Thoughts about how urban parents are changing the face of homeschooling

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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?

Comments on Thoughts about how urban parents are changing the face of homeschooling

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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 =)

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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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