Many of us began living in a state of recession the moment we made the decision to homeschool. In most cases, one parent opted out of the work force, causing significant changes and challenges to the family budget. Besides funding the country's public schools through taxation, we're responsible to find creative ways to purchase our own curriculum, pay for our own field trips, and fund our own activities.
Our nation's economy hasn't been friendly to one-income families for many years. These days, the dollar has to be stretched, compressed, wrung, and shaken even more to provide a vibrant home education, even if both parents work jobs beyond that of parent-teacher.
All this also robs parents of valuable time. When both parents work outside jobs, it is difficult, though not impossible, to juggle the demands of homeschooling. Parents sometimes worry that they will not be able to provide the quantity or the quality of time needed to educate their children at home.
Because of these fears, the temptation has probably never been stronger to turn to government schools, physical or online, to alleviate the time and costs associated with homeschooling. However, before we yield to that pull, let's take a moment to remember the costs of not homeschooling.
Remembering the Financial Cost
There are staggering costs that come with sending our kids to government schools, and while financial costs may not be the largest or most important consideration in the choice to homeschool, we begin here simply because financial strain tends to be one of our first deliberations when facing the temptation to quit—or to never begin at all.
But make no mistake; public school is far from free. Yes, your child will receive textbooks and field trips and a liberal educational experience, but you will find before Day One that much is expected of you. One of the biggest reliefs I experience each fall is going into the local Stuff-Mart and not having to pick up the list of required school supplies that every school in my community has printed and hung just inside the door. Students are obligated to bring everything from pencils and backpacks to hand sanitizer and a bag of litter for the class pet! (No joke!) They may be asked to pay a classroom fee for anything from art supplies to goodies for party days. Students have to supply extras, in some cases, to cover for those whose parents drop the ball.
Then there is the issue of clothing. Though school dress codes have altered considerably over the years, the fact remains that students undergo a huge amount of peer pressure about what they wear. Studies show that the average American family spends between $500 and $600 in back-to-school merchandise. I'm not sure about you, but that floors me! I've not only been able to purchase the few clothing necessities my kids need for that amount or less, but their entire curriculum as well. When my boys were young, they were their most academically productive while lounging in jogging pants or BDUs.
As homeschoolers, we do a lot of driving for our kids. But you won't be relieved by putting your kids on a big yellow school bus. There are afterschool programs and clubs to attend, sporting events, PTA meetings, parent-teacher conferences, and so on. And these days, parents are often asked to volunteer in the school room. While I think it's good that any public school is willing to have parents in the classroom, it makes me ask the question, "If I'm schooling with them anyway, then why not do it at home?"
Remembering the Spiritual Cost
While homeschoolers are stepping into our ranks from all walks of life and conviction—Christian, Muslim, agnostic, and even Wiccan—it remains true that a vast percentage of homeschoolers have taken this path, at least in part, because they want to have an unwavering Christian influence on their children without the confusing addition of so many mixed-up worldviews found in the public sector. We have stepped out to homeschool because many of us believe it is the best way to keep our children grounded in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are not exclusionists, nor do we have the idea that we will somehow shield our kids from all the evils of the world, but we believe we can best battle those evils from our own home fronts.
I've known a number of young Christians who've managed to keep themselves spiritually grounded while growing up in the public school system. They are those whose parents kept their children's hearts, and those who have the spiritual stamina to withstand temptation and even persecution. That is commendable. However, there are also plenty of young Christians who've fallen away because of all the influences around them in school. They may be the boundary-pushers, the ones who don't learn as well from other people's mistakes. Or they may just want to fit in.
Life is such a battleground, and our children, homeschooled or not, will be bombarded, tested, attacked, and beaten by the adversary. We need every weapon in our arsenal to fight back, to hold the fort without allowing a breech. Sheltering? Yes! What's wrong with that? Parents are commissioned by God to shelter and protect, not to toughen and harden. Non-homeschoolers don't usually understand what that kind of sheltering actually looks like.
My husband and I didn't raise any social caterpillars. Our five children, sometimes to my chagrin, are butterflies. Their biggest questions have always been, "How high can I fly? How far can I go? How colorful can I become?" I don't really know how this happened. Maybe it's genetic. The point is, they attract people. They are the social butterflies in the midst of the crowd, the leaders that others flock around and follow. I've explained that this is a gift which comes with extra responsibility as well as extra temptation, because they draw all types of personalities, from the good to the troubled. Homeschooling and "sheltering" my children has not turned them into social misfits. On the contrary, it has turned them into young adults comfortable in almost any situation they find themselves.
My most recent 18-year-old graduate works on a landscaping crew. He travels to projects around a large, two-city area with a combined population of about 120,000. Yet, it seems that no matter where he goes, he frequently runs into friends and acquaintances of all ages. Those on his crew often grow wide-eyed, and have even said, "Man, I thought you were homeschooled. Do you know everybody?" This just gives a little perspective on the whole socialization issue—and I don't think my kids are uncommon in this regard. Yet, we did indeed shelter and protect our children: we gave guidance to their social experiences, instead of randomly inserting them into the public school social structure.
Spiritually, we've had our struggles, as everyone will, to one degree or another. My children all came out of the womb with intensely strong wills. There have been times they've bucked us and even gotten into serious trouble. A couple of my children have had to face some grave life consequences for poor choices. Homeschooling didn't spare us every sinful ill. However, I believe it may have been worse had they been exposed to the entire gamut of social evil found in the public school scene. That's not even a criticism of schools, just a criticism of society as a whole. It's the nature of the beast. Where more people are found, especially impressionable people, the more chance there is to gravitate to wrong.
When my husband talks about teens' personalities and spiritual walks, he says that "water seeks its own level," meaning we'll all gravitate toward the person who's most like ourselves. That's why peer pressure is what it is, and children can so easily lead one another astray.
If you have a wild child, one who pushes both your boundaries and your patience, a child who likes to live on the edge and learn all of life's lessons the hard way, ask yourself, "Will putting him or her in public school help the problem, or make it worse?"
Homeschooling our children puts us in the unique position of being a constant influence on their beliefs and morals. We don't have the same level of combating to do as we would if they were away from us and in the pool of social experimentation eight hours a day. Parents are commissioned to be the shapers and holders of their children's spiritual and physical safety. Can we do that as well when we are separated from them for most of their day, their week, their year? Are we sure we're willing to pay the price to find out?
Remembering the Character Cost
Character costs are, of course, tied closely to spiritual costs when it comes to training our children. Children's characters are formed mostly by those who have the most influence on their lives. If we can't govern who our children spend their days with when they are young and teach them how to choose their bosom companions as they develop, we risk their characters to chance. I'm not talking about turning our children into social snobs. But if it matters to us that our children share our spiritual, political, and social worldviews, then we'd better be in a position to be their biggest influences. If it matters that they develop a particular type of work ethic or a particular type of behavior in any other regard, then we should count the character cost with care.
We parents have the very naïve tendency to believe that our children will naturally turn out as stamped carbon copies of ourselves. We expect that if we model our behavior, our faith, and our political beliefs, they will absorb and adopt them for themselves. This may work occasionally for some, but I can testify to you that we must take a day-in-day-out, proactive approach in order to instill these things.
As we are reminded in Deuteronomy 11:18-20: "Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates." That passage has all the earmarks of being our homeschooling emblematic standard.
We mustn't expect that because we homeschool, go to church, and have devotions that our values will automatically be regenerated in our children. We must with intense diligence instruct, instruct, instruct! And guard, guard, guard! And pray, pray, pray! This is especially true if we have strong-willed kids. Some have children who respond to the merest discipline. They crumble at a frown and tear up at a stern word. But then there are those children who consider any discipline a challenge, something to triumph over rather than submit to. They never admit defeat. While this is at its deepest level a pride issue, it may cost our children their characters, their prospects for bright futures, and in the most severe cases, their very souls if we don't do everything we can to prevent it.
These are some of the potential costs to remember if we are thinking about giving up on homeschooling. The lure of an easier way will always dangle in front of us, but we must never stop asking the question: is the easy way really all that easy—or cheap?
Naomi Musch and her husband Jeff now have four homeschool graduates in the family with one still to go, and she's afraid the remaining time will fly by too quickly! She invites young writers to visit A NOVEL Writing Site (www.anovelwritingsite.com) a new, coauthored, mentoring Web site for homeschooling youth who love to write fiction. You can find Naomi's fiction and trail of blogs at www.naomimusch.com.
Originally published in Home School Enrichment Magazine. Now, get a FREE subscription to HSE Digital by visiting www.HSEmagazine.com/digital Every issue is packed with homeschool encouragement, help, and information. Get immediate access to the current issue when you start your FREE subscription today!