There is a parental vein in America that believes in homeschooling children. I’m not talking about Charter schools. I’m talking about parents who choose to teach their children at home instead of enrolling them in school with lots of other children.

I’ve been reading a lot of homeschooling blogs lately and I generally find the defensive rationale behind homeschooling more sad than thrilling and more frightened than innovative. Children cannot become well-rounded adults if they are ground only one way.

Homeschooling appears to divide and separate while public and private schools — and even some Charter schools — choose to blend various ideas and ways of thinking to help children become greater in society and not just an individual at home.

As a public and private school educator who was raised by generations of public school teachers in the Republican Midwest, I am curious to know the appeal of pulling children out of a mainstream education and isolating them in a home environment as a strategy for fully educating their minds and forming their experiences on a worldwide level.

Sure there are certain homeschooled children who are able to find a way to shine in the system, but homeschooling, at its core, seems to encourage hiding and separation and discourages tolerance for interacting with a variety of peers who may be foreign to the family core.

I know there are drugs and violence and other threats to children in public and private and Charter schools but in what way does homeschooling protect and prepare children from those inevitable hard realities of the adult world except to delay their exposure to all the elements — both good and bad — in which our lives spin?

The world is getting smaller and our intimate neighbors are now nations, not just homes on the same block. Children need to learn how to interact with all neighbors — even if they don’t agree with them — in order to form a world of respect and understanding. Are there parents who homeschool for non-religious reasons?

If the intention of educating children is to raise them to be good citizens of the world and not just of the home, how can we, as a nation, support the idea of homeschooling as an appropriate form of education for teaching not just Math and English and History but tolerance and social interaction as well?

25 Comments

  1. I gave the option of homeschooling some serious thought before my oldest was old enough for kindergarten. The fear factor of drugs and violence ran strong. That, and the fact that most California public school systems suck.
    In the end, I decided to send him to public school because the social interaction with other kids is a very necessary part of growing up. You can’t shelter your kids from life. Another factor is that I don’t have a well-rounded education, which is vitally important if you’re going to be a good teacher. That, and my patience runs thin when they’d rather goof off than learn.
    So, both of my kids are in public schools. They’ve made friends and joined extra curricular activities. The education they’ve received so far has been mediocre to poor, so I worry how they’re going to get into college.
    I admire those parents that are able to homeschool their kids. I have a friend who homeschooled both her daughters. She had a network of homeschooling moms and would get together with them either for a social event or an educational outing. By the way, she is very religious.
    As for teaching tolerance and social interaction, that’s the parents’ job.

  2. I think for many, homeschooling is a way of say, the present school has failed, please change it!
    Most schools are truly dreary affairs, with 25-30 kids in one class, books that are woefully out of date or carefully censored by the government and overwelmed teachers.
    Idealy, a child should be in a small class (13-15 kids) that is supplied with up-to-date material amd new technology, taught by a well-trained teacher. They are out there, but one has to pay through the nose for them.
    Others homeschool because they live far from any school, or because their child has a certain disease/syndrom that would seriously interfere with regular school attendance.
    I dislike the idea of homeschooling, but if the parents wants to homeschool for the above stated reasons, then I´d grudgingly agree, (but I still feel they shouldn´t do it completely alone. Most parents just *can´t* tutor. If possible their child could share a tutor with a few other homeschooled kids.)
    But there are other reasons why some homeschool. They want to enforce certain religious/political convictions and are afraid that if their child goes to school it will figure out that there is a whole other world out there.
    I would consider this reasoning sick.

  3. Deborah — I think the quality of a child’s education should be squarely within the realm of parental control but that doesn’t mean you need to pull your children home to school them.
    If kids are not doing well in a public or private school the parent should work within that system to better the experience because children need that behavior modeled for them. There are triggers in place to help at-risk students if the parents decide to invoke that call for help.
    There is a vital social interaction that comes from students interacting with peers from differing cultural backgrounds and belief-sets and that daylong experience throughout the school year teaches negotiation, compromise and cultural tolerance that cannot be duplicated at home by a parent or by a network of well-intentioned mothers.
    Kids need to learn from kids — even if it’s what NOT to do — and the wider experience children have on their own, away from direct parental observation in class, the better they will be able to work well in the world on their own and with others. The parent’s role is to coach and support and be involved in that educational goal in a public way within the system that improves the current system with dedication and compromise instead of dampening its effect with the removal of their children.
    some mom — Thank you for sharing your well-reasoned examination of the issue from several sides! Your comments are helpful.

  4. Amen – could not have said it better myself. My children are better for public school, and I believe exposure to the world in general and teaching them not to fear the world has made them the great kids they are today. Parents have more influence on how children turn out than any number of educators could possibly dream of. Not minimalize the efforts of a great educator, but parents are rarely mentioned as either positive or negative influences when blame/credit is being dished out for a child’s behavioral and emotional state.

  5. Your thoughts are well-argued, Todd, and I appreciate you taking the time to place your comment into the mix.
    Public Schools work because they are *public* and created to serve the general welfare of a population. If there are problems in the public schools it is the right and the responsibility of the public to help fix the situation.
    Too often parents see the public schools system as a pre-paid babysitting service instead of a grand opportunity to better the community and the world through high-expectation education and experiences.

  6. We have a modified home school plan because a typical school teacher doesn’t have enough time to effectively teach every child all of the things that he or she needs to know.
    Our son attends a private school, but gets help from a school teacher who is staying home with her children. She has all of the materials, books and state guidelines for educational progress.
    Our son has improved with individualized attention that helps him to focus on learning, rather than socializing with his classmates.
    The schools are over crowed and teachers are only human. They want the parents to take charge of their kid’s education. That’s what we’ve done, without taking him away from the social interaction that school provides.
    I can’t imagine being home schooled. It seems that being separated from the rest of childhood society would stunt one’s growth. All of the interaction (good and bad) that occurs at school prepares one for the “real” world after school.
    Deliberate Chaos

  7. Hi Chris!
    Thanks for sharing your valuable experience.
    The key to over-crowding and to improving teaching is to spend more money on building new schools and paying teachers more money so it becomes an attractive field of work to pursue. That means higher taxes and, unfortunately, many people don’t want to spend tax money on education.
    The public schools system in the United States is one of the best ideas we have ever come up with and it is all our responsibility, if we have children or not, to support those schools with our faith, money and active participation. Vesting ourselves in all children now protects everyone’s best interests in the future.

  8. I share the opinion of at least several in the community here. There is value in a public education beyond the core curriculum. Learning to value and listen to the opinions of others, showing respect for an opposing point of view, appreciating aspects of another culture and tradition– even appreciating the intellectual gifts of another that might not be measured by standardized testing are a few examples.
    I agree with David’s comment about home schooling– sometimes even though it is done with the best intentions, it does appear to be a defensive educational strategy. It is as if a parent wants to shelter their child from negative aspects of the world. All of us who have lived long enough realize that at some point there is an understanding or exposure to the positive and negative qualities of any culture, and I am not sure that home schooling is the answer.

  9. Jeff —
    Your comments are interesting and helpful and I agree homeschooling tempts creating a circle of isolation that can be handed down from generation to generation where, one day, we may have a nation of private-interest enclaves with narrow agendas on every city block instead of an overall system of education and communal human values that brings together divergent views and minds.

  10. As of the end of this school year I’ve decided to homeschool. I also know several families that homeschool, including one woman with a 14 year old daughter and 16 year old son who have never been to a public school. They are the most sociable, mature, well-developed kids I have met in my entire life. You would think you were talking to two mature college students, not two teenagers.
    Don’t get me wrong, they have fun, but they ‘re also very independent thinkers. They weren’t taught to think what the people in schools want them to think and I like that.
    The decision to homeschool my son was not an easy one, but I wasn’t given much choice by the school district. After not one but TWO incidents of violence against my son that went UNREPORTED to me by the school I felt I had no choice. The school knew about the violence, in fact my son had been to the principal’s office about both incidents. But I, his mother and sole legal custodian, was never notified. To make matters worse, my mother and my husband were never notified either. AND THEY BOTH WORK FOR THE SCHOOL!
    My son was in second grade. If it’s that bad in the elementary level, I don’t even want to know what it’s like in the middle school level. But sadly I do know. A school employee was recently re-hired after suing to get his job back. The reason for the original termination? He pulled a gun on his own son on school property! This in the very district I live in!
    To make matters worse, this is one of the top districts in my state!
    No, I will not subject my son to that, and he will be better because of it. I know because in the two months that we’ve been homeschooling him, he’s advanced over halfway through the third grade curriculum. And other kids his age haven’t even started third grade yet. He’s happier and healthier away from school. I’d like to keep it that way.

  11. Hi, David!
    Just wanted to clarify some points. The social experience my kids have had with the public school system has been mostly positive, which is good.
    But compared to the rest of the country, California’s education system is appallingly inadequate. The teacher’s union continues to cry for more money, yet wastes it on God knows what. The money certainly doesn’t go towards books or technology.
    They’re closing 1 to 2 schools each year, forcing kids to be put on a waiting list. My oldest had as many as 40 kids in his class and a teacher who didn’t know how to control them. He brings the majority of his schoolwork home because the teachers are either waiting out their tenure or they are too busy dealing with the kids they’ve labeled with ADHD.
    Parents in our communites have to homeschool their kids to a large degree if they hope to get them the education that is vital to attend college and/or land a good job.
    As for the social ramifications of homeschooling, I don’t see any. We have so many recreational activities outside of school that our kids can join. Then there are the neighborhood kids they can play with.
    I see what you’re saying about the religious parents isolating their children from mainstream society. That’s not a good thing.
    I do, however, support the decision to homeschool when public schools are a having a negative impact on a child’s education.

  12. the psy chick – Thank you for your comment and I hope it all works out for you.
    Deborah – Thanks for the clarification. The problem in California is, as nearly everywhere, a lack of money and investment in infrastructure. Instead of withdrawing students from the system parents should be pressing to get the system fixed and not run out on it. In Newark there are similar problems with the public schools where many buildings have not been TOUCHED from an infrastructure update point-of-view since they were built in 1920. The buildings are falling down and people wonder why the schools have become prisons in the Foucauldian Panopticonic sense! Money was poured in to fix the Newark system in the 1970s and, of course, it was skimmed off into pockets and pet projects. The public schools system is a smaller indicia of bigger and harder things to come at us in the future and to pull away now and to hunker down now in our homes is not how to fight that kind of corruption and disintegration of purpose and public need.

  13. Because I needed to update one of my blogs, I put my longer response there:
    http://repatria.blogspot.com/
    I’m a ‘retired’ ‘secular’ homeschooler and my three younger kids got their diplomas in 1998 and have gone on to college. Two graduated from college, like their older, publicly-schooled brother, and one is ten months away from being a veterinarian.
    For us homeschooling started out as something to do for ‘school reasons’ and wound up being a wonderful adventure we shared together.

  14. We are lucky enough to have a really good school system where I live. So good that when I had to change jobs, and the new job was 60 miles away, we didn’t move… mostly because our school system is that much better than Milwaukee Public Schools.
    If we did live in Milwaukee, I would do anything (including homeschool) to keep my kids out of the waste of time, money and children’s lives that is MPS.
    That being said, there was a situation in my daughter’s English class that I felt needed to be addressed. I talked to the teacher about it. Her reaction was to ask me if I’m really that happy with my kids in public school. She then asked me if I have ever considered other educational choices for my kids.
    Apparently to this teacher (and yes, I am only judging her, not the whole faculty) anyone who thinks differently than she, doesn’t belong in “her” school.
    Just thought I’d give you a little insight into why some people choose to stay as far away from public school as possible… even if it means doing the job themselves.

  15. NOTE TO HATERS THAT HOMESCHOOL:
    I will not publish hateful and insulting messages that attack me or others in this thread. You can post that vile bile on your own blog.
    The good folks who have posted here on the merits of homeschooling have been thoughtful and kind and persuasive.
    Hateful comments will always be deleted on this blog without comment so that’s what happened to your message.
    “Me too” comments, or narrowly anecdotal stories that support a Straw Man position on any topic, will also not be posted here.

  16. David,
    This is an interseting post and I tend to agree with you about the value of school when it comes to the socialization aspect.
    I myself have two children that attend public school. That being said, I am not satsisfied with the level of teaching and feel that they are not preparing my children well.
    I learned the hard way, one of my children was held back because the teacher did not have time. Since my job requires frequent moves, I felt that I needed to do something to level the playing field. I now teach my children what I think is important.
    I don’t want them to feel that it is a drag and I want them to develop a love of learning. In today’s competitve world having the ability to learn is a plus. I want them to love reading and writing; basic communication skills. They are better for it, just one year and they are way ahead of their classmates.
    I can see why people homeschool, I admire people who do. I can also see why people take their kids to public school, but I also think that trusting the school is not good parenting.
    You are right about whee the money should go, but it does say something about what we value as a society. We value the ability to throw a ball or run fast more than education. The wealthy know the value of education; we can have that to, but it takes much more parental involvement.
    Thanks,
    Kev

  17. Another family of “secular homeschoolers” chiming in here, and I just wanted to point out that while there no doubt are homeschooling families who do so out of a desire to shelter their children from extraneous influences, where I live, the majority, including us, are completely of the opposite persuasion. We homeschool because we believe it is less limiting in terms of social exposure, academic opportunities and exposure to a variety of cultures, values and world views. When you think about it, school is a social mileu that is large-group- and age-based, and where all adults are authority figures. Real life is not like that.
    Our homeschooling is community-based, not home-based. My 11yo, for example, volunteers at a nursing home, plays in the community orchestra with older teens and adult amateurs of all ages, participates in an environmental club with homeschoolers from 2 to 12 and adult mentors, helps two women with the organization and set-up of our local music summer school, and is out and about in the community virtually every day. One of these women is the local 5th grade teacher, and is in awe of my daughter’s freedom, relative to her public school students, to gather up these diverse experiences and exposures. For us “homeschooling” is a misnomer, because my kids are rarely home!
    Miranda

  18. A very interesting post and some interesting comments.
    There does seem to be an assumption by some that homeschooling is isolating by virtue of not being in a class of peers; and also that homeschooling requires the parent to tutor.
    Some homeschooling families may be isolating but equally some aren’t.
    As an adult do we all learn in the same way? Some prefer full time college or university; others night school; others distance learning; some self-learning; some learning in everyday life but not actually sitting exams; and so on.
    Likewise, our children all have different learning styles but instead we insist on herding them together and expecting them to get on. On the basis that if it was good enough for us then it is good enough for them.
    What actually happens is that some kids do well and thrive, others just get along, others fail and yet more have huge psychological dramas as a result.
    Some home-schoolers have formal tutoring times and others take a different self-learning approach with all shades in-between.
    At this point I should say that we have home-educated both our children but only from the age of 11 and only as a result of failing schools. Our eldest is currently able to operate at 2-3 years above her peer group – a place that she is extremely comfortable with and where she wants to be. Her colleagues at college assumed she was older than they.
    Our youngest is still to find his feet but what is notable with him is that he is vivacious and outgoing, a real personality. He has plenty of contact and interaction including problem solving with other children but he isn’t restricted by being just with his peer group.
    With both, the important aspect is that they are able to think and want to learn. Neither were getting this from school.
    I may not like the way that some home-school in an isolating way but that is their choice. In some ways I reckon they are doing the world a service by growing children who have not been corrupted by computer games, the news and all sorts. I’ve met some of these kids, and am surprised that for all their isolation they are actually not ignorant kids, but interesting individuals with a different mindset. Not for me, but good for them.