Last night I finally got around to adding Simcha Fisher's blog to my Google reader feed. I may not always agree with Simcha, but the woman makes me laugh, and is a gifted writer to boot.
As I scrolled through some of the posts I've missed since Simcha got back into this whole blogging business, I came across this one, explaining why she and her family have decided not to continue homeschooling. The picture with the post is easily worth 3,000 words (probably more, given the going rates for Internet freelancers these days. Not that I'm complaining, or anything...).
Simcha's post about quitting homeschooling brought to mind a few similar things I've seen and heard--and that, indeed, I see and hear about this time every year. [Note: Simcha's post merely brought these things to mind. I am not and would not criticize Simcha's decision to quit homeschooling. She has a pretty compelling photographic argument in favor of it, after all. Kidding, kidding. Seriously, this isn't personal in any way and I've already said that I admire her writing and she makes me laugh and..wait, where was I? Oh, yes...] Some are announcements that a family isn't going forward with homeschooling; others are celebrations by the moms whose kids are climbing aboard the school bus; still others are the angsty, self-analytic words written by moms whose kids are in school but who anguish about whether they ought to be homeschooling, and similar posts by moms who are still homeschooling (for now, they mutter darkly) but who anguish about all the ways they might be harming their children by not letting them experience the industrial smell of a classroom, the joy of endless candy-bar sales and other fundraisers, or the challenge to scheduling brought about by six hours of classroom instruction, two hours of extra-curricular activities, and three more hours of homework, which is unparalleled in its ability to condition a child to endure a corporate job.
Of course I'm kidding. No mother ever anguishes about not providing her children with those particular classroom experiences. But regardless of the place in the "to homeschool/keep homeschooling or not" continuum various families are, they have one thing in common: they seem to fear being judged by the rest of the homeschooling community should they call it quits.
Now, I know our family is a bit unusual. When we started homeschooling I did so with the notion that we were entering a 12-year plan for each child (not counting kindergarten, which really shouldn't be counted given that I had no idea what I was doing back then and inflicted really difficult phonics and math stuff on little girls who wanted to chase butterflies and grasshoppers in the back yard all day). Sure, I've always said that should some really serious catastrophic thing happen that forced us to go a different route, we would do what had to be done--but I've never taken a "wait and see" approach, or a "one year at a time" approach. I've just figured all along that, good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise, we'd be homeschooling until the end of high school.
But even given my level of determination to homeschool, I don't make it a practice to judge as failures all families who ever have to quit homeschooling for any reason whatsoever. The thing is, just as there are homeschoolers and homeschoolers, there are reasons to quit and...well, you get the idea.
Just as an illustration, here are some categories of reasons I've heard over the years from homeschoolers who are quitting:
Group One: We are no longer homeschooling for a Serious Reason. Serious Reasons may include a death in the family, a serious physical or mental health issue in the family, a serious financial hardship that makes the mother's ability to earn money at a part-time job during school hours mandatory, or even prolonged and peace-destroying opposition from the husband (all too common, sadly) or extended family members. Others might be special needs education which the homeschooling parent wasn't prepared to offer, a serious disruption in family life such as a long-distance move, or a realization that the needs of the younger children outweigh those of the school-aged children for the time being (as when the mother of a large family realizes that her six older children's educational needs are being pushed aside because she is nursing a two-year-old and her one-year-old twins and has just found out she is expecting again).
Granted, there are many, many homeschoolers who keep homeschooling even in the midst of these sorts of Serious Reasons, but no one I know would judge a family who decided not to do so.
Group Two: We are not homeschooling this year, because this year it doesn't really work for us. Group Two people may not have a specific Serious Reason, just a need to experience something different as a family. They might just need a change, or they might need the reassurance that their children are actually learning. They are open to the possibility that they might homeschool again in the future, and they might even still be homeschooling some of their children. I don't really have a gripe about Group Two families; not everybody sees homeschooling as a non-negotiable, and these families tend to stay pretty homeschooling-friendly.
Group Three: We are not homeschooling for the foreseeable future because we are Burned Out. Group Three families are often the ones who are avidly investigating and even purchasing curricula while their oldest child is still in utero. Before any of their children are old enough for school, they have belonged to the local homeschooling group for at least four years and have attended approximately six homeschooling conferences. They invest serious time and money in school materials, classroom construction, and programs to ensure success--and then, by the time their oldest child is in third or fourth grade, they've had it. Do I complain, just a little, about Group Three families? Well, only if they've become crusaders against homeschooling, as some of them do--warning their younger friends not to get involved in homeschooling unless they want to be burned out, stressed, and exhausted all the time because that's inevitably what happens to homeschooling mothers, at least from their experiences. And any homeschooling mother who says she's not burned out, stressed, or exhausted is either lying or has a full time maid, nanny, and math tutor. Even if she says she doesn't.
Group Four: We are never ever ever homeschooling again and if anybody tells you homeschoolers are weird--believe it! The Group Four types are, in my wholly unscientific evaluation, the most likely to have decided to homeschool for the academic excellence promised, with religious issues, parents' rights issues, or other common reasons to homeschool very distant or not present at all. They may never have gotten over the idea that lots of those other homeschoolers are weird, but they knew that they wanted a much better education for their children than what was available in local schools. They may have pulled their children out of traditional school to homeschool.
What shocks the Group Four types, as you realize as you listen to them or read their online rants, is that whole being with their children thing. Nobody, it seems, explained to them that homeschooling meant they would probably be with their own children for what would seem like 24/7, even if the occasional field trip, extracurricular activity, or babysitter night provided some relief. It's not that the Group Four mom lived a pre-homeschooling life of bon-bons and manicures, necessarily, as that she got used to the idea that her job was to get her children to about age four, at which point a series of other grown-ups would step in and take over for at least six or seven hours every day, leaving her time to focus on laundry, housework, and the like.
It's not that this is an unreasonable desire on the part of a mom--but surely at some point in the discernment process as the Group Four moms were evaluating the pros and cons of homeschooling, they realized that their children would be mostly at home with mom--or if not at home, then with mom wherever she was?
So I do get just a tad critical of the Group Four types, who not only quit homeschooling, but will tell anybody who will listen that only weirdos and strange-types and closet Amish-wannabes can homeschool successfully. Because nobody but weirdos and strange-types and closet Amish-wannabes could possibly want to be with their own children all day long.
To sum up: there are lots of reasons why families may choose to drop out of homeschooling, and generally speaking I'm happy to take a "live and let live" approach. But I get a little tired of the former homeschoolers who have to tear down homeschooling in general because they decided it didn't work for them particularly. The whole "not judging" thing goes both ways, in other words.