The Sanity of Homeschooling Insanity

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The Sanity of Homeschooling Insanity

As a gen­eral con­cept, home­school­ing has a long his­tory. Pri­vate, in-​home tutor­ing was quite nor­mal in wealthy ancient Roman fam­i­lies. The pio­neers of the Amer­i­can west had to teach at home, at least until their set­tle­ment was big enough for a schoolhouse.

Home­school­ing did not really begin as a mod­ern cul­tural move­ment until the 1970s. At that point a fel­low named John Holt, a left­ist and human­ist edu­ca­tor, per­suaded hip­pies to include home­school­ing as part of life on the commune.

No mat­ter what Holt’s polit­i­cal lean­ings were, I can’t help but agree with him:

we must look beyond the ques­tion of reform­ing schools and at the larger ques­tion of schools and school­ing itself. Can they do all the things we ask them to do? Are they the best means of doing it? What might be other or bet­ter ways?”

John Holt’s influ­ence is still strong today, embraced by a cross-​section of home­school­ers who call them­selves unschool­ers.

Around the same time, Ray­mond Moore attracted socially con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tians to the idea of home­school­ing, even­tu­ally get­ting the atten­tion and approval of Focus on the Family’s Dr. James Dob­son.

In the 1980s, the hip­pie gen­er­a­tion mer­ci­fully ended. Mean­while, the con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian brand of home­school­ing flour­ished, and with it came the stereo­type: the fun­da­men­tal­ist home­school fam­ily.

This stereo­type con­tin­ued through­out the 80s and the 90s, per­haps fairly so. Even today, fam­i­lies who resem­ble the par­ody are not alto­gether uncom­mon at home­school func­tions I have attended.

I have also found a genre of blog­gers who describe their child­hood expe­ri­ences in iso­la­tion­ist home­school fam­i­lies–a trauma they must over­come. As first­hand accounts, they can­not be sim­ply dis­missed. Yet, my first­hand expe­ri­ence tells me these cases are aber­rant, not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the home­schoool community.

The hun­dreds of fam­i­lies I social­ize (“S” word!) with on a reg­u­lar basis are Chris­t­ian, but they cer­tainly aren’t iso­lated. There is tremen­dous diver­sity of back­ground, reli­gious prac­tice, and daily life. On park day, teenagers roam together, shar­ing stuff from their smart phones. The younger ones are run­ning wild, hav­ing sword fights and climb­ing trees.

Also, it’s hard to find a home­school par­ent who was actu­ally home­schooled them­selves as a child. The ‘fun­da­men­tal­ists’ may have paved the way, but they no longer define the move­ment. As Pro­fes­sor Reynolds noted, Buffy the Vam­pire Slayer her­self once asked, “What about home school­ing? You know, it’s not just for scary reli­gious peo­ple any more.”

Buffy was right. Today’s home­school com­mu­nity is less defined by reli­gion than it ever has been before:

Many par­ents do not like the empha­sis on stan­dard­ized tests; oth­ers remove their chil­dren because of bul­ly­ing. Oth­ers, like Pedersen-​Giles, real­ize their chil­dren strug­gle when asked to sit at a desk for extended periods.”

Many of my peers have told me they are home­school­ing because the tra­di­tional school wasn’t work­ing for them. Like me, they have expe­ri­enced the cal­ci­fied rigid­ity of an edu­ca­tional sys­tem that can no longer treat chil­dren as indi­vid­u­als. Like me, they have expe­ri­enced the time-​consuming impo­si­tions of a tra­di­tional school sys­tem, whether pub­lic or pri­vate. Like me, they have noticed that our edu­ca­tion sys­tem seems more inter­ested in indoc­tri­nat­ing our chil­dren than edu­cat­ing them.

Home­school­ing has been embraced by a whole new swathe of the Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion, for rea­sons beyond the ori­gins of the prac­tice. A twelve-​year vet­eran of home­school­ing recently remarked to me about a STEM class my son attends, “Ten years ago, no one would have paid for a class like this. Now we are so over­whelmed with inter­est that we have to cut off par­tic­i­pa­tion and turn peo­ple away.”

This new sort of home­schooler, it seems, just unplugs from the tra­di­tional school and plugs into local home­school scene, where they enjoy ath­let­ics, aca­d­e­mics, field trips, and the very novel con­cept of being in charge of their children’s education.

It’s almost like they are redefin­ing the very idea of “school.”

I’m just glad to be a part of it. I hope that shar­ing my expe­ri­ence helps some­one out there, look­ing for some san­ity in edu­ca­tion. Iron­i­cally, a fam­ily mem­ber recently told me I was ‘insane’ to homeschool.

The truth is, if you are will­ing to take the plunge, then san­ity awaits.

As a general concept, homeschooling has a long history.  Private, in-home tutoring was quite normal in wealthy ancient Roman families.  The pioneers of the American west had to teach at home, at least until their settlement was big enough for a schoolhouse.

Homeschooling did not really begin as a modern cultural movement until the 1970s.  At that point a fellow named John Holt, a leftist and humanist educator, persuaded hippies to include homeschooling as part of life on the commune.

No matter what Holt’s political leanings were, I can’t help but agree with him:

“we must look beyond the question of reforming schools and at the larger question of schools and schooling itself.  Can they do all the things we ask them to do?  Are they the best means of doing it?  What might be other or better ways?”

John Holt’s influence is still strong today, embraced by a cross-section of homeschoolers who call themselves unschoolers.

Around the same time, Raymond Moore attracted socially conservative Christians to the idea of homeschooling, eventually getting the attention and approval of Focus on the Family’s Dr. James Dobson.

In the 1980s, the hippie generation mercifully ended.  Meanwhile, the conservative Christian brand of homeschooling flourished, and with it came the stereotype:  the fundamentalist homeschool family.

This stereotype continued throughout the 80s and the 90s, perhaps fairly so.  Even today, families who resemble the parody are not altogether uncommon at homeschool functions I have attended.

I have also found a genre of bloggers who describe their childhood experiences in isolationist homeschool families–a trauma they must overcome.  As firsthand accounts, they cannot be simply dismissed.  Yet, my firsthand experience tells me these cases are aberrant, not representative of the homeschoool community.

The hundreds of families I socialize (“S” word!) with on a regular basis are Christian, but they certainly aren’t isolated.  There is tremendous diversity of background, religious practice, and daily life.  On park day, teenagers roam together, sharing stuff from their smart phones.  The younger ones are running wild, having sword fights and climbing trees.

Also, it’s hard to find a homeschool parent who was actually homeschooled themselves as a child.  The ‘fundamentalists’ may have paved the way, but they no longer define the movement.  As Professor Reynolds noted, Buffy the Vampire Slayer herself once asked, “What about home schooling?  You know, it’s not just for scary religious people any more.”

Buffy was right.  Today’s homeschool community is less defined by religion than it ever has been before:

“Many parents do not like the emphasis on standardized tests; others remove their children because of bullying.  Others, like Pedersen-Giles, realize their children struggle when asked to sit at a desk for extended periods.”

Many of my peers have told me they are homeschooling because the traditional school wasn’t working for them.  Like me, they have experienced the calcified rigidity of an educational system that can no longer treat children as individuals.  Like me, they have experienced the time-consuming impositions of a traditional school system, whether public or private.  Like me, they have noticed that our education system seems more interested in indoctrinating our children than educating them.

Homeschooling has been embraced by a whole new swathe of the American population, for reasons beyond the origins of the practice.  A twelve-year veteran of homeschooling recently remarked to me about a STEM class my son attends, “Ten years ago, no one would have paid for a class like this.  Now we are so overwhelmed with interest that we have to cut off participation and turn people away.”

This new sort of homeschooler, it seems, just unplugs from the traditional school and plugs into local homeschool scene, where they enjoy athletics, academics, field trips, and the very novel concept of being in charge of their children’s education.

It’s almost like they are redefining the very idea of “school.”

I’m just glad to be a part of it.  I hope that sharing my experience helps someone out there, looking for some sanity in education.  Ironically, a family member recently told me I was ‘insane’ to homeschool.

The truth is, if you are willing to take the plunge, then sanity awaits.