Full disclosure: I’m a homeschooler, and a former public school teacher. And I know the reputation that homeschoolers have in America of being wacked-out religious fanatics trying to shelter their children away from reality. I’m not going to deny that there of some of those out there, but I hate that they have become the face of homeschooling, because homeschooling is a WONDERFUL thing that I think more people should honestly consider. And I’d like to offer three scenarios in which I think you – yes, you – religious fanatic or not – should give some serious thought to bringing your child home and teaching him yourself.
1. If the school is not adequately meeting your child’s educational needs. This is a more common scenario than you might think. Parents often operate under the assumption that the trained professionals should know best how to help their child learn. They forget that the trained professionals have scads of children to deal with every day; that they only see them in the very unnatural, structured environment of the classroom; that they are limited in the time and resources they have to offer each child; and that they don’t know and love your child like you do.
Remember the old learning curve – the small percentage at the top who excel, the small percentage at the bottom who fail, and the large mass in the middle who muddle by? I’m convinced that the muddling mass in the middle could be excelling if they were taught in a way that works with how they learn – and the failures as well. Maybe you’re satisfied with the progress your child is making . . . but maybe you shouldn’t be. Maybe you could do better.
2. If your child is five years old. Or six. Or seven. I’m going to reveal a personal bias here: I think we start formal education much too early in America. I read an article a while back about the public school system in Sweden (or was it Norway?), touting it as one of the most progressive and effective in the world – and children don’t start school there until they are seven. Ever notice how many American kids hate school by 3rd grade? Maybe there’s a reason for that.
Young children don’t need to be “doing school” to be learning. They’ve been learning since birth. In fact, they learn far more effectively in an informal setting (and enjoy it far more, which may be even more important). If you’re an involved parent, you’re probably already giving them a better learning environment at home than they would get at school. And remember: we’re talking about kindergarten and first grade, folks. Nothing too difficult. Yes, you can teach your child to read – you potty-trained him, didn’t you? You got books and advice from other parents and you figured out how to do that; you can figure out the reading thing as well. Very few kids have special issues where they need trained educators to get them to read (although many, MANY kids simply need more time and less pressure . . . which they don’t get in school).
3. If your child is turning into someone you don’t recognize or like. I wrote earlier about my daughter’s and my impressions of what the school environment can do to kids. I never cease to be appalled at the stories my daughter tells me of the behavior of her classmates (and neither does she). Much of this is learned behavior. Too many parents, I think, watch their children disintegrate into social, emotional, and psychological messes, feeling powerless about the whole situation. They forget what powers they have. And one power is to remove that child from the environment that is feeding the disintegration.
Before I became a parent, a mother at my church told me that her son had asked her to homeschool him for his sophomore year of high school. After a personal spiritual awakening at church camp that summer, he realized he was in a bad crowd at school. He knew if he went back, he would fall right back into the behavior he now knew was destroying him – that he didn’t yet have the self-control to protect himself. He asked her for one year at home to build his strength before facing it all again. I found that remarkable. Not many teenagers (and almost no children) have the self-awareness and maturity to pull themselves out of a destructive place. They still need their parents to do that. We need to find the wisdom and courage to do it. We’re the grown-ups, after all.
I would be the last one to say that every parent needs to homeschool . . . but I would be the first to say there are many parents who don't who probably should. Yes, it is hard, but if you wanted an easy life, why did you have kids? Most paths with great reward are hard. They are also rarely regretted.