Homeschooling: An Educational Option or an Identity?

Because I see drawbacks to homeschooling and intend to send my children to public school, I am often painted as “anti-homeschooling.” But I don’t really see myself like that. In fact, I have never ruled out the possibility of homeschooling at some point in the future. After all, if public schooling somehow goes horrifically wrong for my young daughter, I will look at what other educational options were available – private school, charter school, homeschool.

I think this is where I differ from so many of the ardent homeschool advocates I come in contact with: I see homeschooling as an educational option, but they often seem to see homeschooling as the only option or, indeed, as a mandate rather than an option. Whether they decry the heinous evils of public schools or speak of homeschooling freeing a child from academic oppression, “homeschooling” as an idea seems to become more important than the academic or social well-being of individual children, children who are, after all, very much individuals.

I recently read the following in a post on Past Tense, Present Progressive:

It seems like homeschooling went fairly well for my family throughout elementary school.  We were part of a homeschool group that had weekly park days and occasional field trips to factories, restaurants, and government offices.  My younger brother and I were very independent in our learning, with high reading comprehension, so we could complete our assignments each day with very little input from my mom.  Although there was almost no regulation of homeschooling in CA at the time, my mom still made sure that we covered the same general topics as our public school counterparts in each grade, except of course that our education was exclusively from a Christian perspective.

Years of countering criticism of homeschooling, years of being surrounded by other like-minded Christian homeschoolers….the effects on my family were detrimental.  We lost the ability to objectively evaluate whether homeschooling was still working for our family.  Things were obviously falling apart as my brother and I reached our teen years and as my younger sister reached school age, but no one could acknowledge it.  By then, our identity as homeschoolers was inseparable from our spiritual, political, and family identity.  Failure was not an option.

This is actually exactly what happened with my family too. When my parents first started homeschooling, it was for practical, not religious, reasons, and it was only supposed to be for a year or two. But a year or two stretched into three or four and then five or six and eventually homeschooling became my parents’ lifestyle and identity. They were absorbed into the Christian homeschool movement, with its Deuteronomy 6 argument that parents were the only legitimate teachers of their children and that homeschooling was therefore commanded by God, and suddenly sending any of us to public school was no longer something they could even consider.

Academically, homeschooling left me with some gaps and some misinformation, especially during the high school years, but even with that my parents did give me a love for learning that allowed me to succeed in college and beyond. Thing is, homeschooling didn’t work as well academically for all of my siblings as it did for me. In fact, for some of them, homeschooling, particularly in the high school years, was very obviously a bad educational approach.

When we first started homeschooling my parents said they would reevaluate each year and child by child. For a time I think they did. But then, like I said, homeschooling became a lifestyle – a mandate – an identity – and such reevaluation, for all practical purposes, ceased. Homeschooling was no longer simply an educational option that might work well for a specific child or for a transitional period of time. Instead, it was a lifestyle and a mandate. It was an identity.

Anytime homeschooling as an idea or ideology becomes more important than the well-being of the individual child, this is a problem. Anytime a child’s education is more about the parents and their identity than what is working best for that individual child, this is a problem. The same of course, of course, might be said of a private prep school, or of public school.

As I raise my children I will continue to see homeschooling as an option, but only as one option among many and as an option that, like any option, has drawbacks and pitfalls alongside its pluses. And if that makes me “anti-homeschooling,” I will wear the label proudly.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.