Just enough food not to starve.

A librarian I haven’t seen for a while greeted me the other day. I like him, so I tried not to wince too visibly when he asked my least favorite question: “So, are you guys still homeschooling?”

Librarians are important. Children’s librarians especially are potential ambassadors for the homeschooling cause. So I had to cultivate.

Yes, we were still homeschooling.

I could see him settling in for a nice, thorough round of questioning. Did we have to register with the state? Did we belong to official homeschool groups? What about testing?

I answered as reassuringly as possible. No, we didn’t have to test, but many homeschoolers choose to. Yes, we belong to lots and lots of groups. (Didn’t pursue the “official” aspect of that.) Yes, the state knew we existed.

All the rest of that day, our conversation bothered us. I thought it must just be a minor case of burnout. The same questions over and over get old.

It is that. But it isn’t just that.

Most homeschoolers I know do exactly what I did when civilians haul out the grill. We do everything we can to put their fears at rest. Deep down, we feel a little irritated, and then we feel a little guilty. These are fair questions, aren’t they?


They’re not.

They’re incredibly insulting. Worse than insulting.

Here’s why.

Imagine the conversation going a little differently. Same questions, different answers. Something like this:

“So — are you still homeschooling?”

[Long pause. Long stare.] “Yeees. Yes, I still have a child and I’m still looking after his education. I’m still feeding him, too. Every day.”

[Looks startled, but quickly rallies.] “Oh. So, you have to register with the state, right?”

“We have to fill in about ten minutes of electronic ‘paperwork’ a year. It probably took longer to fill in my son’s birth certificate. The birth certificate took a lot more thought.”

“But you have to take standardized tests, right?”


“Don’t you have to follow an official curriculum or something?”

“Absolutely not.”

“But then how does the state know you’re teaching your child?”

“The state doesn’t know any such thing.”

“But — well, how is that even legal? You say you’re homeschooling, but you could be doing anything! Or nothing at all!”

“I suppose that’s true. And what about you?”

“What about me? I don’t homeschool!”

“That’s right. Your daughter goes to school, doesn’t she? I guess that means she’s checking in with the government every day, in a way. But she hasn’t been going to school her whole life. She was at home for years. And you registered with the state, in a manner of speaking, when she was born — for her birth certificate, and then for her Social Security number. How did the state know you were feeding her every day before she started going to school?”

“That’s a ridiculous question!”

“It isn’t. It’s exactly what you’re asking me. You’re assuming that if the government isn’t after me every minute, I won’t take care of my child. Apparently, just having a kid doesn’t give me any incentive for doing more than the absolute bare-bones legal minimum of whatever I can get away with. Speaking of which — doesn’t your daughter go to private school?”

“Yes, she’s an honors student at Trust Me You Can’t Afford This.”

“But why would you send her there? Isn’t it expensive? And a long drive? There’s a public school right down the street from you, right?”

“Sure, but it’s not very good. This way she’ll have a much better chance at getting into a good college.”

“So? She’d probably get into college somewhere, if she really wanted to. You’re not legally required to pay all that money and send her to private school. Why do it?”

“Because I want to offer her the best education she can get. I want her to have job opportunities.”

“Oh — you want her to get a good job so she can support you.”

“No, of course not! I just want her to be happy and have a good life!”

“But you don’t think I want that for my child. You think that to me, being a parent means doing only what I absolutely have to — what I’m legally required to do, and nothing more. Is that what you think about the rest of my child’s life? Do you think I use a calorie counter and just give him the minimum daily sustenance I can get away with? Or do you think it’s possible that maybe, just maybe, I’m exactly like you? Maybe I take care of my kid because I love him and I want him to be happy? No, of course not. That’s crazy talk. I mean, why would I homeschool my kid if I loved him that much?”

Of course I’ll never have that conversation. But a lot of it will be going through my head now every time I get that particular batch of questions — which, since I’m a bit of a local ambassador for homeschooling, happens often.

If you’re one of the people doing this kind of asking, and you notice that the person you’re talking to is clenching her teeth just a bit, think about the kind of self-control she’s showing. You’re accusing her right to her face of being someone who only takes good care of her child because she’s afraid she’ll be sent to prison otherwise. And not only is she not screaming, or storming off, or telling you you’ve got some nerve — she’s answering your questions. Politely.

Which is probably more than you’d do if she turned the tables and asked you why the hospital let you take your newborn baby home without attaching some kind of monitor to it to make sure you weren’t starving it or beating it or something. You probably wouldn’t be too worried about allaying her fears and setting her mind at rest and assuring her that, no, you’re not abusive at all, really. You’d probably have some choice words to say to someone who accused you of being that sort of parent.

Think about that.

16 Responses to “Just enough food not to starve.”

  1. Michelle Clay says:

    If I ever asked such questions of a homeschooler, it was because I was impressed at their willingness to take on such a monumental task. I’m not up to the challenge of being my children’s primary or only teacher.

    • Deborah says:

      Much appreciated! But there’s a difference between “Wow, how do you *do* that?” and “Okay, but you have to work with the government, right? And what are his test scores? He has to take tests, right?”

    • Jody says:

      No more monumental than raising a kid in the first place. It only seems more monumental because schools have taught us that it is. And by the way, I was not my children’s only or even primary teacher, their dad was there also and so were many other people and places who taught them all kinds of things I could not. Not to mention the self-learning that goes on when a child is free to learn outside of an institution, and the joint learning that we did together.

  2. Carol says:

    I have felt this way many times. Do people really think that we aren’t caring for our children? I realize there are a few people who claim to homeschool strictly to avoid the system. What, less than 1%? So that means the other 99.5% of homeschooling parents want our children to be complete failures? I’m quite the opposite. I homeschool my children with the hopes that they will be better prepared for life.

  3. Carole says:

    Homeschooling is not monumental. What’s monumental is expecting that a government system cares enough about your child to provide them with the best education possible, just because they collect tax money from you to do so. Homeschooling for ten years was much, much easier than dealing with the public school system and their inability to provide an educaiton that was right for my child.

  4. Sheila Smith says:

    I’m sure I’ve asked all of these questions. It was never meant as a slam to home schoolers. It was more of an inquiry as to what was needed and could I do this too. With my unreliable night shift schedule I didn’t feel I could do a proper job of it. I still kick myself for not at least trying with my 2nd “Bored” in school son.
    I guess you could say I home supplements what the school can’t do with all their budget cuts. I’m the evil vacation planner that goes to museums and historical sites. I believe in yanking my kid out of school if there is an important family event. When camping, it is quiet time with a book before lights out. My “Hates to read” niece thought that this was the best part. :)
    I seems that when my boys get sick they can do 3 days public school work in about 3 hours or so. I always felt I could have taught them more in that period of time. Maybe I was scared to try it.

  5. Sara says:

    This reminds me of conversations I had when we found out we were infertile. I think I was asked daily “Whos fault is it?” Once I stopped gritting my teeth and actually started politely saying “And why are you asking questions about my s.x life?”. It was fun to watch, while they were sputtering I would change the subject. My adoptive kids now answer curiosity about their “real” parents, home, and backstory with “if you pay me 10$ I’ll tell you.
    I think curiosity is seen as a good trait in U.S.A. People from our country get branded as rude when they travel abroad, IMHO because we (overall as a people) ask impertainent questions. Free speech amendment seems to prevail on our country in the form of: I can ask anything because curiosity is positive, promoted, a plus. Not to mention other people thing they know more than you do and know what is best.
    You did leave out of your argument that most private schools “the rest of us can’t afford” don’t need to be accredited. So the argument that I need a teaching degree no longer holds water, because private school teachers are not held to the same standards as public schools.
    Great post!

  6. Sara says:

    As someone who doesn’t homeschool but has lots of friends who do, I’d like to offer a different perspective to these questions.

    If someone isn’t around a lot of homeschoolers, the questions might be very genuine. If I send my kid to a public school, and it takes moving heaven and earth to get him out of standardized tests, it’s a legitimate question to ask how homeschoolers do it/ what the requirements are… in a “I’ve always been curious about this” sort of way. Same thing with registering with the state – in the states with strict truancy laws, I would hypothetically wonder what the difference is between someone who has decided to homeschool, and a negligent parent who never sends their kids. Are there guidelines to help the state distinguish?

    As for the homeschooling groups question, I look at that as a total small talk, same as asking a parent if their kids play sports or do Boy Scouts or (fill in the blank).

    I know people’s tone is not always kind, but please understand that, sometimes, people just want to know more and want to understand. Personally, I get asked all kinds of questions because my husband is in the military – it’s an “unknown” for a lot of people, and they just want to learn more about a different way of living. If someone doesn’t know homeschoolers – or people in the military, or people who live on a farm, or people who live in a city, or people who grew up in a different country, or people who have lots of kids, or people who choose to be childless, etc – they probably don’t have any idea how offensive these questions can be and how they might word them better. Look at it as your way to normalize an unknown for people who don’t have much visibility on your way of life!

    I wanted to add that I really don’t mean to be sarcastic or judgmental at all in this comment – I’ve read through it a couple times to try to make sure that tone isn’t communicated. I sometimes find myself in situations where I really want to know more about a person and struggle to find the words to ask questions in a non-offensive way. I tend to say something like, “Wow! That’s interesting! Can you tell me what that’s life for you?” – but it’s taken some awkward conversations to get there. :-)

    • Rachel says:

      Thank you for this comment. I am a homeschooler and didn’t really agree with this blog post. I understand the potential for these types of feelings and misunderstandings. But, I’ve also just believed that most people truly are interested in learning more about how it all works. Like you said, maybe they are interested in seeing if it’s something they can do, too. (In fact, a friend of mine asked me all of the same questions this man asked the blog author, and at the end of the conversation, I asked him why he was so curious about it all. Come to find out, his wife just had a baby and they are thinking about homeschooling and wanted to know more about the law and what would be required of them.) Maybe they just enjoy talking to different folks and learning how and why other people make their choices. Maybe they have a friend of family member they’re trying to understand better or have a relative with problems in school and want to be able to provide more information. I, too, see it as a wonderful opportunity to educate others when they ask me about our homeschooling.

  7. Brandy says:

    When people ask me I’m still homeschooling, I answer, “Yes, & as long as homeschooling remains the best possible education choice for my kids, then yes, we will remain homeschooling.” I don’t always get too many follow ups ;)

  8. Natassia says:

    Aaa argh! I totally empathize!

    The best is when they ask “what about socialization and friends?”

    As if I confine my children to a shack in some backwoods.

  9. Janet says:

    I homeschooled until they started high school. They have gone on to become Doctor’s and Lawyers and other top professions they have graduated from Ivy League schools. I did what was best for each child each year. It just turned out I had them home until high school.
    They still had to do alot of highschool online off the internet from other highschools and colleges (they were ahead of the highschool by so much they tested higher than many of the local classes)
    I never minded the questions but I always looked at it as pure curious about how one gets into doing it and how to continue in a manner that the child will end up with a great education. I know that was not all the questions but I always looked at it that way. Made it easier for me to answer the questions. We did test every year just like schools do and we used the Stanford and they were always way ahead. So that was also part of the answer which stopped a ton of nasty questions.
    I loved homeschooling my own kids. I spent a ton of time teaching them to be responsible and they were each responsible for themselves starting at 17 years of age (there Dad cut out on us) so you never know what can happen but I loved the time I spent with them. They were way better off for being homeschooled and have thanked me everyday for all that I have taught them. Dad just got tired of being responsible for his family.
    I did see some people in some of our groups toss a workbook at a kid in August and call it home schooling and never check anything again until May rolled around. Leave them to whatever everyday never teach anything so I do understand the questions.

  10. Bill C. says:

    I would hope you don’t have this kind of response when your child asks such a question. After all you take quite allot into assumption. What are the percentages of home schoolers vs public/private schools. If that number is dismally low why do you automatically assume all should have some fundamental knowledge of what you teach? Also on the same vein if a school has the responsibility to keep standards is it not also safe to assume that someone homeschooling should be held to the same standards? By the way, you are, you just don’t know it until your child wishes to go to college. Then it becomes painfully obvious.

    But yes by all means keep thinking because you are so few and so amazing everyone reads and knows of the urban legend of the home-schooler. By the way the current legend of the home-schooler is fear of science and non religious studies. While that is not the case always you definitely do not help by publicly alienating the uninformed by prematurely stifling conversation as you did in this blog.

  11. Coleen says:

    Homeschooling is really not that “Different” anymore. There are 2 million homeschooling families in the US now and growing at 8% annually. Plus there are online public schools that are also growing, although not technically considered homeschooling even though the students are not in a brick and mortar school. My son, who has special needs, goes to ECOT, the largest public school in the country, which happens to be all online. I think the poster who wonders what the difference between truancy and homeschool is too locked up in the ideology of school being a building. Technology has changed education at all levels as well as in the corporate world. School is no longer just a place.

  12. deborah says:

    I feel the same way. My least favorite question is don’t you need a teaching certificate to teach your child. Considering our local school is not even accredited, I frequently respond with, I could’nt do any worse.

  13. Karen says:

    We often get “Is it legal?”
    I’m like, I’m not telling…….

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