What exactly is homeschooling? There are a lot of misconceptions out there, even though it is becoming more mainstream. It is, simply, parents teaching their own children in their own homes the way they see fit. The ancients taught their children this way, and missionaries, parents of ill children, and people in remote areas have continued to do so. No state has ever prohibited homeschooling, and only since 1918 has America had compulsory education laws across the board. (1) The government has graciously provided public schools so that the poor have access to enough basic education to enable some competition with their wealthier fellows. But economics has always been a factor. The wealthier one is, the more ability he has to procure private academics or personalized tutors, which hopefully translate to a more comprehensive education and lucrative future. Olympians and child celebrities have always made use of these so that school does not impede their activities. The myth that homeschooling is a way to hide illicit behavior from authorities is just that. It is much easier to send a child off on the school bus and not have to take care of him. For the vast majority of homeschoolers, concern for giving the best education in the most caring and safest environment possible is the driving factor. Let’s face it: the vast majority of parents care about their own and will strive for their best.
But, like any exclusive education, it does not come cheaply. Most homeschooling families are single income, as father works his career and mother teaches the children full time at home. But this does not exempt them from paying taxes to support the local school, any more than elderly childless couples are exempted from school taxes. The family must figure out their own educational plan and purchase all curriculum necessary. Any outside classes such as music lessons, art classes, or sports participation are extra expenses. Extra-curricular activities are not available to students not enrolled in the public school system without special waivers and a lot of red tape. The average American household makes approximately $75-80,000 per year, as does the average homeschool family. Homeschooling costs, however, per child, an average of around $400-500 per year, and most have more children than average (68% have three or more children). Noting, however, that homeschool families are making the same amount on a single income, you might correctly guess that the average homeschool parent is more highly educated than the population at large (62% of homeschool parents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, as opposed to 28% of the overall population which had completed college.(2) Why would our best and brightest go to such sacrifices for the next generation, at the expense of their own personal career goals?
Homeschooled students score consistently above the 80% level in all standardized tests, significantly above their non-homeschooled peers. (2) One only needs to watch the news to notice that homeschoolers are consistently taking the awards at national spelling bees, geography bees, etc. But this really doesn’t hit the heart of the matter. Reports of falling achievement test scores and rising attrition and violent crime rates in the nation’s schools factor in. And intelligent, well-educated people are well aware that they are better equipped to teach and train their own children than an underpaid teacher with an Associate’s degree and 30 kids in an underfunded classroom. Since the newspapers always say that the most significant factor in student success is parental involvement, they might as well be intimately involved in the entire process of childrearing.
What is so important that I would go to all the trouble to look up and cite all these facts and figures? I have given my life to do this. I have gone without many things I had taken for granted that I would have as an adult. I have been questioned on my sanity, ability, and motives by family members and complete strangers. My children have been quizzed on bits of trivia “they should know at their grade” – as though there is only one sequence of learning that is acceptable and appropriate and that knowing the date Columbus landed in the USA is a viable measure of his knowledge. (That is our favorite family joke.) I have been belittled, jeered, and undermined once too often. I’ve had enough, and I’m standing up, even though most will still not understand. I have to speak my piece anyway. I am nothing special; my family falls squarely in the center of those statistics. But when my children achieved high school scores on the standardized tests I subjected them to during their elementary years, it was dismissed as something expected because they are brilliant children, after all. Who the hell you think imparted this brilliance??? Had this happened in public school – which it doesn’t – the teacher would’ve been recognized statewide as Teacher of the Year, been given a huge raise, and every parent involved would’ve sung her praises to her dying day. Children are born smart all the time, but without exposure to books and experiences and discussions of the ideas that make up our world, their minds are never trained to make use of those inborn abilities.
Now I do not believe that homeschooling is for everyone. It is not. It is definitely not for the faint of heart. It is hard work. It takes creativity and patience to not just care for toddlers, but help them to see where and how to contribute to those around them from the earliest age. They will stumble and make mistakes, but as they are trusted to handle themselves competently, they rise to the occasion ever more as they grow.
It is truly a No Child Left Behind scenario. The mother/teacher has a vested interest in mastering any difficulty herself in order to lead her child through trouble spots. If he is learning disabled, she will research solutions until she’s dead on her feet, but nobody will ever know. He will never be labeled, even in his own mind, that he is anything less than his siblings. He will see that he doesn’t ‘catch’ concepts as quickly as his brother, but he is taught in the same breath to work harder to earn the victory anyway. Likewise, a prodigy will be allowed to continue at his own pace, achieving greatness without the arrogance that might arise in a classroom where it is obvious he is running circles around his classmates.
My oldest is now nearing graduation and has already shown that he can successfully operate in the adult world. He has areas that need further development, of course, but has impressed the adults he interacts with that he is competent, confident, and trustworthy. Only his age prevents him from acquiring certain certifications for which he’s already passed all the requirements (and a few adults). His siblings are following right in his footsteps. Along the way, we have seen no adolescent rebellion or disrespect of authority in our family or those of our homeschooling acquaintances. Rather than being a sign of being coddled or overmanaged, I believe this shows appreciation and respect for the love and acceptance each child has received for his contributions from his earliest age. He is a worthwhile member of his community, so strives to succeed just as any adult would. My son and his homeschooled friends would much rather volunteer for community service than go to a rock concert or pierce their tongues. And while I get exhausted during the week teaching Advanced Algebra, Phonics, and Elementary Astronomy concurrently, the payoff of experiencing the wonder of a child discovering Jupiter on the horizon for himself or his first lunar eclipse at 2 a.m. is worth it all.
And that mention of the hour is why I describe homeschooling as my life. Real education must happen at the speed of life, if it is to adequately prepare for adulthood. If Grandma gets sick and needs care, we will turn our focus to health and medical studies while we tend her needs. She will be our teacher and the focus of our efforts. If the plumbing backs up, our studies turn to flow rates, pump statistics, and how septic systems break down waste. We have the freedom to take impromptu trips across country when Dad is called upon to travel with his business – and the children navigate and figure cost per mile, etc. along the way. We also have time to watch and assist an animal (or me) give birth or tend its last needs when that time comes. None of my children fear what life holds for them, for they know that God has led us into homeschooling just so they will be fit for His larger plan. Watching my children grow and knowing that every bit of knowledge they display is the fruit of my labor and prayers is more gratifying than any career I could have chosen. Because while a career would certainly have put more cash in my pocket, it would have benefited society at large to only a small degree. What I’ve accomplished here with God’s grace is much bigger: I’ve built a heritage to leave behind. And as my children go on to pass that heritage along to growing numbers of my descendants, my impact on the world will grow in ways that I cannot see now. Only history will show what I have accomplished; I can only see a smidgeon now. But what I do see is positive and encouraging. And that is why I will continue to the end.
1. Home School Legal Defense Association (www.hslda.org) – “Getting Started with Homeschooling” article on website.
2. National Home Education Research Institute, “Homeschooling Across America: Academic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics” (summary of study, Aug. 10, 2009)