Last week, I packed up my 18-year-old son and his antique trunk of enigmatic trappings, drove him to college in the exotic, far-away land of Maryland. and liberated him – apparently never to hear from him again (why didn’t he answer yesterday’s email? and has he lost his phone?)
My 16-year-old started her senior year in public high school a couple of weeks ago. She may be new to the role, but so far she has perfectly enacted the part of the American teen as seen on film and TV, hanging out at the local fro-yo shop with friends after school, staying up too late studying, and even attending her first Friday night high school football game with a gang of buddies.
So, in a way, my homeschooling journey has just ended. But in some ways it ended long ago, when my kids started teaching themselves. In other ways, this may be just another phase. I’ve often said that all parents homeschool their children. Our homes are our children’s most consistent and effective schools. The public can debate the effectiveness of our school systems in shaping our youth, but there’s no such dispute about the size of the impact our homes have on our kids. No matter the content we decide to teach (and I have certainly taught my share of questionable content through poor modeling), home is a research-proven teaching and learning setting.
Our family independently homeschooled for 11 years. Independent homeschooling in Tennessee means that we just register our kids as homeschoolers at the beginning of the school year with the county board of education and then turn in a meaningless “attendance” sheet at the end of the year (of course they attended…they live here) – no umbrella organizations, no prescribed curricula, just us living the learning life.
The presenter at a recent teacher inservice I was forced to attend gave one of those inescapable put-downs of homeschooled students who return to school, including the requisite eye-rolling. I hear it all the time. Teachers assert that their jobs are so much more difficult when homeschoolers return to school. Yet I’ve watched a lot of homeschoolers move in and out of school over the years, and I just haven’t seen it. I have seen homeschool families send their children off to universities year after year. I have also seen former homeschoolers sitting in our high school honors, AP, and dual-college enrollment courses. I don’t think their teachers even know they came from homeschooling backgrounds.
Sure, some kids make little progress in homeschooling. Some kids make little progress in public (or private, or charter…) school as well. Most teachers I talk with only seem to notice the former homeschoolers who are struggling. Often, those same children left public school in the first place because their parents saw that they were making little progress in school, blamed the teachers, but then discovered the lack of progress wasn’t the school’s fault. Some kids struggle to learn. Blame is easy. Teaching is hard.
After 11 years of finding our own way, we have no regrets. Sure, my kids are quirky. They have some solitary habits. They have some unique perspectives on the world. None of that seems to be interfering with their ability to move on to new environments, make friends, or find success. I think our experience is pretty common for homeschoolers. So, if you are a family just starting the journey, take heart. If you aren’t part of the homeschooling world, but are tempted to roll your eyes and make blanket assertions about us, educate yourself first. We are a difficult group to pigeonhole, ranging from Christian based, to unschoolers, to highly-educated life hackers. We all have different reasons to homeschool, so that means that the available research on our success has limitations, but here’s a start:
Ray, Brian D. 2003. “Homeschooling Grows Up.” Salem, OR: National Home Education Research Institute. http://www.hslda.org/research/ray2003/HomeschoolingGrowsUp.pdf
Ray, Brian D. 2010. Academic achievement and demographic traits of homeschool students: A nationwide study. Academic Leadership, the Online Journal 8:1.
Rudner, Lawrence M. 1999. “Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Home School Students in 1998.” Education Policy Analysis Archives 7:8.