Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guest post: Will homeschoolers save the schools?

(From Chris, originally posted at ABlogAboutSchool)

It seems like virtually everyone now knows at least one homeschooling family. Most people are still skeptical about the practice, but the mere existence of these families forces people to think, however briefly, about the possibility of doing things differently than they’ve been done in the past.

I know that there are all kinds of arguments about homeschooling, pro and con, and that it’s impossible to see homeschooling as the solution to the challenge of educating a nation full of kids, since it’s just not an option for that many people. But I do wonder if the mere presence of homeschoolers will ultimately make people look differently at certain features of our educational system that we might otherwise just take for granted.

Do homeschooled kids end up exactly the same as schooled kids? Probably not; otherwise there would be no point in doing it. They may be worse off in some respects, and better off in others. Presumably they’re different, but the more we see of them, the less it seems like there is anything disastrous in the difference. Are the outcomes perfect? No. Are the outcomes of conventional schools perfect? Hell, no.

It’s hard to generalize about homeschooling because there are so many different approaches to it. But the more traditional “school-like” homeschoolers have more in common with the lefty/libertarian “unschoolers” than you might think at first glance. They all value the opportunity to treat the child as an individual, rather than as a face in the crowd; to take each child’s particular needs into account; to allow the child to progress at a rate that is appropriate for him or her, and not one that is dictated for everyone; to immerse the child in a wider world that is not artificially limited to other children of his or her own age group; to better model values that will enable the child to lead a fulfilling life; and to reach their educational goals more efficiently, with less of the child’s time wasted. In those respects, even a relatively authoritarian homeschooling environment is more humane and child-centered than an authoritarian conventional school.

When people look across the street and see that their neighbor’s kids are somehow becoming functioning adults with only a fraction of the coercion and dehumanization that their own kids are experiencing in conventional schools, won’t they start to wonder what the added value of all that coercion and dehumanization is? Even if people remain skeptical of homeschooling itself, they may begin to look for ways to incorporate some of the positive aspects of homeschooling into their kids’ existing schools. In that way, homeschoolers may be doing conventional schools a favor in the same way that third parties have historically done the major parties a favor: the practice itself may remain marginal, but the existing institutions may be forced to address some of the underlying concerns that motivate it. One can hope, anyway.


  1. Wow, very timely post for me. I've commented on a few posts on this blog in the last week or so and I can't resist this one. I've mentioned the issues I'm having with my daughter's school (she's in first grade). One of the things that I mentioned in my last conversation with her teacher was that I felt obliged to customize the school experience as much as possible for my daughter. The teacher said "we don't really do that." I said "well, maybe no one else has mentioned this before, but this is how I'm approaching the school experience. The school says they want me to be a partner and I'm taking them up on the offer." Part of me is just enjoying hearing the uncomfortable silences on the other end of the line at this point, but I am entirely serious about modifying the school experience for my daughter's purposes when and how I can. Afterall, the school is supposed to be there for the children, and every child is different. It was my research into home schooling that first made me think about the fact that I am entirely within my rights to insist that the school work with me on making school as fulfilling as possible for my children.

  2. Chris, thanks for the cross-post!

    I agree that homeschooling is becoming much more part of the cultural mainstream. However, the forces acting on our public schools these days are so powerful, and so unconnected to what parents actually want, that I don't see the wider acceptance of homeschooling making any difference to the schools.

    Kim says:

    Afterall, the school is supposed to be there for the children,

    This point, which ought to be the basis for every moment of the school day, is usually buried under a flood of bureaucracy.

  3. We began homeschooling as a result of abuse of one of our autistic children in our elementary school. I know there are many other children whose districts intentionally did NOT provide needed therapies and helps so that they would PUSH the parents into homeschooling.

    It is likely what is best for the child, and best for the district. But I know it is impossible to prove the "pushout" process to anyone who can change things. The schools TAKE A CENSUS of disabled children and are reimbursed by the state, even for children who do not attend.

    It's a moneymaker, I tell ya.

    Ok, so my point is that homeschoolers do not NECESSARILY force change. Districts can use homeschooling precisely to support the status quo. And I know that in our overcrowded district, no teacher really cares a bit whether you're homeschooling. (Or at least the teacher'll keep her opinion to herself!) They don't need that warm body to fill the seat so badly that there is any real motivation to "check up" on all but the worst educational neglect cases.

    I'm homeschooling some of my children because it's what's best for them. Some I send to public school because they're older and made that decision. I also have a preschooler who is non-verbal autistic and at the PRESENT moment, his needs are best served by the public school.

    All that could change next week or next year.

    I'm not sure I follow this "not an option for many people" idea, though. In all but the most severe cases (and I have a very disabled child, so I "get it"), parents can very easily homeschool. I can't imagine that both parents NEED to work suddenly when a child is able to walk through the door of a kindergarten. If there was a solution before, other solutions CAN crop up.

    They just might not all be as "free" as the expensive schools we're already funding. And it requires a different mindset. Honestly, I find it a bit insulting to the teachers and the students that schools are often viewed as free childcare. Doesn't that demean the very idea of education and learning? What are the children really there for?

  4. Kim -- I *love* the attitude you are taking toward your kids' school experience. I hope you'll report back on this site from time to time about how it's going.