Considering how modern education managed to enroll by the start of the 21st century the majority of all children worldwide (following the 1909 moment), the idea of homeschooling children seems like a retrograde move at first glance.
However, since homeschooling originated out of various necessities, and evolved into a legally recognized option, it is worth a closer look, pros and cons included.
The United States have an approximate number of 2 million students educated in the homeschooling system (accounting for a 3.4 percent of all American students). There are debates concerning the specific state regulation on the matter, as well as the official support for these students, their teachers and the homeschooling activities. Deemed by some as the “fastest-growing form of education in the United States”, homeschooling certainly raises a lot of interest, as well as constituting the object of debates and analysis, since it skips/approaches differently an important part from the standard social insertion process specific to human development.
Homeschooling debuted mainly in rural or underground areas, due to geographical or social factors. Over time, the secondary reason became the parents’ concern about the school environment, while the leading declared reason would be the parents’ intent to provide religious (typically evangelical Christian) or moral instruction, as the above source mentions.
Other common reasons, although perhaps not as much frequent, would be the parents’ occupational patterns (parents who move constantly or travel for a living), the families’ finances or location (isolated places that do not provide convenient schooling), or the state of some children’s’ health.
Whichever reason applies, homeschooling often takes place in partnership with public or private schools, where children attend some courses estimated to be necessary yet impossible to accomplish at home. Families usually opt in for foreign languages or sciences, while managing to teach the other main curricular elements at home.
Another declared reason consists of the desire to avoid one’s children from being bullied – an unpleasant and traumatic habit in many schools that many parents find it difficult to put a stop to.
Here is a typical enumeration of the most specific homeschooling reasons, from the point of view of homeschooling advocates:
- The wish for children to accomplish better results;
- The decision to employ alternative pedagogical approaches that are not available in local schools;
- The idea that homeschooling better develops family relationships between children and parents and among siblings;
- The decision to educate the child via guided and reasoned social interactions (a higher degree of personalizing social development);
- The need to provide a safer environment, away from “physical violence, drugs and alcohol, psychological abuse, racism, and improper and unhealthy sexuality associated with institutional schools”;
- The wish to pass on a particular set of values, beliefs, and worldviews to children and youth, one that parents feel it would clash with the standard educational process.
In summary, homeschooling appears when families need to dissociate their children from the immediate surrounding values transmitted via a standard educational process and cannot opt in for a more suitable alternative educational system or when material/geographical necessities make standard schooling impossible. In order for these children to be able to later integrate social requirements and to choose a profession or an occupation, families use homeschooling, providing the basic or above-basic knowledge, in accordance with the official curriculum.
There is also the case of public schools forcing students into homeschooling because they are struggling academically, and/or behaviorally, and the official system cannot cope with their presence, a practice that has been criticized by homeschooling adepts – see details here.
Another ad hoc reason for parents looking to home-school their children was their intent to sidestep the vaccine law, as The Guardian investigated in a 2015 article.
Arguments pro and against homeschooling
When homeschooling, families are able to better coordinate and personalize the curriculum, the daily schedule and the pedagogical approach of choice in order to suit each child.
Quality time seems like a default benefit, although not all parents are the best educators and it might bother the children to see the two roles reunited. Some youngsters prefer parents to remain parents and have a hard time accepting their parents as full-on teachers, therefore quality time may be the result of a struggle and many successive strategically adjustments in the parent/teacher – child relationship.
Freedom of thought and religious orientation (when compared with the set of principles taught via standard schools) are also quoted as pro arguments in homeschooling, yet the discussion here should be more nuanced. For example, when coming into contact with only one set of ideas, how much freedom of choice does a child really have? And would a parent who chose to home-school precisely in order to avoid his offspring coming into contact with values he does not approve of choose to present more approaches and different points of view on a certain matter to his children?
Arguments against homeschooling:
- The parents that home-school their children are obviously busier and more burdened with the responsibility of their young ones’ future;
- The investment in educational materials is likely to be higher than when children attend a standard school, since the persons who teach need to procure their preparatory materials, as well as the ones needed for the children; not only that these parents are not paid as teachers would be, but they are not exempt from paying public school taxes;
- The home may lose its cozy, home-y status, being perceived by children as school-like (that is why the teaching/learning space should be a clearly defined one, separated from other areas); it may become a cluttered, amalgamated space that does not favor order and structure;
- The social development of children has to be also provided for, via a proactive network of friends, similarly-aged kids, outdoor activities, cultural and sportive outings and so on; all things that a standard school would include in its program (although it might fail in many of them at times);
- Curricula is as important to find/establish, as it is hard to find materials for; the question of homeschooling educational materials has been approached in an interesting article from The Atlantic, following complaints from agnostic and atheist parents that un-religious materials are very difficult to find; parents have to meet the state guidelines and help their children stay competitive, while surfing between homeschooling materials and trying to adapt them to their own values and principles;
- Various other problems may appear, depending on the particular situation the children find themselves in; for example, when authorities fail to check the educational level reached by the kids, they may have the surprise to find that not all parents manage to properly educate their children at home, as you may see in this case; with children who attend standard schools problems are easier to spot.
Due to all exposed above, it seems that homeschooling is a valuable option when fully used for providing a better, safer education to children
Nevertheless, the importance of organic socialization is critical, letting children get used to the real world gradually, therefore deciding to avoid standard schooling comes with huge responsibilities for parents. They have to structure a consistent daily schedule, master the educational curricula and find the most suited materials in order to provide their home-schooled children with equal opportunities, as well as with a well-balanced life.
Not all parents are naturally endowed to act as teachers, but many can learn to become efficient educators. The process takes time, patience and financial investments. Therefore, homeschooling should not be adopted as a whim, but pondered carefully and taken extremely seriously. While in some cases home-schooling can prove to be the key to success and outstanding academic performance, it is hard to take such results as granted or associated by default with the study-at-home formula.