As new home school parents, my wife and I struggled with the decision to take our children out of school. We knew what we wanted for our children – better education, more individualized attention, and freedom for them to explore their interests, but that freedom comes at a cost: uncertainty.
In 1957, U.S. social psychologist Leon Festinger, introduced the term cognitive dissonance to describe this uncertainty. He defined it as the uncomfortable mental state that occurs when people must consider two opposing or conflicting ideas. Through his research, Festinger found that people generally do not like prolonged periods of dissonance and will employ a variety of methods to reduce or eliminate the discomfort. This is exactly what my wife and I experienced, and still do experience from time to time, when we made the decision to home school.
The dissonance looked something like this: My wife and I were both educated in public schools and it turned out fine for us, but we wanted something better for our children. Schools offer a number of benefits like teachers, friends, and activities, but there are nearly unlimited opportunities to keep home school children active in different activities if the parent is willing to invest the time, which we were. We dealt with the childish behavior that occurs in school like bullying, gossip, jealousy, selfishness, etc., but there are so many differences between school culture and the actions children are willing to take between then and now. Then, add to that all of the “if’s”. What if is hard to get the kids to do their work? What if we can’t find the right activities or programs? What if they don’t learn all they are supposed to, or struggle in a subject we don’t know well? And the ultimate if: What if we are making a mistake and get in over our heads?
So if all of these are valid concerns and should be considered carefully when making the decision, how do we ever resolve the dissonance and feel good about our decision? I believe that this is different for each family and there is no single answer. It comes down to properly weighing the concerns. For some, the destructive culture at school weighs most heavily on the minds of parents, for others it is curriculum and what is being taught, and for others it is the desire to be together as a family.
Ultimately the choice to home school is an important one, and it is one with which parents will most likely struggle. Uncertainty may be a constant companion, particularly at the beginning, but for us, the farther we have travelled down the home school path, the more we realize additional benefits that we didn’t even consider before. After all, what price or weight could you ever give to the relationship that develops between the parent and child when they undergo this journey together. I talk often to my children about what they like and don’t like about their education, and the one thing at the top of the likes list is “being with mommy”, and at the top of the want more of list is “time with mommy”. As a father, that resolves the dissonance for me.