I wrote the following piece for today's issue of the Celebrate Kids' email newsletter...and I mean every word.
Education is a hot-button issue.
In fact, it’s exceedingly rare to find a person who doesn’t have an opinion about what’s “best” in terms of kids’ learning. Some insist that public school offers the best opportunities and should be mandatory for all, and others maintain that homeschooling is the only way to go. Still others assert that private school provides the best of both worlds. And when we add the voices supporting each of the vast, almost infinite, variety of options within “the big three” – charter, virtual, voucher, Charlotte Mason, unit studies, classical, unschooling, Christian, Montessori, alternative…just to name a few – we find ourselves surrounded by an ear-splitting cacophony of aggressive activism.
That said, opinions in and of themselves are not bad. And children’s education is so important that the existence of strong opinions is understandable. In fact, anyone who knows me personally is familiar with my background as a classroom teacher in “at-risk” schools, the pride I now take in being a homeschool mom, and my particular, deeply held convictions about educational theory and practice.
But it’s time to poke our heads up out of the trenches and get some perspective.
First, we must each realize that we don't have a right to an opinion about what's best for anyone else's child. My husband and I fully considered every educational option, have taken into account the ramifications of each, and have come to a conclusion about what's best for our children. We cannot be swayed...and we shouldn't have to endure unsolicited lectures - or "helpful suggestions" - from proponents of other options. But neither do we have a right to push our views onto parents who have chosen differently. In fact, unless we’re asked, we have no standing from which to state an opinion. Out of respect for parental authority, we must assume that all parents have fully researched the matter for their own children and have come to their conclusions in good faith. We might not agree, but it's simply not our place to butt in.
Conversely, we must also decide to stop being offended by others’ choices. My friend’s decision to enroll her children in the local private school is not an indictment of my homeschooling. My meme celebrating homeschooling is not an attack on a fellow church member’s decision to send her children to the public school down the street. And my relative’s announcement that his daughter made all-state for the public school’s volleyball team is not a jab at schooling options that offer different benefits. It’s possible that a rude, immature person might actually intend to offend in such a way, but why do we let ourselves assume the worst?
The “school wars” have grown tiresome. And no one will ever win if we insist on continuing to usurp others’ parental authority over their own children. But if we can choose to agree that the widest possible variety of options should always be available and that each child’s parents have the right to decide for their own kids, we can reach détente. It's time for a cease-fire.
Some people will have a hard time believing I mean these words because I am such an unflinching apologist for home education. In fact, I am fully convinced that any diligent parent - regardless of educational background or current circumstances - really can successfully homeschool, and I am profoundly and deeply troubled by much of what occurs within institutional schools of any stripe. And if I'm being completely transparent, I'll admit that I wish every school - public or private - would close tomorrow because every parent had withdrawn every child in favor of parent-led, home-based education. Of course, I don't go around saying that (despite admitting it here in this post!), but my strong advocacy in favor of home education is certainly not a secret. So I can understand why some would assume I don't really believe in parental choice.
And, though I cannot now recall specific circumstances, I'm quite sure I've crossed the line and "pushed" in regards to homeschooling. I'll probably do it again at some point...because I'm human. I'm not making excuses - when I've disrespected a parent's authority over her own children in the past and if I do it again - I have been - and will be - wrong. Without question. I should endeavor to prevent it from happening again...because I'm serious about what I say in the article about parental authority.
That doesn't mean I'll stop celebrating the joys of homeschooling. It's a wonderful endeavor - even in its unavoidable travails and struggles - and I feel the need to defend it because it is too often vilified by ill-informed blowhards who jump to conclusions and make ridiculous overgeneralizations. Because it's not at all mainstream - despite its long, successful history in the U.S. and around the world - it needs vocal support, and I'm happy to speak up for it. But, as I suggest in the article, my advocacy for home education should be seen as just that - support in favor of one particular thing in which I believe. And even when I write or talk about concerns with the system of institutional schooling - which I do on a limited basis and only with a matter of especially grave concern - I absolutely do not do so with a hidden agenda of seeking to shame parents who've chosen to use such schools. I cannot speak for anyone else who promotes homeschooling, and you'll have to choose to take me at my word, but that is the God's honest truth.
At root, I stand deeply and profoundly in favor of home education and just as deeply and profoundly for parental authority. One does not trump the other...which means - from the bottom of my heart - that as much as I beg you to honor the decision of parents who home-educate - please stop trying to convince us that we're wrong! - I do fully and completely respect your choice to choose another option. I would not choose it, but your kids are not my kids and I know my place.
Bottom line: I desperately wish we could all agree on that cease-fire, and I hope I live to see it.