To send your little ones to school, or to not. Okay, it’s WAY more nuanced than that, but if I wanted to simplify the matter, that's it in a nutshell.
It really shouldn’t matter to me what your family decides to do, education-wise. And it really shouldn’t matter to you what my family chooses, education-wise.
But for a long time, what other families did when it came to educating their children mattered to me. It mattered A LOT, in fact.
It mattered because in my dualistic, tribalistic, either/or way of thinking, there was one way of educating young ones that was better than all the rest.
I had divided education into two categories: bad and good. And of course, my way— homeschooling— was the best.
Since moving away from fundamentalism and out of the bubble I was in, I’ve been confronted with another form of black and white thinking about education. Ironically, it’s the polar opposite of my old pov— homeschooling is bad; sending your children to school is good.
The more I move around in this world— and the older I get— the more examples of black and white thinking around education I collect.
Once, I walked away from a growing homeschool group— that I started!— because, during a park date, several of the homeschool moms frowned as they watched a group of students disembark from a bus and said, “Here come the bad kids.”
On several other occasions, I found myself joyously telling someone about my life. I would mention that I homeschooled my kids— and be met with shudders and exclamations about how horrible homeschooling is. (Granted, it’s always okay for someone to be honest. But, I have to admit, I also felt pre-judged.)
As I’ve mentioned, over the years, my thinking about education has changed. I no longer believe there is only a good way or a bad way to provide your children with one.
One of the things that changed my mind was realizing how many different reasons parents have for their choices. Another was deconstructing my black and white thinking around education.
Parents have reasons for their choices.
I homeschool my children because I want them to have freedom. I have a degree in education and taught in the public schools for four years. I felt that many students had their natural-born love for learning sucked out of them as soon as they began facing rigorous testing and voluminous homework assignments. I also felt that the way schools separated kids and ranked them often led to tribalism and bullying.
I have friends who send their children to school so their children will gain independence and be self-sufficient. And they feel they are better parents when they're not with their children all the time. Not just that, but they see and trust the prowess of teachers.
I follow a homeschool mom named Akilah S. Richards who chooses to homeschool so her children will be strong and independent people. As a black person, she believes that schools are part of a system of colonization and homeschools her children to take them out of a system built, in her opinion, to oppress them.
I have other friends who were themselves homeschooled for religious reasons— their parents wanted them to remain separate from the “world”. For these friends, homeschooling meant religious indoctrination, distrust of science, and religious, emotional or even physical abuse. These friends cannot bear the thought of homeschooling their own children.
I also know secular and religious homeschooling parents. I know parents who homeschool to protect and parents who homeschool to travel the world and live in freedom and community with others. There are introverted homeschool families and extroverted homeschool families.
On the other hand, I know children who thrive in the public schools and go on to be dynamic, friendly individuals who change the world. I know of close-knit families who send their children to school (dispelling the myth that the only close families homeschool).
I know of homeschooled children who are awkward socially and struggle to fit in. I also know of public-schooled children who are awkward socially and struggle to fit in.
Deconstructing my black and white thinking around education.
I really had to meet people outside of my “bubble” to get that no matter what I did as a parent, my children might still struggle in this world.
I had to let go of the idea that a perfect way of doing things would turn out healthy individuals.
I had to take a long hard look at myself when I was being especially judgmental and ask, “Why?” And, “What am I so insecure about?”
I also had to ask myself whether homeschooling was the right choice for me. When I started thinking along more feminist lines, I landed upon a personal conundrum. Because here I was staying home and being the primary caregiver and teacher to my children. And I came to a crossroads where I needed to make sure I was doing that by choice and not as an imperative. Puzzling through this meant letting go of control and realizing that no matter what choices I made, my children would be okay.
If homeschooling truly was about freedom, I also realized I needed to ask my children if they wanted to be homeschooled and give them a choice in the matter.
It has taken me a long time, but I can stand perfectly confident in my and my children’s choices for education— for now.
I can also fully and joyfully accept a family whose choices are completely opposite of mine. I am no longer threatened by these family’s accomplishments or talents either. I feel happy for them.
So how do we get ourselves out of black and white thinking when it comes to education?
How can we be friends with people who make completely different choices for their families than we do— and get away from the divisiveness caused by black and white thinking?
I don’t know everything, but here are some ideas:
Before you judge someone else’s educational choices, ask questions. Like, “What brought you to homeschooling/public schooling?” or “What do you love about it?” This opens space for dialogue, empathy and understanding. It paves the road to kindness and unity.
Deconstruct your own thinking. If you have strong reactions to certain choices, ask yourself why.
Stay out of other people’s business. Don’t assume negative intent.
If you find you are surrounding yourself with people who agree with you, branch out a bit and try to find people who don’t. You may always disagree with one another, but you will have more empathy in the long run.
Here’s a final question to ask yourself. If God is love, then does God have some people she loves more than others? Does God put people in "right and wrong" categories? What do you think?
I’ll leave you with some thoughts from Richard Rohr about moving away from dualistic thinking— This is why teachers like Jesus make so much of mercy, and forgiveness, and grace, because these are the things that, if truly experienced, totally break dualism down. Because once you experience being loved when you are unworthy, being forgiven when you did something wrong, that moves you into non-dual thinking. You move from what I call meritocracy, quid pro quo thinking, to the huge ocean of grace, where you stop counting, you stop calculating.