Continuing with our series of posts in which we ask veteran unschoolers to share their experience and wisdom, we asked:

How do you respond to doubters; to those who give you a hard time; to family and extended family and concerned friends? What about strangers?

To those that are close and genuinely want to understand and learn more, I take the time to explain. To strangers who are clueless and I have no time to explain, I simply call it homeschooling. To doubters and critics…I make a bold stance that my children’s education and our methods are not up for discussion. If they cannot handle that, I distance myself. I refuse to have my children in the presence of people that try to “test” their knowledge or belittle their experiences. We know what works for our family and have seen the fruit of unschooling in all of our kids

For doubters who are willing to listen, I am happy to provide a wealth of resources: books, quotes, websites, blogs, personal analogies, etc. I much prefer working to alleviate a person’s fears and concerns than avoiding them. However, I’ve become rather adept at using “Pass the bean dip” strategies (changing the topic) and have gradually phased out spending time around people who refuse to understand or at least mind their own business. Whether it means blocking them from seeing my posts on Facebook or withdrawing from social activities (replacing with something else fun & interesting), it just seems healthier to keep living lives of joy and freedom without feeling condemned or being confronted.

I say we homeschool and unless someone seems to have a genuine out if the box interest I let my children’s intelligence and wit and creativity speak for itself…most people would not understand… so I don’t bother!
~Heather W

I’m private with strangers. They only get minimal information about how I raise my children. With family that is super pro public school and even make their living in Education, I don’t use the term unschooling or volunteer anything that they would not understand. I didn’t understand unschooling a long time ago, never dreamed learning could happen without tears, so I assume they might react negativity. Why stir the pot? I don’t lie, just don’t offer more than they need to know. Unschooling is a big leap for those who teach in a formal classroom and I need less drama in my extended family.
~Monica B

Nobody’s ever had the guts to just straight-out question to my face (this is the south, after all, and we are nothing if not polite) but I get the little roundabout jibes and questions sometimes. Most of the time I pretend I didn’t get it. With closer friends and relatives I’ll explain more and offer resources to learn more if they’re interested and bland reassurances if they’re not. Mostly I let time tell. It’s hard for close friends and relatives to criticize too harshly when the girls are so obviously so much healthier and happier and are clearly learning tons.

I remember one college professor who is important to me who had doubts and questions. We had a long chat about it and in the end, agreed to disagree. We are fortunate enough that we don’t live and haven’t lived close to family enough that they have had the opportunity to “get all up in the biz”, and since “the proof is in the pudding”, that’s been enough to squash any doubt they may have had. Not that it matters, but it helps that every where we go, people- strangers, family and friends are impressed with them. We are definitely fortunate in that although we have several teachers in our family, they actually know all the ins and outs of how we live and they still support us wholeheartedly.

We give strangers a run for their money or flat out don’t give in to questioning. I overheard someone grill my oldest on multiplication many years ago. Asked her something she didn’t readily have an answer for. That one is quick. When she didn’t know the answer fast enough, and they bashed homeschooling, she asked for the answer. When they told her, she said something like, “Cool! Now I know, and I didn’t have to sit in school all day to learn it. Thanks!”

If a stranger or anyone really, tries to give them a pop quiz, they either say they don’t take pop quizzes as they’re unschooled, ask the person if they quiz every child they meet, or tell them, “I’ll take your quiz if you take mine on”, then they’ll mention something that often scares people away, like the process of encapsulating and tincturing placentas or something.

I rarely tell strangers unless they give signs that they would be receptive.
So I haven’t come across any strangers who are doubters/disapprove.

Of friends and family I’ve discovered those who are not supportive are those to whom I’ve failed to thoroughly explain unschooling.

My parents were big against it for awhile. I had to male the subject along with my gentle parenting choices an off limit subject. So I still don’t think they fully understand it. She does support me now.

The biggest one was my dads mom. I tried to explain it to her early on and failed miserably. She became concerned but waited patiently for me to learn to articulate my beliefs. Once I did we had another discussion. Then she became my most excited and enthusiastic supporter.

So for the most part it’s been enthusiastic support. I’ve not convinced any homeschooling friends. But they are supportive of my decision with my kids.

Close friends and family: I respond with all the awesome stuff they are learning (doesn’t matter if it would look like school to outsiders- well, Rachel has been spending a lot of time learning about WWI, the countries involved and their cultures, as well as spending a lot of time working on higher level multiplication and division, planning, organizing information, writing stories, and learning Japanese,… Es has spent hours honing her understanding of perspective and spends days reading and writing – the kids is currently full of little known facts about everything under the sun, and Issac is working specifically on his social skills as well as strategy, planning, organizing information, eye hand coordination, blah, blah, blah. They don’t need to know that this all boils down to watching anime, playing Minecraft, drawing, reading novels, playing games with friends online, and drawing. It is all true.

As often as not the kids respond to similar questions and concerns with tidbits of higher level information that they know the adults questioning won’t get.

Even more often I just redirect the conversation, asking about my brother who is still in school, the dog, whatever after a quick- they have been really busy with their individual projects.

The same goes for friends/acquaintances. At this point the kids are older and most adults talking to them pick up quickly that they are intelligent and clearly using their time well as they can converse on most subjects.

If someone is clearly interested then I take into account who and the context. I often direct Christians to the Christian unschooling website as a resource, as well as to Joyfully Rejoycing, Peter Gray’s work, John Holt, and John Taylor Gatto. Also, for those who are interested, I pass along my husband’s autobiography about being an autodidactic in public school (often forced to ignore his own interests even though at home he was doing things well advanced of what he was allowed to do in school.) For those who are just being polite I just say we focus on their interests and leav eit at that. They don’t have a right to any more information than that, if that at all. To especially rude sorts I just say we homeschool and walk away or change the topic.

I usually gauge their interest. I usually just start with “we homeschool” and move on from there depending on their questions. If it is a curious mom at the park I might explain that no, I don’t sit them down and teach every subject (a lady asked me this recently – homeschooling is rare here in Korea and when done is usually very academically rigid). I explain how we use a lot of different resources, the biggest one being the internet.

I guess I’ve never had any family or close friends give me a hard time. We are so far away from family that they just don’t have any say in how we bring up our kids. We’ve been homeschooling/unschooling for so long that when I meet new people that is just part of who we are. We might not agree on educational choices but I make a point to not to focus on that. We have friends of all flavors and my kids love knowing people with different experiences. Part of the reason people don’t question me is that I really don’t let them. I’ve learned over the years to recognize when someone is genuinely interested in what we do vs. someone who is curious because they want to drill me/mykids or they want to somehow find fault in our choices. When discussions start going down that road I change the subject or make a statement like, “well this works for our family – not everyone chooses this path and that is ok”.

Confidence helps a lot when dealing with people who question or harass you. Confidence that what you are doing is best for your family, that you don’t have to explain or defend your decisions, that your kids don’t need to live up to arbitrary expectations, that unschooling is perfectly legal and leads to maturity in adulthood. People that are new to unschooling can build that confidence by engaging with their kids rather than listening to all the negatives and doubts from the outside. Focus on relationship above your fears of learning and “growing up right”.

I think far more often I get irritated with people that know we homeschool/unschool and then reference every person who is thinking about homeschooling to us, expecting me to give advice.

Depending on the attitude the questions or concerns are presented determines my response. If someone seems to sincerely want to better understand, even if they don’t agree, I will go into examples and more details. If they seem to be asking as a more general conversation process, I give surface answers with more homeschool focus over unschooling focus until I can determine if they really want to know more. If they seem more argumentative, I don’t go beyond a kind and firm distract and redirect. My time is too valuable to waste it on someone who really does not have an open mind or desire to learn something outside of their comfort zone.

With family, I was fortunate not to be living around them when my dc were young. And my mom and mil were quick to become supporters, as much because of how much happier my older two were out of school (they came home at 7 & 9) as because of events happening in public schools across the country. After 9/11, especially. I think we were very fortunate to have such a supportive family.

With strangers, it has a lot to do with my mood in general and the details of where the conversation is happening. I have to say, though, I’ve had more heated discussions with hsers than others. Over things like the “you have to do x” kind of comments. I know the law well of every state we’ve passed through and it drives me MAD when hsers put requirements on themselves that aren’t part of the law. And even before we were fully unschooling, I was always the defender of it in a hs crowd.

By the time we were officially “out of the closet”, I already had one graduate and one a senior in high school. It’s a lot easier to be bold when you have the fruit of your labor standing in front of you, kwim?

I want to add that sometimes if you share all the stuff they ARE learning in response to concerns about them not doing schoolwork that can relieve a lot of concern. When we travel and visit my in-laws they always love seeing our notebooks and photos of projects and that has helped them become advocates for more relaxed styles of learning. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

I take screenshots when the kids make something really cool on Minecraft, or when they show me what they have drawn on their tablet. We keep a reading log of all the books they devour in a year. I share what the kids are passionate about (oldest and her cat/dog research, middle and her collecting and preserving flowers and leaves, youngest and his inventions and builds).

Family – I try to explain but eventually agree to disagree if they dont get it – having older kids who have grown up homeschooling has helped them get it better. Strangers – meh, if you are asking questions n being nice, Ill stick around n chat, if not buhbye! I am too busy to deal with debbie downer strangers who want to criticize and devalue my life choices!~Jessie

As a second generation unschooler, I try to give folks a heads up pretty early in a conversation (unless I’m feeling particularly ornery) if they start giving me a hard time…to me, unschooling is very personal. The way I homeschool my kids is the way I was homeschooled. So anything negative you have to say about what I’m doing or not doing with my own kiddos or how you think they’re going to turn out because of it, directly reflects on how you think *I* turned out.

I err on the side of cautious truth when talking to people, simply because we live in a state that has many requirements for homeschooling parents. I am very clear that we meet all the regulations of our state, yet we do it in an entirely different method and philosophy than the method mainstream education uses.

If it’s an entire stranger who is confrontational with me then I tend to smile and move on. I don’t mind what they think of us anyway.

If the concerns come from family or friends I take more time with them, assuming they are civil and not attacking. I might refer them to certain sources if they are concerned that we are making uneducated decisions. I also would reassure them that we follow God’s leading above all others’.

What it comes down to though is that we see that people learn more efficiently on their own timeline and of their own interests. We’ve seen the fruits of unschooling in kids who are self-motivated to learn and are not limited by a certain theme of knowledge. In our own home we’ve seen our children learn things well beyond the grade levels of their friends, simply because we have let their foundation be solid, without cracks caused by hammering in school subjects before they were naturally ready.

There are many reasons to choose a different path for your family. Schools are even unhappy with their paths, so they are carrying the common core torch for change, as if it’s a solution to become even more regimented. Why then, would we not consider an alternative path of our own rather than following one that has left America behind in many ways? My husband and I are trying something different, in actual hope that we get different results than what are promised by school rather than worrying that we won’t. We don’t want what the school offers. We are okay with being in the minority in that, and it certainly isn’t an insult to the majority.

I find that I respond best when I am feeling confident and self-assured, but not obnoxious and arrogant; when I remember that I have my journey, and they have theirs, and whilst I don’t want them to judge me, they also don’t want me to judge them. I don’t feel the need to be an unschooling evangelist; I don’t need to convince anyone of the merits of this lifestyle.

Often the questioner is genuinely concerned, even though in reality it isn’t their business. My confidence and self-assuredness can help to ease their concerns. Sometimes a reference to “studies” or research can help, too!

If someone is asking questions out of a genuine desire to understand, I tend to give positive little snippets, rather than too much information. Often a short, intriguing answer will have them wanting to know more, whereas a defensive, or evangelical type comment will cause them to shut down or get defensive themselves.

Another thing I try to do is look for common ground, focusing on things my kids are doing that the questioner is likely to be interested in.

~Karen Lee