Monday, August 11, 2014

Avoiding the Homeschooling Comparison Trap (aka: Homeschooling as a Social Science Thought Exercise)

Homeschooling is growing by 7%-15% per year. That is such exciting news! I love meeting and talking with new homeschoolers, but even as I do so every year, I am slightly concerned. They ask what curriculum I use, what grade my kids are in, what our activities are, etc. I can see the looks on their faces as I describe what we do, and I immediately follow up with, "But everyone is different! Your homeschool day won't look anything like mine!" I can tell that so many remain unconvinced.

There are as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschooling families. That point can't be reiterated often enough. I have written on this subject before, but I am going to recap briefly because I think the example is a good one. Stay with me - it makes sense in a couple of sentences.

In social choice theory (economics/social science jargon - not important), there is a (debated) maxim that you can't make interpersonal comparisons of utility. All that means is that you can't make comparisons between people in terms of what they value because people (and, thus, their preferences and the degree to which they value those preferences) are different. Homeschool Mom A can't compare herself to me and feel bad because my kids are learning Latin and hers aren't because I place a high premium on Latin - and maybe she doesn't! Or, and this is more likely, she simply places a higher premium on something else. Maybe it's teaching her daughters homemaking skills. The good Lord knows that that is not something I necessarily value. I'll tell you that it is, but all you have to do is look at my house to know that it's not really true.

That brings us to point #2: everyone has preference orderings whether or not they are conscious of them. Your preference orderings are reflected in how you spend your time and your money. All of us probably place God and family first. After that, we all take our own paths. We teach different subjects and support different companies. Some of us have very neat and ordered homes and some of us...don't (no judgment - I'm talking about myself!). Some of us belong to co-ops and some of us go it alone. Some of us do secular extracurricular activities and some of us only participate in Christian groups.

None of the above choices can be considered right or wrong because each choice represents a complex interaction of preference orderings that is unique to each individual person! For that reason, also, none of us can look at another homeschool mom and say, "I'm doing it wrong and she's doing it right." She's doing it right for *her family*. It may be all wrong for someone else's - and will be if it doesn't reflect that family's preference orderings.

Now, would my husband like a neater home? Of course! So would I! Would he like a neater home at the expense of my providing an intense classical curriculum for our kids? At the expense of their speech and debate? At the expense of my work-at-home job that he knows is important to me? No. (N.B. I'm not saying that there is not room for improvement in my home or that I am a victim of circumstance. I am saying that it reflects the way I prioritize my time. Most people have some wiggle room in their schedules.)

So what's the takeaway for all of us homeschooling moms? One that the perfectionist in me has to struggle to remember every day! There is no wrong way to do it and it is an exercise in futility (seriously - I'm speaking as a social scientist here!) to try to compare yourself to another homeschooling mom. It doesn't make sense on any level. We all need to do what I tell my kids to do every single day: work your program and don't worry about what anyone else says or does. You'll be so much happier and more successful!

Welcome back to homeschool! Be sure to click the banner below to read dozens more blogs that are filled with practical advice about all things homeschool. I promise that few will be as esoteric as this one! And DON'T FORGET THE GIVEAWAY! Want to win hundreds of dollars in cash and curriculum? Click that link above to enter!

Back to Homeschool Blog Hop
Because there are so many great blogs to read, try starting with these 10 - come back tomorrow for 10 more!
Group 1

Marcy @ Ben and Me
Lisa @ Farm Fresh Adventures
Jenn @ Treasuring Life's Blessings
Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays
Dusty @ To the Moon and Back
Michelle @ Delightful Learning
Jacquelin @ A Stable Beginning
Rebekah @ There Will Be a $5 Charge for Whining
Gena @ I Choose Joy!


  1. Good thoughts here. We really need to be thoughtful of our own choices and not the choices others make (though they can spark good ideas for us at times). :)

    annette @ A net in time (

  2. I agree, Annette. We should take away the good from those comparisons and leave behind that which discourages us. Thanks for reading!

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