When the word “homeschooling” comes to mind, what do you think? If you’re like most public (or even private) school educators in the United States, chances are your ideas are very different from the current reality.
Or, perhaps we should say, homeschooling has evolved into a lot of things other than what we used to agree was “homeschooling”. The truth is, after a couple of centuries of education looking pretty similar to its’ origins, education is finally getting an earthquake of change.
Some of the change is great. Some of it is terrible. Some of it will take a long time and need a lot of revisions. One thing is for sure, change is happening, and every student in America is being affected, no matter where or how they are learning. Eventually, it will affect all of us.
Here are 4 widely believed myths about homeschoolers along with the facts. Each of these areas is a way in which the changes within the homeschooling community show a paradigm shift on the horizon for public education.
Myth 1: Homeschoolers, as a group, are homogenous - they are white, middle-to-upper-class socioeconomically, have many children, and are homeschooled for religious reasons.
The Truth: This used to be true, more or less. Now, however, in the U.S., all the research shows that homeschooling is growing steadily at about an 8% increase per year. In the past decade or so, the number of homeschoolers is said to have doubled.
Although more than half still primarily come from Caucasian families, there are rapidly growing numbers of families from African American and Hispanic populations.
Homeschoolers come from every socioeconomic class and can have two parents who work full-time, one parent who works full-time and one parent whose sole primary work is homeschooling, or they may come from a single-parent household. Any combination you can imagine in that scenario is not only possible now, but probable.
Most families who homeschool would be considered average in size, and faith is often still part of why some people homeschool, but there are many other factors involved. There is also a good-sized group that is experiencing rapid growth who consider themselves secular homeschoolers. For these families, homeschooling has nothing at all to do with faith.
Part of the growth in homeschooling, regardless of ties to faith, comes from the fact that many companies are now encouraging more employees to work from home via the internet. There are entire fields of employment, and very large companies, that now primarily use remote workers. This has freed a lot of parents to be able to spend more time educating their children.
That idea has also started to change how families see education. If parents don’t have to get up and physically go somewhere to work, why should children have to do so to be educated?
Here are a few other reasons families say they homeschool:
Negative Experiences in the Public School Setting
About one-fourth of all homeschoolers say this is the primary reason for them. These range from bullying among children, the growth of school shootings, poor classroom management, and personal issues with teachers and school staff.
Here’s an interesting fact, though: the negative experience doesn’t have to be direct trauma. Parents are leaving public education because of gun violence, period - not necessarily because it’s happened to them or even someone they know.
Students are likely to leave if anyone is being bullied, or if teachers and school staff are viewed as mistreating anyone.
Some of these are things we cannot affect, but there are things within this realm that can be changed.
For a Higher Quality, More Personalized and Individualized Education
This is where many teachers feel offended, but it truly is not personal.
The reality is, parents are seeing what we are seeing - more students in classrooms, higher incidence of behavioral issues, lower pay and support for teachers, not enough resources, etc…
The impact is striking enough that people are just shaking off the dust and saying they’re done with public education because they don’t want their children to be the ones suffering from bureaucratic and political games.
To Increase the Support Needed by Children With Disabilities
There are still many children who are not being served in the public school environment. The one-on-one setting of homeschooling is highly beneficial for children with many differing abilities.
Myth 2: Homeschoolers are socially awkward and have few chances to interact with others.
Homeschoolers sometimes struggle to find time to work on academics because they spend so much time socializing! Homeschooling is not as isolating as one might assume, especially now. There are playdates for younger homeschoolers, co-op classes for older students, and places like zoos, museums, libraries, historic places, and arboretums hold classes during the day specifically for them.
In fact, homeschoolers are generally just as able to hold a meaningful conversation with an adult as they are with another child, and they often spend time socializing with a much larger range of ages than other children. Because of that, they are often much more open to working with a range of individuals who have a variety of life and learning experiences.
Some parents are actually leaving the public school setting to increase the quality of their children’s social interactions. They say the amount of bullying and peer pressure along with the lack of socio-emotional learning that happens in a public school limits the opportunities children have to develop a wide, firm social foundation.
There is very little that you can do to compete with that kind of quality social interaction in the current educational environment. Now, if schools rearranged themselves into small learning communities, grouped kids on interest, ability, or anything other than age… perhaps there would be a fighting chance.
Myth 3: Homeschoolers end up at a disadvantage academically because of the lack of interaction with certified, degreed teachers.
This is the one thing you should say to a homeschooling parent if you want to make them really angry… and chances are, you’ll be really mad at whatever they say in response.
Because many of the parents and children who homeschool do so because of negative personal experiences in school, they don’t care how many degrees you’ve earned, what certifications the state has awarded you, or how many years you’ve taught. If you start a conversation with that information, you’ve already lost them.
We live in the information age. Teachers are no longer the gatekeepers for information. People can access literally anything they want to know just by speaking the words into a device with a woman’s name.
Do parents know all the background for why teachers teach certain things? Or how to present certain information so that it sticks? No, but as long as they have the internet, a solid curriculum by people who do, and the ability to use either, they really don’t need those things.
They know their child better than we ever will. They’ve been teaching their child for years. In the parents’ care, children learn to walk, talk, eat with a fork and spoon, use the bathroom, wipe themselves (well, usually), open and close doors, and quite a few other things. The parent is their first teacher.
You cannot compete with that resume.
The truth bomb for today is this: we are being replaced.
And to deepen the sting a bit, studies are showing that homeschooled children do as well and often better on things like standardized tests and in college classes. And with all their rich experiences, their learning is deeper, more personal, and a lot more memorable.
Should I Quit My Job Now or Later?
So what does that mean for public education? Is it over? Have we started circling the drain?
As Pete the Cat would say, “Goodness, no!”
But in order to keep up, we’ve got to change our gameplay considerably.
First, public schooling as it is known now is highly likely going to change. In northern states, snow days are becoming “online learning” days. In little time, schools will soon begin to realize how much cheaper it is for teachers to teach virtually.
School weeks will probably consist of days where students are learning in-person combined with days they are learning virtually, or completely independently. This already exists in the private sector. They’re called University Model schools, and they are increasingly popular.
There are also many, many students flocking to online charter schools. Alaska was a pioneer in these schools in the United States, although, in countries like Australia where there is more bush and wildland than people, it’s existed far longer than the internet. They’ve been doing this kind of “distance education” by radio and other types of communication for decades.
Now these schools exist across the United States, and families are flocking to them. In some programs, students never really meet a teacher and do their work independently with a parent, family member, or tutor.
In other programs, students are assigned teachers in the same way they are in a traditional setting. They may meet with their teacher(s) to go over assignments daily, every other day, or as needed.
Teachers also work from home. They meet with other staff members, hold online classes, grade and offer feedback on assignments, and sometimes even meet students in person for field trips.
A large majority of our students are able to learn on their own. We are no longer the necessity we often see ourselves as. In some cases, we have taught them to be dependent upon us, and that has dampened their interest in learning year by year until there is nothing left.
Learning has to be engaging and exciting. It must be personally meaningful. Students are finding fulfillment for that need outside of traditional education.
Parents have to feel connected and involved with their child’s education. They want to feel welcome. They have to know their child is safe physically, emotionally, and mentally with us. If those two priorities are not being met, we will lose them.
We can either choose to join the exodus and work as teachers from home, or we can grow into our role as traditional educators and take the best aspects from the eclectic, rapidly growing variety of ways students are being educated and cobble them into something new and better.
Take it from homeschooling families: the possibilities are endless and only limited by our imaginations.
In closing, here’s the final myth. This one isn’t about homeschooling families, though.
Myth 4: Parents are too busy to be involved in their children’s education, especially in the public education sector. Those who aren’t too busy just don’t care.
Truth: Many parents are desperate to be more involved. Schools are very intimidating for people who do not work there, even for those parents who are well-educated and accustomed to the environment. Many parents don’t know how to be more directly involved with their children’s education or have trauma leftover from their own school experiences.
One of the most important ways we can help those families struggling to be a part of a student’s education is to make the school a less intimidating and uncomfortable place for those who sincerely want to be involved in their child’s academic journey. We have to stop taking our jobs, our students, and their families for granted. We must find a new way to “do” school.
Homeschooling feels like the only way to make all that happen for some families. We need to combat that idea by providing more opportunities for families as a whole.