I’ve been fortunate in my two years of homeschooling that I’ve never really had to deal with homeschool stigma. You know what I’m talking about. The assumption that all homeschooling families are religious, anti-social freaks. Thankfully, I believe since homeschooling is increasingly popular, assumptions about homeschoolers are falling by the wayside. But they still exist.
I finally had to face the anti homeschooling bias last week, as we completed our interviews to become foster care providers.
I was already very stressed out Friday afternoon, as I waited for the foster care certifier to come to our home for the interview. A lot was at stake. If she didn’t like us, our dream of becoming foster parents could be dashed before we even began. My house was clean. My children were instructed to behave and to answer questions honestly. I was a bundle of nerves.
When the certifier arrived, we introduced ourselves and sat down around our dining room table. She pulled some papers out of her folder, glanced at them, then looked up and asked,
So, why did you decide to homeschool?
I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe, “Tell me about yourselves.” or “What is your daily routine like?” or even “How do you think foster care will change the dynamics of your family?” Instead, we were put on the defensive about our choice to homeschool right out of the gate.
I took a deep breath. I explained how Stargirl had been in public school through fourth grade, and how that had worked well for us. Then we moved, and her adjustment to her new school didn’t go so well. I was apprehensive about throwing her into a public middle school situation, when she had a hard time dealing with problems at elementary school.
The certifier looked unimpressed.
I went on. We found out that due to budget cuts, our school district would be going to a four day school week the next year.
Finally, a reaction from the certifier. She raised her eyebrows. “Four days? Every week?”
Yes, I explained. I thought that I could teach more than the school could cover in a four day school week. And since it worked out so well last year, we continued our homeschool journey this year.
That impressed the certifier, and we went on to other subjects. By the end of our interviews, we were practically friends, and I think she really liked us. At the very least, she said we passed the interview process.
I did learn a thing or two about homeschool stigma. Dealing with it is all about relationships. If we let people into our lives to see who we really are, others will be able to see that we are not freaks. Regardless of whether others agree with our decision to homeschool, by giving them a concrete, well thought out reason as to why we made our decision can go a long way toward gaining the respect of those who don’t approve of homeschooling. Of course not everyone will approve, despite a good dialog. But communication never hurts.
I know I gained an understanding of the certifier’s point of view. She’s probably seen cases where families use homeschooling as a cover for neglecting and abusing their children. I truly believe most homeschoolers do a good job of educating their children, but there are always a few bad apples. She wanted to make sure that we had enough accountability in our lives to keep foster children safe.
By having an honest dialog with her, she was able to see that we were safe. That we are social. That there are other people in our lives who can intervene and encourage us, should the going get tough with foster children. And most of all, she discovered that we’re just regular people, trying to make the best decisions we can for our children.