While I was pregnant with my first child back in 2006/2007, I began looking into the possibility of homeschooling in the future. I must admit that I went into my research with a great deal of stereotypes...
"Homeschooled kids -- don't they wear circa 1850s clothing and are unable to interact normally with the public?"
It didn't take long to realize the ignorance of my pre-conceived notions about homeschooling. I was both surprised and thrilled when I discovered what a vast range of lives homeschooling families lead, and with what overwhelming success homeschooled children in general have in their endeavors in the "outside world." Rather swiftly I confidently came to the decision that this was the path I would be taking with my own children.
Over the years it has amazed me just how many people I know who have come to the same decision for their families. Growing up, homeschooling was considered taboo. No one spoke out about it and next to no one did it. Those who did were considered to be on the "fringe" of society. However, today homeschooling is expanding and includes families from all walks of life: both rich and poor, large and small, religious and not. Ten years ago there were only about 850,000 homeschoolers nationwide but today it is estimated there are anywhere between 2 to 4 million. That number is continuing to steadily rise as more and more people discover the benefits of educating their child(ren) at home.
As encouraging as all this is, many people in the public are unfamiliar with homeschooling -- just as I was. It is likely they've never even known a homeschooling family or a homeschooled child considering that public or private schooling is unquestionably the norm in this country. The first thing someone usually asks when they find out a family either homeschools, or is planning on doing so, is, "Why?" Keeping in mind that each family's specific reasons for homeschooling are going to be different from the next family, here are mine:
My education was received exclusively at public schools. While I attended some of the top-ranking public schools in the state and the nation, and my parents actually hand-selected my teachers each year to ensure I was receiving the most quality instruction available, the fact remains that I spent much of my time in class bored. out. of. my. mind. Why? Because while a teacher may be excellent, the fact remains that there is only 1 of him or her and 30 students they are responsible for educating at a time. In public schools a teacher can only teach as much as the average student can handle. Curriculums are formulated so that they cater to these students, and the class can only progress according to how well the mid-range to slower students are grasping the material.
There is no telling how many times I sat in classrooms listening to material re-taught for the 3rd or 4th time because half of the class still didn't get it. Quizzes and tests were repeatedly pushed back as well as homework deadlines postponed. Oftentimes so much time in class was devoted to re-teaching material or suspending active teaching so that the teacher could work privately with struggling students that I never had homework -- my class time was frequently just a study hall opportunity. My parents put me in enrichment programs and special activities for "advanced students," but even they were hit and miss. In certain things I would thrive, yet "protocol" still limited me in how far I could go. Yet in other things I was completely lost -- but because I was among only "gifted" peers I was expected to perform at a certain level and no time was spent catering to those who were having difficulty. As a result I felt like there was no place I really belonged...no place in which I could truly shine. It caused me a great deal of anxiety and self-doubt.
Talking with my peers who also attended public school, I have found that my experience was not at all unusual. It's just how it is and everyone is expected to deal with it.
The major benefit of homeschooling is that material can be tailored and taught according to the abilities of each individual child. When a child easily grasps and masters something, I as a parent can continue to challenge my child by swiftly moving on and providing something more advanced. Likewise, when they struggle with something we can put everything on hold and spend as much time as is needed, using a variety of creative and even non-traditional methods, to work on the material until it is finally understood.
Furthermore, we can foster our child's love of learning by having the liberty to explore in greater depth the topics that are most interesting to them. When a child is given the freedom to further study that which really catches their attention, learning becomes enjoyable and *gasp* even desirable! (Who would have thought?!) I didn't experience that real thirst for learning until my later college years, and when I discovered it I was so disappointed that it took me that long! But it's understandable that it did, because college is really the first time most people have the opportunity to explore the subjects that interest them.
The goal of public schooling is to provide a standardized education so that most of society has relatively the same level of knowledge about the same things. This isn't necessarily wrong -- I understand and appreciate the reasoning behind wanting an educated nation with a certain basic level of understanding. But even with "choices" like taking Home Ec/Journalism/Auto Shop, or choosing among 3 or 4 foreign languages, there is little room in public schooling for much exploration beyond the basics.
2) Religious Instruction
I wholeheartedly believe that a complete, proper education is not simply about knowing things, but knowing the context of why it matters. Knowledge in and of itself is useful, but it does not give one a reason to live. It doesn't give us a view of our destiny, of our purpose. Knowing mathematics, science, language, and history -- those are good tools. But faith, hope, and love is what shapes our hearts and souls. It is they that give us a proper view of our purpose; it is they that teach us why and how we should be using the information we have acquired through our learning.
Public schools do not teach within the context of faith, and in many cases they are growing increasingly hostile to religion and religious values. As a Catholic I have particular cause for concern because many of the textbooks used in public schools promote a perspective that is clearly anti-Catholic. I clearly remember material in my schooling that in large part contributed to my long held anti-Catholic prejudices. For example, the Protestant Reformation was consistently presented as a heroic uprising of 'light and reason' where the overbearing, dark, corrupt Catholic Church was finally rejected and justly eliminated as being a positive expression of the Christian faith. However, today the prejudice is not merely against Catholicism but also any formalized religion that holds values at odds with the culture's prevailing opinion. A secularized, liberal worldview dominates in many a public school and its fingerprint can be found in everything from the school policies to the teachers and their curriculums to the students themselves.
In the homeschool, this hostility and faithless learning environment is eliminated. Our family's beliefs and values can play as big a part of our child's schooling as we wish. The richness of the Church's liturgical season can be used to teach not just our religion but also history, art, music, writing, and reading. A discussion on our faith's pro-life views can be a jumping off point for studying the biology of human conception or the history and development of capital punishment in America. Art can take on a religious theme by painting a biblical scene, making rosaries, carving a wooden cross, or studying the meaning of symbols in ancient religious frescoes. Praying the Rosary or Chaplet of Divine Mercy can be an integral part of the education, as well as reading the Bible, the Catholic Catechism, and the countless works by the Saints. Additionally, "school time" can be spent going to weekday Mass, taking a field trip to the diocesan cathedral, etc. The possibilities are truly endless.
Above all our children will be immersed in an environment where they understand that the ultimate goal is not learning simply for the sake of learning, but so that they can use what they know to better serve the kingdom of God. They will learn the primacy of faith, hope, and love and that is the possession of those qualities which will ultimately make their life worth living.
So while those are my primary reasons for homeschooling, there are several other reasons I find homeschooling right for our family.
3) Parental influence vs. peer influence
Who has the greatest influence over children in the public school? Naturally it is the other 30 or so same-age children they spend all their time with! Studies have shown that by the time a public school student reaches their teen years, peer influence has become stronger than parental influence. This is not the case in studies on homeschooled students, whose sphere of major influence is not same-age peers but the family. As such, those who are home educated are more likely than those who are not to adopt the values of their parents -- for instance, one study showed that 94% of homeschoolers keep the faith of their parents, as compared to 15-25% of public school children.
4) Healthy, "real life" socialization
This ties in to #3. In the public school system, children are socialized horizontally into conformity with their immediate peers, who are at the same age, with generally similar cognitive abilities, maturity levels, and experiences. Consequently public school students tend to be out of touch with anyone not in their age group: younger kids are annoying pests who they are more likely to ignore or even bully/tease, while adults are thought to be out of touch or intimidating to talk to.
Since homeschooled children are more likely to be out in the community during the day participating in various activities (visiting museums, participating in homeschool co-op activities, even simply helping with the grocery shopping) they are also more exposed to public interactions with people of all kinds. Research demonstrates the fruit of such socialization. When a study measured the communication skills, maturity, and daily living skills of a sample of homeschooled and demographically matched public schooled children, the homeschooled children scored in the 84th percentile whereas the public school children scored in the 27th percentile.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2008-2009 school year there were 1.2 million victims of nonfatal crimes at U.S. public schools, including 629,800 violent crimes (includes simple assault and serious violent crime). At least 8 percent of all students were actually physically threatened with a weapon like a gun or knife. The numbers of those students being bullied, using drugs, etc. are all rising.
My last year of high school was when the Columbine shooting took place in Colorado. The entire rest of the year my school, which was normally quiet and relatively safe, experienced a number of bomb/safety threats. We were evacuated and experienced lockdown drills more times than I can count. But instead of blowing over, this sort of activity has continued -- not only at my previous high school, but in schools around the nation. Lockdown drills are now common practices in all grades, whereas when I was in elementary school the only drill we ever had was a fire drill. I frequently read articles in the paper about guns being found in school parking lots around the state, or a child caught bringing a weapon to school in his backpack. When I was in 8th grade I saw someone flash a gun outside my school bus, on school premises. (When questioned later, the kid claimed it was a BB gun.)
While obviously bad things can happen anywhere and at anytime, there is clearly a safety risk reduction in having a child homeschooled as opposed to publicly schooled. Combined with all the other benefits of homeschooling, I cannot see putting my child in such an unstable environment day after day for such lengthy periods of time.
And so there you have the basic reasons as to why I have chosen to educate my children at home. If you homeschool or plan to do so, what are your reasons for coming to that decision?