A homeschooled child’s view of school

Over on Snavley Freebirds is an interesting essay written by a young man who has always been unschooled until he decided to try a year of public school as a freshman, Education from the Free Eye.  It presents an interesting perspective of schooling and education from the experience of someone who has stood on both sides of it.  The entire essay is worth reading, but a statement made in the introduction by one of his parents particularly caught my attention:

I regret that he felt that I talked about public school as a “bad thing” because I really didn’t mean to portray it as “bad”. I often countered (or defended) my stance to unschool and often mentioned some of the negatives about public school and he took that as my thinking it was ALL bad.

My daughter frequently asks questions about school, why we homeschool and why other people do not.  The second question is for me the easiest; the other two are too easy to misrepresent to a child who has no point of reference other than what her parents tell her.  Interestingly, however, if you ask my daugther what she likes about homeschooling, her answer will focus on what is wrong with public schools, a system she has never set foot in.  Her criticisms are true, in a caricatured sense, but without experience to draw from they come across as rather comical to me.  I know that she doesn’t really know what she is talking about, and regret that out of all our conversations, these few points against the public school system seem to have stuck in her mind.

When my husband and I talk about the homogenizing affect of schooling, most people would recognize in that criticism a tendency and a challenge of going through the school system, not an absolute rule that the system turns out only automatons of the state.  And while I have heard that term as well, I think it is used and understood largely as hyperbole, although I know there are those who do mean it in a more literal sense.  My daughter, on the other hand, does not have the benefit of experience or study and she hangs on my words.

I am like a translator between two worlds:  her homeschooling world, and the somewhat mysterious school world which seems so normal to everyone but her.  I don’t want her to grow up with the same sort of stereotyped view of the school system which so many in our society seem to possess of homeschooling.  I also don’t want her to go off and explain her limited view with “My mom said…”

It has made me a little more conscious of how I talk about school around my daughter.  But it also makes me curious.  How do you answer these questions?  And have you noticed your children coming away with a somewhat distorted view of what school is based on your discussions regarding education?

Hat tip:  Just Enough and Nothing More

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32 thoughts on “A homeschooled child’s view of school

  1. What a great question! I’ve been waiting for this post since you mentioned it on Homeschool Talk.

    I look forward to hearing everyone’s answers. I’ll have to come back with mine, since the rain is returning and we need more sandbags. 🙁

  2. My older children have a bad view of public schooling, as their only experience with it comes from taking taking their brother to speech and occupational therapy at our local school (when we lived in Louisiana). We sat outside the office for an hour. We watched children roam the halls and curse at each other. We saw kids being carried (literally) to the office. We listened to teachers down the hall scream constantly at children. We heard children cursing at the principal. We heard parents and grandparents (who more often than not came to school in slippers) curse at the children and the principal. It was a fun place.

    After taking my place on one such visit, my father completely changed his views on homeschooling. No kidding. However, I realize that that school isn’t representative of all public schools, and it does concern me a little that their view of public schooling is so skewed.

    And on the other hand, my youngest one loved it. He had fun and always got stickers or candy from his therapists! What wasn’t to love? 🙂

  3. I am so glad you’ve asked this question. This summer life as we know it was blown to bits. My husband lost his job and because living on site was a job requirement, we were forced to move. By the time you factor in housing and the loss of other benfits he ended up taking a $30,000 pay cut. Being in small town Nebraska we were just thrilled to find a new job at all, or should I say one that pays more than $6 an hour. We were homeschoolers committed for the long haul and now I find myself having to go back to work. Yesterday, my precious kiddos boarded a school bus for the first time ever. I managed not to cry in front of them:) This was the last thing I ever expected to happen, yet it has. I’m sending them to the very thing I don’t believe in anymore, hoping anything I’ve said in the past won’t hamper their success.

    You never know what’s around the corner- we have no guarantees in life.

  4. Oh, Victoria, I’m so sorry this is happening! Circumstances can change unpredictably and I’ve wondered before how my children would take it if I suddenly had to return to work for some reason. I hope things turn around for you soon, but if not, I’m pretty sure your kids will be fine. What they need most is involved parents, and I’m sure they have that. 🙂

    LOTP, I should hope LA schools aren’t representative. I heard some stories from fellow TFAers when I was teaching. But stickers and candy will balance out a lot of the bad for any kid. Might for me, too. Especially if they gave me those little Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Those things are worth settling many a difference over.

  5. Thanks, Renae. Me too…but having lost most everything for three days, it took longer than expected. I think I’m slowly learning not to commit myself to anything that involves our computer, but it probably won’t stop me from trying. Hopeless optimist, I guess.

  6. My parents are still both public school teachers so I spent a lot of time convincing my kids that public school was not the place to be–since my parents were trying to convince them it was–even though my mom considered home schooling my baby brother. Finally I gave up and showed them. We spent one day doing things the way I had to do them when teaching–right down to the attendance taking, standing in line, everything except the school bus, though I made them sit still for part of the amount of time their school bus would take (around here a school bus ride typically lasts an hour.) Halfway through the day they were totally done and never wanted to do it that way again. I was actually easy on them, cutting short most of the wait times to suit 3 kid instead of 25 to 30. The next time my mom went on about it they knew what she was talking about and said politely, “No thank you.”

  7. I’m just as guilty over this as the next person, but I have found that my older children, when they got to that part of teenagehood where they questioned everything we (their parents) ever told them, it actually *helped*.

    At some point, kids realize their parents have bias. And I’m the kind of parent that says so. They also know that I have been wrong on occasion and sometimes hold “wrong” opinions. (Hey, we let them disagree… what can I say?) So at some point they have, subconsciously, checked to see if Mom & Dad’s opinion was true or not.

    In the case of one child, he actually went to Real School and saw for himself. For another, she turned a critical eye and ear towards her friends and discerned her opinion for herself. In both cases, everything other people told them, and the things they experienced, showed that overall NO it was not a thing they wanted to do. They could see with clarity why their parents chose this route, and agreed.

  8. Excellent post, Dana. I believe it not only applies to public vs homeschool, but is also valuable when considering how we present Christians vs non-Christians to our children. I’ve watched my kids make remarks with a strongly biased opinion about people that is somewhat without basis. It’s teaching me to be more careful in the way I make comments, as well as how I teach them.

    Mine attended public school from K-5, so they have the experience, at least at an elementary level. I don’t think that is as much of an issue in our house as my prior thoughts.

    Thank you for the reminder.

  9. Very good point, Dianne. I guess I am a little more careful about how I talk about people than systems, because my daughter really has never said anything about non-believers as a group…just about school. Or maybe it is just because she is more curious about school since her closest friend is public schooled as well as several other girls she knows.

    Bias is ok…we all have biases…but when it passes through to children as a perceived objective view of the way things are, the view can be quite distorted.

  10. This is such a great and timely (for me) topic. I can’t wait to read the essay. And have my 13 year old read it.

    I have tried hard not to be negative to, or in front of, the boys about PS. They hear it anyway, mostly from their PS friends. And it doesn’t help that several of their Scout friends were pulled out of school this year, over bullying and TAKS tests. They complain a lot about their PS experiences.

    I also don’t want it glorified, because IMO, PS doesn’t deserve glorification. So, we mostly stick with the fact that this is the path that God put us on. We can’t speak for others’ paths. Which sounds lame, even to me.

  11. I haven’t read the essay yet but will do that later.

    I wanted to comment to answer your question.

    In the beginning, meaning preschool and Kindergarten years, I told my oldest various reasons for not going that were appliable to his age and that would affect him. For example, that we sleep until we wake up, we do not have to wake up early to an alarm. That he sleeps until or after the school bus goes by our house. That here we can learn faster or take more time matched to his need or desire, rather than having a set time limit to teach that subject and having to move on. That he gets one on one teaching not taught to a group and a limitation of being able to ask questions or get individual attention as happens in a class. Also I had told him of some nasty behaviors I saw happening to other kids when I was in public school and some things that happened to me. The freedom we have to travel at our free will, and the more open schedule that allows for taking classes and going to events that schooled kids can’t do because of being locked into their schedules.

    In first grade my son said something very negative about school and my DH got angry. He accused me of brainwashing my son against school and said he worried that if the day ever came that he HAD to go to school he’d be terrified. We discussed what I said to my son and was not all of that true? He said yes but I should try not to paint school as ALL bad. I didn’t think I was doing that but I was being truthful about the con’s of schooling which end up being pro’s of homeschooling.

    I have backed off from saying much to my kids about school or why we homeschool.

    However last year (then the oldest was in 5th grade and my younger child in 2nd–homeschooling) they asked why are we homeschooling? It was as if they didn’t know.

    There are SO many reasons why I HS and not all are for children to hear and some they’d not appreciate anyway. Some are too abstract for them to understand at their age.

    After learning more from the new book “From Crayons to Condoms” I have yet more reasons that I’m glad my kids are not in public school. I’m not explaining any of that to my kids.

    Right now I’m trying to speak to the positive’s of homeschooling which are also negative’s of schooling. Such as, they can take the great experiental nature course that schooled kids never get to do, except for some schools who use Natur’s Classroom that is one week in fifth grade and never repeated the rest of their schooling experience. I explain the sleeping late, the travel, the matching curriculum to their learning style, and the ability to learn more deeply about subjects we want to study more in-depth which does not happen in school.

    Since my kids mix with public and private schooled kids in the neighborhood, in the extended family and in Scouts they are not protected from the bullying and the normal yet negative social experiences that other kids are living with. From my viewpoint though their experience with that negativity is more limited and is less time than the schooled kids. In other words my kids still have more time with me and family and more time in healthier situations compared to whatever typical negative social thing may happen with some schooled kids they encounter. I think that makes all the difference.

    One more thing I read an essay once by an adult who was HSed and she said her parents always said they HSed mainly to protect her from negative social experiences at school and bullying. She said she never told them but she felt that meant her parents thought that she was incapable of handling those experiences and that she was inferior and had negative self-esteem due to that. She felt her parents thought she could not HANDLE the experiences which in reality was NOT what her parents thought, they just didn’t want her to even have to deal with that nonsense or harmful stuff. She said she wished her parents spoke more about the positive things about HSing of why they HSed and also to not let the child think the parent thinks the child is incapable of handling social situations. That essay made me think twice about what I said to my kids about school and homeschooling.

  12. My older two kids went to PS. My youngest just turned 5. He would have started Kindergarten this year. The oldest, when asked about public schools has several comments to make. He says, “Why would I want to waste all that time doing nothing?” “It would be nice if the teachers would spend their time teaching.” “I’ve learned more in one year of homeschooling than I did in 4 years of school (both public and private).” “I was able to make more friends in school, but school should be about learning.” So, yes, he’s probably quoting me a lot. But, everything he’s said was true.

    My kids don’t ask about public school because they’ve experienced it. But, I did ask my youngest if he wanted to go to Kindergarten this year. He went through a long litany of, “Well, if I went to school, I’d make friends. I made friends in preschool (before we moved here), so I’d make friends in school. But, then I’d have to be away from my brothers all day, and I wouldn’t like that. I probably wouldn’t be able to do first grade math, and I like that.” He continued with his reasoning for about 15 minutes and finally came to the conclusion that he wants to stay home. Interestingly, other than the math thing (which he must have picked up in reference to his older brother), everything he said was something he came up with on his own.

    My main problem is that my SIL & BIL are teachers and do NOT appreciate the fact we are homeschooling. They think we’re ruining our kids. I had to make it very clear to the kids, when they were going to visit them on their own, not to mention homeschooling to them. Fortunately, my SIL/BIL did not mention it to them, either.

  13. Good post. I also like the article. All three of my boys have been in public school. In fact, when we suggested that we home school they jumped at the opportunity and have not looked back. The way I describe public school to them is that it is a “broken system.” Not bad or evil, just malfunctioning. Some people feel that they have no choice but to send their kids to public school. That does not make them evil or bad. It simply means that they are doing the best they can with what they have to work with–a broken system.

    This has resulted in my kids having a general attidue of thankfulness for their home school experience but no judgment towards others that do not choose this educational journey. In addition, their public school friends often tell them how much they wish they could be home schooled too.

  14. I started homeschooling when my older 2 children were entering grades 2 and 3, so they have a frame of reference of their own, but when they tell other people about what they like about homeschooling, they say that they can work at their own pace and don’t have to wait for other kids to finish their work.

    That has always been what I emphasize about homeschooling – the individualized instruction.

    I remember the first year we homeschooled, one of the boys said that he was glad that he could like whatever he wanted to and not have to listen to other kids tell him what is cool. I thought that was neat.

    My youngest (who would be in K this year) will have never gone to school, so it will be interesting to address his questions. Right now he is excited to be homeschooled because it starts after Curious George is over. One of the often overlooked benefits to homeschoooing!

  15. Yes, well, if only we all had such wonderful motives for homeschooling as starting after Curious George. 🙂 We try to emphasize the positives about our own choices rather than frame it as a comparison, but she overhears mom and dad talking about education and frequently wants to know specifically “why not public school?”

  16. I agree that it is easier to discuss why we homeschool with my son. However, I realize that can even give very negative impressions about public school, especially for young ones who are still learning about the world. My son sees things so black and white, right or wrong.

    Our most interesting conversations have originated with the neighborhood children.

    One girl thought Bug gets to play all day, and while he does get to play more than kids in school that, of course, isn’t reality. (Well, usually, it isn’t ;)) So she and my son have discussed their different experiences. She still thinks that Bug is lucky. That wasn’t the response I expected.

    Other children think it is weird and have all kinds of questions about where and how my children do school. Those kids don’t come around as often. 🙁

    But the culture is such that even my 3-year-old insists that you have to go to school. I don’t know how to address that other than continuing to show my children that education isn’t sitting in a desk all day.

    And as an aside, we’ve also had to change the way we discuss politics around the dinner table. My son ended up thinking one presidential candidate is horrible, and tried to convince the neighbor girl of his opinion when she mentioned her support of said candidate.

    We were able to turn it around a bit, and thankfully, she still comes over. I’m starting to think this friendship might be good for both of them. 😉

  17. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time as well, so I’m glad you wrote this, Dana. Once again, Mouse sounds very much like the Scientist. We had a lot of these discussions earlier this year, when dd thought she wanted to go to school. She even came up with the “YOU both went to public school and YOU know how to think!” argument entirely on her own. But after further discussion, her real issues turned out to be the lack of opportunity to make friends (school is the social hub in our town and we were the newbies) and curiosity — she just wanted to see what it was like and be like everyone else. She has since found some good friends and hasn’t mentioned it again. Still, it was interesting and a little shocking to hear echo back our positives about HSing as negatives about PS. I think Renae really nails it when she talks about kids seeing things as “so black and white, right or wrong” — it seems like this is mostly a function of their age, so that even when we stick to the positives, they immediately extrapolate the corresponding negative. It took a lot of telling stories about my own positive school experiences as well as my husband’s mostly negative ones, to reach the point where she seemed to have a more rounded understanding of our decision to homeschool. And yes, we do homeschool because we think it is better than the other options; why does anyone choose anything if not because they think it their BEST option? But we certainly don’t want our kids going around with a chip on their shoulders either.

  18. Rebecca, I do think it has a lot to do with maturity and a very concrete understanding of the world.

    Renae, your comment on politics left me with another thought. As a teacher, I heard all sorts of things from the kids I taught. All the teachers I know (including the Sunday School teachers) joke about how you always know what is going on at home. But you also know to take it with a grain of salt and understand that their understanding of what they are parroting back is limited.

    I may not be entirely fair to expect any different from my children. Their view is limited, they cannot help that and we know we are not just feeding them a diet of public school condemnation.

  19. The way I have presented our view of education to our kids is that we have chosen homeschooling over public school like we might choose Kroger over Meijer, a pickup truck over a car, or hardwood floors over carpet. Home education fits our needs and our family dynamic.

    They have also seen public school from the ‘inside’, being part of afterschool Bible clubs for a couple of years (we took this last year off). When they were younger and would ask why kids have to sit in desks, raise their hands to ask questions, and stand in lines alot, I just explain that with that many kids, it is how you maintain order. Schools operate the way they do because traditional schooling has to attempt to fill basic educational needs for a huge number of children, so their SOP is based on that requirement, and they do the best they can to meet those needs.

    My kids have looked out the window and watched the neighborhood kids waiting for the bus in all kinds of weather, and I see them wrap themselves tighter in their fuzzy blankets and snuggle closer to me on the couch. They have taken away their own impressions of public schools from what they have seen, and I am not going to try to invent stories of how fun it is to wait on or ride the bus. I’d rather have a root canal than ride a bus.

    I have told my kids stories about the things I did in school that were fun or funny, but very few are about being educated, and they will occasionally point that out. Again- I can’t invent happy stories for them of things that I didn’t experience. I tell them that for some, traditional school was/is a great experience. It wasn’t all that for me.

    IMO this isn’t a ‘condemnation’ of traditional schooling. It is just how it is, and folks have a choice to use or not use the system or send their kids to private school based on what they believe is best for their family.

    If my kids have ‘attitude’ about public school, they got more of it from Neal Boortz than from me. We listen to him on occasion, and he is known to rant extensively about government schools. We as citizens can’t deny the fact that the system has serious problems. But if parents don’t work their butts off making sure their kids are receiving an education, then whether they are public/private/home schooled, their kids will more likely be dumber than dog hair unless the child is one of those self-motivated types or finds a mentor.

  20. I try not to criticize school in front of my children. I won’t lie to them if asked, of course, but I usually try to turn it back on them and ask them what they think. If I do happen to hear them spout off an opinion of *mine* as their own, I will call them on it. I’ll ask them why they think that or who told them that. I don’t mind if they agree (or disagree) with me but I want them to think for themselves and not just be tape recorders of me.

    I’m also not going to sugar-coat my school experiences. I heard them talking in the backseat the other day saying something about snack time at school. I had to break it to them that they don’t have snack time in school.

    But you know, it doesn’t really matter what *I* say about school. Their ideas and opinions are formed by everyone around us. Strangers are constantly commenting on how smart my kids are. And my kids quickly respond with, “We’re homeschoolers”. They believe that they’re smart because they don’t ‘do school’…but that, I believe, is what society has taught them, not I. Interesting post!

  21. I hear every word I mention of public education come back at me! And I too sometime want to laugh as I know my son doesn’t have anything to base his assertion on; but I also realized right away that I did not want to distort his view. I want him to come up with his own view and opinion based upon his own experience and understanding.

  22. That’s funny, Shawna. The weird thing is that it doesn’t seem like I have said all that much to my daughter about school. When I hear her talk, I realize that I perhaps have said or inferred more than I realize…but I suppose out of limited experience comes a greater tendency to take what little is said as the whole of the situation?

  23. My second child, who has always been homeschooled, talks about how she wouldn’t want to deal with bullies at school. I have no idea where she got that from – books, I guess. So I did have to start explicitly telling her why I think homeschooling is better, because she was only focused on why school can be bad.

  24. Many of the conversations we had about public schools centered around the fact that when you are teaching 20 kids you simply have to do things differently- it’s easier to be in the same book, on the same page. It takes time to get 20 kids ready for a spelling test, and everything else- so your day is much longer. It’s kind of like McDonalds vs. a small/ non-chain restaurant. We’ have always brought our faith into our homeschool studies, and we have talked about how in a classroom you have to be respectful of all different faiths- you either allow all of them to have a say or none of them.

    Our kids have friends in public school, private school and homeschool- so we’ve tried to highlight that they are all choices, just different choices for different people and different situations.

    They have managed to pick up some things about school that surprised me- they were all concerned about detention- he he he.

    I won’t pretend our conversations didn’t have a bit of a “our way is the best way” flavor to them. I think I felt I had to highlight the benefits (sugar coat) homeschooling to compete with “the grass is always greener” public school. I don’t know. The good news is kids are highly adaptable and after 2 days in public school we are doing just fine. God is faithful and true.

  25. That’s great, Victoria! Kids are adaptable, and there everyday quickly becomes “normal.” I’m sure you did a fine job preparing them for life, which right now I guess includes public school. 🙂

  26. I’m afraid I’m very guilty of only seeming to point out the negatives of public schools. I’m trying to be more aware of what I say and how I act or react to ps questions. I hope that none of my children ever have to go to a public school, but none of us knows what tomorrow will bring, and I don’t want ps to be something they fear or have such a strong negative inclination towards.

  27. I’m curious to see what attitudes my kids display about school–so far I haven’t seen anything except my 4yo’s eagerness to do “school” in any form whatsoever. I think when she asks why we don’t go to public school I’ll answer that it’s because we like learning things together, which is our biggest reason.

    I don’t remember having a horrible negative view of school growing up, though my parents gave me a day of “real” school which was enough to convince me it would be unbearably boring. But my baby brother must have picked up something negative. One day (many years ago) he commented on a school bus passing and my older sister asked him if he knew what it was for. “Yes,” he said, “That’s where the children whose parents don’t love them go.”

  28. My DD attended first grade in a public school. In was NOT a good experience. We had a successful 2nd grade year at home and are looking forward to 3rd grade – however, we know circumstances can change and we may not be homeschooling for the long haul. Whenever I mention the possibility of “regular” school to my daughter she freaks! She sees it as a possible punishment if she were “sent back” to school!

    In part, her negative association with public school has made my job easier. She knows she’s got it good now. But I also don’t like the idea that she’s basing her entire negative opinion of school on a bad first year. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE homeschooling and if we are able to do this through high school, we will. I just don’t know what the future holds (Victoria’s situation could easily become our own). I want her to know that she’s capable of going to public school and yet, I also want her to appreciate homeschooling. It’s a tough path to navigate!

  29. Very true. But if you do end up sending your daughter to school later, she will have the advantage of maturity and security in her relationships at home to help her through the transition. I think the whole system would be greatly improved if we didn’t send children off to it quite so young, and if they had shorter days in their younger years.

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