I left kindergarten for a life of school-free self directed learning, so I’ve had many years to get used to talking about home education. Some people are curious or excited, some angry or defensive, but what remains a constant is that almost everyone has an opinion on the topic and some questions to ask. I still freeze up sometimes when asked an unexpected question, or stumble over a simple explanation, but for the most part I feel that I’ve gotten pretty good at dealing with the range of questions and reactions that come from different people.
The approach I take hinges on a couple of key questions: who is it I’m talking to? And, what’s my goal for this conversation? It all depends on the answers to those questions.
Interested strangers or acquaintances
When I’m talking to someone I’ve just met or don’t know well, I often pull out my “elevator speech” and talk a bit more about the unique education I had, since I want to share these ideas with people. “I was unschooled,” I say, “which is basically a self directed form of homeschooling where parents act as facilitators instead of teachers.” I answer questions (again without getting defensive), while keeping a firm stance on what I will and won’t talk about. I recognize that no one is entitled to my time spent explaining my life and education, so as much or as little as I feel happy sharing is enough. If the people I’m talking to react negatively and confrontationally, I just try and change the subject, remove myself from the conversation, or firmly tell people when their questions or reactions aren’t appropriate (when people try and quiz me, as they have even in my adult years, I tell them that it’s rude and I decided long ago not to answer when people ask such questions).
I think what’s best to remember is that you never have to be an advocate if you don’t want to, and to not get dragged into arguments, keep your cool, and set boundaries around what type of conversations you will and won’t engage in. Each person you talk to will have different questions and concerns and will be curious about different aspects of homeschooling, so I find it’s best to follow their lead and answer the questions they’re interested in, or respond to their biggest concerns. I’ve found that conversations with interested strangers and acquaintances can be really rewarding, and help people think about education in a new light.
Health care providers, bureaucrats, and other professionals from whom I need some service or assistance
If my goal is getting something I need, I’m not going to delve into the intricacies of unschooling or get into any long explanations. In these instances, if it comes up I simply say I was homeschooled, and when their eyebrows raise and their mouth forms an “oh,” I just smile, say it was a good experience for me, and succinctly answer any questions they have. Several things I’ve found important in these types of conversations is to make the upbringing I had sound as normal and as similar to school as possible; to answer only the questions that are asked and not get into any long explanations; and to make sure I remain calm and non-defensive, whether the person I’m dealing with is polite in their questioning or not. My priority isn’t to educate them, it’s to get the services I need, so I try and keep things as light, non-confrontational, and brief as possible. I’ve now got this down to a science, and can reassure concerned doctors and other people in a remarkably short amount of time!
Friends, family, and loved ones
These are the people who you most want to support your choices, so naturally these are often the most difficult discussions to have. One thing I’ve personally found important is staying away from comparing my education to a school education. Instead of trying to show how baking helped me get better at math, or talking about how my reading comprehension was on grade level, I think things worked best when we just shared the richness of our lives and learning, without making comparisons to to a schooled life. Talk about all you’re learning and doing, what each individual is passionate about and engaged in, without couching it in school terms or trying to make things sound more like school. We’ve chosen to live and learn differently because we think it’s a better option for us, so share why you feel that way instead of trying to show how similar your life is to school.
Of course it’s also important to remember that even if someone is family, you’re not obliged to share every detail of your lives or allow relatives to quiz you or your kids. Share the aspects of your life that you feel are the most important and exciting, and as politely as possible set limits on what you will and will not talk about.
What it really comes down to is respecting yourself, staying calm and collected, and sharing what you feel is most important about your learning lifestyle, when and if you feel happy to do so.
Everyones’ experiences will be different, and to a large extent I think each of us needs to develop our own strategies. I just hope that, by sharing some of what I’ve learned over the years, others can gain inspiration in their own journeys of living school free and sharing their educational journeys with others!