You're Doing WHAT?!? Common Objections to Homeschooling
by Stephanie Marshall Ward
This article counters common misconceptions about home education.
"Maybe I heard you wrong?"
This was the reaction of my daughter's principal when he learned we had opted to begin formally home schooling. We had made this difficult decision after much research and soul-searching. We believed the school, though staffed with outstanding teachers and an excellent principal, could not truly meet our daughter's unique needs.
While our choice may have seemed unconventional and surprising to the principal, we were certainly not alone. The growing popularity of home schooling is probably the most dramatic change in education in the United States today. There are estimated to be over 2,000,000 home educated children (K-12), according to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI). Some observers have estimated this saves taxpayers over $10 billion per year (Ray, 2002). This option also appears to offer substantial academic benefits to home schooled students which, in turn, benefits society. Various studies demonstrated that home educated students achieved significantly higher standardized test scores (a difference of 15-30 percentile points) in reading, language and math than their publicly schooled peers (Ray, 2002). Furthermore, the academic benefits of home education have been shown to be even greater for students with learning disabilities (Duvall, 1994).
In addition to the potential academic advantages, home educating families enjoy many other benefits. It enables families to seamlessly integrate their religious, personal and cultural beliefs into every aspect of their children's daily lives. It can give parents more flexibility in creating their children's social experiences. It also gives kids additional time with parents and siblings, an immeasurable gift for many families.
I believe there is no one option which is best for every child or every family. I am a home educating parent who is also an ardent supporter of public education. We are both important players in one of our society's most critical and honorable tasks: nurturing the development of our children and educating our future citizens. Nevertheless, many home educating families experience skepticism or even hostility from their school districts and others in the community. Some common objections include:
- Home schooling might deprive the child of important social experiences (a variation of the often heard "your kids will not receive adequate socialization")
Virtually every home schooling family has heard this. I used to say it myself, before I became knowledgeable about home education. Because this is probably the most common misunderstanding about home schooling, much has been written about it. This is my response.
- What is socialization? Spending the day with 22 peers is certainly a social experience. But socialization is the process by which a child learns to relate to others, defines her own values in relation to the world, and gains the skills she needs to be a part of society. This is a process of social, emotional and spiritual growth. Professional educators – and, to a small degree, peers - can certainly play a role in this. But where does this primarily happen? Surely, we can all agree on this: it primarily happens in the family.
- But do homeschooled children socialize? I have yet to meet a home educating family who lives in a remote cave. Home school associations, friends, relatives, scout troops, 4-H clubs, churches, synagogues, and many other groups provide these opportunities. Most of these experiences take place in active, mixed age groups rather than in classrooms.
- Maybe publicly educated children develop superior social skills because of the regular, intensive interaction with their peers? Perhaps this depends on the individual experiences and needs of the child and her family. Our family found the answer to this to be a strong "No." Under increasing pressure from external educational standards, our schools are providing less and less time for recess and other activities for "getting to know each other" during the school day. Kids are sent into a playground, for as little as 15-20 minutes, with 40-50 other children. Often, this large group is supervised by only one overworked teacher. Furthermore, we had difficulty planning social experiences, such as play dates or scout activities, which might have better suited our kids’ needs. After a full school day, the bus ride home, and homework, we had little time and energy left.
- But kids can make so many friends at school! Yes, they can. They can also make many friends through family acquaintances, churches or synagogues, home school co-ops, and the many other activities in which most home schooled kids participate. Furthermore, not all children are able to make meaningful friendships in the public school environment. Our daughter’s public school days included rushed recesses and kids sitting around a lunch table teasing one another, chewing on bathroom humor, and singing songs about “shooting Barney” (yes, I mean that purple dinosaur). Opportunities for developing meaningful relationships were the exception rather than the rule.
- But your kids stay home all day! How will they be prepared for "real life?" Is spending the day with a group of 24 same-aged peers a prototypical “real life” experience? When our kids become adults, they will probably spend most of their time in mixed age groups, at work or elsewhere, or with their families. This sounds like the way home educated children spend their time, doesn’t it?
- For me, one of the principle advantages of home education is the freedom to create my kids'opportunities for interacting with peers, rather than being a passive bystander. At school, one hard working teacher watched 50 or more children at recess or in the halls. The fact that this creates the opportunity for forming cliques and "clubs" for the purpose of excluding other children, bullying, negative peer pressure, and other problems is well known.
I am able to ensure that peer-related situations are always adequately supervised.
At our homeschool co-op, for example, virtually all the parents are present during activities and free play. We are available to intervene when social problems arise. The situation can then become a teaching opportunity to help the children with their social skills. When my daughter was in public school and a group of kids refused to let her play whiffle ball with them at recess, a teacher did care enough to intervene. The teacher's response was to confiscate the whiffle ball and bat. I don't blame her. With 40 other kids to supervise, and a short period for recess, she had no other alternative. However, wouldn't it have been better to help the kids learn and practice the right way to play together?
- Home schooling might isolate the student from other social/ethnic groups A public school reflects the social and ethnic mix of the school district in which the child lives. My children attended a public school with the same racial mix as our own neighborhood. They had the chance to meet many children, but it did not create any special opportunity for experiencing diversity. Since beginning home education, we have joined two homeschooling associations. These groups have brought us in contact with families throughout several counties, including families of different religious and ethnic backgrounds not found in our own school district. Furthermore, the freedom to develop our own curriculum has created the opportunity to learn more about different cultures and faiths.
- Home schooling might deny students the full range of curriculum experiences and materials
There is an enormous number of home education curricula and other learning materials on the market today. Unlike school teachers, we have the freedom to select or create our own curricula and to completely tailor them to an individual student's needs.
Some critics, including the National Education Association (NEA), worry that our children will not receive a sufficiently diverse curriculum. Ironically, this was one of my main concerns about public education. Public schools seem to be under increasing pressure from external educational standards. This creates a tremendous focus on preparation for standardized tests. They also face other challenges, such as budget cuts. Critical subjects like art and music are sometimes pushed aside. Foreign languages are not offered at the elementary level. Direct study of nature is rare. Furthermore, students typically have little freedom to develop their own interests during school.
- Home schooling might provide education by non-certified and unqualified persons
I certainly do not want to diminish the training and expertise of professional teachers. Their professional credentials and experience are important, and the knowledge of the elementary school teachers who worked with my kids was impressive. However, we must also consider the education, talents and experience of the homeschooling parent. In addition to these abilities, the parent brings the special advantage of his or her unique knowledge of the child's needs, gifts, and challenges, and the opportunity to provide truly individual instruction. Perhaps this is why a study found the academic achievement of home schooled students was not adversely affected if their parents were not certified teachers or if they lived in states that do not regulate home schooling (Ray, 1997).
- Home schooling might not permit effective assessment of academic standards of quality
Every state has its own procedures for ensuring that home schooled children do not "fall through the cracks." In Virginia, we are subjected to the same performance assessment as public schools: our children have to perform adequately on yearly standardized tests. Though, again, the results of at least one study indicates that home educated students do not suffer academically if they live in states that do not regulate home schooling (Ray, 1997).
Fortunately, home schooling is "coming of age," and we are beginning to see the tangible, long-term results. Multiple studies have revealed that home educated students tend to outperform their peers on standardized tests, academic competitions, and other measures of educational success. This does not surprise me, since homeschooling offers some educational advantages. It provides an opportunity for a child to have a truly individualized education, designed to fit his needs and interests. It enables the student to work at his own pace. This allows him to progress quickly in areas which he masters easily, without the need to wait on the timetable of the entire class. This lets him to learn more material. It also gives him time to work more slowly on areas in which he needs extra help or subjects that are of particular interest to him. This allows him to learn in more depth.
- Home schooling might not provide accurate diagnosis and planning for meeting the needs of children of special talents, learning difficulties and other conditions requiring atypical educational programs
This may be the most ironic argument on this list. As a parent of a child with special needs (both giftedness and a learning disability), I have long ago stopped counting the heartfelt complaints I have heard from parents fighting to have their children adequately served by the public school special education system. Despite many wise and caring teachers, the system seems to work against them. This has spawned many school district battles and law suits. Many parents chose to home school specifically so their children's special needs could be addressed.
The greatest academic need of children with learning disabilities, and other special needs, is individualized curriculum planning and instruction. This is at the heart of special education laws and programs. Home schooling is the most individualized method of education available. Again, research has confirmed that the academic benefits of homeschooling seem to be greatest for children with learning challenges (Duvall, 1994).
Furthermore, our state law provides us with the right to request an evaluation, or special education services for a qualified child, from the school system at any time. But, wait a minute! This leaves it up to the parent to identify that child's special needs, since the child is not seen by professional educators. I contend that this is most likely to be the case, anyway. Therefore, it is fortunate that we are the best "experts" on our own children.
Home education, along with public or private schooling, is a viable option for families. It provides many academic, social and emotional benefits to children. I am hopeful that our society will become increasingly willing to fully support all families in meeting their children's unique educational, emotional, and developmental needs.
- Ray, Brian D. (2002). A quick reference worldwide guide to homeschooling: Facts and stats on the benefits of home school, 2002-2003. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, Pub.
- Ray, Brian D. (1997). Strengths of their own—Home schoolers across America: Academic achievement, family characteristics, and longitudinal traits. Salem, OR: National Home Education Research Institute.
- Duvall, Steven F. (1994, August 30). The effects of home education on children with learning disabilities. A paper presented to the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Copyright 2004 Stephanie Marshall Ward
About the Author:
Stephanie Marshall Ward has been a journalist, a professional counselor working with children in agencies and public schools, a "reader advisor" for library patrons, and a daycare provider. She is a home educating mother of three children: Sarah Stephanie, James Ernest, and Patricia Elizabeth, part time caregiver to Nathaniel Scott and Addie Marie, and editor of Growing Together Family Learning Newsletter.
Growing Together Family Learning Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 1, page 4
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