Ask Rene:
Home Schooling – Helpful or Harmful

Hi Rene,

Love the site and all your wise words of wisdom. I wonder if you can offer some advice for myself – and my sister, Jackie.

Jackie has three children, Robbie (12), Sarah (9) and Cal (7) and they’re good kids – and smart too. Jackie is also quite religious which can sometimes be a barrier between the two of us as I’m not especially spiritual. But despite this we’re still pretty close.

Recently Jackie and her husband Shaun have decided to take their kids out of public school so she can home school them. They don’t agree with a lot of the school’s curriculum and want to bring the children up in a more faith-based environment. The thing is the three kids really don’t like the idea and don’t want to be separated from their friends.

I’m worried as my sister has no formal teacher training and I worry the kids are going to fall behind which is really going to hurt them in the long run when it comes to finding work.

I’ve told Jackie my concerns but she’s sure she knows what she’s doing.

What do you think Rene? What are your views on homeschooling? Would you ever home-school Casey and Cole? And do you think it hurts – or helps – kids?

Tara, St Paul

Hi Tara:

This question, like so many others, has a relatively easy answer; whether you can or choose to do it, well that’s on you. But here it is in a nutshell; at the end of the day, these are Jackie’s kids and while you may be concerned, there’s little you can do. I also think you need to tread lightly because religion is one of those things people hold very dear; saying too much could have a detrimental effect on your relationship.

Related: What Matters Most: Children And Church.. Is This The Best Way To Handle Them?

With regard to homeschooling, your sister is part of a growing trend; homeschooling is up 36 % since 2003, with roughly two million kids being taught the three R’s at home. And like your sister and her husband, the opportunity to teach traditional subjects along with religious beliefs, is one of the big reasons people opt for it.  It is a serious commitment and one I have no desire to undertake myself.  Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states though the parameters may differ. Jackie should get in touch with her state representative or school district to make sure she is meeting the standards for curriculum. Most states do not require you to have a formal teaching degree and because of that I don’t see why, with the proper support (and there’s a ton of information available) Jackie cannot do this effectively. That includes making sure the kids are prepared to pass mandated tests and equipped for the future.

With regard to how they feel about it, well, no child wants to be taken away from their peers but homeschooling doesn’t mean they’ll never see them again. They can get together after school or for birthday parties. Jackie can make sure they are in scouts or music class; there are plenty of ways she can ensure their social skills stay sharp. It might take a little more effort but it’s a small price to pay.

Now, as much as I am an advocate for kids taking part in their own lives, our job as parents is to step in and make the choices we feel are best for them. My son, Cole, would like to eat candy for dinner and go to bed at 3 a.m. in his street clothes without brushing his teeth every night.  My job, as his mother, is to make sure he knows that’s not good for him and guide him in ways that will keep him healthy (However, he has been known to sleep in his clothes and awaken with gum in his mouth. Sugar-free of course). Jackie is doing the same thing for her brood.

Related: Guest Posting: The Rearview Mirror Of Homeschooling: 5 Good Reasons, 5 Great Outcomes, 1 Big Miscalculation

If I could be so bold, I feel like something else is going on here. You said yourself that your sister’s religious beliefs have been a source of contention between the two of you.

Here’s the deal; unless Jackie and Shaun are building an altar for nightly human sacrifice and the kids are in imminent danger, you need to butt out. Accept the fact that this is the decision they deem best for their family. If, over time, you feel like the kids are not getting a great education, ask Jackie if you can help in any way. Maybe you can give the kids books for gifts or foot the bill for a tutor. Come at this with an open heart, offering to help instead of an adversarial approach. You’d be surprised at how much that will open the lines of communication; she might actually take you up on some of the things you offer.

Good luck!

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(Editor’s note: This post first aired Jan 19, 2011)