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"But, you're so ... normal." Nine times out of ten this is the first thing I hear when a friend or coworker discovers that I was homeschooled for most of my elementary and high school years. Comments like these, along with questions about my social life, happen frequently enough that I have come to dread answering questions about where I went to high school.
Stereotypes about plaid jumpers and social awkwardness may exist about homeschoolers for a reason, but if so they apply to a small percentage of homeschoolers. The reality behind these assumptions is they have more to do with parenting style than homeschooling. However, when the media spotlights families like the Naugler's (who lost custody of their 10 kids) the takeaway by the general public is: This is what homeschoolers are like. But what is happening in the Naugler's home is not a homeschooling problem. They have temporarily lost custody of their children because they are suspected of neglecting and abusing their children.
As a former homeschooler, I want to tell you homeschooling is awesome 100 percent of the time. I want to support the fight for freedom to educate at home at all cost. I want to tell you the accusations made about the Naugler's is persecution, not parental neglect.
The truth is, although homeschooling success was more common than homeschooling failure in the community I grew up in, failure did happen. Students fell through the cracks, parents allowed the stress in their own lives to take priority over their child's education yet were unwilling to consider another education option. Because of this, homeschooled children sometimes do finish high school without the tools they need to succeed in college or in the workplace.
Though I would venture to say we all know a public or private school student who also fell through the cracks, who never learned to read beyond a elementary level or simply dropped out.
To parents who are unwilling to consider alternative options ... Is it possible that they are placing an ideal above what is actually best for their child?
For my family, growing up homeschooled worked well; it wasn't all that different from growing up in public school. I found that to be the case for most of my friends who were homeschooled, my husband included. We did sports, debate, theater—often through the public schools or a parks and rec league.
I was fortunate enough to have a mother who was thorough and meticulous. She kept careful records and constantly compared our experience with others to ensure there were no gaps in our education.
We spent roughly four or five hours on school each day, significantly less than the time public school students spend in class. Even with a type-A mom, our days had a lot of variance. There were a few years when my dad worked evenings and we would spend the mornings as a family doing yard work, running errands, taking day trips. Lunch was our family dinner, and after my dad left for work at 3, us kids would pull out our crates filled with textbooks and do our schoolwork until 7 or 8. As we got older, we switched back to a more typical schedule because we were involved in extracurricular activities in the evenings.
I graduated with a high school diploma, not a GED, through our state homeschool association. But my mother was wise enough to know that homeschooling might not be the best fit for every kid and chose to enroll my older brother in a private high school and my younger siblings at our public high school.
Homeschooling provides an incredible amount of freedom for kids who are gifted or drawn to a specific interest. It can also allow for parents to focus in on an area of struggle that might be glossed over in a classroom setting. My last two years of high school, I worked part-time because I was able to get five days of work done in two or three days. I easily transitioned into a private university. Friends graduated high school with their associate's degree from our local community college and transferred into a four-year program or applied for medical school. As you can see, homeschoolingcan work so well.
More often than not, after I've answered questions about sleeping in, socialization and plaid jumpers, people want to know if I will homeschool my girls. That is a question for which I don't have an answer.
My husband and I are on the fence about homeschooling, we have seen it work well and we have seen it fail. What we know about homeschooling is similar to what we know about education. Decisions should be made year by year, student by student, family by family. I encourage families considering homeschooling to ask themselves the same questions we are asking.
Will our finances allow for one of us to stay home and devote our days to homeschooling full time? Will our child's personality thrive at home or are they better suited for a classroom? Will our personalities as parents encourage or inhibit our child's education if we keep her at home? Are there enough resources and extracurricular activities available for homeschoolers in our area? Does my child have a particular strength or struggle that would benefit from being at home? Are there circumstances in our life that will make homeschooling difficult at this time?
Ultimately, I can't say that I am for or against homeschooling. I am for parents making wise decisions concerning their child's education and re-evaluating each year to make sure their child is thriving. To parents who are unwilling to consider alternative options in place of their preferred form of education in the event that their child is not thriving, whether that be home, public or private school, I would challenge them to ask themselves why this is the case. Is it possible that they are placing an ideal above what is actually best for their child?
I don't know what the future holds for our family in this regard. We've settled on keeping our oldest home through pre-school. After that? Well, I guess we'll just see how it goes.