My Three Imaginary Friends

Our decision to attend a public school has led to some interesting conversations

Our current educational life is extremely complicated, a mix of public, private and home education for our remaining 12 children. I have three imaginary friends whom I converse with often that keeps our complicated decisions from overwhelming us.

Picture taken at our 2015 Birthday Bash, the first year we had a strong mix of home and public schooled friends.

Picture taken at our 2015 Birthday Bash, the first year we had a strong mix of home and public schooled friends.

Wendy and I are trying to maximize the educational opportunities of each of our children, as every caring parent should. With a large family, we need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the various options available to us plus consider how each option would weigh on our entire family plus how each child will be benefited by the educational option.

We’re not the only ones who think outside the box. But when you do, you get everyone’s opinion, as with my imaginary friends:

  1. The friend who thinks I’m crazy for homeschooling.
  2. The friend who thinks I’m crazy for sending kids to school.
  3. The friend who thinks I’m living the most exciting educational venture.

Perhaps you have one of these in your life. Let me tell you about the conversations I have with each of them. Some of the conversations end up quite uncomfortable, but we remain friends regardless.

1. Mrs. Union Teacher. “Your problems are because of homeschooling.”

I haven’t run into Mrs. Union Teacher for a long time, but I recall meeting her back in my teaching days in the 90s. The technology teacher at the time was also the union president, and she was a constant judge of Wendy and my decision to homeschool, sometimes straight to my face.

Granted, homeschooling was a new concept back then. It wasn’t until the late-90s that homeschooling became legal in all 50 states (click for the state laws for homeschooling). In fact, the school I was teaching in was in North Dakota, one of the last homeschool states in the US. If it wasn’t for my teaching degree and the graciousness of the superintendent, I would have been in some trouble with the district. At least if Mrs. Union Teacher was in charge.

Today, homeschooling is legal, and the judgment against homeschooling rears its head only now and then. I suppose this will never change, but I insist on making this challenge: try to understand that which you don’t know. 

This taps a big reason why many parents choose to home educate: The state does not know what is best for their children, and the bureaucracy often refuses to try. (Click here for the ridiculousness of this.)

This said, many (I say the majority) of teachers and administrators involved in public education are open minded concerning home education. This was true even in the 1990s when I was considered a freak by Mrs. Union Teacher. Most of the teachers I worked with were legitimately interested in the educational concept of homeschooling. It was only the ones getting their unhealthy dose of propaganda from the teachers unions that had a prejudice against anything but what the status quo had to offer. This included values education, parental involvement, religious freedom in schools, and (eventually) the charter school movement.

To tell you the truth, with my recent decision to send many of my children to public school, I was expecting one or two Mrs. Union Teachers to give Wendy and me a hard time. I haven’t run into one. We have had marvelous meetings with teachers, administrators and other parents. Not once has anyone questioned our former or current decisions to home educate.

I can’t say that about the next friend. They haven’t been so imaginary…

2. Mrs. Righteousness. “Your kids are going to get sucked into darkness.”

There is a crazy straw man argument from Mrs. Righteousness that believes sending your kids to anything other than homeschool is betrayal. They typically pound their bibles and make their choice to homeschool akin to Israel’s exodus from Egypt, the early church’s persecution of the Roman state, or the Pilgrim’s venture to the New World.

From the comfort of their middle-class American living rooms, a couple of them let me know where they stood on my decision to send some of our kids to public school. Here’s one:


Another poster wrote, “I would prefer to go to jail before I would send my children to the government schools. Even charter schools are secular and humanistic by design.” Within an hour, six people clicked “thumbs up.”

I sigh whenever I read posts like these. Sometimes I engage with them, but I often just let it go.

Here’s why: Mrs. Righteousness is failing to understand, just like Mrs. Union Teacher. Folks like this should slow down and listen to the reasons for people’s educational choices, rather than dreaming up fantasies of their decision. They may learn a thing or two.

This first year of schooling has been an adventure. We have learned so much…and our kids a ton! We haven’t been free of trials, but we are extremely pleased with how things are working out. Many of which are good things.

Good things that wouldn’t have come about if we held onto straw men like Mrs. Righteousness creates. We’re not drop outs, and public schools are not “secular and humanistic by design.” These are generalizations intended to keep Wendy and me fearful of our choices, and I reject them. So should you.

The next imaginary friend is my favorite…

3. Mrs. Smiles. “You are fantastic parents doing the best you can for each child.”

I suspect this is you…and most people on my blog and social media channels…and most people period. Extremes exist, and it is unfortunate that we live in a world where those extremes are the squeakiest and loudest voices. Most people are rational, open-minded, and reasonable.

I can tolerate Mrs. Union Teacher and Mrs. Righteousness as friends, but Mrs. Smiles has a non-negotiable premise that I most identify with: parents must do what is best for each child.

The others have good intentions, and both think their extreme is best for my children, but they really don’t believe that I know what is best for each child. They hold in their hearts an extreme judgment: parents may not be trusted for the educational choices of their children. I cannot disagree with these people more strongly.

Mrs. Smiles, on the other hand, is optimistic and encouraging. She believes I have every right to make the best decisions for my children. In fact, she loves getting to know my family, finds my choices quite fascinating, and enjoys talking through the details of the educational choices my wife and I have made.

Because, really, any choice I make can be criticized. And rightly so. There is no panacea for educating children, and suspect anyone who thinks there is. They are plenty of blowhard know-it-alls who are pedagogically ignorant. And if they have any kids of their own, they will likely be blindsided when their kids end up struggling academically or turn out to be just as big of jerks as their parents.

Meh, that may be a little strong. I like how Wendy puts it: “Our choices have all made me a better home school parent, even sending some of our kids to school.”

Mrs. Smiles represents the loving, encouraging friend we need when we consider the best educational options for our children. And I hope I’m just as much of a supporter to you who needs to do the same.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Fiona11

    Good for you! Each child is unique and your respecting this. We do exactly the same! Schools been great for some, flexi schooling has been great as has home ed. we have also worked and taught ours in schools.