Take Advantage of Homeschooling’s Important Flexibility
BY LINDA DOBSON
Homeschooling. The word conjures up many different images in the minds of those who contemplate it.
Some see siblings gathered around the kitchen table as their mother reviews a list of vocabulary words prior to a test. Others envision the families they bump into at the grocery store, the nature center, or the skating rink during the day. Still others recall the teen down the street, an autodidact, accepting responsibility for his own education and tasting what the world has to offer. A growing number think of the family participating in the new charter school or alternative education program offering homeschooling children a variety of classes and a loaded computer for home use.
All these images are correct. Homeschooling is all of the above.
Homeschooling has permeated mainstream consciousness as an acceptable educational alternative. However, there’s a lingering misconception that it’s a new educational approach, a product of the last few decades, when more and more parents grew uneasy, for myriad reasons, with the idea of sending their children to public school. If you place tax-supported public schools on the timeline of humanity’s learning history, though, the idea of public schools emerges as the recent educational idea, an experiment begun a mere 160 years ago.
It’s a Homeschooling Renaissance
Homeschooling is not new. It is, however, enjoying a remarkable renaissance, embraced by families in numbers unthinkable just thirty-five years ago. But it was about thirty-five years ago when Dr. Raymond Moore, former U.S. Department of Education programs officer, with his wife Dorothy, began sharing their research revealing the negative effects of too-early schooling with those who would listen, eventually including readers of Reader’s Digest.
The year 1977 saw the creation of Growing Without Schooling (GWS) magazine, the result of former schoolteacher John Holt’s belief that, despite his and others’ best efforts at reform, the problems of the modern school system were a part of the system itself. GWS became a forum for the exchange of ideas, information and support, and soon many who thought they were alone in their desire to take the homeschooling journey felt connected across the miles.
In the 1980s many privaate religious schools lost their tax-exempt status. This helped bolster homeschooling numbers as a large number of Christian-schoolers turned to homeschooling rather than put their children in public schools. Supported by already well-established networks, this segment of the homeschooling population bloomed.
More information-packed magazines, like the internationally distributed Home Education Magazine (1985) followed. Support groups sprang up in big cities and rural towns. Individual families engaged in legal battles. Homeschooling families in many states pitched in untold volunteer hours to create state organizations that helped knock down remaining legal barriers, resulting in easier access to homeschooling in all fifty states, which we enjoy today. In 1990, Good Housekeeping published my article titled “Why I Teach My Children at Home,” one of the early instances of mainstream media interest, which grew into an October 1998 Newsweek cover story.
Figuring out how many families are actually homeschooling today remains an interesting but inaccurate guessing game. Current estimates range between a conservative 2 million and a recently heard 4 million. The true number probably lies somewhere within this range. More revealing and more important than anybody’s guess at the actual number is the observable growth of support groups across the nation, and the ever-swelling variety of families turning to homeschooling.
Where Are These Homeschooling Families Going?
That depends on whom you ask. At the most basic level, homeschooling is the act of your family’s taking full responsibility for the education of your own children. Acceptance of this responsibility lets your family step off the public school learning path, which in turn frees you from the accoutrements the public school learning path includes.
Some of these accoutrements are obvious: one-size-fits-all curriculum, mandatory programs having less to do with academics and much more to do with attitude adjustment, high student-to-teacher ration, and negative peer influence and pressure.
Some accoutrements are less obvious: a time schedule ill-suited to your family’s needs or your child’s inner-sleep timetable, diseases easily spread through a classroom, high costs of the latest fashion trends, and lack of time for exposure to normal socialization available in the larger community.
Once off the public school learning path, your family creates its own educational path, going wherever you want to go. Admittedly, this thought can be overwhelming. The pubic school learning path is clear and well worn with use. Your family has yet to determine its direction or mark out the route you intend to travel. A homeschooling learning journey looms over the horizon as a never-before-attempted experiment with unknown results.
Yes, each individual family’s homeschooling journey is an experiment, but it’s one quickly modified if you see it becoming too easy or too hard, or if it just plain isn’t working.
Just as no two families furnish homes in the same way or eat the same dinner at the same time or adopt the same pets, so no two homeschooling families head to the same learning place in the same way. If two families next door to each other purchase the same curriculum and use it with children of the same age, they’ll still experience homeschooling differently.
One family starts at 8 A.M. right after breakfast, the other at 9:30 after a leisurely breakfast and household chores. One family does science experiments in the kitchen, the other joins with fellow homeschooling families at the home of a support group member. One family ends the day by going to the playground, the other by volunteering at the Humane Society. One family sticks to the curriculum provider’s timetable, the other follows along for three months then tosses the whole thing in the trash.
The very nature of the freedom inherent in accepting educational responsibility through homeschooling creates an infinite variety of ways your family may go about its learning day. Indeed, the act can be so fluid as to dramatically change direction within the same household from one day – or one hour – to the next. It can be so fluid as to transcend a mere means of acquiring an education and lead your family straight to a satisfying new lifestyle.
Homeschooling families blaze unexplored trails every day. That’s why they’re going different places depending on whom you ask. You’ll soon see that while this can make it challenging to find a place to start your homeschooling journey, complete responsibility’s freedom is a strong and vital asset.