When I made my decision to homeschool almost 15 years ago, I knew there would be many challenges. I didn't expect, however, that one of those challenges would be defending my decision to homeschool to relatives, friends, and even strangers. It's almost understandable that relatives would be concerned they love my children and want what's best for them, so they ask many questions. But when absolute strangers approach me and begin to question my motives for homeschooling, I have to draw the line.
I have been asked about socialization while my children were playing with their soccer team, queried about how my kids will make friends as they planted dune grass with the members of their 4-H club, and informed that my older daughter will be scarred for life if she doesn't attend a high-school prom.
Some folks find it incomprehensible that homeschooled children could actually have a satisfying life without traditional school. The root of their misconceptions, however, is simply a lack of information about homeschooling. Since the same objections seem to surface over and over again, I've decided to explore the five most common misconceptions, along with my experiences as a homeschooling parent. (If you're new to homeschooling, print this out at some point you will be asked to respond to at least one of these misstatements!)
1. Homeschoolers are stuck in their house all day.
Perhaps it's the "home" part of the word "homeschooling" that causes the problem, but the homeschooling families I know are rarely at home! They participate in many activities, coordinate classes and field trips, and join clubs. As homeschoolers, we know that midweek is the best time to visit museums, parks, beaches, ski slopes, and other places, because there are no crowds and the prices are lower.
My family sees a minimum of one professionally staged, live theatrical performance each month, all offered at a considerable discount to schools and educators during the week. Lunchtime concerts and dance performances, usually free, are a regular part of our schedule. Many homeschooled teens hold jobs, while other families volunteer in their community. Working with a mentor or completing an apprenticeship is also a part of homeschooling.
In addition, my family is active in 4-H (nationwide clubs with activities for youths aged 5-19), Girl Scouts, and sports. Homeschooled children enjoy participating in daytime soccer, fencing, Taekwondo, softball, competitive swimming, basketball, baseball?well, you get the picture. With all of these activities, it is rare to find a homeschooled child spending many days at home. There are just too many choices and learning opportunities out in the world!
2. Homeschoolers don't have friends.
I think the perception is that homeschooled kids are locked away in a little bubble. The reality is quite different. Not only do homeschooled kids have friends, but they have the opportunity to develop and grow strong friendships when they spend entire days together.
My daughters have both schooled and homeschooled friends. Unfortunately, they rarely see their schooled friends, because these kids are often tired by the time they get home from school, or have too much homework to spend time socializing. On weekends, the schooled kids are often involved in organized activities, or are working on school projects. The only time their schooled friends can have a sleepover is during a holiday weekend or vacation. For homeschooled friends, sleepovers occur frequently.
The longer you homeschool, the wider the circle of friends becomes. As kids (and parents) see the same faces each week at regularly scheduled activities (soccer, skiing, Taekwondo, chess club, robotics, fencing, etc.), friendships form. When I look back at photos from past birthday parties and group events, I am amazed at the ethnic and economic mix of the homeschooled kids. Parents from all walks of life choose to homeschool, bringing diversity and opportunities for unique friendships to the homeschool community.
3. Kids cannot be socialized if they don't go to school.
If I had a dime for every time I've been asked about "socialization," I'd be a rich woman. Judging from the volumes written about bullying, peer pressure, and cliques in schools today, this statement always puzzles me. One mom actually argued with me that kids "need to be bullied" in school to prepare them for the real world! But where in normal society are adults bullied regularly, scorned because they don't have the "right" outfit, or forced by their peers to behave in a dangerous manner? It's true: homeschoolers don't experience those negative aspects of socialization. Rather, they are in their communities, interacting with merchants, the elderly, younger children, their peers, their relatives, and people from all walks of life.
Professional studies aimed at determining how "socialized" homeschooled kids are demonstrate that the home-educated have significantly lower problem-behavior scores than do their conventional school-age mates. Homeschoolers are used to being around kids and adults of different ages and abilities. The children I know are also tolerant of those with disabilities, and are not shy about speaking up if they see an injustice occur.
I've also discovered that rebellious behavior is rare in homeschooled teens - especially those who have never been to traditional school. Kids who have been following their passions and pursuing their goals have no need to rebel. They travel, explore their world, and generally take responsibility for their choices. Susannah Sheffer's A Sense of Self: Listening to Homeschooled Adolescent Girls (Boynton/Cook, 1997) explores why homeschooled girls do not experience the plummet in self-esteem and confidence that is common to this age group. Through in-depth interviews, Sheffer documents how homeschooled teens manage to hold onto the strength and confidence they had as children.
4. Average parents are not qualified to teach their children.
Fortunately, the facts dispute this assertion. Homeschooled children consistently outperform their schooled peers on standardized tests in every subject and at every grade level, nationwide. Homeschooled children generally perform at least one grade level higher on tests than their public and private school counterparts. What's more, children who have always been homeschooled generally are performing four years above the national average, by the time they reach eighth grade.
These results are consistent whether the parent has a GED or a Ph.D. Education expert Dr. Lawrence M. Rudner undertook a nationwide survey examining homeschooling families and test scores. Rudner concluded that "There was no difference found [in test scores] according to whether or not a parent was certified to teach. For those who would argue that only certified teachers should be allowed to teach their children at home, these findings suggest that such a requirement would not meaningfully affect student achievement." (Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Home School Students in 1998, ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation, College of Library and Information Services, University of Maryland, College Park.)
5. Homeschooled teens miss out on "the high-school experience."
At a recent homeschool conference, this issue was brought up to a panel of homeschooled teens. When asked if she felt she was "missing out" on high-school activities, one teen eloquently replied that she believed traditionally schooled teens are the ones missing out on their teen years.
She went on to explain that her activities each day were self-directed that she is able to explore a subject or pursue a passion for weeks or even months, simply because she wants to. She mentioned that she travels off-season, enjoys sleepovers with friends any day she chooses, and gets to sleeps late each day. She ended by saying how grateful she was that her days weren't filled with mindless busywork and useless memorization.
John Taylor Gatto, former NYC Teacher of the Year and author of Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (New Society Publishers, 2002), explains that a motivated teen can easily complete a traditional four-year high-school curriculum in under two years. Gatto documents that less than one hour of each school day is spent on actual learning. The rest of the time is spent disciplining students, giving directions, cleaning up, collecting and distributing papers, changing classes, making announcements, and getting to and from school.
Homeschoolers are able to bypass all of these time wasters. The teens in the panel, aged 14 to 17, were already accumulating college-level credits through either a community college or a distance-learning school. When they are ready to enroll in college full-time, they will enter as sophomores or juniors.
In the meantime, the teens enthusiastically talked about a play that was directed and produced (including lighting, sound, costumes and all props), solely by homeschooled teens and performed at a community center. Other kids described homeschool outdoor camps around the country, and experiences that ranged from organizing historically themed dances to building homes with Habitat for Humanity. With three homeschool proms to choose from, this group of teens clearly felt they weren't missing out on anything!