master-class tutorials about everything you should be doing.
You’re going to be fine.
You’re going to get through the day, perhaps with a lot of videos and videogames and sugary snacks to pacify the raging swarm of progeny underfoot. That’s okay. You don’t have to maximize their learning time with Shakespearean sonnet exegeses, assign home economics credit for correctly loading the dishwasher, or patent the better mousetrap they designed with the Raspberry Pi and set of actuators you ordered off Amazon.
You’re probably not really homeschooling anyway, at least not for the first segment of this indefinite quasi-quarantine. True homeschooling requires a plan (what subjects will they study and what materials will be utilized?) and the execution of said plan (how will we structure our time to achieve mastery of these subjects?). If your child has work sent home from school, your job is not much different than when you managed homework in the evenings. If the school hasn’t provided anything and you’re on your own, take a breath and give yourself some time to figure out what you want (and are able) to do. Your child’s future does not hinge on the educational outcomes in your house over the next few weeks. It really doesn’t.
2. Accept that you’re going to have good days, you’re going to have bad days, and you’re going to have days that illuminate to you why some species eat their young.
Constant togetherness is a consummate challenge, even for the most extroverted, optimistic, longsuffering, and love-filled people. Your children will fight with each other. They will fight with you. They will whine and wheedle and maybe roll around on the floor in an apparent febrile seizure, simply because you asked them to make their own PBJs, or to please wear headphones if they’re going to listen to 21 Pilots while their siblings are trying to take a math quiz.
But there will also be interesting conversations where your child asks you something like, “How come the Pilgrims came to America in the first place?” You’ll have powerful moments when your child opens up and tells you about something terrible or wonderful that happened, that you never knew because you’d never had time before to talk that long and that deeply. Your kids will surprise you sometimes with their wisdom, courage, graciousness, wit, and insight.
And there will be days when you look up a one-way ticket for one to Anywhere-But-Here and curse the Coronavirus to the underworld for grounding air travel. (Put the suitcase back in the closet. You can’t run away from home. You’re the grownup.)
3. Consider this social-distancing time like it’s a casting call for a homeschooling movie you might want to land a role in.
One of the reasons we pulled our younger two – and why I’d prefer to pull my oldest as well – is because we realized that public schools were teaching our children what to think rather than how to think. And we didn’t like some of the thoughts being power-streamed into their impressionable minds.
After six months of homeschooling, I can genuinely say that I wish I’d done this years ago. Admittedly, homeschool with a middle schooler and a high schooler is a very different beast than homeschool with a passel of primary-aged kids. I think I’d have had a tougher time with the latter, to be honest.
But with the direction public school is moving toward sex education from kindergarten and no rights for parents over what’s taught to their children didactically or tangentially, I no longer trust that public schools are partners to families. In fact, I’ve seen too many examples nationwide where public schools are blatantly hostile to parents. And when I see the empirical outcomes comparing homeschool education to public education, the former has a lot to speak for it.
It’s a sacrifice. One parent has to take the lead, and when both are working full-time, it might not be sustainable in the long-term. But it’s a finite time in your children’s lives, when foundations are being laid that will either serve or scar them for the rest of their lives. As difficult as the coming days (weeks, months) may be, this can also be a precious window into possibilities you never considered before.
It took a crisis to move me to homeschool. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
So good luck, fellow parent, and I raise my glass to you.
(Oh, if you haven’t cracked open the alcohol yet, you probably will soon.)
Salut and Solidarity.