Jump directly to the content
An Unexpected Choice: Why We Traded the Public School for Homeschooling

An Unexpected Choice: Why We Traded the Public School for Homeschooling

The countercultural decision has redefined our family's notion of success.

When I was 6 and my dad had been hired by the U.S. government to work as an economist, one of the first things he and my mom did after we moved was to call the few fellow Korean immigrants they knew in the D.C. area.

"Where are the good schools?" they interrogated. When they ran out of people to call, they called their friends' friends and asked the same question.

It took no time to build a list of acceptable school districts, a list that concurrently created the boundaries for where we would consider living. If a city was not on that list, it did not matter how affordable the housing was, how much more my parents could get for their meager dollars—a good school was the only choice that mattered.

Not surprisingly, when my husband and I reached the same point for our family, needing to find somewhere to settle down and raise our three young boys, the school issue became the first factor we considered as well. Of course we were going to live somewhere with a good school district. Naperville, a southwestern suburb of Chicago, had the right school credentials and a critical mass of our fellow church members who lived there. It was an easy choice.

We moved to Naperville for the public schools, but we ended up becoming a homeschooling family.

One day, I was interviewing a fellow Naperville mom for a project, and almost as a side note she mentioned that she had homeschooled her kids. I asked her what her main reasons were for homeschooling, and what she said stuck in my mind: "I wanted them to be able to enjoy their childhood. It goes by so fast."

My eldest son was then in the Naperville schools as a first-grader, and we were experiencing the opposite of "enjoying childhood." By the time he came home, ate a snack, did his homework, and practiced piano, it was nearly dinnertime. Every day felt like a grind, every day felt like we were in some sort of elementary-aged pressure cooker.

Also, we'd experienced red flags in his public school education experience, flags that I had just ignored or downplayed, but now they kept reemerging, clamoring for attention. Our son's grip on basic addition and subtraction facts was shaky. The teacher-approved first-grade readers he brought home were all picture books well below his level. A classmate was being manipulative in his relationship with our son: "You better jump from the top of that pole or else I'll stop being your friend!"

My initial reaction to the nudging I sensed in my heart—that God wanted us to give homeschooling a fair evaluation—was unequivocal: "No way, God." But the more I struggled against it, the more I sensed his answer: "Just look into it."

Resigned, I started doing research. I knew two other people who homeschooled, and when I called one to ask questions, she responded, "I should warn you—everyone I speak to about homeschooling ends up being convinced to try it."

And so it was for us, after a process of opening up to the idea as I learned more about it. We're nearly three years in, and while I would not want to mislead anyone about the challenges of homeschooling, the workload involved, and the never-ending questions ("Are we doing enough? Are we doing too much?"), I've been pleased by a number of unexpected results.

My boys have become close to one another by virtue of being each others' most constant playmates, but they are also comfortable interacting with a wide variety of ages, children to adults. They can spend time on tasks and topics that interest them whether it's typical for the age or not, such as my 9-year-old, who is working on the 20th page of his latest fantasy masterpiece, or my 6-year-old, who is intent on learning to type so he can write his own stories one day. We can spend a Sunday evening staying up late serving meals in our church's soup kitchen because we aren't forced to get up early Monday morning. My kids have also developed a better understanding of what it means to live out one's calling by going to Chicago to see their classical pianist-dad perform at a weekday noontime concert on Michigan Avenue, or to support their mom as she gives a talk to an auditorium full of Moody Bible Institute collegians.

But the most surprising result of all? By breaking away from the public-school system that we had originally been so intent on entering, we no longer follow a defined success narrative that guides the paths of so many families around us. Ultimately, I think this was what God wanted to show me by encouraging this change in our family. I no longer see "success" only resulting from following the typical life story that my generation and I were encouraged to follow: go to a good school, get good grades, go to a good college, get a good job, then get married and have kids and repeat the cycle all over again.

My parents are still befuddled by our decision to homeschool their grandsons; this was never what they would have or could have chosen for me and my brother. But by virtue of their many sacrifices, they enabled me to pursue a different educational path for my kids. Although I cannot say how long we will continue on the homeschooling journey, for now it has turned out for us to be the best choice.

Helen Lee is the author of The Missional Mom. Her next book is about parenting with freedom in a culture of extremes. She is also a founding member of Redbud Writers Guild.

    Rethinking the $3,000 Missions Trip

    Rethinking the $3,000 Missions Trip

    When I learned that kids in my city couldn't swim, I started to rethink how much I'd invested in overseas missions.
    Furniture Fit for the Kingdom

    Furniture Fit for the Kingdom

    For Harrison Higgins, building beautiful furniture is not simply a steady job but a sacrament unto God.
    Faith in a Fallen Empire

    Faith in a Fallen Empire

    Detroit's list of maladies is long. But some Christians' commitment to its renewal is longer.
    'Daddy, Why Do People Steal from Us?'

    'Daddy, Why Do People Steal from Us?'

    How I answered the question would prove crucial to addressing racial divides in our D.C. neighborhood.

    Comments Are Closed

    Displaying 1–5 of 24 comments


    October 01, 2012  6:36pm

    We homeschool and won't have it any other way. My daughter is a computer class at our local college and has to write a paper on Homeschooling and electronics. How it helps or hurts. Does anyone have a story they would like to share? randallboggess@integrity.com. Thank you.


    April 18, 2012  7:38pm

    Years ago the school district told my brother and sister-in-law their preschool child needed to be in special education - something about being developmentally delayed. My brother fumed, called the school district to complain and demanded to see the test. The school district, conveniently, had lost the test. That convinced them to homeschool their two boys. The "special ed" son scored a 31 on the ACT and graduated from La Tourneau College about 3 years ago. Now I have spent a career in the public schools as a teacher and administrator, and I sent my own children through the public schools. And if I had to do it all over again, I would homeschool them - without a moment's hesitation. Parents in this day and age should not entrust their impressionable children to a rabidly secularistic institution and expect any good to come of it.

    Helen Lee

    April 15, 2012  10:16pm

    John, you raise a great question. But in our family's case, I'm not trying to shield my kids from human fallibility such as in the examples you raise. I'm not trying to "escape" the so-called evils of public school, although I know there are many in the Christian homeschooling community motivated in that way. In our case, I'm simply trying to be obedient to a calling (not of my own choosing initially!). I'm not trying to make a blanket statement that all Christians should homeschool. Some of us will be called to seek the welfare of our local schools. Some will feel called to homeschool, to private school, or to some combination of all these depending on their child/children. And while there is no biblical mandate to choose a particular school context, church is different. Church is intended to be the place in which we live out the gospel of grace in how we treat each other, demonstrating compassion and extending forgiveness even to the image-centered pastor or sex-crazed high schoolers


    April 15, 2012  9:23pm

    John, you make some good points for the reasons to home church. I think it is better for families to worship together and not split children into their own services. The family can discuss the service at home. Church should not be about entertainment nor is it a more individualized experience. It's a time for the church community to get together, receive the sacraments and worship God in a special way.


    April 14, 2012  8:06pm

    Should some parents, also, home-church their kids? Almost every church I've been to has had red flags, i.e., the image-centered senior pastor, the conflict-ridden choir director, the sex-obsessed high school students, etc. Would it be better for the parents to pull their kids from churches and teach their kids at homes on Sundays, as well?


    Make a contribution to help support the This Is Our City project and the nonprofit ministry Christianity Today.Learn more ...


    RT @MissionYear: A great collection of articles from @ct_city @CTmagazine http://t.co/OLmjHvUIfr

    In honor of Kim Newlen, a friend of @ct_city who died Saturday, we share our story of her battle with cancer: http://t.co/S3FGKhVDuo

    RT @CTmagazine: After three years, hundreds of stories, thousands of readers, our tribute to This Is Our City: http://t.co/Gz35NhAdqc @ct_c2026

    The top 10 stories of @editor @KatelynBeaty picks her favorites and reflects on lessons learned in 3 years: http://t.co/BQxYdaoyD9

    "As a community we have to do a better job of rescuing these young people." The newest (and last) City video: http://t.co/vZL0cRKO7H #RVA