When Criticism Hurts the Most
- 2011 31 Oct
You are enjoying the fresh air and sunshine in your backyard. Your little boys are catching lizards, discussing the characteristics of reptiles and how cold-blooded animals regulate body temperature. Your preschooler, not impressed with such critters, is picking a bunch of flowers. She notes the colors of the flowers and sorts them by type. You leisurely chat about the beauty of her bouquet, photosynthesis, and the importance of caring for our natural environment. Your teenager is stretched out on a lawn chair, soaking in the rays and reading Little Women. Homeschooling at its best. Right in the middle of this beautiful morning, Cousin Tom drops by to return a borrowed jigsaw. Looking around at all the fun, he laughs, and says that it must be nice to play hooky every day.
Instantly you bristle. But what do you say? Do you launch into a lecture on the philosophy of student-directed learning? Do you say that you are just taking a break, and assure him that your children are at the books all day? Do you ignore him? Make a joke? Do you make a mental note not to allow the children to be outside until the afternoons?
With one careless remark, you are diverted from the freedom of homeschooling to the tyranny of trying to please others. Much of what threatens our joy as homeschoolers comes from outside of our actual homes. Teacher lobbying groups, the public school system, and society in general may staunchly disapprove of our choices; but we are prepared for that. We expect negativity from society. What really gets to us is negative comments from those we love.
Comments come from Sister June who loves us and means well, and is afraid that homeschooling will be too much for us. Brother Bob, who has a control issue, has to make his opinion known. Aunt Trudy can be deliberately unkind, and we may never know the reason for that. And sometimes Cousin Tom is just chattering, without giving a second thought to the damage his words are doing.
We shouldn't be surprised when criticism comes from family and friends. "But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house." (Mark 6:4) This is when criticism seems to do the most damage. Knowing that not all will understand or agree, we still dearly hope that our own families, our friends, other homeschoolers, and brothers and sisters in Jesus will support us. When our loved ones make hurtful comments, we are often unprepared, and that can be painful. Be ready. As you read through Scripture, notice the circumstances under which persecution occurs. More times than not, it is from someone who calls himself a servant of God. Whether well-meaning, cruel, or thoughtless, criticism will most likely come from someone close to you. The key to peace is in knowing how to respond in a way that is pleasing to God.
Recognize that there are two main types of critics: those who are well-meaning and those who are not. When someone who loves you and wants the best for you questions whether you should be homeschooling, or questions your methods or your child's progress, be encouraged! Even though her comments may sting, it is a blessing to have someone care enough about you and your child to risk a confrontation for your good. Hang on to that friend. Whether she is misguided or only disagrees with you, you can thank her for her concern, while you reassure her that you are doing your child more good than harm. This friend may turn out to be a homeschooling ally in time.
The well-meaning loved one may not know much about homeschooling, or may have heard of someone having a bad experience. Often she has not given logical thought to her objections. She is just worried. This is where you meet her. Ask her to be very specific. If she says, "I don't think that it's good for the child," then ask, "In what way is it not good? What do you mean?" Listen closely. Pinpoint the concern exactly. Rephrase it, so that you are sure you understand, and she knows you have heard her. There may be several concerns. Break it down, and answer each one individually. If the concern is not specific, you can propose your friend give you a trial period without comment. Say, "Let's give it a year and see how Melissa progresses. If, after a year, you still have these worries, we can discuss it again. But let's agree to not say anything negative about homeschooling, for her sake, until the year is up."
If there really is a specific concern, and it is valid, ask for advice. Be clear that you have no intention of putting your child into an institutionalized school setting, but maybe together you can come up with a new way of approaching a problem or dealing with a situation. Is your friend willing to address the issue by playing a larger role in your child's education? Ask if she would be willing to offer tutoring, take your child on field trips, give you a break, or whatever the need. This is very disarming. You are making it clear that you hear her and take her concerns seriously. If she agrees, the skeptic becomes part of the solution by becoming part of the home education process. Grandparents especially can be great at this. Although my own parents have never been completely on board with homeschooling, they have participated throughout the years by taking their grandchildren on educational field trips, buying them books and educational games, listening to their lessons, reading with them, babysitting so my husband and I could have some grown-up time, and sharing life lessons and eyewitness history accounts. Because they love us, and they know we have our minds set, they are willing to participate for the good of the family, even though they don't agree. Our whole family has been greatly enriched by their involvement. Now, after twelve years and our first homeschool graduate, they are starting—just starting—to come around to our way of thinking!
This is all nice, but what about those who are not so well meaning? Proverbs 26:4-5 says, "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit." This is not contradictory advice, as it seems on the surface. God is telling us to assess each situation separately. There are times when we are supposed to ignore malicious comments and times when we are supposed to answer. We see this demonstrated in the way Jesus dealt with those who put Him to death.
"And as soon as it was day, the elders of the people and the chief priests and the scribes came together, and led him into their council, saying, Art thou the Christ? Tell us. And he said unto them, If I tell you, ye will not believe: And if I also ask you, ye will not answer me, nor let me go. Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God. Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? And he said unto them, Ye say that I am." (Luke 22:66-70)
When the religious leaders, who thought of themselves as wise, attempted to trap and humiliate Jesus by their words, He didn't allow them opportunity to say, "See, He doesn't have an answer." He answered directly, truthfully, and with confidence. When someone is arrogant, and will continue in his arrogance if we don't answer, we are to follow the example of Jesus, and calmly answer with conviction.
It was a different story when Jesus was brought before Herod.
"And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him. Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing." (Luke 23:8-9)
Herod had heard about this fellow who could feed multitudes, heal the sick and raise the dead. He had heard of Jesus' unusual teachings and how He answered the religious leaders. Herod wanted to see a show. Jesus didn't give him one, no matter how much Herod provoked. When someone makes malicious comments in order to engage us for his own entertainment, we are not to be like him. Don't give a show. We are to follow the example of Jesus, and give that person no answer. Even if the remark is just chatter, as in the case of Cousin Tom, this is the correct response. Though he was most likely making an offhanded remark that meant little to him, Cousin Tom was joking for his own entertainment. The best response in that case is no response.
No matter how we respond to criticism of our homeschooling, we may never persuade our detractors. Jesus handled every scornful remark perfectly, but He was still crucified, because God had a higher purpose than winning arguments. Giving the correct response doesn't mean we will "win" from an earthly perspective. We can be assured of God's higher purpose, though, and He is the One that we strive to please. When we respond in a way that is pleasing to Him, we can relax, and leave the critics in His hands.
*This article published September 17, 2007.
Kathryn Frazier homeschools in freedom with her husband and five children in Tampa, Florida. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the Sep/Oct '07 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more details, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com