In 2013, it is estimated that in the U.S. over two million students are being educated at home and that number is growing at over 10% per year.
Homeschooling is not a new idea, but many parents who choose to educate their children at home are still subjected to intense scrutiny. Some parents are even made to feel like choosing to keep their children at home is tantamount to abuse. Others are ridiculed for not taking advantage of what is freely given by the government instead of taking on the sometimes expensive and always time-consuming task of educating their own children.
The first U.S. laws making school compulsory were made in 1852. Before that most children were homeschooled. People like Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Graham Bell had little or no formal schooling, and yet we hold them up as national heroes, even as our society ridicules others taking the same path.
In the early days of public schooling, school often took a back seat to the needs of the family. If there were crops to be planted or harvested, children were kept home to do the work. Before child labor laws were enacted, many children were forced to work to help support their families instead of attending school. As time passed, school attendance laws became more strictly enforced and most children attended either private or public schools.
The decades of 1960 and 70 were times of turmoil in the United States. Young people demanded changes in the nation’s social structure. The Civil Rights movement grew and cities exploded with violence as white people fought the changes demanded by the African American citizens of this country. Youth also marched and held sit-ins to protest what they saw as an unfair war. Not for the first time, America found itself in a time of great changes.
In the 1960s people began to question the efficiency of our public school system. Books like How Children Fail, written in 1964 by John Holt, created controversy and stirred citizens to question what was going on in the public school system. Holt and other educators wrote many books advocating for change in the way America educated their children. While these authors did not achieve much as far as changing the way our schools worked, their books inspired many people to stop and think about our children’s education.
Some parents decided that they did not need the government to educate their children. They felt like they could do a better job themselves. As more parents took back control of their children’s education, the home schooling grassroots movement emerged. At this time, home schooling was outside the mainstream. While it was considered to be something only practiced by hippies and other counterculture movements, devout Christians and members of other religious groups were also part of the early homeschooling movement.
As the decades have passed, home schooling has gradually become more accepted. The reasons for keeping children at home have become more compelling and most people have begun to accept it as a viable option for those who choose this path. But as with anything that doesn’t conform to the accepted norms, there are still people who do not approve and question people’s rights to step away from the well-beaten path.
Increasing amounts of reliable research on the academic success of home schooling support claims of home schooling families. On average, home schooled children score over 30 percentile points higher than public school students on standardized tests. Today, even the Ivy League colleges like Harvard and Princeton are accepting home schooled students in record numbers.
You would think this information would be enough to give home schooling families a break from all the questions, but this is not the case. The point of focus now is socialization. Instead of questions about their children’s academic performance, home schooling parents hear:
Aren’t you worried about your child’s socialization?
You know you can’t isolate them from the rest of the world forever!
What is he going to do when he has to go out into the world?
Are you going to keep him at home forever?
These questions point to continued misconceptions about home schooling. It’s like people assume that since you don’t send your children to public school that you keep them locked in a basement hidden away from the big scary world. This is so very far from the truth in most cases. Almost every town and city has homeschooling co-ops that get together for field trips, sports, choir, band, and many other events. Children socialize in these groups with children of all ages and it is common for there to be far less gender discrimination in the activities than you find in public schools. Just as research supports the academic benefits of home schooling for dedicated families, there is a great deal of research showing that home schooled students are socially better adjusted than their traditionally schooled peers.
Maybe the best thing for people who are so quick to ask questions about home schooling and socialization need to step back and consider the socialization their children are getting in public schools.
Children in public schools are socialized within very narrow parameters. Classrooms are filled with students who were born in the same year-not a very good criteria for arranging social groups.
In the past, there was a certain amount of time for traditionally schooled children to socialize. Not so much these days. With the realization that American students were falling far behind their counterparts in other first world countries came many changes in our schools. There is little time now for any interaction between the students. They spend their days trapped in desks being spoon-fed the information they need to pass the all-important standardized tests.
Teachers do not have time for interaction with the students or time to allow them to interact with each other. Most classes consist of the teacher talking and explaining with occasional questions from the students. Or you might find silent classrooms with children studiously filling out a stack of worksheets while the teacher sits at her desk trying to keep up with the mountains of grading and other paperwork that her job consists of.
My first year as a middle school teacher was an eye-opening experience. I felt more like a traffic cop than a teacher. I was constantly leading my students from one class to another, to the lunchroom, the library… and the main rule was silence. No talking, just walking, quietly.
As a new teacher, I had classroom visits by the principal. One day he came while I was playing a game with my students. There were two teams lined up on either side of the classroom. Somehow, I had managed to really catch their interest and get them all fired up about the discussion we were having. The students were interested and firing off opinions and original thoughts on the questions being asked. While I don’t remember now what it was about, I clearly remember my pride in the students and my subsequent horror at the principal’s assessment of their learning. Imagine my surprise when this excellent learning experience, enjoyed by both me and the students, was classified as “rowdy and inappropriate.” Who knew that talking was rowdy or inappropriate in a classroom? I didn’t, but I learned.
In order for schools to be efficient, certain rules must be followed. One of the main rules is that children need to be quiet. Quiet in the classrooms, quiet in the hallways, and quiet in the lunchroom.
What about recess and art and music classes- students can talk in those places, right? Not much, and besides most schools no longer have these activities. No time for anything non-academic.
Which raises the next question we need to ask – what is socialization? (Maybe this should have been our first question.) Simply put, socialization is the process by which a person is able to adjust to a group and learns how to behave in a way that allows him to fit into the group.
Public schools are populated with many different kinds of students. There are a lot of good kids there, but there are many that you would not want your child to “adjust and fit in” with.
Our world is made up with people of many different moral values and as parents we seek to instill in our children the values we hold important. When our children are being traditionally schooled, this can be a difficult task.
Many studies have compared socialization between homes schooled children and those in the public schools. Through these studies, home schooled children have proven to be active, involved in their communities, and productive citizens to a much higher degree than their public school counterparts. Young adults who were home schooled report being happy with their lives and a large percentage say they will home school their own children.
Perhaps the time has finally come for the questions to stop. Home schooling is a choice that is working for millions of people. It may not be your choice, but the time for denying that it is a viable choice is long past.