You might assume the small children counting change at the grocery store register or hightailing it into the library at 12 p.m. on a Thursday are off from school for some unknown holiday or exotic teacher preparation ritual. Despite the preponderance of kids of all ages out there on the street, this may not be the case. The hoards of youngsters standing on line at museums and pottery classes, or accompanying their parents to yoga or jazz ballet during weekday hours, may actually be among the 1.5 million children currently estimated as being homeschooled in the U.S.
The U.S. Dept. of Education’s most recent statistics show a slow, yet steady climb in the number of children whose parents eschew both the public school system and expensive, private schools, opting to take matters into their own hands and educate their kids on their own. The reasons for this phenomena vary and may be linked to ideology or geographic region. While the ranks of homeschooling families were once comprised primarily of parents citing religious reasons for their choice, the familial demographics of those opting out of formalized education has become wildly diverse and currently includes every stereotypical parental prototype imaginable.
“I realized early on that my daughter was a fidgeter,” says one Vermont mother whose child was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and who asked to remain anonymous. “I saw so much of myself in her at that age. My inability to sit still absolutely interfered with my desire to excel in school. Watching her struggle made me remember how frustrated I felt, having to sit, unmoving, in a classroom. In those days, ADD was only something you did with numbers and not a diagnosis. When my daughter started having the same types of issues, it occurred to me that her school environment was holding her back in the same way it held me back. Rather than take the school system on, I decided to homeschool my daughter so she could move around freely without feeling shame and learn at her own pace. So far, so good. She excels at math and is able to comprehend challenging concepts as long as they are presented in small doses.” She is not alone in her frustration with how the educational system handles atypical learning styles or learning disabilities. A Dept. of Education survey cites 73 percent of homeschooling parents as being dissatisfied with the academic instruction available in local schools.
Learning styles can be a significant factor in a parent’s decision to homeschool their child, but is not the only one. Kids, particularly those growing up in urban areas, may find the regular school schedule chafing up against their burgeoning interests in theater, dance or art. Some parents who opt to homeschool their children do so in an attempt to alleviate scheduling issues between traditional class time and time spent pursuing their children’s specialized talents. Advocates of homeschooling cite this as an admirable choice, but others argue that it is not in the best interests of the child.
Why not homeschool?
Teaching styles vary widely among parents who homeschool their kids. Some follow standard school curriculum, utilizing text books and following a schedule that includes math and English, while others opt to unschool, meaning that no curriculum whatsoever is utilized and each day is different from the next. Unschooling may be earmarked by a variety of trips and learning experiences and can be highly creative and child-led. But for some, these freewheeling unschooling days may instead be parent-led, pushing children to concentrate their efforts on interests of note for the adult rather than the child, or on religious ideology.
Arguably, an asset of attending regular school is the opportunity it affords kids to be exposed to a wide variety of subjects, not just those currently of interest, as well as a diverse group of people. While not all schools are created equal, the ability they give children to socialize with others is a big plus.
Recognizing the need for socialization, parents who homeschool typically attempt to create a social network for their children by organizing field trips and by joining homeschooling networks or groups. However, rarely do they encompass disparate types of people. Within urban areas, these groups may be ethnically diverse, yet similar socio-economically. In rural regions, the groups may be religion-focused or comprised of people sharing other common ideologies. Either way, it is a rare homeschooling parent who will include children who do not get along easily with their own. This can limit their child’s social experiences and make it harder for them to learn things like compromise or conflict resolution.
Can homeschooling make or break a child’s future?
Adults who were homeschooled often reference extreme social awkwardness as an obstacle they experienced upon entering college or the workforce. Others, whose teaching was steeped in religious ideology, note astonishment and even anger towards their parents because they were shielded from scientific learning and had no knowledge of subjects like evolution, the big bang theory or even the existence of dinosaurs. Some adults, however, upon looking back at their homeschooling days, express gratitude to their parents for letting them focus on career-boosting skills and teaching them the benefit of learning in the world as well as in the classroom.
Individuals vary as much as homeschooling styles do and, just like traditional school, it will work for some but not for others. It is clear the one constant that can make or break this situation for any child is their parent’s flexibility and willingness for the child’s needs to come before their own, allowing for course corrections that might or might not include the addition of traditional schooling. This will prove to be just as important of a desire for their child to achieve and thrive not only as an individual, but as a member of society.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.