Laura Brodie, Ph.D.

Laura Brodie Ph.D.

Love in a Time of Homeschooling


Bullying: A Reason to Homeschool?

Can short-term homeschooling defuse a bullying problem?

Posted Mar 24, 2010

Bullying: A Reason to Homeschool?

Last week the Massachusetts House (following the Senate's lead) unanimously passed legislation that attempts to curtail bullying in schools and cyberspace. The move followed the death of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, who committed suicide after severe instances of cyber-bullying. With the popularity of text messaging and social networking sites like Facebook, bullies have powerful avenues for attacking their targets, and this legislation is part of a growing movement to crack down on the cruelty.

But what does this have to do with homeschooling?

When I first started to write about the year I spent homeschooling my daughter, I was surprised at all the parents who said "Yes, I did that for a while," or "I have friends who homeschooled for a year." And what was one of the most common reasons for pulling a child temporarily from school? Bullying.

My initial response was skeptical. Didn't homeschooling the children teach them that it was OK to run away from their problems? Weren't the bullies still waiting when the children returned to school?

In my next few posts I'll be looking at the pros and cons of using short-term homeschooling as a response to bullying. To begin, I'll share insights from parents who argue that in cases of persistent bullying, when initial responses aren't working and a school is unable or unwilling to remedy the problem, short-term homeschooling can defuse tensions and reduce a child's severe stress.

My first story comes from Katrina Stonoff, novelist and author of the Stone Soup book blog. Katrina's experience illustrates why some parents choose to homeschool for a short while, and why long-term homeschooling sometimes doesn't work out....

"My son James was a slender, gentle boy who was more bright than athletic. We moved right before he started Fourth Grade, and he had problems pretty much from day one. We didn't know about them immediately, but every morning, he'd say he was sick to his stomach and ask to stay home. There was one boy who was the instigator, and by far the worst bully, but he had a little gang of partners who called James names and pushed him around. They teased him about his glasses. Once, they stuffed him head first into a garbage can.

We went to the school, and they assured us they were proactive about bullies and would make sure it stopped. I think the worst bully was suspended for a few days. I know we expected it to go away, but i t didn't. Once, I met his bus and asked how his day went, and he responded with a big smile, "Great! I only got picked on once today!"

At the next parent-teacher conference, the teacher made a self-congratulatory comment about how they'd stopped the bullying, and we just stood there with out mouths hanging. We couldn't believe what we were hearing. We realized the bullies had just gotten smarter and taken their actions out of sight of the staff. That's when we pulled him out to homeschool.

For the first couple of quarters, he did really well. He was so happy to be home, and he worked diligently and independently. I was on bedrest with a difficult pregnancy when he came home, so I was able to work with him a lot. After the baby was born, however, we learned she had Down syndrome. She had some major issues, so I was a little preoccupied for a while and didn't monitor James' schoolwork like I should have.

I realized after a few months that he wasn't doing anything -- he was marking his tasks as done on his chart, but not doing them. We worked with him for another quarter, but he refused to do any schoolwork. Nothing would motivate him. There was no incentive strong enough and no punishment bad enough to get him to work (in retrospect, I suspect it was about the sudden and complete loss of attention that came with the new baby sister who was disabled).

We finally gave it up. In the fall, we put him into a local charter school (D.W. Higgins in Tempe, Arizona), and that was a wonderful experience. The class sizes were much smaller (14-20 students). The teachers were wonderful, the students more carefully monitored, and James really bloomed there. We moved again after he finished sixth grade, and we put him in a public middle school because there were no charter schools in our new state. But I'm convinced pulling him out to homeschool (which gave him a break) was the best choice we could have made."

Many thanks to Katrina for sharing her experience.

In my next post I'll look at a mom who homeschooled her 7th grade daughter after the girl's former friends fell into classic "Mean Girls" behavior. Until then, I welcome readers to offer their thoughts. In cases of severe bullying, is removal to a new school situation, whether homeschooling or otherwise, a good response?