The Soapbox: The Homeschool Debate

My husband and I are not yet parents.  However, I already have very strong opinions on how I want, and do not want, our potential future children educated.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, we received a great public school education.  Our school was small – I graduated with roughly 50 people in my senior class.  I graduated with largely the same folks I went to kindergarten with.  We had great field trips, we were safe and we were prepared for college.

By my senior year, you could sense things were changing.  The teen pregnancy rate was spiking across the area.  Drug use on and off school property by students was increasing.  There were more and more reports of drunk driving incidents and other arrests.  New administration was cracking down on teachers who were not found to be following the proper curriculum or teaching fundamentals.  The high school drop out rate was high.  Sexual education was all but removed from health classes. Attending school felt like going through the motions.

In the years since I graduated high school in 1998, public school has only become more troubling.  I am not just referring to the random acts of violence, the bullying, the partying and sexual deviance.  I am also referring to the bizarre “one size fits all” curriculum, the lack of adaptation to the real world and the hours of homework that is teaching kids … well what is it teaching them?

A couple months ago I stumbled across this article in The Atlantic.  Karl Taro Greenfield is a successful author and journalist.  In this story, he commits to doing his eighth grade daughter’s homework for a week after noting how her homework load had increased.  Granted, Mr. Greenfield’s daughter attends a selective public school in NYC. Some increase in the level of work over a “normal” public school is likely to be expected. Greenfield discusses the difficulties he had keeping up with the work, the late hours his daughter kept and the lack of support he received from other parents when attempting to address the issue with teachers and the school.  Selective public school or not … what is any eighth grader really gaining from five hours of homework (or more) per night?

studentbooksThe quality of an education does not depend on the amount of homework a student has each night, or the level of math they can perform at a young age, or how closely a teacher follows the chosen curriculum.  It depends on the level of engagement the student has to the information that is being relayed. I can remember countless times in middle school, high school and even college when I did not care one bit about the class I was in and frankly usually my grade would reflect that. Education should not be forced.  I agree that there are certain fundamentals that all students need to grasp. Outside of that, what is so wrong with students choosing their own educational path and the information they want to learn; the topics they want to explore. Institutional education just does not allow a vehicle for that.

I do not believe current mainstream education allows for the changes in our world, in technology and in the access to information our children have that we did not.  Online learning is becoming increasingly popular not only at the college level, but even at the K-12 level.  Throwing our kids in school (public or private) without a second thought removes us, as parents, from having responsibility for their education. Why would you want to be so far removed from such a pivotal time in your child’s upbringing? Granted, many parents spend a good amount of time reading with their child, assisting with homework, attending parent-teacher conferences.  But, does this really equate to being responsible for their education? Assuring that they are being sent off into the world with the best educational foundation they can have and that their own curious needs are met? I happen not to think so.

So, what options does that leave us and our children.  Only one that I can see. Homeschooling.  A subset is referred to as “un-schooling” in trendier circles.  The term “homeschool” typically invokes images of socially awkward children and poorly adjusted teenagers. Most immediately think of religious fundamentalists and families who only spend time with those that belong to their church.  Frankly, nothing could be more ignorant. Sure, those stereotypes stem from somewhere. I am sure most of you can think of a family you know that fits the “typical homeschool family” profile.

By homeschooling, you have more options to explore the things your child actually wants to learn.  Done properly, you are immersing your child in the real world; not sheltering them.  Jamie Glowacki tackled the homeschooling stigma in her recent blog post titled, “Don’t Homeschool! You Can’t Shelter Your Kid From The Real World!” I advise everyone to read it.  Glowacki discusses her own personal experience homeschooling her child while battling the sterotypes and ignorant arguments against doing so.  What could be a greater real world experience than your child coming to you expressing they want a bank account and then actually taking them to the bank, experiencing the transaction and then teaching them how to manage their own money (an actual event Glowacki shared with her child)! Did you learn that in elementary school? I certainly did not and frankly I am a financial mess!

Additionally, Glowacki states the following:

And yes, to a degree I am sheltering my child. I’m sheltering him from a consumer driven culture of fashion and toy-of-the-moment. He gets to be who he is at all times. He gets to wear what HE thinks looks good/cool/whatever. His interests are his own and from his own mind. I’m sheltering him from bullies. ‘Cause the argument “they need to learn how to deal with bullies” is just asinine.  I’m sheltering him from an overly-sexual media driven culture that puts emphasis on boyfriend/girlfriend relationships in the 2nd grade.

And you bet your ass, I’m sheltering him from anxiety provoking lock-down drills and having police in and about the school.  I have NO idea what we as a country are going to do about these school threats and actual shootings/bombings. And no, I don’t think everyone should rush to homeschool because of these threats.

But as an argument against homeschooling, sheltering my child and not giving him independence is one of the lamest arguments I can think of.

I could not agree more.  In my opinion the American educational system is in a crisis. A crisis that no one seems to have a clue how to solve. Our child does not have to experience any of these things to be a well rounded, socially adjusted, self sustaining human being. Removing him or her from these situations does not mean I refuse to teach the bad along with the good in the world.  Interacting with other children in any environment is going to allow experiences with bullying and other negative childhood behaviors.  I simply choose not to immerse a child in that situation day after day after day. I do not want our child feeling they have to compete with what other parents can provide their children materially and I certainly will not allow our child to feel in anyway that he or she cannot express themselves as an individual and be who they want to be.

My husband and I are blessed to live in an area that offers a never ending abundance of cultural, artistic, athletic, scientific and historical experiences a child sitting in a traditional classroom only dreams of experiencing. We have an abundance of opportunities we plan to take full advantage of.

Yesterday in the office, one of my employees mentioned that their five year old had way too much homework for a kindergartner. I mentioned homeschooling. A co-worker said, “Ew. Homeschool children are weird.” They can be. If you make them that way. Don’t choose homeschooling out of ignorance.  Choose it because it is the best choice for your child and your family. I do not condemn any parent for the educational choice they have made. Every child is different and deserves the best experience for them.

9 thoughts on “The Soapbox: The Homeschool Debate

  1. What a great post! I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading it! You are so right! Especially when you say that you can make kids weird. I know a lot of kids who go to school and are weird. We homeschool our son now for 6 years and our daughter for 2 and I would not want it to be any other way. Thank you SO much for this!

    1. You are absolutely right! ALL kids can be “weird”, yet it is stereotyped particularly to homeschooled children. It is frustrating. I am glad to hear you have had such a positive experience. That’s an inspiration to me!

  2. HI,
    A very interesting post. Living in England I don’t know much about the education system in the USA so this was an interesting read.

    Home schooling is growing in popularity in the UK too

    1. Thank you, Alan! I recently moved from New York to Texas which ideologically are two completely different places. I have noticed in Texas that homeschooling is much more popular. This could be because I live in the bible belt now and traditionally homeschooling has had a lot to do with religion. There are also very distinct differences between the public education systems in Texas and New York; most prominently the strength of the teachers union which all but runs the state of New York. “Northern” US citizens have always viewed the “South” as having inferior school systems. But, the teachers union in New York directly impacts the quality of the education in a negative way. (Teachers in New York obviously would argue with me about that.) However, that is a completely different soapbox! 🙂

  3. This hits on a really important subject for me. With two kids I’ve learned a lot about the way children learn and the can learn so profoundly differently for one another. My son is almost identical to me when I was younger. Very busy, always moving, highly sensitive and loves to explore. My daughter, on the other hand, is very easy going, plays quite well by herself and is pretty happy experiencing the world from right where she is.

    It’s easy to label kids if they don’t fit into the “normal” temperament of the group. Some schools put a label on children, like my son, as being needy or attributing perceived negative behavior as ADHD, ODD, etc when it’s really that children do, in fact, learn very differently from one another. When schools do not have the resources to teach each child differently, you run the risk of having kids fall behind and ultimately really dislike learning and could drop out.

    We considered homeschooling seriously, and it’s a very large task to take on and needs an incredible amount of dedication, but offers schooling that will meet the needs of the child. The alternative, that we’ve decided on, is to pay (a lot) for private school that have an unconventional approach to teaching. These programs, usually Waldorf or Montessori, are a great alternative to home schooling.

  4. I think home/unschooling is great for some kids. However, it does seem extremely difficult or impossible for two working parents. One income living is not feasible for many. Perhaps that is a obstacle that can be overcome, but it seems huge.

    Second, we all pay for school through taxes, for better or worse. Disengaging completely from public schools instead of working to change them does not help our society as a whole because so many kids are left in the system, perhaps with parents who are not able to advocate for them as much. We need good, thinking, engaged adults on schhol boards and PTOs, ready to tackle the challenge, because ALL kids deserve a good education, not just the privledged.

    I did not have a particularly wonderful time in school, but I did appreciate all my parents did to educate my whole person outside if school. It also seems that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing anymore. A child could perhaps do some online schooling, independent studies or internships so it is not classwork all day. I think what is done outside of school can be even more influential than.what goes on inside.

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