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Catholic Homeschool Articles, Advice & Resources

Don’t Trust My Homeschooling? Tips to Shut Down the ‘Quiz Masters’

4 minutes


From the 20 “All Time Most Popular Articles”: Mary Ellen Barrett shares her tips and humor for dealing with people who distrust your homeschooling decision. This article originally appeared November 10, 2015.

Anyone have that relative?

The one who is outwardly sweet and supportive of your decision to homeschool and gushes about how great it is and how you are such a supermom, but as soon as they get one of your kids alone they turn into the Quiz Master and begin drilling your kids in everything from the multiplication tables to the economic causes of the Civil War. You know that person?

That person is annoying and rude, but you should not let that deter you or cause you to question what you know is right for your children.

It’s a Common Problem

When I travel around speaking at conferences, this is one of the things I hear most often when people speak of their struggles with homeschooling.

We are so wired to seek approval from the people we love that when we know there is disappointment about our choices, it can be devastating. I’m sure the other speakers and counselors hear it as well.

Open hostility is often easier to deal with than the passive-aggressive happy on the outside and then playing “gotcha” with the kids in private.

It’s happened to me as well, relatives quizzing my kids on math facts or how well they are reading. Sometimes it backfires on the Quiz Master; the kids not only know the material but explain why they have moved on from such pedestrian subjects and are now consulting for NASA.

Other times (I have some learning challenged children) it doesn’t go as well, and I am faced with the “you know that public school kids usually know this by now” conversation. I hate that conversation.


The fact that I have successfully graduated one have colleges contacting another one with their interest in her and have overcome several learning disabilities with others matters not—the nine-year-old struggles with reading, so homeschooling must be bad.


This kind of thing can shatter your peace of mind and hurt your kid’s feelings. It brings out all of our mama bear protective instincts.

I used to get so angry and upset over these situations, and the result was that I would drill my kids mercilessly for the next few days because I was embarrassed, or I would argue with my poor husband because I felt put upon and attacked.

Of course, none of this addressed the issue which was that I allowed someone to make me question a decision that my husband and I made prayerfully, and that we feel best for our family.

A decision that has brought us great challenges but also great joy. A decision we do not regret and would not change for the world.

How to Master the Quiz Master

My husband and I have, over the years, developed a few techniques that politely silence the Quiz Masters in our life. Once identified, they are pretty easy to head off. If you are consistent in your approach, the problem usually goes away after a few encounters.

Once we know that Auntie Joy is apt to get your child in a corner and start drilling her on prepositional phrases, make it your business to keep your child and Auntie Joy separate.

If Auntie is persistent and begins, “Well Cletus, tell me what you are learning,” immediately jump in with a question you know Cletus can answer. If it’s religion or a foreign language, all the better; most people are woefully ignorant in both.

“Yes dear, why not recite the Beatitudes for Auntie,” or “Cletus just translated three pages of Cicero from the original Latin. Would you like to see it? Perhaps you can help with page four?”

This can smack of taking the war into the enemy’s camp, but, hey, she started it.

If Auntie Joy is specific and gets one of yours that is not so up to speed on a subject, jump right in.

“So Agnes, are you doing well in math? Can you recite the twelve times tables for me?”

You can simply reply for Agnes, “She works very hard in math, as in all her subjects, and we aren’t going to ask her to do math today when we are here to visit with family.” Then tell Agnes to play or help in the kitchen, formally releasing her from the Quiz Master.

The goal is to be polite and firm and to show your children that outside opinions of their progress do not matter at all. What matters is that you know they work hard and that you love them and will defend them.

Children who know that their parents are on their side will work very hard to please those parents, so this is a “win, win.”

When It Won’t Stop

Sometimes there comes a point when the conversation needs to end. It has been my experience that to be polite and firm is still the best way. You might be screaming in your head (that’s between you and God, and no one need know of it), but calm and cool is the way to go.

My go-to all-purpose answer for those persistent in their efforts to convince me to send the kids to “real school” is this…

“Thank you for your concern. We know you love Cletus and Agnes and want the best for them, as we do. We have decided this is the best way for our family to learn, and the decision is not open for discussion.”

Then offer them some coffee, a glass of wine, or a bus ticket home, whatever will change the conversation to another subject.

Be Not Afraid

My friend and colleague Gary Zimak gives a talk at homeschooling conferences called “Be Not Afraid to Homeschool.” He makes the point that nothing that happens to us on this homeschool journey, good or bad, is unknown to God. We encounter challenges, and sometimes those challenges come to us through our family or close friends.

This can be hurtful or make us angry, but a calm knowledge that we are directing our child’s education through prayerful discernment and with an eye, not only toward their temporal success but also toward their eternal salvation, can save many a tense situation.

Consider these words from Seton’s founder and homeschool pioneer Dr. Mary Kay Clark:

“We parents need to have confidence in ourselves, confidence in the graces which God gave us, and confidence from our own life experiences and knowledge. We can know and must demand what is best for our children.”

With this confidence should come the knowledge that the Quiz Masters of the world are merely projecting their fears about their choices onto us to feel better about those choices.

Parents have to decide what is best for their family, and if Auntie Joy sent all her kids to public school, then that is her choice and we should, in the interest of family peace, not criticize; but she should not be allowed to steal your peace or that of your children about your choice to homeschool. Especially at parties!

So stand up for your kids and turn off the Quiz Master. But first, ask her to recite the Gettysburg Address.

After all, if it’s a party, you should have some fun too.

So, do you have any ideas, or experiences to share? How are you dealing with your worst ‘quiz master’?

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About Mary Ellen Barrett

Mary Ellen Barrett

Mother of seven children and two in heaven, Mary is wife to David and a lifelong New Yorker. She has homeschooled her children for eleven years using Seton and an enormous amount of books. She is a columnist for The Long Island Catholic and blogs here . Meet Mary Ellen.

  • homeschool mom of 5

    My worst quiz master is my mother-in-law. Only she’s blunt in her opinions. When they come to visit, they usually don’t want to do much because they both have health issues. So, while I’m doing school (because there’s nothing else for the kids to do), she’ll sit in the school room and quietly listen. Then after school tell me everything I’m doing wrong. Any suggestions?!

    • Mary Keane

      Would she like to be your substitute teacher for a day so you can see how it “should” be done?

      • Mary Ellen

        I like that, have her teach rounding up or estimating. Those are such lovely things to teach little kids. :)

      • Luzz

        Really great idea, as one so rudely put it to me, put up or shut up

    • Mary Ellen

      First off, ignore the criticism. It really doesn’t matter a hoot if they think you are doing things wrong. Secondly, is it possible to distract her with some chore that requires her to be in another room? Perhaps folding laundry on the couch, or some mending you can’t quite get to? You might want to try inviting a friend or relative, someone the same age, to “keep mom company while I teach”. If none of that would work I would just not do school while they are there. Play board games, watch cute movies, go outside or save up a field trip or two for when they come which they are welcome to join but don’t have to. Read aloud a lot and tell them that you scheduled a break so they could have more time to enjoy their grandkids. You can make up the work easier than deal with the soul crushing critiques.

  • Ana

    I decided a long time ago that what can be hurtful or make us angry is because I let it so in my head and heart. When I realized that these people love my kids and want to contribute I find ways they can and when they can’t I tell them don’t worry about it and turn to a topic/subject they like, like geneology or cooking or their own life history. It is wonderful as the kids learn to share what they know with the one they love and the one they love gets their life fulfilling vocation of passing on family history. You learn a lot about folks and their fears and it often became productive because we found new ways the family could connect and greater/hobbies, and respect was found. As for those coming during school hours I found the good doctor here at Seton giving the best advise, do not allow it they are in school unless it is part of the plan. The other problem I often came across was discussing our decision and realized my wording was off, it was our calling for all of us from God, how could anyone argue with that? If they did we kept driving it back to God and keeping God in the conversation and soon they got how much God meant to us. It did 2 things, it reminded us of the king and them as well, which then fulfilled our vocation, so even in the discussions we ended up doing the calling of that vocation. In the end it was win-win, especially if we got called Jesus Freaks or God-lovers, because eventually they would get back to us and ask us to pray because they would feel that powerful connection we always offered(yes it was always offered lovingly). It is never easy, especially when hormonal, but i find those last years of high school more trying because kids want to explore the world and worldly things and sometimes can get distracted. Fortunately again good Christian counselors, teachers at Seton has shed the light back on the vocation. It is not easy because although all our kids love God they were all very different in how they are called, and God does allow it. Sometimes God allowing things is the toughest lesson for us as parents and kids, but one to never let go of. I still find it very hard because I am older and more tired, so how do we re-energize our batteries with Godly fun so we do not burn out and lash out at those well meaning comments from family that land on the wrong side of our fence? Any suggestions for a country gal living in the boonies of NY that is super cold right now? Thanks for the nice article it makes me remember to keep my heart open and meet folks where they are but keep our plan with God. Back to staying warm until you sent me a good suggestion for the winter doldrums.

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