As more parents are considering homeschooling than ever before, I am getting a lot of messages and comments from moms who want to homeschool but are having trouble getting their husband on board.
So during a recent road trip, my husband agreed to let me interview him about his transition from having an unfavorable view of homeschooling to being a homeschool advocate.
Before we get into the interview, it helps to have some background about my husband so you know more about his perspective. His career includes 20 years in law enforcement at all levels of government, including military experience. He has worked in a domestic violence unit, but his real specialty is crimes against children (about a decade and a half of his career was spent in this area). He has an M.A. in Counseling, and when he retired from law enforcement he began counseling victims and families.
So in short, he has spent a lot of time with children, with families, and in schools conducting investigations. And he is certainly no stranger to how the government works, for better or for worse. And yet, homeschooling wasn’t something he was excited about in the beginning.
That's where we started
So why don’t we start with the way that you felt about homeschooling in the beginning. What was your first impression?
Well, it wasn’t favorable. We (police) had to deal with kids who were getting into trouble and breaking into houses who were most likely actual drop-outs, but I think technically they said they were homeschooled. So I just thought of kids who get into trouble.
I think that’s kind of funny because we went to church with so many homeschoolers, so at the same time, I was watching all of these amazing families and seeing such a positive model. Did you just not notice?
No, not really. I just wasn’t paying attention to that.
So what else bothered you?
I think just the fact that it wasn’t the norm. That and seeing all the drop-outs. I just didn’t want to be different.
What made you finally let me try it? I remember that we started talking about it more, and started talking about “probably” starting, but then you kept putting it off and stalling. And I was getting frustrated with that because I felt like we were losing time at that point. I remember sitting in the Home Depot parking lot when you finally said it was okay to start in the fall, and you said something about this realization that made you stop stalling and just do it. But I can’t remember exactly what you said.
Really? I don’t remember any of that. All I remember is that it finally came down to the question, “Did I trust you?”
Yes. It was important to you, and I really didn’t want to do it, but I just decided that I trusted you and that was all that mattered.
Wow. But you still weren’t happy with it in the beginning. And it was awkward for me in the beginning, too. But things changed by the end of that first year. Sometime near the beginning of the year you said it wasn’t working for you, but by the end of the year you said they didn’t have a choice for the next grade - they were homeschooling.
Actually, I remember you saying. “You’ve taught (oldest child) more in one year than he has learned the last seven put together.”
What changed your mind?
I don’t think it was one thing. I liked that you guys could travel with me. I liked seeing the kids not being so stressed and doing things they liked to do. I liked that I didn’t have to worry about the kids coming into contact with someone I had to deal with at work. It was also very flexible. And I liked knowing exactly what was going on all the time.
Uh-huh. Knowing what is going on - I always call that not having a middle-man. I never had to try to figure out if a child needed discipline or advocacy.
You said one of your objections with homeschooling was that it wasn’t the norm. Do you think this is the biggest problem for most dads?
Yes. That and the fact that if kids are at school, someone else is taking care of everything. They don’t have to worry about it or deal with it. It just sounds easier. But that’s the way everything is that is public or government run: public schools, public healthcare, public housing, even public buses.
Ride on a public bus for a few days and see if that makes you want to get into a car. A car is more headache for sure - you are responsible for the maintenance of it, you are liable for breakdowns, you have to pay for parking - you’ve got to do it all.
But you can choose who rides in your car and who sits next to you. You have control of the schedule; you get to leave or stop whenever you want to.
A public bus is easier - a lot less to worry about - but is that how you want to travel? Public school works the same way.
I love that analogy - but can I just say that having done both, I don’t think public school is actually easier? I mean, remember how many hours (child) and I spent on homework?
Yeah, but that’s not the way they are going to look at it. They are going to think about how it affects them.
But did you not think that way about things when they were in school?
Yes, I did. I knew it was bad. I just didn’t really think there was something better. I didn’t think we had a better choice. Kind of like how everyone used to go to a dealership to buy a car and you just put up with all of their horrible stuff; but now there are places like CarGurus where you don’t have to deal with all of that, and you have more choices from all over the country. We didn’t really have to do it that way, we just didn’t know anything else until now.
What else do you think dads miss about homeschooling?
Well, a lot of them are competitive and want their kids to be competitive. Homeschooling is like having a private trainer instead of going to a gym class. School is designed more to keep the group on the same pace.
A kid who is homeschooling and knows what they want to do can structure their whole plan around that. They can spend more time and put more hours into the area where they want to be competitive.
OR they get to find out early if they are choosing a path that they actually don’tlike - remember, (child) took flight lessons thinking he wanted to be a pilot. But after finishing his solo flight, he decided it wasn’t his thing.
Right - and he didn’t go to (local university with a flight school) and rack up $150,000 on flight hours first.
Speaking of college, he ended up getting an ROTC scholarship. You did that visit with him on campus where you met the Major who was over the ROTC program. Tell us about that.
He was very happy to find out (child) was homeschooled. He said the military already knows how to tell people exactly what to do and teach them to follow orders, but they weren’t looking for that in ROTC. They were looking for people who were independent, who could think for themselves and solve problems, and he said that was a quality they found most often in homeschoolers.
Okay, so those are some great points about homeschooling, but what about when two parents are working, like us? Some people are okay with homeschooling, but think they can’t homeschool if both parents are working all day.
You have to remember how much downtime, how much wasted time kids spend in school. Homeschooling is easier because you aren’t tied to a schedule, there isn’t a middle man, and you can pick your own curriculum.
It’s not as big of a time investment that most people think it is. I think some people are afraid they have to teach everything, and that's not what it's like. It's more like making decisions with them about what they will do and putting a package together.
And kids have more time to learn and do their work. They aren’t waiting for a bell. They also get to spend time on their own interests, like how (child) got to go to the gym every day.
Oh, yes. And that ended up helping him get the scholarship.
Somewhere along the way you have become as big of a homeschool supporter as I am, and I remember a conversation you told me you had with a co-worker whose wife was thinking about homeschooling when the two of you were out working and went to a prison - do you remember that?
Yes. We went to the prison on a call earlier in the day. Their outside privileges had just been taken away because of behavior issues. And of course, there everyone is told exactly where to go when, and what time to eat. A bell rings to tell them when to move. They have to walk in a line everywhere. They don’t choose their cell mate - everything is controlled.
Then later we had to go to the school in the same town. Those kids had their recess taken away because of behavior problems. And yes, they were all walking in lines and being told where to go when and who to sit with and when to eat.
I just looked at him and said, “What’s the difference between the place we just were and where we are now?”
So now I want to get your answer to some common questions that everyone asks. I know my answer to these, but I want to hear it in your own words from your perspective.
(trying not gag) What about socialization?
(gives a look)
I know! I want to hear what you have to say.
Socialization is overrated. Especially in public school, where there is no way to root out the bad socialization. You have to take the bad with the good. In homeschooling, I think you get more results from the absence of those bad influences than any absence of good influences.
But I just don’t see how you can have an argument today that your kid cannot be social unless they are in school. Maybe in the 50’s; but today, there are so many opportunities - that’s just not an excuse.
How can I give my child an education that is as good as a public school or a certified teacher?
First of all, I just don’t see how having a bachelor's degree makes you more qualified than a parent to teach their own kid. Lots of people have bachelor’s degrees and that doesn’t make them the most qualified person to do their job. And it’s not just about “who is more qualified” but “who is going to put more into it.” A parent is going to do everything they can for a child.
But the other thing is that you have to ask, “What are you trying to do?”
If your goal is to do everything the way the public school does it, then, yes the teacher is probably more qualified. But that’s usually not the best way to learn or the best thing for your child. And we know that teachers usually can’t do things they want to do with them. They have to do what they are told most of the time.
What if I homeschool my younger child, and they want to go to high school later?
That’s not very likely. Who is going to want to do that after years of making their own schedule and having all of that freedom? If a child really wants to do that, then something else is wrong.
I’ve known some who have done it. But I don’t know if I agree it is the best decision after observing it. Not because they couldn’t keep up - that’s usually not an issue (if anything they are ahead and bored). I’d say it’s more because they are missing a big opportunity to grow and figure out who they were created to be.
I worked with someone whose kids went back to school. Her daughter stayed and did fine but her son quickly went back to homeschooling because he was so bored with classes. I just don’t know why you or the child would want to enter that kind of environment after having all of that individual opportunity. High school is the time to really transition into being an adult and that’s hard to do when you are being told exactly what to do and where to be all day. (but I guess this is not about my answers…)
Another topic I’ve been asked about is the challenge of special circumstances like ADHD or dyslexia.
(Funny look) That just means they don’t understand how homeschooling works.
Well, I know that - but they need more explanation.
I just don’t see how that would stop a family from homeschooling. I’m sure that whatever school they are in, it’s not a 1:1 ratio. So they get less attention for those needs. And they are being forced to learn the same way everyone else learns, instead of figuring out what works best and doing that.
But what if the parent feels that the child needs constant supervision while working?
Well that’s a habit that will need to change. They won’t be able to work like that or be supervised constantly if they go to college. And they are definitely not going to get that habit changed at school. If they homeschool, they can work on those skills little by little while doing what works for the child.
So what about getting into college or doing well in college? You have taught at the college level. What do you think?
Homeschoolers definitely stand out - but in a good way. That’s because college is not micromanaged like high school. Students have to work independently, and the homeschoolers are used to that.
Also, because they are not used to following a group of people, they are more forward and willing to take charge. They don’t get into cliques. They just aren’t looking to follow other people.
You told me everyone you worked with loved having homeschoolers in their classes.
So here is another one that I see a lot - especially from dads: “But school is real life.”
Well, it’s all about quality. If that’s what you are satisfied with, then you’re right - that could be life.
But it’s not like real life. You already talked about it being like prison, getting told what to do all the time.
Yeah, but a lot of people choose to live that way; again, it’s all about quality and what kind of life you want to have.
Okay, fair enough.
So this is a little out of the topic, but that lady at Harvard I was telling you about just came out with another article, talking about a presumptive ban on homeschooling to prevent abuse. Because this is your area of expertise, do you want to weigh in on that?
What is her argument?
She is basically saying that teachers are mandated reporters so kids should be in school so abuse will be caught.
Well, first of all, I don’t know the laws in Massachusetts, but in this state, and in a lot of states, everyone is a mandated reporter. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do - you are required to report abuse and can be prosecuted for not reporting it. And that’s how it should be because the very first person a child goes to is usually the other parent or another family member.
The other thing is that I’ve worked a lot of cases of abuse that happens in schools, and in my experience, the schools tend to cover it up more or try to interfere with the investigation.
She is just trying to use a scare tactic. She’s picking that because there is an element of truth to it - but that’s like saying we all could die from a comet. Yeah, that’s technically true, but not realistic.
Sure, school is one more layer of protection, but if you have to go through all of the garbage kids have to go through from public school to get it it’s not worth it. I could get four separate insurance policies on my vehicle, too, but that doesn’t really make it more effective. (I think maybe because we are driving all of my analogies are transportation-related).
But kids are more likely to be abused at school. There is more bullying, violence, drugs, and just more exposure to strangers. Your kids are put under the authority of a lot of people that you don’t even know. Public school just opens more risk. And those are all things that you wouldn’t expose your child to under any other circumstances.
It just sounds to me like something happened in her past that is maybe making her hostile to this.
Well, one of her main complaints is that kids may be taught conservative and Christian principles without exposure to other views and that is dangerous.
Oh. So she just has an ax to grind. You can’t reason with someone like that.
Okay, so from your other area of expertise - all of this counseling that you do with families now - is there anything to add from that perspective.
Well, just that it comes down to whether you trust your wife. If it is something that is really important to her, you need to think about that. If you really trust her, then just try it out. Worst case, you can always go back to school. This isn’t like buying a house.
What do you mean? I think it’s a pretty important decision.
Yes, that’s what I’m saying. It’s a much more important decision than buying a house, so you need to think about why it is important to her, and if you trust her, you should just trust her and let her try it.