Recently, I, and all of my homeschooling friends, were accused of being arrogant. It was a comment on my blog, in response to my Real Cons of Homeschooling piece.
This was not the first time I've heard this kind of comment. So I wasn't surprised by it. But I was pleasantly surprised by one of the homeschooling moms who responded, Mary. As part of her apt observation, she concluded that, “Homeschooling is forging your own path. That absolutely takes a degree of courage, confidence and fortitude. Because we must be firm in our resolve (even when feeling doubts), it may come off as arrogance.”
It made me realize that a lot of what might be considered arrogance to one person, is something else entirely when seen from a different point of view. I wondered if maybe because I am a homeschooler, I wasn't seeing the truth. Perhaps it all depends on how we look at it. So, I looked up the meaning of "arrogant".
According to the online dictionary.com, arrogance means ""overbearing pride evidenced by a superior manner toward inferiors" or
"displaying a sense of being better than others". In order to be arrogant, there is an active belief of being better than other people, or considering them our inferiors.
Understanding this, there are two main reasons why homeschoolers can come across as arrogant. First, by talking about things like we know it all, and nobody else "gets it" but us. And secondly, by choosing to homeschool because we think we are better than teachers.
But the more I think about it, the more I wonder, are homeschoolers any more arrogant than anyone else? Is choosing to homeschool more arrogant than choosing private school, or even public school? Where do we draw the line between making a choice because it is the best for us, and being arrogant? And if homeschoolers are arrogant because they have an opinion that is different than the masses, and choose a path that is different than the majority of families, does that also make every single one of our non-conforming opinions and choices arrogant?
I've discovered that, as a writer and local spokesperson for alternative education, having an opinion (especially an informed one) and not coming across as arrogant is a very difficult skill. When someone says something to me that contrasts with what I have learned and understand, it is difficult to phrase my response so I'm holding on to my opinion without making the other person feel like they don't know what they are talking about.
I remember when I was in college and grad school. Many of the professors there made it clear to me, that between me and him, which one of us was the smartest of the two. But there was one teacher, who, no matter what incoherent jibberish I managed to convey to him, he always found a way to give it merit. Always. Then, he would correct me. Or state his opinion. His approach amazed me, because it was so different than the rest of the faculty.
He proved to me that it is possible to have a strong opinion, yet not be arrogant. It's hard, though. And over time, I realized that the other profs in my department weren't being arrogant. They were focused. Not only that, but they had gone through the same process I was going through, got through it, and now were at a point where they had to constantly defend themselves in journals, among their peers, and at conferences. That trickled down to the students. They weren't being arrogant, they were focused and in a habit of defending themselves and what they knew.
The parallel to the homeschooling world is that we spend a lot of time defending ourselves against naysayers. Being a homeschooler requires quite a bit of skin-thickening. It is indeed possible to listen to the other side, but when we've heard the same arguments over and over, and then explained our position over and over, it gets old. It's not old to the person who is questioning us, but it's old for us. It is difficult to hold on to infinite patience with questions, and especially accusations.
But even in cases where we give the questions (which we've heard a million times) a true balanced listen-to, we can still be considered arrogant, simply because we are choosing something that is different. Having been told that I'm arrogant, even when I've given every attempt to listen to and accept the other person's view on education, I realized that in general, it is human nature to tend to think people are more arrogant when we disagree with them.
The flip side to that, is if we totally agree with someone, we have a very low likelihood of seeing them as arrogant.
Perhaps homeschoolers, to some degree, are arrogant. But, aren't we all then? And how are homeschoolers more arrogant than teachers? How are we more arrogant than any parents? How are we more arrogant than someone who flies their own plane, cooks their own meals or adds an addition to their own house? By saying "we can do this", is that being arrogant? To me, being arrogant is "I can do this, and you can't, and I'm better than you because of it." And I don't see anyone in the homeschooling world saying that. In fact, the message is quite the opposite: "I can do this, and so can you."
Another implication in saying that homeschoolers are arrogant, is that we think we can educate our kids better than trained, certified teachers, merely by making the choice not to have teachers be our children's full time educators. Although that may be true from a certain perspective, the choice to rarely comes from *just* that opinion. It's not a personal affront to teachers. The choice to educate at home is much bigger than whether we think we're better than teachers. Saying that homeschoolers are arrogant because we think we're better than school teachers is taking a very small issue and making it into a huge deal.
Or perhaps it's comparing apples to oranges. If we say that we can educate our kids at home better than they would get at school - what we really mean is that it's different. It's like saying I can ride a bike better than I can rollerblade. They are both ways to get from point A to point B, but they are not at all the same. Even though I think that biking is a "better" way to get to my destination, and that I can do it "better" than other people, it doesn't mean that the merits of rollerblading are lessoned - especially for those who like to rollerblade. We can educate differently, and with different tools. It's not even the same job that teachers do. We aren't saying we can do a teacher's job better than she can, but that the route we are taking works better for us than the route the teachers (and schools) take.
I think what is missing the most out of the discussion about arrogance, is that most homeschoolers aren't saying they can do it better than school teachers at all. We must remember that every homeschooling family has a different reason for their choice. There are a lot of homeschoolers who probably do think that teachers can do just as good, if not better, job than they can, but are homeschooling because of food allergies or because they move often, or for reasons that have nothing to do with how good or bad school is. And many homeschoolers don't have an opinion on it one way or the other. Accusing all homeschoolers of being arrogant is making the same mistake that happens repeatedly with negative feedback from non-homeschoolers - overgeneralization from not understanding that homeschoolers are not all the same.
It may be that the loudest voices proclaim the advantages of homeschooling, but the vast majority of homeschoolers are quietly going about their life, and don't have one thing to say about it other than, "This works the best for us."
Mary, who I quoted above, wrote a post about arrogance at her attachlings blog. She pointed out that there is a difference between being strong and resolute in our position, and being arrogant. And that we have a choice how we say what we have to say. That much of what might be considered arrogance is actually another form of hostility. I agree. And I do believe that there are arrogant and/or hostile homeschoolers out there. But no more than there are arrogant and hostile schoolers or parents in general.
Being arrogant is a choice. We can decide whether we think other people are inferior to us, or our equals. But other people thinking we're arrogant, that isn't under our control. As with anything else in life, we can change some things, but the rest, all we can do is let go. If we act and speak with integrity, we don't need to justify or apologize for being thought of as arrogant.
As for whether homeschoolers are arrogant, the answer is overall no, sometimes yes, but really, does it matter?
Tammy Takahashi lives and learns with her three children (10, 7 and 4) and supportive husband in California. She is the author of Deschooling Gently: A Step by Step Guide to Fearless Homeschooling. She also serves as the editor of the California HomeSchooler magazine, a bi-monthly publication for the Homeschool Association of California. You can read more from her about education and homeschooling on her website. And you can email her at tammy.takahashi @ gmail(dot)com.