For many, homeschooling has become synonymous with socially awkward, “barely literate” children and fanatic, unhinged parents - reflections of how homeschooling is often portrayed in larger society. Many families who homeschool have pushed back on these portrayals, insisting that their children are not only socially well-adapted but well beyond what they would have been in public schools they see as failing.
It’s also common to see homeschooling as reflecting a monolithic socio - political mindset and worldview - namely, very religious and very conservative. While it is true that about two-thirds of homeschooling parents say religion is one of their motivations, there is a surprisingly wide variety of motivations involved. Indeed, even though conservative Christian homeschoolers outnumber other religious homeschoolers, all religions and political views are represented. Some parents homeschool not because of religion but because they have become convinced that a particular educational approach is best for their children (e.g., Waldorf, Montessori, Charlotte Mason), and they can’t find a school that follows that approach in their area or budget. Another group of parents homeschool not because of any particular belief or educational philosophy but because they tried public and/or private schools and did not believe the schools were working for their children. Some homeschooled children have special physical or emotional needs, like asthma or anxiety; some have learning disabilities; some are gifted; some have intense interests in areas such as music, art, or athletics; some must travel frequently, such as those in military families.
The particular approach to homeschooling is also often portrayed as narrowly parochial or restrictive - another perception against which the wide variety of actual homeschooling practices would contradict. To begin with, the form homeschooling takes can vary from an experience very like school, with complete curricula, homework, teachers, and classmates (usually in parent-led collaborations), to an entirely open-ended experience with very little structure. Many terms are used to describe the varied approaches parents adopt: school at home, classics-based learning, cyber learning, eclectic learning, child-led learning, unschooling. Some homeschooled children rarely spend their school hours at home because they spend every weekday attending scheduled classes, clubs, and activities; others spend much time at home, learning with their parents and siblings, or with tutors, or in virtual classrooms. Some homeschooled children never attend school, and some move back and forth over the course of their education between homeschooling, public schools, and private schools. Some states allow homeschooled children to participate in selected public school classes and activities, and some don’t.
Perceptions of homeschooling range from allegations of abusive neglect and suspicions of cult-like indoctrination to admiring portraits of parents who give their “genius” children “an edge” by “designing” their educational experiences. Probably the most prevalent perception of homeschooling has to do with what some call “the socialization problem” - that is, that homeschooled children are perceived as rarely interacting with other children of their own age, and therefore lacking in opportunities to develop social skills. Homeschooling advocates are quick to point out that though there are notable (and newsworthy) exceptions, the great majority of homeschooled children interact frequently and substantially with children and adults of all ages.
QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:
- How do you feel about homeschooling? Is it a vision of a better future or a disaster in the making? Or is it something in between? What led you to feel that way?
- Have you met any homeschooled children? How did they seem to you? What do you think they would have been like if they had been in school?
- Think of some children you know who are in public or private school. What would it be like if they were homeschooled? Would their education be better or worse?
- Do you know anyone who disagrees with you about homeschooling? How do they feel about it? How did they come to see it that way?
Mary Jacksteit, Cynthia Kurtz, Jacob Hess
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