Homeschooling, Academics, and Me

When it comes to homeschooling, the two issues people seem to be most concerned about are academics and socialization. In this post I will talk about academics, and in tomorrrow’s post I will address socialization. 

My mother was a stay at home mom, and when I reached kindergarten age, she just couldn’t stand to send me off to school. She’d heard of this new thing, homeschooling, and figured it’d be hard to mess up kindergarten. How hard can it be to teach a kid her letters and numbers, after all? And it turned out that my mom was pretty good at teaching kindergarten. I learned to read that year, and my younger siblings were quickly integrated into my mom’s lesson planning. My mom enjoyed teaching us, loved having close to us, and quickly became engaged in our local homeschool community.

My mother worked closely with my siblings and I, moving from geography to penmanship to multiplication over the course of each morning. She was a good teacher and laid out lesson plans carefully. She tailored our education to our needs, our strengths, and our interests. We filled out worksheets, practiced with flashcards, built model Egyptian sarcophagi, and participated in a local homeschool spelling bee. Our textbooks were—with a few exceptions, of course—interesting and engaging, and with all of the hands-on activities we did, and all the field trips and days at the park, I not only excelled academically but also grew to love both learning and the freedom we had.

When I was in middle school things began to change. By the time I was in high school my mother no longer worked with me directly or oversaw my work. Instead, she simply handed me textbooks to complete. The hands-on nature of my education evaporated, and I found myself mainly working alone at the desk in my room. My love for learning and my self-motivation mitigated these circumstances, but those could only go so far. While I had never been especially fond of math, my view toward it turned into something much more sour as I struggled to make it through calculus with only a textbook as my guide. My dad always made it clear I could ask him for help if I got stuck, but I really needed more than that.

There were also these random gaps. For instance, my mother only realized after the fact that I hadn’t actually studied history at all during my high school years. Oh, I read a lot, but I didn’t have any sort of textbook or curriculum, and my reading followed my interests—some Ancient Rome here, some Tudor England there—rather than being spread out across history. In the end, my mom handed me some worksheets to fill out using an encyclopedia and recorded both that and my independent reading as history credits on my transcript. I had a similar gap when it came to both English and literature—I could write essays, but I had no idea how to put together a research paper, and while I read copiously, I never studied literature in any sort of systematic or organized fashion.

I had several opportunities during high school that I especially appreciate in retrospect. First, I participated in a homeschool music co-op at our church that included both choir and band. This was the closest I ever came to any sort of formal education, and I’m glad to have had that opportunity. Second, we participated in a homeschool debate league. This meant I learned logic, argumentation, and rhetoric. We traveled and competed at debate tournaments across the state. (It’s worth noting that both of these opportunities were ideologically homogeneous: each required participants to sign an evangelical statements of faith.)

Many, though not all, of the textbooks I used throughout my homeschool education were religious in nature. Yet in the end, learning science from creationist texts and history as the story of God’s hand moving across time didn’t prove to cause me too much trouble. I found during my college studies that some of what I had learned growing up, especially when it came to subjects like science and history, was wrong, and I simply accepted that and moved on. This may in part be because my mother put together our curriculum from a variety of sources and avoided more religious-intensive curricula like A Beka or Bob Jones, and it’s worth noting that I attended a state university rather than a Christian college that might have simply reinforced these earlier teachings. Still, learning from textbooks with a religious slant didn’t hurt me long term academically.

While my high school experience was in the end a bit of a hodge podge, I was well prepared for college. Because I had a superb SAT score, aced the two AP exams I took, and was awarded a 4.0 on the high school transcript my mother created for me, I got a good academic scholarship. Once in college, I excelled academically. I was bright and loved learning, I read vociferously and could write, and I knew how to study and work hard. As a result, I was the student who sat in the front, asked all the questions, and always got As.

Somewhere along the line, I had learned how to learn, and learned to want to learn, and these skills and desires took me a long way—and have brought me into graduate school today. When I was first starting college I credited my love of learning and good academic habits to my homeschool upbringing, but I realized that this interpretation was simplistic as I met public schooled friends who shared my thirst for learning and study habits. Somewhere along the line someone pointed out to me that given my parents’ level of education and high socio-economic status, their dedication to learning, and their investment in my academic well-being, I almost certainly would have also excelled academically if I had attended the local public schools. While there is no way to go back and find out, this is likely true. If nothing else, though, it’s clear to me that being homeschooled did not ultimately hinder me academically or hold me back from achieving my intellectual potential.

Looking back, I think I would have benefited from my parents having me take classes at the our community college or local university while I was in high school. Studying science and mathematics on my own out of textbooks, and attempting to perform the science experiments involved with our limited science equipment, left something to be wanted. I really needed actual teachers for these areas. I also think I would have benefited from a more organized curriculum in subjects like English literature and history, at least for the high school level. And I think it’s important to be noted that my parents have corrected some of these deficiencies when homeschooling my younger siblings.

Overall, my academic experience being homeschooled was very good. My parents were truly interested in helping me excel academically, and in that they succeeded. But I think it’s important to remember that while many homeschoolers have a similarly positive academic experience, the unfortunate reality is that not all do. Not every parent is cut out to be a teacher, not every parent values education like my parents, and not every parent who sets out to homeschool succeeds. While most of the homeschooling families I grew up around were to all appearances doing well by their children academically, there were exceptions. And yet, I grew up in a state where there is no oversight of home education—homeschoolers don’t even have to register. As far as the local school system and the state education department were aware, my siblings and I literally did not exist.

Because my parents were dedicated and capable, things worked out just fine for me even with the complete absence of regulation or oversight of homeschooling. But if my parents hadn’t been dedicated or capable? No one would have been there to do anything at all about it. No one need even have known. And that’s a bit unnerving. I don’t pretend to know exactly what regulations or oversight would be best, but I do think there needs to be something.

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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.

  • Lana

    I actually did take community college classes in high school. I took choir, music theory, voice, government, chemistry, and college algebra. It was a good move. Sadly I did not do the debate league. I really wanted to, but we lived far from the nearest city. I did do one debate class online, however.

    For me, my education memories in high school are overall better than elementary with the exception of algebra (which I am great at math, but I did not get along well with my mom). Before 10th grade, we were so steep in ATI that I was not free. After we left, and just before then, I gained my freedom.

    • Elise

      Ha! I teach community college, and every now and again I get a homeschooler…I don’t know if I’m ‘too weird’ for them. How can you teach a Romance language without talking about the fall of Rome and the linguistic migration of Latin, or how the days of the week are named after Roman (pagan) gods is beyond me…

  • Uly

    transcript. I had a similar gap when it came to both English and literature—I could write essays, but I had no idea how to put together a research paper, and while I read copiously, I never studied literature in any sort of systematic or organized fashion.

    That sucks, but even good high schools aren’t guaranteed to do any better on that specific front, unfortunately.

    • MrPopularSentiment

      Word. I came out of high school not even knowing how to write a good essay, let alone a research paper. If it wasn’t for my dad reading one of my essays (that I got an A on and was particularly proud of) and deciding that I needed some quick remedial intervention before going to university, I would have been screwed.

      And I have to say that I was one of the very few freshmen in university who knew how to write an essay. And I went to what were considered “good” schools.

    • Christine

      I was fortunate enough to have 2 “old fashioned” teachers in high school, in Ancient History and English, who had this weird idea that grammar is important, and research skills aren’t just picked up. This meant that when I went to university I could actually string a sentence together and put together a research plan. i’m from Australia BTW.

  • Beth

    But if my parents hadn’t been dedicated or capable? No one would have been there to do anything at all about it. No one need even have known. And that’s a bit unnerving. I don’t pretend to know exactly what regulations or oversight would be best, but I do think there needs to be something.

    And if they hadn’t been dedicated or capable and someone know, what then? Before discussing ways to find out that parents aren’t doing a good job of raising their children (i.e. regulations and oversight), I think we need to have some idea of what to do when that fact is discovered. Currently, we don’t really have any good methods for dealing with such failures and until we do, I can’t support more regulation and oversight of homeschoolers.

    Further, I think the problem isn’t just homeschoolers, but applies more generally to all parents. What should be done when we discover that parents are not dedicated or capable of raising their children well? Currently, we don’t have very good solutions. I’d rather see our society put it’s resources towards developing better methods of intervention and correction before identifing more ways in which parents might fail their children.

    • Rosa

      We’re not talking about “raising” for the most part here (though I’m one of the people who thinks homeschool regulation should put in the same protections against abuse that we’ve put so much work into including in public schools). We’re talking about “educating.” And the answer is, just like with other neglectful parents; first offer resources, then change the child’s situation. In this case, if all else fails, mandate they go to school.

      • Beth

        I’ve got no problem with the ‘first offer resources’ approach except that it often seems to be lip service rather than actual help. I’d like to see this approach improved substantially for parents who are accused of neglect because they are unable to provide basic necessities before forcing it on ‘failing’ homeschoolers.

        OTOH, my state, which has essentially no regulation of homeschoolers has improved significantly in offering resources to parents who choose to homeschool, which I support and applaud.

        Changing the child’s situation usually refers to taking the child away from parents. This I have big issues with as it will cause harm and IMO should only be used when the situation is so bad that the harm it will cause is outweighed by the harm of allowing the child to stay in the bad situation. I think that sending the child to school would be preferable to that, but perhaps you meant something else by changing the child’s situation. If so, I’d be interested to hear what you were thinking of.

        Mandating the child go to school is not necessarily going to result in an improved education for the child. That is highly dependent on the homeschool situation, the needs of the individual child and the options available locally for schooling.

        For example, it is quite difficult to separate parents who choose non-traditional approaches to education like unschooling or are dealing with a special needs child from parents who are uninterested or incompetent. I don’t think that mandating school attendance for identified failures would be good approach without a way to make such difficult distinctions. This is why I do NOT favor additional oversight and regulation of homeschoolers without first developing better solutions for how to change educational failures into successes.

      • Rosa

        But in this specific instance – where we’re not talking about abuse or neglect in terms of general parenting, but in terms of EDUCATION, “change the child’s situation” would, literally, mean “require that the child go to school. Which is what I stated.

        If the issue is a learning disability, then getting the child evaluated for that is a form of offering resources. If it’s an ideological difference, I don’t see why it should be protected – believing in unschooling, which results in a child who is not learning basic skills, is not that different from believing in faith healing to the point of injuring or killing a child. Except that it’s not religious so it’s even less protected.

      • Beth

        If the issue is a learning disability, then getting the child evaluated for that is a form of offering resources.

        Er, no, evaluation is not the same as offering resources. But my point was that you can’t expect to be able to determine whether or not a parent is ‘failing’ at educating their child without taking such things as learning disabilities into account.

        If it’s an ideological difference, I don’t see why it should be protected – believing in unschooling, which results in a child who is not learning basic skills, is not that different from believing in faith healing to the point of injuring or killing a child. Except that it’s not religious so it’s even less protected.

        It’s a problem because while unschooling can work quite well, it often works on a timetable that is completely different from the ones schools use. It is about tailoring education to the needs and abilities of the child rather than making sure the learn certain skills at certain ages. Thus, regulations would have the effect of making unschooling impossible for many parents. Not learning basic skills on the same timetable as public schools is not equivalent to not learning them ever. How could regulations and testing discriminate between those parents who are successfully unschooling their child and parents who are not?

        Given that requiring the child to be enrolled in school is no guarantee that the child learns those basic skills you are concerned about, I’m simply not in favor of intervention unless it can be established that the intervention will increase the probability of educational success.

      • MrPopularSentiment

        There are some pretty serious issues there, though. For one thing, there’s the question of who gets to determine what is “essential knowledge.” I think we can all agree on things like reading, writing, and some basic math, but where do we go from there? We only have to look at some of the crazy things school boards have done (like trying to require that teachers cover intelligent design, or they teach “both sides” of evolution, or the whole hooplah in Texas about removing Jefferson from the curriculum). But then we get into the specific nitty-gritty stuff, it gets more complicated. Is it important that my son do an in-depth study of calculus even if it isn’t in his area of interest and doing so would mean having to bump off a subject that he not only enjoys much more but that would also be far more useful to him in his chosen career path?

        Next, how do we assess what’s getting covered at home? I can understand the appeal of standardized tests, but their use in public schools have had pretty unequivocally bad results. In fact, many parents I know who are homeschooling are doing so specifically to get away from that “teach the test” mentality. If we had the resources, I’d maybe see some merits in having specialized counsellors who meet with all kids every so often (maybe even as little as once every two years, or as frequently as twice a year) just to check up and make sure that they are flourishing in whatever academic and social environments they happen to be in. It’s still a little big brother-ish, but there are positive implications there as well. Of course, we simply don’t have the resources to implement something like that, so…

        And lastly, what happens if we do determine that a kid is not getting sufficient education at home? You seem to be saying that we should send them to school, but is that really a good idea? I mean, how many people are graduating (if they graduate at all) in the United States illiterate? How many people really have a confident grasp of a breadth of knowledge? How many people have good communication skills?

        As I mentioned in my other post, I was fully “in the system” from kindergarten to graduation, and I was in daycare even before that. Yet when I graduated, most of my kills and knowledge base had been acquired at home on my own through reading books. Even though I lived in nice neighbourhoods and mostly went to what would be considered good schools, my education was atrocious. Beyond that, my social skills were severely stunted thanks to years of bullying. And I don’t even have any learning disabilities or other problems, such as ADHD or Autism, that typically lead children to fall through the cracks.

        It’s impossible to know how things would have been different if my parents had let me stay at home, of course, since there are so many variables that I cannot possibly account for all of them. But I do know that not only did I do most of my learning at home on my own, I also was much happier. All the skills that have served me best as an adult were either acquired on my own or in university.

        It’s really horrible to say this, but I think that “no child left behind” styled policies, while they have the best of intentions, are more likely to cause harm than simply leaving education up to parents. Yes, there are horror stories of homeschooled teens not even having basic reading skills, but that’s a minority, and I don’t know that it’s worth potentially damaging the educational experiences of all the happily homeschooled kids to help a minority.

        If there is abuse or neglect, by all means, let’s address that. But disagreeing with the parenting/educational choices of other parents doesn’t seem like enough of a reason to intervene. Once we start down that path, it feels like a fairly slippery slope.

        PS: As for unschooling, I have a number of acquaintances who unschool, and their kids all seem to have a pretty broad breadth of knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, seem to really love the experience of learning. I definitely don’t think it’s right for every child, but I don’t think that we can just poo-poo the whole concept.

      • Christine

        Hold up, how on earth is evaluation not a resource? As an example: I never realised that other people received more communication than I did in a conversation. Getting diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome allowed me to realise why conversations made no sense in a lot of cases, and that in and of itself helped me to deal with it. Not to mention the fact that I could then, on my own, access tips for how to make life easier with Asperger’s.

        A kid won’t necessarily realise that “most people can remember more than two numbers at once” or other factors that are clearly signs of learning disabilities. “My child can’t do math” can have a lot of causes, and knowing where to focus is a huge help (not to mention something that costs a lot of money to do independently.)

    • Rosa

      For a specific child who isn’t gaining basic skills at home, it’s not a question of whether school or homeschool is generally better, or statistically better – you’re changing from a situation known to be bad for THAT CHILD and putting them in a different one.

      Since states routinely accredit Waldorf and Montessori schools, as well as a lot of other kinds of schools (including the ludicrous Christian ones that teach Creationism) there’s a well of experience with different teaching and learning styles at the state level.

      • Beth

        you’re changing from a situation known to be bad for THAT CHILD and putting them in a different one.

        The problem is that unless you have a way to differentiate between unschoolers who might be taking a different timetable to learn basic skills, children with learning disabilities, and other legitimate reasons for poor performance versus incompetent homeschoolers, then you haven’t established that the situations is bad for THAT CHILD. You’ve only established that the child doesn’t meet the established expectations for their age group.

        Further, a different situation is not necessarily going to be better unless the reasons for the not meeting expectations are understood and addressed. The single most important factor in a child’s educational success isn’t the type of schooling the receive, it’s the level of involvement of their parents and the value they place on learning. If parents don’t actually care about their child’s education, which seems to be your main concern about bad homeschooling, their children are unlikely to do well in school either. OTOH, one of the factors about homeschooling is that it requires a high level of involvement by parents which IMO is the main reason it is successful for so many.

        If we are willing to put enough effort into identifying and solving problems with an individual child as would be required to identify different causes for poor performance and find appropriate solutions, well….I’d like to see that happen actually. At that point, the solution need not be moving the child to a different situation but helping the homeschooling parents improve their performance and/or identifying additional options that would be a more suitable choice for their child. Imposing a one-size-fits-all solution of ‘send the kid to school’ in response to a ‘kid-doesn’t-meet-the-expectations-for-their-age-group’ problem (which is the only problem testing is likely to identify) is unlikely to improve the situation for the child.

        Parents who homeschool are self-selected to be people who care deeply about their children’s education and are willing to be more involved that the average parent. I’ve no doubt there are exceptions. What I doubt is the ability of our society to distinguish the ‘bad’ homeschoolers from the ‘good’ ones through testing and evaluation of their children. It would require a far more intrusive and invasive evaluation of their lifestyle, home situation, health problems, etc. If you think this is appropriate, why only homeschoolers? Why not subject all homes with children to such scrutiny and evaluation to make sure the parent are properly meeting the all their children’s needs? I’m sure much abuse and neglect, not merely educational but of all types, could be uncovered and corrected by doing so.

  • MrPopularSentiment

    I was “brick and mortar” schooled through my whole career, and I have to say that your educational experiences really don’t differ from mine in any substantial way. I also grew up with gaps (mostly because my family moved a lot, so I’d move from a school district where a subject was about to be covered into one where it already had been – I have never, for example, formally learned how to do long division). I also suffered from some really bad teachers, either who didn’t know their subjects or who were more interested in pushing ideology, and there was no oversight. The schools didn’t do anything about it and my parents felt helpless (but believed that “school happens at school,” so I never got any kind of remedial help at home).

    I grew up very angry at the public/private school systems that failed me in so many ways (both academically and socially). I find it interesting to read about homeschoolers who, also, are mad about their experiences and see homeschooling in just as unfavourable a light as I see public/private schools.

    My son is still quite young, but homeschooling is on the table. My husband and I have discussed it and have generally come down in the pro-homeschool camp, but the kiddo gets final say. In the meantime, I really enjoy your series about the pitfalls of homeschool because it lets me know what I may need to pay special attention to. For example, the idea of taking some local college courses is a great one.

    • Beth

      I’ll second this idea. Our daughter enrolled in first college course at age 13. Rather than send homeschoolers to H.S. to get courses parents don’t want to teach themselves, if the child can handle the college environment it makes more sense to have him/her start acquiring college credits.

      • Karen

        I like this idea too, but there are encouraging college environments, discouraging/hypercompetitive college environments, and hypersocial college environments. Parents must choose wisely.

  • Al

    “My mother worked closely with my siblings and I” should be as follows: with (preposition) my siblings and me (objects of aforementioned preposition).

  • Rilian

    Everyone will have “gaps” because no one can know everything.

  • Rilian

    My best friend was homeschooled and started college at 11. Not because she’s a genius, but because if you’re going to eventually do college anyway, you might as well start as soon as you can. She’s going to graduate at age 19 with a double major; also she got a full scholarship for the last four years. I plan on presenting starting college early as an *option* to my child(ren).

  • Anat

    How come so many people who don’t like the idea of their high-school-aged child attending high school are OK with the same child attending college? Taking notes in a lecture is not that different from taking notes in a lesson.

    • BethC

      Why do you think anyone on this thread has made an objection to their child attending high school?

      My daughter had that option and considered it, but ended up taking college classes instead. I would have supported her choice either way.

    • MrPopularSentiment

      Well, in my experience, there is almost nothing in common between high school and college.

      High School:
      -My courses are selected for me based on decisions made by people who’ve never even met me.
      -I’m forced to stay on the premises whether I want to or not. If I am feeling sick, or overwhelmed, or just need a day off, the decision is out of my hands.
      -I am locked in with bullies. I have to eat lunch with bullies. I have to sit in classes with bullies. I cannot react or I am seen to be “participating.” Any reprieve is entirely in the hands of others.
      -I am treated like a child. My teachers will stand over me to make sure that I write my homework down in my planner. They will hold my hand through the information and won’t trust me to know when I’ve got it or if I need extra help.

      -I pick my own subjects based on what I find interested or what will help me achieve my personal goals.
      -I am in control of my environment. If I need a day off, it is my responsibility to deal with the repercussions (such as loss of a participation grade, or missing the information from that day), but my choice.
      -If someone tries to bully me, I have the power to remove myself from the situation, and then my complaints are taken seriously when I speak with my professor.
      -I can meet my professor outside of class to argue/debate/learn without the principal assuming that we must be having sex.
      -I am allowed to take charge of my own education. The professor delivers the lectures and expects the essays to be in on time, but I am also expected to do reading/research on my own time, not only those assigned, but also any extra that I may need to understand the material. It is my responsibility to approach the professor if I am struggling. I have ownership over my learning, and am expected to be an active participant in it.

      I know that not everyone’s high school/university experiences are going to be the same, but I went from being absolutely miserable and contemplating suicide to being full of happiness and eager to learn. In my experience, you simply cannot compare high school to university.

      Power was the big thing. Throughout my grade school career, I was completely powerless. I was bullied every single day and I was completely powerless to do anything about it. I HAD to go to class, I HAD to sit in the cafeteria where my alone-ness was on display, I HAD to just put up with it silently because I would be punished if I ever said anything back to the bullies or, heaven’s forbid, reacted physically. I’d have five guys on me, some holding me down while the others kick me, and if I got a single punch in, I would be punished for “getting in a fight.” As if 5-against-1 is a fight… But I was powerless. My safety depended entirely on the whim of an adult who may or may not (but usually didn’t) care.

      But in university, I had power. I had the power to walk out. If anyone touched me, I had the power to call the cops and have them actually take me seriously.

      Honestly, you CANNOT compare the high school environment to the university one.

      • Christine

        Your high school was seriously messed up, I can see why you’d be strongly against it.

      • MrPopularSentiment

        In total, I went to three high schools (or equivalent) in two different countries. I’m inclined to think that either I am seriously unlucky or there’s something systemically wrong with the institution.

        But even so, I’m not strongly against it. I had a HORRIBLE experience, and most of that is because the traditional classroom setting did not fit me at all. I’m an introvert, possibly borderline Aspie, very independent and self-motivated. I needed extra guidance to develop social skills and I didn’t get it until quite late, and this left me very vulnerable to bullying as a kid. I also struggled with the total lack of power that kids have in their educations. From my perspective, time spent in school was time that I wasn’t allowed to learn, because I’d understand the topics on the first day but we’d spend a week or more covering it, and I was bored to tears.

        My son seems to be taking after me – his temperament is pretty much identical to mine. I do think that homeschooling would have been the better option for someone like me (and when I was expelled from high school and sent to a private school that mimicked homeschooling in many ways – particularly the one-on-one classroom and the self-guided study – I flourished), so I’m prepared to homeschool my son.

        My husband, who has always been much more “average” than me (that’s not a bad thing!), loved being in school. He made friends easily and his learning speed fit pretty neatly into the classroom pace. He would like our son to have some of the same experiences. So when we’re ready to start talking about options, our son will be informed by both positives and negatives of both options. But it’s his education, and his choice, and he can change his mind at any time.

        I worry when people who’ve had bad experiences in homeschool assume that it means that homeschool itself is the problem. The problem is trying to fit a round child into a square education. There are definitely kids (and families) for whom the traditional classroom is just fine, or even best. And then there are kids who do much better when given freer rein, or one-on-one tutoring, or a slightly faster or slower pace that a classroom with 20-30 kids can’t accommodate.

        If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s finding the right education for each individual child.

      • Christine

        Maybe I’m just lucky to be living in the right country. We weren’t required to stay on school grounds even (let alone in the cafeteria) for lunch, we got to choose electives, and we got less support for homework due dates and stuff than we did in university. (All the teachers in high school kept saying “they won’t hold your hand in university, so get used to it now”, so we were shocked at the high level of support in university).

        Remember – neither Libby nor the majority of commenters on the blog believe that homeschool is a problem. They’re just worried about the insanely large loopholes that exist – to wit, that you can claim “homeschool” without actually bothering to do any teaching. It’s interesting, because as an Aspie myself, I actually found some of the things that you complain about – being bored in class, having to deal with average intelligence people, etc – to be some of the most useful things about school.

        My mother has said that if homeschooling was more acceptable when I was a child she would have homeschooled me due to the bullying I encountered (fortunately very little of it physical, especially given the amount of damage that the girls at my high school made it into the news for). I’m actually glad that it wasn’t common though, because as much as my elementary school teachers were part of the cause of me having classic “smart kid” problems (my parents were good about not calling me smart all the time, you’d expect teachers to be at least as good as parents, but it was as if they didn’t know it was a bad thing), going to school forced me to see the consequences of not working through them. I’m not sure I’d have passed university straight through if I hadn’t.

        My university classmate who was homeschooled is definitely better at teaching himself things than I am (but pretty much everyone is – I am the anti-hacker and fail at life in that regard). However he is more completely resistant to learning things that he isn’t completely interested in than most people were. I don’t know if there’s a connection. Given the context of his complaints, I’m not sure that he’d consider “getting the big client” to be a valid reason to learn the skill either – if they won’t accept how he writes his proposals, they can find someone else.

      • Anat

        My university experience was not all that different from my high school experience – in both I had a choice of one of several programs, but once in a program there was little choice. In university the number of programs was bigger, but still the first 2 years or so everyone in each program took more-or-less the same classes. Some people worked on a modified schedule, spreading classes over a longer time, but then some people in high school deferred a class or two into their adult years. Accelerating one’s progress was hard in either environment. Broadening one’s studies worked better in both. My daughter’s high school handles things differently, but still, there is a moderate level of choice.

        I could get permission to leave campus in high school, sometimes a teacher would offer to let a student leave early if the student looked like they needed it. At university I didn’t need permission because I actually was an adult. With parental collaboration a high school student can miss some days of school, here and there – though it affects one’s grades.

        I know some bullying was handled in middle school, maybe early high school, I have no idea if it was to the victims’ satisfaction. I think by the later years bullying declined, but I can’t be sure (absence of evidence/awareness is not evidence of absence). I have no idea about university level with this regard.

        Nobody cared if I had a planner past elementary school. In my daughter’s high school the degree of supervision you describe is reserved for either special ed students with an identified problem with organizational skills or students with a history of failure.

        I met with my teachers out of class. My daughter meets with hers. I did plenty of my own reading. I was always in charge of my own education.

        I’d say my educational experience was on a continuum from 1st grade on. The change in environment, expectations, communication with instructors etc from one year to the next was a matter of degree more than of kind.

  • Monika

    In my ideal world there would not be homeschooling or private schools just well funded public schools teaching a consistent curriculum with highly trained and highly paid teachers. All children would have access to a similar experience and one that was high quality. Something like the model in Finland where they have among the best education results in the OECD.

  • ako

    One thing that sticks out for me about academics and homeschooling is how much any success is treated as a credit to the whole system, which is not true of public schools.

    I had an excellent public school education, which encouraged my creative writing talent, exposed me to a wide variety of foreign language-learning opportunities, inspired a deep love of literature, provided a surprisingly broad knowledge of history and world affairs, and taught me how to learn. Almost no one looks at my story and goes “That proves public schools are excellent!” and relatively few people will even go with the much more accurate “Okay, some public schools in the US are excellent!” There’s a tendency to give most of the credit to a combination of my natural intelligence level and my parents (who did provide a lot of support and early teaching, but stopped being primarily responsible for my education when I was four, and couldn’t have taught me as much as the schools did). Homeschooling gets credit when homeschoolers succeed, but public school students are more often held to have succeeded in spite of the public school system.

    • Anat

      Much of that is because of the conservative War on Teachers (and public schools in general). There are interest groups who want the public to believe the US public education is bad so that middle class parents will withdraw from it. Mike the Mad Biologist blogs about it often, most recently today.

  • Carys Birch

    Libby Anne, have you thought at all or had any experience with the extremely tiny “Christian schools” that are essentially organized home school groups? I went to one such for most of my high school experience (less than 20 students in a church basement) and my friend – in a totally different area of the country – also graduated from one (less than 20 students in a teacher’s basement) so I know they are not that unusual a phenomenon. I’m interested in hearing how people’s experience compares/aligns with the experience of homeschoolers and public/larger private-schooled students. I was never homeschooled so I can’t compare, but in a lot of ways I felt like I was in sort of an in-between homeschooled/traditional schooled scenario.

  • UrsulaL

    Further, a different situation is not necessarily going to be better unless the reasons for the not meeting expectations are understood and addressed.

    A different situation may not necessarily be better.

    But when it is established that the current situation isn’t working then a reasonable first step is to move the child to a setting known to work for many children and which may work for them. Such as a public school, a setting which, despite problems, manages to get millions of children their basic skills in a consistent manner. Ideally, a setting that also has the resources for further testing and help if needed.

    But when you know a homeschooling program isn’t working for a particular child, it makes no sense to leave them there just because the most common and affordable alternative, a public school, might not work.

    Because “It may or may not work for this individual child” gives better odds than “we’ve tried it with this individual child and their family, and we know it isn’t working.”

    • Beth

      The problem is first of all, as I pointed out in the post you are responding to, it’s very difficult to establish that the current situation isn’t working. How do you separate out incompetent homeschooling from unschoolers who may choose a non-traditional schedule for learning basic skills. Unless that discrimination can be done reliably – and I don’t think it can at this point – society should be very cautious about insisting on such interventions.

      Second, but equally important, lifestyle choices, such as homeschooling, imposed in a non-voluntary manner will have a negative impact on the family. Insisting on traditional schooling not only has no guarantee of improvement, but may actually make things worse. Personally, I don’t think the harm that will occur as a result of such interventions is worth the benefit of perhaps improving the situation.

      • http://Love,Joy,Feminism Northstar

        Beth, thank you so much for your eloquent defense of homeschooling choices! You say so well what I wish I could, but the subject is so close and sensitive for me that I can’t disengage emotionally. Well done!

        @Mr.PopularSentiment at #25:>>I worry when people who’ve had bad experiences in homeschool assume that it means that homeschool itself is the problem. The problem is trying to fit a round child into a square education. There are definitely kids (and families) for whom the traditional classroom is just fine, or even best. And then there are kids who do much better when given freer rein, or one-on-one tutoring, or a slightly faster or slower pace that a classroom with 20-30 kids can’t accommodate.

        If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s finding the right education for each individual child.<<

        Bravo, sir!