Homeschooling, Academics, and Me

Homeschooling, Academics, and Me March 5, 2013

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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