Why We’re Opting Out of School: Introduction

unschooling kids

Note: In this post, I’m only talking about the choices we’re currently making in regards to our typically-abled seven-year-old daughter. We’re still not sure what route we’ll take with our disabled three-year-old son, who has complicated needs. From what I can tell, the Ontario public school system offers some great programs for disabled children which we are currently exploring.

I was going to title this post “Why We Homeschool,” but for some reason that didn’t feel quite right. As I pondered the reason for this feeling, I decided that the title placed the emphasis on the wrong thing. We didn’t so much “choose to homeschool” as “reject the whole notion of schooling.” We decided against disrupting normal life with this strange thing called “school,” and decided to just keep living life with our children.

The thing is, in my opinion, school is the strange, modern invention that begs justification more than homeschooling. Young people have been informally learning how to become capable adults by living alongside their parents, older relatives, and mentors since the beginning of history; education has only been institutionalized within the last two centuries, and the effectiveness of that model has been questionable. (I’ll be exploring that last claim in my next post.)

So far, we simply haven’t found a compelling reason to opt in.

I want to be clear from the start that I am in support of good public schools being available to all, as they provide valuable childcare services to working parents. The way our society is currently set up, many parents need or benefit hugely from being able to send their kids to publicly-funded schools, and I honour and respect that. I support high-quality, tax-funded babysitting to be available for all parents who need to to or want to work outside the home. It’s great that kids learn a few things along the way, too!

The current model of mainstream schooling is a perfectly decent option for those who can’t or don’t want to stay home with their kids. No judgment to those who take advantage of it. Who knows — we may even take advantage of it someday, too.

The fact of the matter is simply that school doesn’t offer anything of much value to us right now.

We don’t currently need or want all-day-every-day childcare. (Though I’ll admit I’d love one or two days of childcare a week to get things done; but unfortunately the current system only offers an all-or-nothing model).

And I can indisputably provide a superior education for my child than a school can, with little effort: not because I’m a better teacher than most teachers are — I’m sure that’s not true — but simply because I only have one pupil. I can provide one-on-one support, a flexible schedule, and an immersive, hands-on, tailor-made learning experience. There’s no way a single teacher can provide an education of equal value to 30 children, all stored in a single building for six hours a day, simultaneously.

I also recognize that it takes a certain amount of privilege to be able to make this decision. My husband and I don’t make a lot of money, but we have access to a number of other resources to make staying home with the kids full-time possible. I acknowledge my privilege within this conversation as a white, married, abled, educated, English-speaking citizen.

I also acknowledge that homeschooling — even unschooling — is far from perfect.

It can be a little lonely/isolating. I would love for my daughter to have more ready access to other children (and adults, for that matter). The way our society is currently organized, I have to put a lot of effort into making sure she interacts with people outside our family. That sucks. (But this is mostly just because so many kids go to school and are unavailable to play most of the day. If more kids homeschooled we wouldn’t have this problem!)

Homeschooling also tends to be an inefficient way to use resources, because in most cases each nuclear family must purchase their own equipment, materials, tools, etc, for individual use. I wish it was easier to share resources among families.

But so far, it seems to be the best option available to us.

I initially tried to tackle the entire subject of homeschooling in an entire post, but it quickly got too long, so I decided to break it up into two (or maybe three).

In the next post, I want to explore some of the concerns I have with mainstream education, and the more complex reasons we are choosing to opt out.

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  1. I love all your Instagram posts of the things you go and do with Lydia and the homeschool co-op. It does look like fun!

    This is one of those frustrating topics, because philosophically I agree with everything you’re saying, but practically, it doesn’t work for us. We both work. And as much as I think the days are too long and too rigorous, we actually have to pay for before and after care, because the school day still isn’t as long as our work day. It’s kind of a bummer. The public school our oldest attends (he’s in Kindergarten) is Spanish immersion, though, so at least he’s getting something there that I couldn’t do at home. I do believe strongly in the benefits of multilingualism and exposure to different cultures, which obviously is something I could do at home with enough intentionality, but at least if I have to compromise some values in going to school, it’s a school that can support and enhance other values we have. Life is compromises, I guess.

    • Hi Katie! I so understand the whole compromise thing. Sometimes it just doesn’t work to live out the things you believe philosophically. For me, one area I experience this is in regards to the environment and food packaging. I am passionate about reducing waste and would love to live a zero-waste life. But because of Felix’s eating problems, we rely HEAVILY on the pre-packaged foods I abhor — like, everything he eats comes out of a non-recyclable package. We make so much trash for him, I hate it. And as he grows and remains incontinent, we are relying more and more on disposable diapers, which I hate. It’s hard to balance my passion for the environment with my need to feed and diaper my child. We just do what we can and try to be at peace with it!
      (And like I said, a day might come when we will have to rely on school. It would be a hard choice but life doesn’t always go the way we want it to.)

      And you’re so right, one huge benefit of public schooling (in some areas) is the exposure to other cultures and ways of living. I want that for my kids but still haven’t managed to find a good solution for that in our current environment. Compromise!!

    • Oh! And, like, I just shared a post a like a month ago about how I hate that I don’t make any money. That’s a huge compromise. Unschooling is making it harder for me to pursue my vocation as a writer.

      • I was thinking of that post, too! It’s definitely a tradeoff. That post was really eye-opening to see that someone who made kind of the opposite compromise from what I did, wasn’t necessarily completely happy with that choice either.

  2. I’m glad you have found an education solution you’re happy with. Curious your intent of posting? Home/un-schooling is not new or unfamiliar to people. I feel like anyone could argue for why they school their child the way they do. I could write a passionate post about why our child’s private school education is amazing, etc, etc, but I realize it’s just a personal decision that works really well for our child and something not everyone can do.

    This is a topic most people have strong opinions on and I think a lot of people’s biggest annoyance with the homeschool community is the attitude of superiority and shaming of ‘lesser’ methods. As someone who took years to thoughtfully consider ALL the schooling options for our kids, I think it’s best to just cheer people on for where they’ve landed without pointing out the pitfalls to their choice.

    • Hi Emily! Thanks for asking this question, and forcing me to reflect on it. I have lots of reasons that come immediately to mind; but I have to face the possibility that deep down, I just want affirmation for my life choices and to feel good about myself. But here are some of the reasons I at least tell myself:
      1) Unschooling may not be “new,” but I still feel like it’s fringe and unfamiliar enough that it’s worth talking about.
      2) I think it’s worthwhile to question and critique the status quo. I think most parents just send their kids to school, assuming it’s the best/only option because everyone else is doing it. I critique school for the same reason I critique other problematic mainstays of Western culture we take for granted (capitalism, warfare, fast food, fast fashion, etc): because I think there’s a better way. But we can’t change something we think is inevitable.
      3) Honestly, I would love for more people to homeschool so we’d have a bigger community! Like I said in my post, homeschooling can be lonely sometimes; I guess I’m trying to evangelize, with the hopes that others will join us!

      I realize I might be approaching this all wrong, and only making people feel bad. I’m sorry if that’s the case, it’s not my intent at all!

      • Thanks for your response! Agreed on the status quo…our kids go to a more untradtional school for that reason. Appreciate your honesty. I live in a mid-sized US city that is bursting with homeschoolers…especially in the Christian community, sometimes you’re practically looked down on for NOT considering homeschooling. I’m sure you and I are coming from different perspectives based on experience.

        And yes we all really do like validation for our choices, don’t we? Great dialogue.

  3. Melissa H-K says

    I’m glad you’re addressing this subject and will be very interested to see what else you say on it!

  4. Thanks for posting. This was an encouraging post for me. In my experience home/unschooling is not the norm and is socially unfavorable. With a recent move for our family and the absence of a local Waldorf School (my top choice for education) I will be pursuing homeschooling my kids with a Waldorf curriculum. This is your platform and I read your blog to hear from your perspective. Share on!

  5. Hi Kathleen,

    I think you definitely make good points about the whole process of mechanizing education. And even though you admit coming from a privileged point I find the beginning portions about daycare very insulting and somewhat naive due to public opinion and old personal experience.

    The one thing I’d like to say about this is that what most parents from privileged backgrounds do not realize is that the majority of parents aren’t capable of being better teachers than the trained educators found in public schools.

    For instance, special needs parents REGULARLY have children that are not like their parents. Those children without public schooling would suffer greatly.

    Then there are parents who just struggled in school. Their children may not be able to tailor their learning with a stay at home parent because their parent avoids academic and critical thinking work.

    Then there are the parents who have no choice but to work because they are saddled with massive student debt, they themselves came from underprivileged backgrounds and started adulthood behind the curve, and parents who are running personal businesses that take both parents to keep it going. Those people are not looking for very expensive daycare.

    I totally know where you are coming from. I am a public school teacher who regularly is paying to enroll my children in extra activities that our school doesn’t offer. I work with them all summer on things that I know school has missed, and at times, I butt heads with my corporation.

    However, the first part of your post was hard to swallow for all my children that come every day to me because they don’t have your privileges.

    And I am hurt for them that these ideas would be spread and propagated to continue giving them a disadvantage in society.

    Because the idea that “homeschooling” is not widely accepted is a lie. In the world, people praise you for doing that. They clap at your turn away from what they see to be insufficient and those homeschooled children are scholarshipped in college for being unique. While my child, whose parents misspelled their name at birth, relies on me to teach them how to navigate the real world, how to apply to colleges, how to balance their money, and in many cases how to travel.

    I truly am not saying these things to be harsh. I just want to convey an understanding that labeling a group because of your old personal experiences and your academic reading is not kind. As a teacher, I do not care how you view me.

    But the most precious thing to me are the children I see everyday that have no one else. I’m their only voice, so I have a responsibility to speak for them.

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