Homeschool Reflection: I’m Ambivalent

A guest post by Kelly

I’m rather ambivalent towards homeschooling. On the one hand, so much of the movement as it exists today is dominated by people whose political views I strongly disagree with. On the other, my experience was, on the whole, quite positive, and I think there are enough problems with the American public school system to make homeschooling quite an appealing option for people in this country.

Part of the reason homeschooling went rather well for me, I think, is that I was pulled out of school for non-religious reasons. I was having some pretty severe emotional difficulties at the elementary school I was attending, so my mother pulled me out mid-year and taught me at home for the rest of grade school.

Academically, my experience was good. I’ve always been something of a quirky learner, and the personalized nature of homeschooling allowed me to act on that, approaching assignments from different angles and avoiding the cookie-cutter curricula that my previous school had used. I’m not saying that it was the best, most rigorous education I could possibly have had, but I feel pretty safe in saying that it was good, and much better my old school.

I’m not sure how well I can speak on the social side of things, since I’ve always had socialization difficulties. I still met plenty of other kids through clubs and groups. If anything, not having the social aspect as a part of school made it much easier; when I went back to “regular school”, I was picked on and became quite withdrawn and emotionally detached, something I’m still working through.

The biggest negative I’ve found with homeschooling is that it can be quite isolating, whether or not that is the intent. In my case, although religion and politics had nothing whatsoever to do with my parents’ decision to educate me at home, I was, naturally, less exposed to alternate belief systems. My parents’ ideas were the only ones that I was really exposed to.

That being said, in my case, it didn’t do any long-term damage. I started at a public charter school in junior high and have been attending it ever since. Very few of my classmates believe anything remotely similar to my family, and I was forced to question what I’d been thought. Even if I had gone to public school all my life, I doubt that I would have started questioning much sooner than I did. In the end, I’ve kept some of my parents’ beliefs and changed my mind about others, and they’re perfectly okay with that. However, had I been homeschooled through high school, I might never have gotten around to questioning.

I’m still in high school, so kids, if I ever have them, are quite a long way off. Where I’m at right now, I wouldn’t want to homeschool them, mostly because I assume my spouse and I would both have careers, which would make homeschooling very difficult. Also, I’m not sure I’d be a strict enough parent to provide them with the comprehensive, rigorous education I’d want them to have. And, as I mentioned before, I’d want them to be exposed to ideologies other than my own.

However, if I don’t live in an area with a really good public school (or an affordable private one), I would seriously consider the option. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a completely free school with a phenomenal program, but if it hadn’t been for that, I’d be in my town’s public school, which wouldn’t provide me with nearly as many opportunities.

In short, there are certainly problems with homeschooling, but there are huge positives as well. The time I spent being taught at home was, on the whole, beneficial, but I wouldn’t want to go back to it now. In the end, it really depends on the people. Some parents will exacerbate the problems involved with homeschooling and keep their children in ignorance. Some public schools don’t know how to teach kids. And some children just aren’t cut out for one or the other. There is no universal right or wrong in this situation, just individual people with individual needs.

———

Homeschooling has become a very polarized subject. It is my hope that the Homeschool Reflections series, made up of stories of actual homeschool experiences, both positive and some negative, may cut through some of the hyperbole. I have asked the respondents in this series to be analytical and to discuss both the pros and cons of their experiences, but I have not censored what they have written. My posting these stories should not be construed as endorsement the opinions expressed therein. What you read in this series will vary, but it is my hope that each installment will be thought provoking and have something positive to offer to the discussion. 

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.

  • Karen

    Here’s an interesting criticism of homeschooling. Trigger warning for toxic levels of misogyny. The writers object to ones holing because it gives the mother too much authority.

  • alwr

    I used to be completely against home schooling because I saw it as a means to isolate kids. Everyone I knew at that point who did it was intentionally isolating their children and limiting contact with the outside world. I have now seen families where homeschooling is used for the sake of a better educational fit and done by qualified parents. And having substitute taught in our local primary schools, I am resolved that if I had a young child, I would potentially homeschool through the primary grades simply because testing and curriculum standards created by non-educators have made primary education in my local public schools completely developmentally inappropriate to the point that it is likely damaging children more than teaching them.

  • http://www.brooksandsparrow.com Angelia Sparrow

    My 6th grader was having deep problems this year, not just with her peers but with a teacher as well. And I am done with her school meddling in our lives. When your very well-behaved child is contemplating criminal mischief to get expelled or running away from home to avoid school, its a BAD situation.

    We’re homeschooling for the spring semester, her idea, and she’ll be going back for jr. high in the fall. We’re workin out of “What your 6th grader needs to know” and a baseline curriculum workbook.

  • luckyducky

    I think this reflects the (unnecessary?) complexity of making choices about our children’s education. There are benefits and drawbacks to any of the choices that we make:

    - homeschool: in-depth involvement, build to suit particular needs, and quality control; some degree of additional isolation and quality depends largely on parental skill/ability and commitment
    - public school: no additional cost, investment in community; quality highly dependent on locale, not *always* good at meeting special needs/addressing social issues (there are a lot of resources to meet them if advocates seek them out), approaches one-size-fits all (increasing focus on differentiated learning in elementary ed in my experience)
    - charter school: alternative models, lot of parental involvement/input; questionable quality, lack of resources for meeting special needs
    - private/parochial: alternative models, prestige (?); quality varies, cost (!!!), lack of resources to meet special needs (?)

    I think generally speaking there are *better* choices (I am pro-public school) but not one *right* choice. If the only option that I had was to send my kids to the neighborhood school (rated 2 out of 10 on Greatschools.org), I would strongly consider homeschool until I could work out another option (I am constitutionally ill suited to home schooling my children and value my relationship with them too much to for a square peg into a round hole).

    One of the most consistent themes I have read in this discussion is opting for homeschooling to escape a toxic social environment. While I would never argue that a parent shouldn’t exercise that option if they are unable to address the situation another way, I would argue that it the goal should be to change the social environment, and the problem primarily seems to revolve around bullying as I understand it. Short of full-blown agoraphobia, being shy, introverted, 0r otherwise not “fitting in” with the larger social scene is something that could be handled if bullying is taken care of. As long as you aren’t being picked on, I am not sure I see the benefit of doing everything at home by yourself compared to going to-and-from classes by yourself. At least the latter offers the potential for social interaction…

    • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

      “I would argue that it the goal should be to change the social environment, and the problem primarily seems to revolve around bullying as I understand it.”

      I generally agree, both on this issue and others relating to public school or special needs, but it seems like there’s no good way to adequately address the individual issue while also addressing the larger one. Yes, schools should deal with issues like bullying, but that’s not an overnight fix (assuming the school even takes it seriously–in my case they either couldn’t or didn’t deal with it in any meaningful way) and considering how painful it can be, I don’t blame parents for opting for alternatives that’ll help their child NOW. Of course, once you do that, there’s less need to address the underlying problem :/

  • Amber

    I’m against homeschooling simply because, in its current state it can be far too easily abused for indoctrination and miseducation purposes. It doesn’t matter if “not every homeshool situation is like that”. I’d rather focus on fixing public education. Kick politics and religious agendas out of there. Train better teachers and empower them so they can stand up to authoritative parents who don’t like their kids being taught actual science and history. Our public schools are in such a sorry state because politicians have been chipping away at the school systems for years. If public schools fail, then private schools and home schools, where indoctrination can freely replace education becomes the only viable choice for parents. This country needs to stop sabotaging its public education system.

  • Monika

    I completely agree with Amber and am strongly pro-public schools but in Australia (where I live) thankfully things are not yet as bad.

    How does home schooling work? Does one parent have to leave work (or both go part time I guess) or do you try to squeeze school into the evenings? If the latter what can you do with the child during the day?

    • HelenaTheGrey

      A large number of home school families follow a patriarchal model in which the husband works and the wife stays home and does “woman’s work” (i.e. cleaning, cooking, child rearing). In these families, it is typically a mom who would oversee the homeschool education of the kids. As the kids get older, they start to do a lot of the work by themselves. Homeschool works better (in general) for kids who are self starters…motivated to do the work. If you live in a situation where both parents work, I don’t know how homeschooling would work. I suppose there are people who make it work, but aside from finding another homeschooling parent and having them take care of and teach your child, I don’t think it would be possible to fit it in in the evenings. Nor would that likely be healthy for the kids to only have time with his/her parents while school was going on. (Just my opinion)

    • Ella

      Homeschooling in Australia (or at least Queensland) works a bit different than how I understand USAian homeschooling to work. Because of the large distances between family homes and schools in rural areas, Queensland developed the ‘school of the air’ where homeschooled kids got classes and interacted with state school teachers via radio. This evolved into the present day ‘school of distance education’ and homeschooled students interact with their teachers and classmates through mail and the internet. So while you’d still need to have your child supervised during the day (and a bit of adult on-hand help when learning certainly is an advantage), if they are old enough to read they can work through lessons and talk to their teachers and classmates without having to have someone at home actively involved in teaching.

  • http://Love,Joy,Feminism Northstar

    @ Amber #6: It seems people are very happy to give up *other* people’s freedoms. Which of your are you willing to give up to satisfy *my* requirements? Why should I give up the right to give my children an excellent and SAFE education because *some* people educate poorly, and to (I guess) force the public schools to do a better job? My children need an education now, not in some hypothetical perfect future! Not to mention, when about 40% of public school students don’t accept evolution, it’s not like the public schools are doing such a s#!t-hot job, anyway.

  • Priscilla Parker

    My experience was so-so. My mother didn’t start homeschooling me until I was in high school so I was hesitant at first but after the first year, I actually enjoyed it. We belonged to a homeschooling organization that so we got some exposure to a normal school setting. We had sports teams (I was on the basketball, volleyball, and swim team) and we also had a choir and school band that competed in state competitions (we even won for choir one year.) Today we homeschool my daughter because she has autism and we’ve had several issues with the school she’s zoned for. I think it’s beneficial in the sense that it allows the student to work at their own pace which is good as long as they’re monitored and it doesn’t lead to procrastination and it’s a risk because the parent(s) might not always be the best instructor in every subject and it might lead to the child not getting the proper education. I think there are more and more resources and curriculum’s available today that are geared towards a homeschooling education, some even have IEO’s, because of the internet. I don’t think one size fits all when it comes to education and homeschooling, if you have the dedication to invest in it, can and is the best thing you can give your child.

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