Thoughts about how urban parents are changing the face of homeschooling

February 23 2012 | offbeatbride
By: Lyn LomasiCC BY 2.0

Education is always a big topic on parenting sites — we've chatted about those who opt for public, private, home, and unschooling throughout this site's existence. Michelle recently shared a piece that resonated with me: Linda Perlstein's Why Urban, Educated Parents are Turning to DIY Education.

Perlstein talks to Tera and Eric Schreiber, a Seattle couple who toured local public schools, applied to private schools, and ultimately decided to homeschool their three kids. These two, along with fellow homeschooling parents, often list wanting to attend to each of their kid's individual needs or wanting to experience as much of their kid's lives as possible as their reasons for homeschooling:

Tera's kids didn't particularly enjoy day care or preschool. The Schreibers wanted a "gentler system" for Daisy; she was a perfectionist who they thought might worry too much about measuring up. They knew homeschooling families in their neighborhood and envied their easygoing pace and flexibility—late bedtimes, vacations when everyone else is at school or work. Above all, they wanted to preserve, for as long as possible, a certain approach to family.

Several homeschooling moms would first tell me, "I know this sounds selfish," and then say they feared that if their kids were in school, they'd just get the "exhausted leftovers" at the end of the day. Says Rebecca Wald, a Baltimore homeschooler, "Once we had a child and I realized how fun it was to see her discover stuff about the world, I thought, why would I want to let a teacher have all that fun?"

It's 12:30 p.m. on a Thursday, and Tera and her daughters have arrived home from a rehearsal of a homeschoolers' production of Alice in Wonderland. Their large green Craftsman is typical Seattle. There are kayaks in the garage, squash in the slow cooker, and the usual paraphernalia of girlhood: board games, dolls, craft kits. Next to the kitchen phone is a printout of the day's responsibilities. Daisy and Ginger spend about two hours daily in formal lessons, including English and math; today they've also got history, piano, and sewing.

To me, this need to take care of each need of their child is akin to Attachment Parenting — something Perlstein also brings up. In fact, whenever I consider homeschooling our son, I always come back to this idea. While I love the time I spend with my son, I also value the time that I spend with myself, my husband, or with friends. In addition to not being an option for many families for a variety of reasons, homeschooling seems so incredibly daunting: am I really the right person to educate my kid?

While we're a long way from homeschooling being the dominant way many kids in the US and beyond are educated, it stands to note that according to this piece, the percentage of kids who are homeschooled in New York City has grown 36% in eight years. It has me wondering: in a pretend world where you had your pick from any option, how would you want to your kids educated?

  1. home school, and not all of it done by myself, but maybe with a tutor or private instructor (if we can afford it)

    Public/private schools are too dependent on a single set of standards for children who are extremely diverse. I think it's unfair to expect every student to learn/advance by the exact same standards. My nephew was diagnosed with a learning disability because he couldn't keep up with his classmates and was eventually sent to "continuation school" which is typically reserved for students who have behavioral issues, miss most days of school, or typically a problem in "normal" school. There he was able to get more one on one time with a teacher and went from a D average student to A's and B's. He just didn't absorb things in the same way other students did, it didn't mean he couldn't learn them.

    I still have much more research to do before I make my final decision. I just want my children to learn as much as possible with as few unnecessary obstacles as possible.

  2. I just had a playdate (the last guest walked out literally 5 minutes ago) and this is almost word for word the discussion we moms were having. Those of us considering home schooling harbor fears that we won't be able to meet all the needs of the kids if we can't find a homeschooling community who can help pick up slack on subjects we struggle with or that we would find ourselves overwhelmed by being solely responsible for our children's education. Those of us looking at traditional schooling fear we're giving up a measure of quality in the learning experience that our kids could have in a home-school setting.

    There is a school in town that does part-time classroom schooling and the rest is home-school. It seems like a really great meeting place between the different sets of concerns. However, it is still out of reach for the many families who can't go down to part-time work for one or both parents.

    • I really like the idea of half day formal classroom instruction, half day home school. As it stands, we live in a community with a growing homeschool/unschool community. I am involved with them now because I'm a stay at home mom with a kid under 5 and they do cool shit during the day. That said, they're beginning to rub off on me and now I dream about raising radically unschooled children. Ironically, I also dream about all the cool shit I'll be able to do BY MYSELF (like shower and grow a successful business) once I can put my kid on the school bus.

  3. I'm in the middle of a big FB debate about this exact thing! In a perfect world I would home school. I am in the middle of the decision process. My husband is against it, but there are so many factors that we hadn't considered when we enrolled my daughter in public preschool 3 years ago. Now she's in kindergarten and I think it's time to get all the resources out on the table and make the decision for 1st grade.

  4. We are blessed by a pretty terrific public school system – and by blessed I mean we moved states and pay high property taxes to pay for it – so I have no problem sending my kids there. Not a single second thought. Some people can teach, my husband and I are not those people. I have deep respect for the people who are natural born teachers, though. 😀

    • This is me as well. I am not a natural teacher and really have no desire to be. We also moved into an area that has amazing schools and my boys have thrived there.

      I do wish there were more financial options available to those who wish to try other routes. We all know our kids best and we have the best chance of picking what's right for our own kids.

    • I appreciate your perspective on this because I AM a teacher in a public school and I feel like the movement towards homeschooling can be somewhat misguided. I get that parents want to do what they feel is best for their children, but I think just giving up on public school is not the best thing for our society in general.

      Every time a kid is taken out of public school, the overall health of the public school system is degraded. One less child equals less money for the district and therefore fewer overall resources for the rest of the kids who still go to the school.

      I feel that if parents are concerned with the quality of a public school education, they should educate themselves about what is wrong with our system (and there is a LOT wrong) and DO SOMETHING at the local level to change it. Parents wield a ton of power in school districts, and the type of parents who provide their kids with excellent, creative, home-school experiences are precisely the types of parents we need raising hell and encouraging school boards to do better. Parents can volunteer in classrooms, join PTA and be generally super-involved in their kids' educations all whilst supporting the public school system that is the very foundation of our ability to function as a democratic society.

      It irks me when parents think they can teach their kids better than credentialed teachers. The program I went through to receive my credential was rigorous and based on pedagogy that has stood up against equally rigorous scientific testing. I have honed my abilities over time and take my job incredibly seriously. I am a professional, and I am excellent at what I do. Most teaches are. If you feel your child's teacher is not doing a good job, go in and observe a few times and speak to the teacher to try and work out the issues. PLEASE, be respectful of the fact that no matter how much you know about your own child, chances are that this highly-trained professional knows a bit more about children in general and the specifics of how to teach effectively. There ARE bad teachers, and if your kid genuinely has one, demand that he or she is placed in a different class. That is your right. But don't think that you can do our job better than we can just because you know your kid really well.

      Teaching is not just reading things out of a book, it's knowing the specific needs of (in my case) 120 kids and responding to those needs EVERY SINGLE DAY. It's knowing how to make a dull subject engaging to a group of tired, cranky 15-year-olds at 8 AM. It's a constant process of trying lessons, adjusting them based on outcome and trying every day, every semester and every year to do better than last time. It is making 30 different modifications to a lesson for 30 different kids with special needs and then making sure that the highest achievers aren't bored. It's getting kids to read, write and talk every day in every lesson to make up for the fact that half our kids never have a conversation with their parents or have ever been read to or picked up a book to read for pleasure. It's never stopping the process of professional development because teachers know better than anyone that you can never be done learning; you never have all the answers.

      This is an insanely difficult job made more difficult by the fact that we are living in a time when teachers are demonized in the media by politicians who have never taught anyone to do anything and who would probably be eaten alive by a classroom full of unruly kids. Despite this abuse, the overwhelming majority of teachers will work their asses off every day of their careers to be the best teachers they can be. That doesn't mean we'll be perfect, but we never stop trying to be better than we were yesterday. We do this not because we want to be praised and thanked but because we are passionate about our profession. We believe in public education with all our hearts and we care deeply about our students as individuals.

      Ok, off my soapbox. =)

      • Thanks for your post and all you do.
        This expresses some of my issue with many school alternatives. If you have the resources to stay home with your child and teach them, or pay for a private school, that's wondeful, but the fact is that the vast majority of families could never in their wildest dreams do those things. And every child out of the public education system is a blow to the system. I wonder what the use is of bringing up the most well adjusted, well rounded, intelligent kids possible in a nation full of uneducated, test zombies. Has anyone seen Idiocracy? That's not a future I want for my son, even if he grows up to be the smartest man alive in that scenario.
        That's why I think it's important to support public schools, and fight to change them rather than flee them, if you have the resources. A rising tide lifts all boats. Doing what's best for everyone's education is going to also be what's good for my children.
        I understand the other point of view, as someone who slipped through the cracks in public education myself, but my mother (like the majority of mothers in this country) did not have the luxury of enough time and energy to do things like PTA or sitting in on classes. She certainly could have never dreamed about homeschooling us, or affording private schools. She did the best she could with what she had, but to a certain extent she depended on community, like so many other parents, and a mass exodus from public schools is an exodus from that very community that parents like my mother needed.
        We all need to make a balanced choice between what's going to be best for our children as individuals and what's going to be vest for the society in which, like it or not, our children are going to have to live and survive. We do this with every parenting choice we make. Education is no different. If anyone of my children struggles in school, I might consider taking them out. But until a problem arises, my children will be in public schools. And if there's something going on there I don't like, I will go in and raise hell, because I have the luxury to be able to better things not just for my children, but for all children.
        I'm at least going to try.

        • Exactly, Jessica. I think your story about your mom is a perfect example. She didn't have the time to go sit in on classes, but if someone who DID have that amazing luxury went in, all the kids would benefit, not just the child of the wealthy parent. We can work together to raise the standard of public education in this country or we can all just fend for ourselves, but working together is going to end up benefitting all of us much more in the long run.

  5. I didn't even know part-time homeschooling was an option – that's really cool. I think there's a lot of value to learning with other children from people other than one's parents. In a perfect world, I'd love to send my kids to a really nice public school. The public schools we have around my house a little more metal-detector than I'd like them to be.

  6. Unschooling resonates with me. I was "unschooled" before it was called that :), and I ended up going to college and doing really well. I am due with my first in April, and although I wouldn't send my kid to public school, I would opt for homeschool co-ops, performing arts schools, charter schools, or some mix of homeschooling and unschooling. It is all going to depend on her and what I feel is best suited for her personality. My mom sent me to any school that suited me that year. I really appreciated it because she listened to my desires and didn't try to tell me that I needed to stick with one school and get used to it because "that's the way the world works" or "that's the real world!". She taught me that if I am unhappy in a situation, even though it might be tough at first, I can always change my path.

  7. Love this!
    We tried the public school route even though I was not overtly comfortable with it and it really took the love of learning out of my once very driven child. 🙁

    We pulled her out and it is so wonderful having her home and watching her strive in a homeschool environment.
    She's 12 and is going into the 8th grade next year. With a toddler and a new baby on the way, I also wouldn't trade the flexibility of scheduling we have right now!

    She's able to learn so much going to Attachment Parenting meetings, Holistic Moms Network Meetings, My prenatal appointments etc etc. She's a little birth and breastfeeding advocate now. lol

    I was pretty excited to find out new baby is also a girl because I know homeschooling is helping me to raise smart, strong, amazing little women!

  8. We talk about this CONSTANTLY. And the baby is only 18 months old.

    In a fairy-tale world where money was no issue for us, we would send him to private school. After years of training to become a teacher in the current system, and then burning out before finishing, I don't know how comfortable I would feel with the system where we live.

    Since money IS an issue and in fact does not grow on trees, we've been seriously discussing homeschooling.

    • This is exactly me and my partner right now. I got through 3 1/2 years of university to become a teacher and realized how much I didn't want to be a part of the system as it is. I definitely don't want to send our kids through something that I disagree with so fundamentally. Unschooling (with a health dose of formal activities) is really what we're thinking.

  9. I was never formally homeschooled, although my parents made a point to supplement my education at every turn (once or twice a week was Bookstore day or Museum day or something along those lines). My hubsband and myself are considering homeschooling when we have a child old enough. Part of the consideration for us is, how do I put this – ethnic. Any child of ours is going to me mixed – German, Native American, Irish, Russian, Jewish, Syrian (I think I got them all). We are mixed people. Part of what I remember about traditional school is that it never, ever taught me true, comprehensive history (and never included the histories of minority, native or immigrant people – rarely!). It took me a long time to go out and seek out my history on my own. I remember disliking the limited language options in schools. My parents taught me Gaelic and German. I still cannot find a resource to learn my family's indigenous Native American language. My husband grew up speaking Arabic and Hebrew and Russian. For me, homeschooling would be oriented towards not only education (the standard things like reading, math, art, science, ect.) but we'd have to strive to create something that was true to our kids' ethnic, racial and historical backgrounds. Public education in the US is making strides in not being as centered on Europe and the Western world, but obviously, it can't be one-size fits all. We're still searching for how we could create an education that would make our kids proud of who they are (and all their little bits), but I will admit it is daunting.

  10. I was home-schooled until 6th grade, and hope to home school my kids, too. My mom jokes that she put us in to public school at 6th grade because that's where her math skills ended, but I think that one of the misconceptions is that home schooling is a straight "out of my brain, in to your brain" transaction, and that you can't do it if you don't know enough. Once you teach a kid to read, then give them time, encouragement, and resources, they'll learn on their own. A few guidelines for what they should know and different ages will help them stay on track, but I think that whether in school or at home, teaching your kids to be proactive about their education is the best thing you can do.

    I know that home schooling is a luxury, though. If we can't afford to live on a single income, I plan on putting my kids in public school and being super involved.

    • I too believe that the idea that a parent's ability to homeschool depends on their book knowledge or ability to teach is just part of an old paradigm that needs to be shifted. The top down, hierarchical model of teacher imparting knowledge from the front of the class does not have to exist in a homeschool setting.

    • Math is not like reading where you can just do it and get better and advance. Some people naturally understand it, most people don't. If you don't understand it, you're not going to be much help to a child trying to learn it and asking questions and seeking guidance.

      • Never in my life have I had a math teacher who could explain things in a different way to get a kid who didn't understand something to understand it. My husband and I both recall our (recent, grad years were '05 and '08) highschool teachers being asked a question about what we were learning, then responding by simply scrolling back up the projector and repeating themselves, word for word. When I needed to know why a certain method or number was used in order to do a particular type of problem, I was told that there was NO reason. (never true, someone figured out that was the way, and then wrote it down somewhere so that we all could know)

        He was in a special program that was supposedly superior, and students had to do exceptionally well on tests to get in to it, and I was in one of the wealthiest schools in a large city, with plenty of tax money to spend.

        At least parents have more reasons to spend the time to find alternate explanations (you don't need to understand something to google explanations of it until you find one that works, plus, then you learn it too!)

  11. I would unschool with no questions asked. I was unschooled throughout highschool and made great strides in my personal learning experience. Public school ended up causing many learning issues, such as losing my love of reading, fearing math, being picked on, and being the weirdo for being placed in accelerated courses. It was not the right place for me. My parents were not apart of the attachment parenting group and left us on our own for many things. Our version of unschooling was child led learning and parents only stepped in when we had issues with something we were learning. And, all of us kids have bypassed our parents' math skills – we've all gone into engineering in university.

  12. As a former teacher, my partner wanted me to homeschool our daughter, and I explained all the reasons I thought it was a bad idea. I think co-ops can make up for some of these reasons, so I'd consider it if we couldn't find a suitable school. I am planning to make sure she isn't in before or after school care, though. I know some parents have no other choice, and I feel for them truly, but since I have the choice I want to make sure I spend that time with her. I also think there's such a thing as too much time with your kids. I know that sounds scandalous, but I think kids need other points of view (and space!) and I've seen the damage it can do to kids.

  13. I think homeschooling is pretty nifty, but it's not an option for my family. Mainly because I'm the parent staying at home, and I'm trying to learn my husband and daughter's language right now. We'll be sending her to French Immersion so that she can be more exposed to the language as part of her education. Thankfully, the schools also have plenty of funding and children get to go on lots of trips to other parts of the country and even to France. It's a lot better than the education that I was given through the public school system in the Southern US, so I feel pretty comfortable with my family's choice.

  14. A private school run by a womanist commune? Lord knows I'd pay some good money for that kind of environment. Otherwise my general preference is for public school.

    Semi-serious side note, those little Vulcan learning cubes in the newest Star Trek movie look pretty sweet. My human kids would obviously have some social difficulties at that kind of school, but I'd certainly think about it.

  15. I plan on putting my son in regular public school when the time comes. It worked for me, and I don't see why it wouldn't be a positive experience for him too. I don't begrudge anyone else making the choice to home school, but it's not for me. I think you have to be fairly social people as the parents if you're going to home school, to ensure your child is well socialized with other children. I'm not the most outgoing person in the world, and I would have a tough time making sure my son got the maximum benefit of spending time with other kids his age on a consistent basis if he wasn't going to school. I've known kids who were home schooled, and years later they have some major issues when it comes to relating with other people. I'm definitely not saying this is always the case, but it can happen. I think it's important for kids to have other strong influences when it comes to learning, beyond just mom and dad. I love teaching my son, and enjoy every minute of being a part of him learning new things. But I can still be a part of that when he's going to school.

  16. This is such a difficult topic for us! (And our daughter just turned a year old…)

    I would love to homeschool, and I think that the whole co-op thing (which I have never heard of before) would be awesome, but I know that my partner thinks homeschooling is ridiculous and doesn't understand why public school isn't a good option.

    Gah! So much to think about!

  17. We're planning to homeschool/unschool. In our dream world, our kiddo would get to have apprenticeships and spend lots of time with adults other than us who know different things and can help him in other ways. We're going to see what we can do about setting that up. If he wants to go to school, though, we'll let him.

  18. Currently our plans are to unschool our children. After our experiences, public schools are an absolute no. The only other option we'd ever really consider is if, in the next ten yeas or so, a Subury school opens in our state. There isn't a one, unfortunately, and I really think those are the best mix of our unschooling philosophy and the need for children to socialize outside the family unit on a regular basis.

    • Free schools are pretty similar to Sudbury schools — we've got one locally, and we'll definitely send our kid there if it becomes apparent that he needs something like that. Our local free school also has the option of attending however many days per week you want, which is appealing.

  19. My older daughter went to a small Montessori charter school through elementary. It was very heavy on parent participation — almost a co-op — and it was an awesome experience. It's not an option where we live now, and we're homeschooling for 8th grade. It's been interesting, wonderful, challenging. She wants to try traditional high school next year. If she enjoys it and is successful there, great — and if it doesn't work, we know a lot of homeschooled and alternatively schooled teens who are deeply happy and successful.

    For our younger, since the Montessori charter isn't available, I'm looking into a co-op preschool and primary program. Though to be honest, with her very social go-getter personality, she might be a good fit for public school. We'll take her lead.

    By the by, my spouse was not enthusiastic about homeschooling … until he met homeschooled kids of various ages at a HS camp. Within two days he'd done a total 180.

    • We're looking at a school like the charter-nearly-co-op school you described. The parents sign a contract in the beginning of the year saying they will put X hours of time in at the school. It's our first choice school but it is on a lottery. At this point, we are casting a wide net and making our choice from the things that present themselves. Good luck to your daughter!

  20. I was homeschooled, and I see a lot of misconception that the options are either full time school or full time being at home. "I think it's important for kids to have other strong influences when it comes to learning, beyond just mom and dad", "I think kids need other points of view", etc. I'm honestly never sure how to counter that assumption, it seems like such a strange idea to me. I had SO many activities outside my home as an older kid and teenager. My parents were more facilitators than teachers, connecting me to experts and resources to learn about my interests. And for younger kids… honestly I'm not sure most 7 and 8 year olds are best served by being outside the home 30+ hours a week. It exhausts me and I'm an adult! 🙂 There are lots of resources out there for parents who want to homeschool and make sure their kids get enough interaction outside the home and immediate family. If that's the main problem you have with homeschooling, I'd suggest doing a bit of research before discounting it.

    • I fully agree. I think the socialization argument is silly.
      First of all, in a public school setting the kids are not encouraged to talk. They are encouraged to sit still and listen, speak only with permission etc. Sure there's lunch and recess but then you're stuck only with a certain age, certain gender even typically and in a 'clique'

      In a homeschool setting my daughter is able to communicate with all different people of different ages, races, social backgrounds etc. Every one from the mail man to the woman at the bookstore.

      She also attends several homeschool classes. We have a co op we attend all day once a week where she takes 5-6 classes. Her "classes" are mixed between upper grades of children from a three or so age gap to a large mixed class with ages from 7-14
      She gets to interact with everyone.

      • When I was young my mother told me that things would be different in the "real world" and so I scoffed at school. Turns out, the "real world" is much like school was and I regret not learning how to live within it while I was young. The socialization argument is a valid concern, one that can be potentially overcome but it's different for each family.

    • "And for younger kids… honestly I'm not sure most 7 and 8 year olds are best served by being outside the home 30+ hours a week."

      And meanwhile in the UK, kids that age start boarding at prep schools.

      Our beliefs in what is best for our kids, and what they're capable of, are largely cultural. So while I think people should do what they think is best for their families, it's also worth remembering that a lot of what we think we know isn't based on anything but anecdote and assumption. And we know what Samuel L Jackson thinks of assumptions.

      • I was going to say something similar! Minus the cool Samuel L Jackson reference. Especially love this: "it's also worth remembering that a lot of what we think we know isn't based on anything but anecdote and assumption"

  21. I was homeschooled 2 days a week and took classes at a "homeschool resource center" (co-op sort of place) 3 days a week, for my highschool education. It was the BOMB. I loved it, and the class structure was very college-like (take a class here, take a class there – age/'grade' was irrelevant, if you were capable intellectually/emotionally, you were ok to go).

    Need some math your mom can't do? No problem. Nobody in your family plays guitar, but you want to learn? Done. Like to eat lunch and play games with an all-ages bunch of kids? Let me show you our traditional playground equipment, and our rad forest path with big climbing stones, and the place we cleared one spring so we could do A Midsummer Night's Dream outside…

    Check out the NCACS (National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools) – they're a good resource, though you have to pay for the school directory they put together (lame). Wikipedia lists a couple schools, though.

  22. I was religiously homeschooled, and while it was a fantastic experiance in some respects, there were other issues that made it a bad choice for me because of the more extreme religious elements (no radio, tv, internet, friends were restricted, curriculum didn't have any science in it).

    However in despite of that, if A: we have the money for me to stay at home and B: I can find a community who is not entirely based on religious beliefs, I would be happy to home-school my kids up until high-school. Then I would send them to school, since I think highschools provide things such as more expensive equipment and I want my kids to have a degree of independance that I did not have in my highschool years.

  23. I am a full time instructor at our local community college and I homeschool my son. The other faculty members are supportive of my decision and help me plan the class schedule so I only teach mornings and I can be home by noon. With the advent of online classes this has become easier.

    We started when we had so many problems and frustrations in 2nd grade (and a 7 year old that couldn't read) that I thought, just like the article says, that I could do better.

    My son is 11 now and I never regret the decision to homeschool. We have such a supportive community of families and lots of activities to participate in that I'm sure he doesn't miss a thing. Tae-Kwon-Do, Scuba, Swimming, activities at the YMCA, "kids college" at my school, homeschool band/choir and many others have been part of our schedules.

    I use the K12 system since the curriculum comes pre-packaged from many subjects and I can get teacher assistance if needed. Khan academy is also an excellent set of videos for history, science and math. We also tried Laurel Springs, which is an online, accredited elementary-high school that is good for subjects that may be too difficult for you to teach, like upper-level math(little pricey though).

    Those of you thinking of doing it, just jump and go for it. The education that you can provide to your child is way better than what is going on in public school.

  24. Honestly, I would never consider homeschooling. I think that the social aspect of school is just as, or in fact probably more, important than the education students receive. I was a fairly quiet kid until high school, and I don't see how I would have learned the social tools to get through life affectively if I hadn't been forced into social situations at school.

    We do live in Canada, and maybe this has something to do with it (I'm not familiar with the American school system), but I didn't experience any "bad" experiences in public school. Yes, I got teased, I lost friends, I got in trouble, etc etc, but things like that are going to happen once the child grows up and enters the work force, so shouldn't they have the skills to handle it? I worry that homeschooling would shelter my kids too much from reality. Unfortuneatly, the world we live in isn't perfect, but we still have to live in it, work, deal with people on a daily basis, and we will still find ourselves in undesirable situations. I feel it would be better for my children to experience a taste of that, under the supervision of teachers and parents, so that when they enter the grown-up world they won't lack the social skills necessary to succeed.

    On a side note, what do homeschooled/unschooled kids do if/when they want to attend university? If they have no formal eduacation or grades, then how can they gain access to higher education, which is necessary if they want to work in any sort of professional field? I think I would be doing my kids a disservice by making the option of university so much harder for them.

    I plan on being very involved in my children's school lives (parent/teacher meetings, pta, forming friendships or at least being accquaintences with my kids' friends' parents, etc) and frankly, can't see many negatives to placing them in public school.

    • There are so many misconceptions about homeschooling, it makes me sad that many parents and adults in general jump to assumptions without knowing more about how successful families make it work. There will always be families that find it didn't work for their child, just like there are those that find public school doesn't work either, but don't throw the whole thing out because of the back and forth. We all experiment with things in our lives to find what works for us, students are no different.

      All students that are homeschooled are asked to meet benchmarks just like in public school, through standardized testing and term tests. Whether this is done on the same schedule as the local school district just depends on the place. Homeschoolers interested in going to college register to take the SAT and ACT just like normal students, and most will have a record of their past grades in various benchmarks to make up for lack of "classroom grades". They may have to do a little more proving to show they have the knowledge, but this has never stopped anyone from going to college if they wanted to go.

      As far as socialization goes, I would rather my child socialize in normal environments like the library, playground, various workplaces we visit, museums, parks, playgroups, sports practices, skill lessons, and many other things (accessible to everyone), than deal with the fake social microcosm and bubble that happens in classrooms at schools. No where else in the world will you be placed in a situation where the only people you have to socialize with are 20-30 other people the same age group as you. Go anywhere in "real life" and your kids will have to know how to respectfully speak to elders with old vocabulary, communicate effectively with other ethnic groups from around the world that are not always present in schools, and socialize with others who will be more than 5 years age difference and going through different life stages. They do not learn this from hanging out 30+ hours a week with their classmates, they learn it from parents and others around them in their day to day interactions. Children watch adults and mimic what we do. They practice these skills every day on each other and on others.

      My mother was a teacher for 20+ years so I have a great respect for what they do. I know the system works for many who would otherwise not have access to an education at all, but it should also take into consideration the individual student and what setting they would perform best in.

      To answer the original topic, I would LOVE having my children in a homeschool co-op. Currently we have one infant son and it is my intention to homeschool him in some capacity even if we don't have a formal co-op to join.

      • It's always quite shocking to me when people say homeschooled kids lack socialization. Every single homeschool kid I know is kind and respectful and empathetic and invested in her environment. Much more so than the "schooled" children I know. And personally, I find the social dynamics of your typical American middle school to be totally unacceptable and completely antithetical to anything resembling "real life".

      • It bothers me that we are getting to the point where we think public education is only for people "who don't have any other choice." I think parents who are concerned about the way public education works might spend some time and energy trying to make reforms to the system rather than yank their own kids out and let the poor people suffer with a sub-par system. Shouldn't we all be more concerned with making public education just as good as homeschooling? I'm sure no one here would argue that wealthy kids are more deserving of educational advantage, but our actions as a society are speaking pretty loudly on this subject.

  25. My husband and I both found the social environment at school really damaging from very early on, so we are keen to keep our children out of the system. The kind of "socialisation" that occurs at school can be so negative, particularly for introverted kids. I started questioning whether I (or anyone else)had the right to control every waking hour of my childs life for 12 years in the name of necessary preparation for some imagined future career. I think of my children as having valuable lives and interests from the start, rather than childhood being a 12 year period of training "whether they like it or not" for a state-defined definition of adulthood or real life. Their lives and happiness right now are important to me and I really think the whole family can learn the most and have the best quality of life by home/unschooling.

  26. This is an interesting thread. I used to really dismiss home schooling, but in the last 5-6 years I have become much more open minded about it. Now, I take a kind of "do what works for your family" approach and just don't feel biased in one direction or the other. I think some of this comes from university teaching experience — I have had some students from home school backgrounds who really struggle with structure and due dates, and I have also had some truly extraordinary, intellectually curious, just amazingly wonderful students who come from home school backgrounds, too. I also recognize that I, as a child, would have probably liked some element of partial home schooling.

    That said, we do not plan to home school. Part of this is for work reasons, and part of this is because we have observed through daycare / preschool that our son really thrives in a structured "school" setting. Our child in utero right now might be very different, but for the child we already have, he just seems like a kid who will adapt well to public school.

    But who knows — if he has learning challenges and if school turns out to be a bad environment for him, we would consider home schooling. My main concern is that the home school community where I live is very very religious, and I would want to tap into a more broad-based community to supplement what we do at home.

    I will also say that one thing that frustrates me about some discussions (not here on Offbeat Mama) about how home schooling / un schooling are growing is that it sometimes seems like yet one more addition to the mommy pressure — you have to have a "natural" childbirth (I know Offbeat Mama doesn't like that term — I am using it to refer to discussions elsewhere), you have to breastfeed, you have to co-sleep, etc — now it seems like "you have to home school" is part of the expectation, too, and I think this can just exacerbate the mommy guilt.

    Interesting discussion.

  27. Right now, we're sending our eldest to a private school and we really love it! Since it has Pentecostal leanings, I am a little concerned about things like sex ed and what they'll say about the LGBT community. Hopefully, we provide enough balance at home that our girls will continue to be open-minded, loving, caring individuals.

    Why do we love this school? It offers traineeships for older students (even a commercial pilot's traineeship!), flexible learning programs, teachers that enjoy being there and a really great student cohort. I was worried about how Jazzy would fit in because she has a speech problem and she's already had other kids being mean to her about it. Nope, not an issue at all. Her classmates don't notice or don't care, her teacher can understand her and is giving her extension work because she was bored, and she's really enjoying going to school.

    I love the idea of homeschooling, but it's our last resort because I don't want to risk repeating my mother's abusive behaviour. I have joint issues that our girls have a chance of inheriting and it's really reassuring to know that we can homeschool or do part time schooling through the school if the girls do get sick.

  28. I currently don't have children, but since I work in a library where we get lots of creative and wonderful homeschooling families, I have thought about this and talked about it with my husband.

    We've basically agreed to put our children in public schools and offer lots of enrichment activities on the weekends and evenings, etc (reading together, science experiments, math games, and so on).

    Although I think homeschooling is a wonderful option, it will probably not work for my family financially or as I get a lot of support and self worth from the job I do.

  29. For us, we're planning on homeschooling, leaning towards the unschooling side of things. I did just discover that there is a sudbury-style democratic school right near us, with actually affordable tuition, so when the time comes (our kids are still twinkles in our eyes at the moment), we may consider that, as that would be my top choice if I had to send my kids to school, a free or democratic school. 3rd choice would be a Jewish Day school, but I'd try really hard to do homeschooling or free-schooling first.

  30. My son goes to a Sudbury school (I had a guest post here on Offbeat Mama about it) and it is our dream school. My son loves it. The tuition is cheap by private school standards and there is tuition assistance available, and I have always managed to make it work financially.

    Sudbury schools have several of the benefits of home schooling/unschooling, foremost of which is what Ebeth mentions about homeschooling teaching kids to be proactive about their education. They also avoid what Alexandria M. mentions about the "fake social microcosm" of traditional schools–kids at Sudbury schools are used to mixed age groups and can talk to younger kids or adults with comfort.

    I know a lot of homeschoolers and unschoolers have lots of activities and social lives, but those who feel they might not be able to arrange that, or who want their kids to have the experience of learning in a democratic community: check if there is a Sudbury school near you!

  31. Despite the fact that I'm quite confident I could home school, I doubt I will. As strange as it seems, I think that the only way home schooling really works is if the parents are outgoing and really have a lot of connections to other people. My SO and I are very expressed introverts and would not give a great social experience to any children we might have.

    But there are some significant things I'm worried about in public schools. We are very privileged to have the ability to someday move into a district with a good school district, but public schools will always have their shortcomings. As a 'gifted' child in public schools, I did learn valuable lessons about interacting with people who hated school and were not as academically gifted, but at the same time I feel it really affected my drive to learn (after all, you already know everything you're going to learn this year) and my ability to face problems I couldn't immediately see how to solve.

    College was a system shock. For the first time ever, I had to study for a test. For the first time ever, I didn't understand something immediately.

    So if my future children do end up academically gifted, I'm not sure what we'll do.

    • I had that same shock upon entering college. You mean I have to study? For several hours? Just to get an okay grade on this exam? I'm a product of a really good public school and had even racked up some college credits by the time I graduated, but I faced no significant challenges until my freshman year of college. That being said, I was an outgoing kid and really enjoyed the whole public high school experience…even as an overweigh, socially awkward teen.

  32. We homeschool our 11th grader and didn't start out that way. From kindergarten through most of 8th grade, he struggled HARD in public school (a "good" school by any standard). He was one of those that just kept falling through the cracks, regardless of my involvement, and every year got worse and worse. His self esteem was in the dumps, a few very negative teachers and their words hit him hard, and he was bullied because of those teachers' bullying in the classroom. There are also great teachers he had (I'm a university teacher, I respect the field!) but for a kid, the negative outweighs the positive a lot of times. Sometimes that beloved public school socialization is really awful for a kid.

    I didn't begin to homeschool him for his education, I began to avoid him committing suicide. I was terrified for him.

    I pulled him out in April of his 8th grade year, I didn't think he'd live to see the end of the year. No joke. We obviously also were taking care of medical/therapy needs already but it all just was getting worse. It took my son almost a YEAR of being homeschooled to stop saying horrible things about himself. We found an amazing performing arts school that is very welcoming to homeschoolers (and have a 2 day a week core program) and he has thrived there! We part time homeschool and part time attend his performing arts school. He is now strong, confident, has great friends, volunteers for a crisis nursery, wants to go to college to be a therapist for children and teens, and he's just amazing. I'm not saying we always know what we're doing, but if something is not working we can CHANGE it and really respect what he needs for his future success.

    And as an 11th grader, we've been looking at university and been happily surprised that schools are knowledgeable and very welcoming of homeschooling students. They still take ACT/SAT exams, submit writing samples, letters of recommendations from non-parents, and submit transcripts of what they've taken. And ALL grades are subjective, all of them, they are a crappy measure of learning because it's up to each individual teacher…some grade more harshly, some more strictly, some more easy going, etc. But your transcript shows what courses you've been experiencing at least and what your pattern of grades might be. All Fs would be concerning but all As at a less rigorous school might not mean as much either (I saw that in a program I worked in for under-served kids, they were so freaking smart but per their school, they were taking pre-Algebra in 12th grade.)

    Point is, there's a lot of ways of homeschooling and I'm grateful to have found it. My other kids still go to public school, since they are happy and thriving there. But for this one boy, we needed it. And universities are increasingly savvy about it, we've been very happy with admissions departments that we've talked to.

  33. In a pretend world where I can pick whatever I wanted for my child's education he would be in a public school with a classical structure, where the student body is not primarily white, and most students, maybe even some classes, are bilingual. There would also be uniforms or a really strict dress code, no soda or candy vending machines, and the cafeteria would serve whole food meals actually prepared in house by real cooks, preferably the majority of the food served would be local and organic. All the staff, from teachers to janitors, would be well paid with good benefits, and they would not teach to the test (I'd be opting out of state tests anyhow). Kids would not have hours of homework upon coming home either. No more than an hour each night, and that shouldn't even happen until the kids are older.
    Obviously, no such school exist, so I have to work with the options I have. Homeschooling is appealing to me on a lot of levels but in the end I don't know if it's going to work for our family. I can't even manage it now when my only job is full time student. I certainly won't be able to when I graduate and get a job. And I think I want a little more autonomy between me and my son (and future kids). I'm all about AP and strong family ties, but I want to walk a middle road. I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to if I home schooled. I know many people are able to but I worry that I can't.
    So my options are public, private, and charter schools. In theory I prefer to support public schools, just on principal. I have moral issues with charter schools and there's no way I can afford private. Plus the best place to try and change the public school system is from within, right? But now, for my son's preschool (which I feel he needs due to having a strong lack of structure in his current life, and because he'll have to start kindergarten a little on the later side), we'll probably go for whatever is the highest quality we can afford. Right now it's looking like a classical charter school.
    I also feel torn between classical education and Waldorf, which probably seems crazy to those who are familiar with both, but there it is.

  34. I love how thoughtful everyone has been in the comments here–schooling is *such* a personal decision, and it is fraught with all sorts of passionate opinions.

    My personal passionate opinion is that I will homeschool my children, supplemented with private tutoring for the subjects in which I am weak.

    I never (EVER) thought I would feel this way until I taught high-school for three years in California. The poor curriculum, the focus on teaching to the test, the (@#$%ing) state standards, the frank abuse of teachers that occurs in this system…UGH…I have no desire to subject my children to ANY of that.

    And, obviously, my experience is not in any way universal, but I would encourage all parents to research their options before making a decision. Go visit the schools, talk to the administrators, find out what curriculum is being used. Be educated in order to make a wise decision about your child's education.

    That's really what it comes down to–make an educated choice, knowing that you have many options open to you and your family.

  35. We are homeschooling. We made this decision because we could not afford private education in addition to affording college tuition and our local public schools are unbelievably pathetic. Our elementary school no longer has art, music, or science programs. SCIENCE!

    That said, at first my ideal world would have been a private school in line with our educational values…but honestly now that I've spent the last 18 months working my ass off to learn about child development and education and curriculums and resources in our area and blah de blah blah blah…well…okay, I'd pick homeschooling.

    But the only reason is because we have sort of the perfect system for our family. My parents – a mathematician turned woodworker and an art historian – live four houses away. We live on the same street I've lived on my whole life, which means our neighbors (a world-renowned botanist, several retired Waldorf teachers, a retired kindergarten teacher, an environmentalist who teaches animal tracking for kids, THE LIST GOES ON) are like family and are all super stoked to help us out. The botanist has been working with me about an hour a week lately to develop preschool-appropriate botany units: parts of flowers, how native plants work in the ecosystem, etc. We also have access to several native speakers of a variety of foreign languages (we're only introducing Charlotte to English, French, and German right now, but in about a year we'll also bring in Spanish).

    And we have local co-ops. There is a part-time co-op that runs three days – parents pay in and choose two days for their kid(s) to attend in a multi-age group. We can choose for instruction to occur in Spanish with a native speaker or in English. There are also distance co-ops where the parents meet with their kids once or twice a week for science groups or field trips or nature hikes. There's a nature group – five families with kids – that meets three times a week for hikes, rock climbing, wilderness survival workshops, bird watching, sustainability ed, etc.

    In short, Charlotte is going to be home-educated, but she will have four adults participating equally in her education plus several other adults who will be involved to lesser extents. She will be learning three foreign languages from native speakers, experiencing wild nature everyday, and seeing a variety of different kids both with and without parental involvement however many days a week we feel is appropriate (probably four days with the same group of kids and the fifth day with a different group of kids).

    Right now, after having slaved away to make home-education do-able for our family and our family's values, I can't honestly say that I'd pick private school after all with unlimited funds. I'd still pick homeschooling =)

  36. My fiance grew up attending Catholic elementary and middle school, and I am a product of public education. We both did well under the traditional education system, but we were both out of school before No Child Left Behind, and I honestly don't know what the climate of public school is right now. In a perfect world, I'd send my child(ren) to a formal school setting, but one in which they had the freedom to do some self-directed learning, able to choose their own subjects and spend as much time as they needed to master them. It sounds like free-schooling is what I'm after.
    It really does depend on where we are geographically when our kids hit school age. The public schools were we currently live are heavily influenced by the dominate religion, and that worries me. I'd rather send my children to a private religious school in a religion of our choosing, then have it pressed upon us at public school.
    Homeschooling has never really been under consideration. I could do it, but I feel as though I'll be the type of mother who does better when my children and I spend some time apart each day. I also don't want to leave my career to educate my children unless there is no other option under which they could thrive.

  37. I am absolutely NOT interested in home schooling. I think the public schools near us are good, but if they weren't I'd look into charters or MATCH schools before home schooling.

    Part of the reason is that I just have no interest in being my kids' teacher… sorry! I have other things I want to do and although I am enjoying being home with my kid (and future kid) now, I look forward to the school years when I can work on nurturing my business and writing aspirations more. I do not think I would make a great teacher.

    The other reason is that I'm not sold on the idea of education that is tailor-made to suit an individual child's personality and interests. I actually graduated from a college that was structured that way, and although it was right for me in my early 20s, I did see that it allowed students to be very narrow in their intellectual & creative pursuits, and to do only what they liked. I think there is value in being exposed to things that may not be fun or even that fascinating at first, because that's the way you expand your mind and your ability to think. I also think there's value in simply disciplining yourself to do work that isn't inherently exciting. I think there's value in learning to get along with students and teachers you don't always like or agree with. As a parent I feel that pull to make life fun and engaging and smooth for my baby, but I doubt that's really best for him in the long run.

  38. I was homeschooled for all 13 years. I disliked it more than I liked it, but 2 years of college taught me that it wasn't the home part – it was the school part. As a child who got bored easily, staying focused on my school work was difficult, but I now realize that not having any freedom in what I wanted to study or learn at a public school would have been much worse.

    My husband and I have decided to homeschool. My oldest is in kindergarden right now and he's loving it. Like me, he gets bored easily and becomes destructive when he is bored. By putting my own experiences to use and letting him take some of the lead in what he wants to learn, he is excelling. I'm not a natural born teacher, and it is frustrating sometimes when I know that he can do something (such as read) but he refuses for weeks (only then to have a "breakthrough" and being reading absolutely everything he sees). For me, the trick has been to give him the tools he needs and to know that he will use them when he is ready. The payoff has been worth it. After 3 weeks of telling me he couldn't read, my 5 year old sat down one night after dinner and decided to figure out how to spell "pterodactyl" all on his own. Homeschooling is far more about encouraging and motivating than teaching. I'm not worried about high school, even though I can't possibly teach him algebra or chemistry. That's what textbooks, videos, and tutors are for. My job is to show him how to use those tools and motivate him to do so.

  39. I worry that sometimes parents put their own issues onto their children. Just because a parent isn't a fit for a school at given point in time it doesn't mean that their children won't be a fit at a different point in time. I get this a lot at school (I work in a range of schools as a relief teacher)… a parent will pull me to one side- tell me how much their child hates school and has challenges, and how they also hated it. More often than not, the parent leaves, the kid settles and has a great day.

  40. I'm not a mom yet, but I am both a homeschool graduate and a Master's candidate in education. I feel like the decision about how to school your kids is an incredibly personal one, but I'd advise parents to carefully reflect on their motivations for keeping their kids out of school before deciding to do so.

    Homeschooling wasn't much of a big trend where I grew up until a couple of years after my parents decided to keep me out of school, so the community was small, and I've been able to keep in touch with (or stalk on Facebook) most of the people I knew as a kid. I'm in my mid-20's now, and looking around at the people I grew up with, there's a really stark dichotomy that I can see. The people who ended up doing really well were the people whose parents kept them home for a couple of reasons: either because they felt that they could do a better job of education than their local school district (my mom's reason), or because their child's learning style was so out of sync with the way schools have to be run that it would be detrimental to their child. I knew a lot of people who kept their kids out so that they could control their children's education, or so their kids wouldn't be "exposed" to the world, or isolationist reasons like that, and those kids did not turn out as well–lower overall education achievement, more damaging life choices (in terms of drugs and alcohol, unwanted pregnancies, etc.).

    I'm not saying nobody should homeschool. For me, it was really positive, because I learn at a weird pace, and it gave me time to pursue interests that I would have been hard pressed to find time for in public school (theatre, anthropology). I have a friend who was unschooled, and now he's getting his Ph.D. in chemistry. It works for some people, it doesn't work for others; my advice would be to be flexible. If you homeschool and your kid wants to try public school, let them! If you send your kids to school and they want to try homeschooling (and it's a feasible option for your family), let them! Kids know what they need.

    Just a last note in regards to the assessment of homeschooled students: it varies widely from district to district. Where I grew up, homeschoolers have the option of registering as a "private school", which means I didn't take a single standardized test until the ACT. And that, in turn, meant I cried during the ACT because it was so stressful and foreign. We made up my transcript out of thin air. It's why I'm so opposed to people who want to give full accreditation to homeschool diplomas…often, they are meaningless. I consider myself a bright and accomplished young woman, and I backed it up in my collegiate success, but my high school "diploma" was a total fabrication.

    • I totally agree with this. I saw the same things with kids that I grew up with – the ones that were home schooling for the sake of education and to allow their children's unique learning styles and interest room to flourish did great. The ones that just wanted to protect their kids from just about everything – not so much.

      I also agree with the accrediting of home school diplomas. Mine was a fraud, too. I had taken plenty of standardized tests, both at home and in public school settings. I did well on my SAT and could have easily attained and GED. But the high school GPA and transcript that was sent to the college was totally made up. I didn't finish a lot of my courses and my mother had no idea how to calculate a GPA. I do think that home schools should have to take standardized tests and pass and GED exam.

      My choice is to home school my son, not because of my issues (if that were the case, I most likely wouldn't home school him, I was a really lonely kid) but because I think it's what will fit him best. I know the mistakes that my parents and others made, and I know what to do and not do, for the most part. I'll most likely do the same with my future kiddos, because I do think that my husband and I can do better tailoring their learning to them than the school systems one-size-fits-all.

  41. Just wanted to add my two cents. I have no children, but am an elementary school teacher in Canada. For years, I've felt that I would not want to put in my own kids in public education. I don't work in public education because I believe it works, I work there because I know the kids are stuck there, and I wanted to try and make their lives easier. That being said, my teacher training was HORRIBLE, and my access to quality training since then has been next-to-nothing. In order to better my abilities, I've had to seek out help on my own, outside of work hours. I'm extremely unimpressed with public education, and have thought of leaving my job numerous times. I want a job where I feel like I am making the world a better place, and unfortunately, public education isn't doing it for me.

    Of course, I recognize that education systems vary. Yet my main concerns don't seem to:

    1. Adult to child ratio – it's not even evolutionarily appropriate to have so many children together. Kids are more likely to orient to peers than parents as they grow up. Who do they really spend most of their time with? And it's near impossible to really find quality time with each student (I am within my first 5 years of teaching, I'm sure experienced teachers have more success).
    2. Students lack involvement in the outside community, and lack opportunities to study what really interests them. I know I don't remember most of what I "learned" in socials or science in public school. Why submit them to studying topics they won't remember? Why not foster their budding interesting in whatever floats their boat? We are learning about traditional aboriginal cultures in our class, but so many of them wish we weren't. It's a great topic, but being forced to study it can turn some of them off unnecessiarly.

    I'm sure I've got more, but this is clearly long enough as is. 🙂

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