Homeschooling: skeptic to convert

For years I’ve harbored a deep skepticism for homeschooling, seeing it as antisocial, undemocratic, and as Dana Goldstein put it in Slate last year: " If progressives want to improve schools, we shouldn’t empty them out. We ought to flood them with our kids, and then debate vociferously what they ought to be doing." [1] That is, if we subscribe to progressive values, we should endeavor to improve the educational experience in an egalitarian way.

But I’ve come to regard homeschooling differently. And despite the fact that our daughter attends and excellent, well-regarded private school, she’ll be attending homeschool starting in first grade next year. This post

Homeschoolers have always been forced into a defensive position as exemplified by Deborah Markus’ “The Bitter Homeschooler’s” Wish List[2]; so in my head, I’ve rehearsed answers to questions that I imagine being asked about our decision. Now that I’ve practiced them in my imagination, I’ve decided to write them down so I can refer askers to them. The format is a list of frequently given answers. Why not an FAQ? Well, the format of frequently asked questions misses the point of documenting the responses. We all know the questions; the interesting part is contained in the answers.

Insanity, ideological extermism, political viewpoints

If your question is similar to:

  • Are you insane?
  • Are you just religious zealots?
  • Are you some sort of libertarian, antigovernment people?

Then the answer is:

As far as we’ve been able to detect, we are not insane. But it’s possible, so we’ll keep an eye on it. We are a secular family; and if we teach any religion at home, it will be a unit on comparative religions. Values, character strengths[3] and ethical behavior in the world are important attributes that we’d like to pass down.

We’re also not political extremists in any sense, though undoubtedly most conservative people would regard us that way. I’m not a libertarian, although libertarians sometimes get things right. I believe, for example, that people should be left alone with the minimum necessary limits. I believe that what people do in private, to the extent it affects no one else, is no one else’s business. I believe that people deserve second chances. And that problems like poverty and its attendant social ills that seem simple, are not; and they are not synonymous with laziness or graft. I believe that the government, not unfettered capital markets, has a role to play in equalizing opportunity.

Socializing

If your question is similar to:

  • Won’t your daughter be incredibly sheltered?
  • Will she have no friends?
  • Isn’t she going to miss out on all these wonderful opportunities with friends?

Then the answer is:

School obviously offers a plentiful source of friendship. But while out-of-home school offers quantity of relationships, by sending your child off to school, you are outsourcing their network of friends. Given the tremendous importance of social networks in the socialization process[4], children turn out, in part, to mirror that values, attributes, and preferences of those around them. Why would anyone want to outsource that?

But homeschoolers do have to work harder to setup opportunities for their children to be with their peers. It has to be more intentional. But what important aspect of our lives isn’t intentional?

Qualifications

If your question is similar to:

  • How can you possibly be qualified to teach?
  • It must be very difficult?

Then the answer is:

I’m not a certified teacher. I have B.S. and M.D. degrees. Both my wife and I have been involved in professional education throughout our careers. I think we’ve learned a few things about education along the way. I don’t discount the wealth of knowledge, both explicit and tacit, that professional teachers bring to schools. Our daughter has benefitted greatly from their talents.

But our involvement with Suzuki training has taught us that we are both great teachers. The special insights that come from knowing your child deeply as only a parent can, offset any difficiencies that we have in formal training.

Is it difficult? Of course it is!

Public school

If your question is similar to:

  • As a progressive, don’t you support public schools?
  • Aren’t schools in your area excellent?
  • Isn’t your child already attending a great school?

Then the answer is:

We support the egalitarian ideals of public school. I support the concept of a national curriculum backed by a set of national standards. Why should the quality and integrity of a child’s education be subject to local or state whims? If we are to teach children in an evidenced-based way, then we need to recognize that evidence doesn’t change according to state lines.

But while we support public education and a national standard, we recognize that the implementation has been disastrous. The assumption that more data means better quality is absurd; and it is inconsistent with the what we know about how better-performing public education systems achieve their superior results. The cultural milieu in out-of-home schools is also horrifying. Texting, tweeting, Facebooking and the like are at best grand wastes of time for kids. Social tech may be central to contemporary teen development; but we want no part of it.


  1. http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/02/homeschooling_and_unschooling_among_liberals_and_progressives_.html

  2. http://www.secular-homeschooling.com/001/bitter_homeschooler.html

  3. The Values in Action Institute on Character is a source of inspiration for thinking about what character strengths are. See http://www.viacharacter.org/www/en-us/viainstitute/classification.aspx

  4. Here, I’m using the term “socialization” in its proper way, which is to say not the same thing as “socializing.” Socialization is the process of developing and inheriting norms, customs, and values from others in the community. It is the transmission of shared elements of culture. Good or bad.