In two previous posts I shared the stories of mothers who temporarily homeschooled their children in order to escape persistent bullying problems. These Moms tried to work with their children's public schools to eliminate the bullying, but when their efforts failed, homeschooling proved to be an effective way to relieve their children's stress, and defuse the crises. However, when I first began to examine the issue, I said that I would mention both the pros and cons of using short-term homeschooling as a response to bullying. So now it's time for the cons-or perhaps "considerations" is a better word, because what follows are merely the potential drawbacks that parents should keep in mind when deciding the best course of action for their child.
The immediate drawbacks are those that apply to all homeschooling: reduction of family income if a parent must give up work to homeschool, the potential for conflict between parent and child, the enormous time commitment for the homeschooling parent. Effective homeschooling, short-term or long, is an all-consuming enterprise.
And then there are the psychological questions surrounding good responses to bullying. To give voice to this side of the issue, I decided to solicit the opinion of someone I knew would oppose homeschooling as a reaction to bullying-Izzy Kalman, another blogger here at Psychology Today. Kalman has twenty-three years of experience as a school psychologist, in addition to founding Bullies to Buddies, Inc., which aims to teach children social strategies to eradicate bullying problems.
Kalman is a controversial figure. Some people enthusiastically endorse his methods, while others argue that he underestimates the severity of the bullying faced by today's kids, and his approach places too much responsibility on the victim to solve the problem. When I queried Kalman by email, he shared his immediate reaction to the idea of using short-term homeschooling in response to bullying. Kalman was not commenting on the individual cases that I have posted, just giving a general impression of the downside:
Homeschooling is a poor way to try to remedy a bullying problem. The children will learn absolutely nothing about why they are having the problem and how to solve it. If they go back to the same school, the problem is likely to recur. Sometimes a school change will solve the problem, so I prefer that as a solution rather than homeschooling. But with my own clients, I only recommend that if the situation is so longstanding and ingrained that even when the child follows my advice the problem still continues.
The absolutely best solution is for the kids to be taught how to stop being bullied on their own.
Kalman makes two valid points. First, does homeschooling teach a child to avoid social challenges rather than solving them? Homeschooling is often accused of being isolationist-a way for parents to shelter children from the problems of the world. Conscientious homeschoolers must exert effort to ensure that their children interact regularly with people of all ages and backgrounds, so that they can learn to handle the difficult social situations that will continue throughout life. However, the notion that children need the "socialization" offered in traditional schools is highly suspect, since the social life in public schools is artificial and sometimes unhealthy. Parents must ultimately use their instincts to decide when a bullying situation is fixable, and when a child's environment is physically unsafe or emotionally debilitating.
Kalman also raises the key question: Won't the problem still be there when the child returns to school? Perhaps, but not always, since social dynamics in school can change from year to year, even month to month. As children mature and make new friends, the behaviors of both bullies and the bullied can alter. One of the mothers in my previous posts found that her daughter, who was targeted for bullying in the seventh grade, discovered the problem had faded when she returned the next year. The bullies no longer bothered her, and the girl returned to school with more self-confidence, backed by strategies her mother had taught her.
If it seems likely that bullying will persist, parents should explore other schools. In my March 24 post, Katrina Stonoff explained how, after homeschooling for a year, she found a wonderful charter school for her son. Another mother once told me about how she homeschooled her daughter for middle school, (after the girl came home with choking marks around her neck), but this Mom felt comfortable reintroducing her child to the public system once high school began. She sensed that her local elementary and high schools were good; it was just the middle school that was out of control.
Even Izzy Kalman acknowledges that in severe cases of bullying, a change in school might be necessary. What's interesting in the excerpt above is that he doesn't seem to count homeschooling as a legitimate "school change," probably because his professional background is rooted in public education. Today, with the homeschooling population growing dramatically nationwide, I would imagine that some of Kalman's clients might choose to include homeschooling among their "school change" options.
Finally, parents whose children are facing bullying problems should read this article by Psychology Today editor-at-large Hara Estroff Marano. She offers more than two-dozen research-based strategies for helping kids deal with bullying, and at the end of her list she asserts that if all else fails, a child should be moved to another school. It's up to parents to decide whether that other school might be located in their own kitchen.