4 Ways to Spot a Homeschool "Expert"
- Jennifer McDonald Homeschool Enrichment
- Updated Oct 06, 2014
Jesus replied, “You teachers are also in for trouble! You load people down with heavy burdens, but you won’t lift a finger to help them carry the loads” (Luke 11:46).
“Why do homeschoolers put up with being talked to this way?!” I exclaimed. I was tempted to fling the book I was reading across the room, except for the fact that it was on my Kindle. In the midst of a very popular book by a very popular speaker that could simply have been subtitled “The Only Way to Raise Perfectly Righteous Children,” I was incensed.
As a military family, we’ve lived overseas for over half of the past decade, twice in fairly remote areas of the world. I hadn’t realized how out of touch with the current homeschooling scene we’d gotten until we came back to the U.S. and had access again to conventions, books, and products. And I’m noticing something interesting. There seem to be a plethora of “experts” who feel they know best how you should raise your children, not to mention what sort of church you ought to attend, and exactly how you should homeschool…in fact, some of them have litmus tests for every possible move a Christian could make. In superior tones, they prescribe what your family ought to be doing and heap on unnecessary guilt.
Frankly, it can be exhausting.
Should my kids go to college? What curriculum should we use? Skirts or pants? What sort of church should we attend? SHOULD we attend church, or simply home church? While some of these may be worthwhile questions, they are matters of personal preference and conviction, and not ones that anyone should determine for another family.
I’m realizing that we were blessed to begin homeschooling in what I’m fondly remembering as the Golden Age of Homeschooling. Not quite pioneers, we had resources available, but not so many as to be overwhelming, either. Those who’d gone before us convinced me that we could educate our children with a good math program and a library card (and I’ll be honest, that’s what we did for a lot of years!). It was an exhilarating, freeing, and family-friendly message.
Somewhere along the way, it seems to me that homeschoolers have lost sight of why they homeschool, and have traded in their flexibility and freedom only to willingly place themselves under another “system,” one which has been created by homeschoolers, for homeschoolers. As I observe this, I’m beginning to feel a bit like an outsider.
I was encouraged by those who’d gone before us to spend oodles of time learning with my children, read out loud—a lot, and be outdoors as much as possible. A common theme was “keep it simple.” No formulaic principles of parenting or homeschooling. No condemnation or guilt that I wasn’t doing enough.
Do I think we can’t learn from others? Obviously not. But I’d like to share some characteristics I’ve noticed about some of these so-called “experts”—self-proclaimed or otherwise—which I hope will help you differentiate them from mentors who come alongside.
1. Scare tactics. Beware of any writer or speaker who insinuates (or even states) that their homeschooling/parent method is THE way to raise children. Or who imply that if you don’t use their methods, your children will obviously be uneducated little heathens who will make you a grandparent before your oldest turns 18. (Think I’m exaggerating? I only wish I were.) Fill in the blanks with something horrid: if your kids go to youth group, they’ll ____. If your children go to college, they’ll ____. Dire consequences are promised for those who stray from the speaker’s prescription, as if he knows any of the other nuances behind a family’s choices in these matters.
2. A berating, belittling tone. This may seem obvious. Yet, I recently listened to a podcast of a popular homeschool speaker who was practically yelling at her audience...it was off-putting at best, and I can’t imagine what the poor folks in the room felt! And along those lines, if a speaker or writer labels anyone who questions them as less spiritual, unchristian, or worse…run the other way.
If they are sharing truth, the truth can stand up to questioning. The Holy Spirit rarely works in my heart through other adults scolding me like a child. If the Bereans were praised for examining Scripture to test whether what the apostle Paul said was true (Acts 17:11), why would we ever put up with such nonsense in a million years not apply the same standards to teachers today?
3. Formulas instead of principles. Am I saying you can’t learn from those who are more experienced? Of course not. Just beware of anyone who says that if you do y you will always get z. Children and families are human, and simply cannot—and should not—be fit into formulas. My hackles go up now when I hear someone presenting formulaic answers for complicated issues such as marriage, family life, or raising children.
4. Prescriptive vs. advice. There is room for variety. How about differing family dynamics? What is right for our family is probably not right for you, and vice versa. For instance, when our children were younger, I noticed several articles in homeschooling publications about fathers who were coming home to work and direct more of the family’s home life. It was a cozy, idyllic view, complete with a farm and the family making daisy chains and milking cows together, and was often cited as the goal for any Christian family. Which was fine—for them. My reality? We lived in cramped military housing on an Air Force base in an eight-plex. My husband worked late hours, and attended night school to finish his degree.
If I’d taken to heart that current fad, I would have become discontent. We had later bedtimes and rising due to our unique schedule and simply didn’t fit into this ideal (Which was part of the beauty of homeschooling! The kids would have barely seen their father if they’d been enrolled in a traditional school.). I’ve found it’s best to embrace where God has placed us. One lifestyle is not better or worse than the other, and it’s a dangerous idea to assign goodness to a particular choice. I’m so glad God doesn’t call us all to the same life. That would be pretty boring!
A thought: What do you know about the author/speaker? I’ve heard more than one friend observe after assisting with homeschool conventions, that if we could actually see behind the scenes, we’d be more careful who we are taking advice from. Are you willing to die on a proverbial hill because someone you’ve never met and of whom you know little of their family and home life says you must do a certain thing or live a certain way?
As parents who are so closely involved with our children, we desperately wish to do the right thing for our families. I get that. But so often, we attempt to shape our home life for the approval of others or what we think a good homeschooler ought to be doing. I encourage you to take a step back and be certain that God is the one calling you to the big lifestyle decisions in your life.
Here’s the thing. I want you to feel confident. I want you to trust Jesus to lead your family and to know that he’s got it all under control. He alone knows the future, what he has planned for your children…and for you.
He loves you so much.
“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).
“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” – Augustine
As the Managing Editor of Home Educating Family Magazine, Jennifer McDonald is excited to bring engaging, practical resources to homeschooling families. Previously the editor of Home Educating Family's Reviews Department, she’s written for numerous homeschooling and military spouse publications, as well as two books. She and her amazing Air Force husband of 25 years are the parents of four interesting children–two graduated and two still at home. Homeschoolers since 1995, they’ve been stationed all over the world from the Pacific to Europe and currently live in Hawaii. Look for her book, An Airman’s Wife. Find her at realifemom.com and on Twitter and Instagram as jenmcdonald88.
© 2013 by Home Educating Family Association. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published in 2013 Issue 1 of Home Educating Family Magazine, the publication with the most meaningful discussions taking place in the homeschooling community today. Visit hedua.com to read back issues and for more articles, product reviews, and media.
Publication date: October 3, 2014