Home » Education » an average homeschooler: in summation

an average homeschooler: in summation


“Common Myths about Homeschooling”

If you search for that term, you’re going to find a lot of articles and videos– some from homeschool kids, but most from homeschooling parents. Most of these articles tend to focus on emphasizing how homeschoolers aren’t strange weirdos, that not all homeschoolers are like that. These posts try to put as much distance between themselves and whatever they perceive to be a “fringe” group that they think make the rest of us look bad. Usually, what gets identified as the “fringe” group is the sort of homeschooling culture I’ve spent the last few days describing: conservative religious (they might say “fundamentalist”) homeschooling.

However, these groups are not as fringe as they’ve been portrayed, and the problem is, what’s “fringe” changes to suit whoever is talking. Kevin Swanson, probably one of the most extreme examples of conservative homeschooling, labeled the stories in the Homeschooling Apostate article fringe“. Fringe, in the sense that many homeschooling advocates use it, doesn’t really mean “peripheral, not in the mainstream”; it means “a position that I think is more extreme than my own.”

So, Myth #1:

Conservative religious homeschooling has virtually no or very little impact on the modern homeschooling culture.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time beating this one into the ground, but I’d just like to point the people who believe this in the direction of the major state homeschooling conferences. Who is coming to these gatherings– still some of the largest and best-attended events in homeschooling culture? Vision Forum. Institute in Basic Life Principles (ATI). Many of the state conventions invite conservative or fundamentalist speakers (like CHEO inviting the Chapmans, although they have apparently withdrawn, possibly due to pressure from Homeschoolers Anonymous and other supporters).

Also, what’s still the most popular curricula? A Beka and BJUPress. Calling those “textbooks” anything but opportunities for fundamentalist indoctrination would be incredibly generous.

Who’s running most of the homeschooling culture media? Homeschooling World is probably still the most significant magazine, and their latest issues includes items like “4 spooky educational trends you should know about” and bemoaning girls who turn from “princesses” into “cowgirls,” articles on how to get your pre-schooler to memorize Bible verses daily, and other titles include words like “ominous” in reference to Common Core.

The Homeschool Legal Defense Association is one of the most powerful educational lobbying groups in America, and the agenda that they are constantly pushing represents an extremely conservative Christian position — in politics especially. Many of the avenues they pursue have nothing to do with homeschooling at all and are instead focused on keeping the US from ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and making sure the Florida legislature stays homophobic.

Myth #2:

Homeschoolers don’t need to take socialization seriously; social interactions with siblings, churches, and co-ops is more than enough.


Homeschoolers have no reason to be concerned about socialization; you’re doing your children a favor by sheltering them from the influences of The World.

Hopefully I’ve talked about that particular one enough.

Myth #3:

Parents don’t need any form of higher education in order to be good teachers. You do not need training to teach your own children– concerns about high school level materials are misplaced. You can receive enough help to overcome any of the difficulties you might face teaching advanced subjects like chemistry and calculus.

Although many students successfully opt to self-teach or to learn together with an interested parent, the options for children extend well beyond the family. Some families choose to get together to form study groups around a particular subject and to hire a tutor. Some students opt for community college classes. Others barter help with one subject for help in another. Classes over the Internet or the television are increasingly available options for many families, as are videos and computer software.  Learning options are excellent and varied so there is something to meet the needs of every family. [source]

Yes, there are resources for parents who do not feel comfortable teaching the more difficult high school subjects. Personally, I feel that most intelligent parents are capable of homeschooling their child through the elementary grades– however, just because they’re capable doesn’t mean they should, and I think there are parents who should not be teaching even the elementary grades.

When their children hit high school, there are all sorts of opportunities to help balance out what parents might lack– dual enrollment at a community college, distance learning, etc. You might be able to tell that there is a gigantic however coming, and you’d be right:

Although many students successfully opt to self-teach …

Even this article that focuses on “debunking” homeschooling myths admits that self-teaching is the standard. I cannot stress this enough: with extraordinarily few exceptions, fifteen-year-olds are not capable of teaching themselves high school subjects. Yes, many of us are amazing readers and our language skills supposedly test off the charts (when we’re tested, and all of those numbers are self-reported, so, grain of salt). However, that does not mean that we are capable of teaching ourselves things like literary analysis and how to looks for themes and symbols. We are especially incapable of teaching ourselves math and science, however, and that is continually presented as an “acceptable” option for homeschoolers– even though math and science is a consistent weakness in homeschooling.

This does not mean that I don’t think that no one should be homeschooled through high school. I think even high school can be done successfully, but the problem is you have to go pretty far out of your way, and many of the resources available put too much financial pressure on families that were already having a hard time buying textbooks. If you can’t, realistically, take advantage of things like paying to hire a tutor or sending your high schooler to college, then do something else.

Also, since this came up in a discussion a few posts back, giving your child a supposed “love of learning” is not a replacement for giving your child an education.

I find that particular argument to be extremely frustrating. Yes, I obviously love learning, and yes, that could be tied to my homeschooling background. However, and this is anecdotally speaking– I don’t think it’s really connected to being homeschooled. My parents helped give that to me, and they would have done that regardless of whether or not I was homeschooled. I have interacted with many homeschoolers in the last eight years who either hate learning or are so incredibly handicapped that even if they “love learning” they have none of the necessary tools to actually learn.

This idea is usually connected to what is hailed as “self-directed learning,” and unschooling advocates tend to talk about this a lot. Somehow, in these conversations, your child being “interested” in subjects and “pursuing” those interests is painted as being better than your child gaining a broad awareness and basic high school-level education. Speaking as a homeschool graduate who was permitted to pursue my own interests– I don’t use any of those skills today and I would really rather prefer being able to do algebra.

And… that about wraps up what I have to say. At least, until you all comment and get me thinking about something else I haven’t thought of yet! I’d just like to leave you with this: 20 Ways not to Respond to Homeschool Horror Stories.


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21 thoughts on “an average homeschooler: in summation

  1. *sigh*

    Ok the “how not to respond* thing pretty much stifled anything I would have to say. Which, I suppose, is the point. I’ll leave it there. (And, for the record, I agree that 90% of those are stupid/defensive responses)

    On the common core thing- I have never read the mags you mentioned, so I don’t know what their stances are, and have no opinion either way on that, but on the common core itself, I have a VERY strong opinion- it scares me as a parent.

    Not because the idea of having a common standard of education is a bad thing, not at all; but because 1) it’s been bum-rushed in- My son’s math teacher is having to write curriculum as they go along this year because texts aren’t available. Tell me how this is enhancing the kids’ educations, when teachers are forced to take time away from teaching to take on the job of a textbook writer?!
    And 2) I’ve read several of the lists of “suggested reading”… Now, as a lit major, and a writer myself, I am very anti-censorship. I get twitchy about petitions to remove titles from the school or public libraries. However, with that said, some of the material being presented is a) politically motivated propaganda, and b) extremely inappropriate, developmentally speaking. One example- The Bluest Eye as a late elementary-early middle-school book. IMHO, that book is best reserved for more advanced high-school level readers, or even college readers. It’s not that the material is so horrible we must shield our children’s eyes (although… pedophilia and incest aren’t exactly easy topics), but I do not believe that exposing 12yos to those concepts, in the way they’re presented in the book, is appropriate. (for those unfamiliar, abuse occurs from the offender’s viewpoint, and is extremely graphic.)

    Once more, in case I am unclear, since that was a misunderstanding in my previous comment, I’m not saying this to negate ANY of what you’ve presented, at all. Or even to defend homeschooling, and most certainly not to defend your experience.

    Not only do I not know you or your family well enough to make any such implication, I do not believe that some people’s negative experiences make homeschooling in general less valuable for those who’ve had positive experiences, or that positive experiences outweigh the negatives. In fact, quite the opposite, I’m thankful that you’re sharing both the positives and negatives of your experiences, so that others can learn, and hopefully do better, for another generation, not to mention so that others who have suffered bad experiences, and even abuse, can know they’re not alone.

    I’m just throwing the common core info out there because it would be easy to embrace common core if it’s presented as the opposite of fundy homeschool, but opposite isn’t necessarily better.

  2. however, just because they’re capable doesn’t mean they should,

    My wife is an excellent piano teacher, but she (and my daughter) were not able to cope with the student/teacher relationship. And that’s just piano. I can’t imagine trying to homeschool with that dynamic.

  3. There is an interesting correlation between the weaknesses in homeschooling in science and math and the general hostility within conservative Christianity towards science. It might be interesting to explore that connection. I wonder if the hostility is caused by the ignorance, if the ignorance is deliberate due to fear of the eeeeeeviiiiiiil science, or if there is some other set of factors causing that parallel.

  4. “giving your child a supposed “love of learning” is not a replacement for giving your child an education.”

    I think you may be knocking down a strawman here. I don’t think any advocates of the Thomas Jefferson education model, or parents who follow it, would say that it’s /sufficient/ to instill in your child a love of learning. What they/we would probably say instead is that it’s /necessary/. Children who dread school or who view learning as a chore are not going to be as successful, in school or in life. That’s true whether they’re in a public school environment or a homeschool environment, of course.

    • No, I’m not talking about a straw man. I ran this thought past hundreds of homeschoolers last week, and every single last one of them said “holy crap, yes! Heard that all of the time!” Many of them expressed the same frustration I mentioned.

      Have you read When You Rise Up by R.C. Sproul, Jr? Huge chunks of the book are devoted to “it’s not the education that matters, it’s ________ that you really need to worry about.”

      Did you see HSLDA‘s response to Josh Powell’s interview in the Washington Post?

      • I’m not sure what the “that” is that your putative hundreds of home-schoolers “amen”‘ed, I am simply saying that love of learning is not meant to be understood as something in tension against education — i.e. that you instill one or the other but not both — but rather as the precursor to an education, and the overarching motivation for education. And you still haven’t defined what you mean by “a basic education”, but I guess you simply mean “the stuff that high schoolers generally have been taught by the time they graduate.”

      • I have absolutely seen homeschoolers treat “a love of learning” as a perfectly suitable replacement for “an education,” especially secular unschoolers. (There’s a message board full of these people that’s sort of fascinating to lurk at.)

  5. This sounds surprisingly familiar. Public education goes through cycles and the idea of self-directed education is one of the extremes (kids know what they need to learn! Instead of straitjacketing their minds, let them free!) that crops up among reformers every generation or so. But this seems to be a step beyond that, and more widespread.

  6. This has been a really fascinating series to read — thank you!

    I don’t homeschool, and was not homeschooled. I’ve periodically considered the option of secular homeschooling and then dismissed it, for a couple of very specific reasons.

    1. When my younger daughter, Kiera, was not quite three years old, her older sister was taking swimming lessons at the municipal pool and so we went there every day. For the first few sessions, there was a “Mom & Me” class for toddlers with their parents, which I signed her up for because she loved the water and keeping her out of it would have been a constant struggle. The last session of the year, though, there was no Mom & Me class, so I asked the teachers of the Level 1 swimming class (held in the wading pool, and mostly about acclimating little kids to the water) if I could sign her up even though she wasn’t actually three yet. They said it would be fine.

    Kiera had been in those Mom & Me swimming lessons for a month at that point, but had always resisted putting her face in the water. On her VERY FIRST DAY of the Level 1 class, I watched from a distance as she delightedly took her teacher’s hand and without a moment’s hesitation, put her face in the water.

    There are MAGICAL POWERS that are the domain of TEACHERS WHO ARE NOT YOUR MOM. I totally want my kids to have access to them. (Especially Kiera.)

    2. One of the unique things that you learn in a school classroom is how to tolerate people who just get on your nerves. You might have an annoying kid in a homeschooling co-op, but you probably don’t have to spend 6-8 hours a day, 5 days a week, with that kid, unless he’s your brother, in which case the dynamic is fundamentally different.

    No kid should have to put up with bullying; that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m thinking more of the kid who has the annoying, braying laugh that’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. The ability to tolerate people who get slightly on my nerves — the specific coping skills I learned have served me in extremely good stead because any office anywhere will probably have some people who get on your nerves and you’ll have to be around them for 8+ hours a day, five days a week.

    That’s what I’m thinking about when I say “socialization,” actually. The ability to get along with the people who rub you the wrong way.

    3. The other great thing about school is that different people teach different subjects in different ways. There’s an incredible benefit to learning from lots of different people, and I don’t think this can be readily replicated by a homeschooling co-op.

    • V. true. I’m still learning how to cope with people who rub me the wrong way, and I’m in my 40s and wasn’t homeschooled. Fundies cope with people very differently than non-fundies do and it’s always a struggle to manage my frustration after years in an environment where most people were in lockstep in a very authoritarian mindset.

  7. I just want to say I wish I could “hug yer neck,” as folks used to say in church, because I’m almost in tears reading what you’ve had to say. I’M SO SORRY you had to go through all that. I don’t even know what to say. Honey, you didn’t deserve that. I kinda went through some of that–especially with being a huge jackass because I didn’t know how to deal with non-fundamentalists–and it really resonated for me how you talked about it in terms of trauma because some of the stupid stuff I did then makes me catch my breath today in pain. I don’t know how anybody put up with me. I was raised Catholic and converted in my teens so the indoctrination wore off a little faster for me than it did for you, but holy cow on a pogo stick, gal, I’m so sorry. For what it’s worth, I’m with you 100%, I’m glad you got out of that sickness, I’m glad you’re doing better now, and I truly hope you’re only moving forward now. Nobody should ever have to be put through that experience. THANK YOU for talking about what happened. THANK YOU. Oh honey.

  8. There’s something about all this that’s tickling the edges of my mind and I’m probably not going to say it right. I keep thinking about how defensive the conservative Christian homeschooling movement is and how that can’t be good for parents or kids. I was reading some about the history of homeschooling last night (http://prospect.org/article/homeschool-apostates) and realizing how hard won a “right” it is. In the process of getting that right, though, it seems that an atmosphere has been created where it’s impossible to discuss weaknesses and abuses in the system. This is dangerous. We should always be able to say “Are we doing this the best way? Is it hurting some people? What do we need to change?” It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

    I appreciate that you have shown both strengths and weaknesses in your account. I’m so sorry that your experiences were so difficult. I keep thinking too of the mothers (and fathers) in situations similar to yours who are in over their heads but aren’t being offered any alternatives. As a mother who’s overwhelmed at times with the challenge of finding the best educational opportunities for my children my heart goes out to those parents who feel so hemmed in. At the same time, though, I want to get in their faces and say, “Look at your children! Think for yourselves! Consider the big picture! Don’t let fear be the guiding force in your parenting!” Mostly though, when I see parents like this I say nothing. I have no idea how to make practical changes in the situation. I’m glad to learn that some who have been in the situation themselves are working for reforms. And I’m glad that the information is getting out.

  9. I love reading your thoughts and so appreciate you sharing your journey. My husband and I are both pastor’s kids and it’s been quite the journey out of evangelical thinking, though our experiences were in no way as extreme as your upbringing.

    This homeschool issue is a tough one. We are Christians. We also homeschool our daughters. This wasn’t always the case. I happily sent all 3 of my kids off to public school and there they’d have stayed if things had turned out the way we planned. Life never seems to go as planned, however, and we had terrible struggles and issues with our local public school. As my husband and I attended public schools, we know that there are some out there that are truly excellent, both of us were lucky enough to graduate from two such schools. Our children, however, weren’t so lucky. Our district was (and still is) a big mess of administrative problems, terrible teaching, and a sad lack of funding.

    Our oldest son stayed in school and it was a nightmare. I honestly have so many regrets, but deciding to pull your kids out of school is no small matter. By the time my middle daughter had finished 8th grade, she’d had enough and begged to be homeschooled for high school along with her younger sister. I promise you this was one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make as a parent. If I could, I’d sit down with you and explain all that was happening at the time and how it was affecting my kids. Suffice it to say, both of my girls were miserable and something had to change. We pulled them out of school and our roller coaster ride of schooling at home began.

    Do I think homeschool is perfect? Hell, no! It has been both beautiful and awful. Just like public school. Just like life. We’ve spent ridiculous amounts of money on math tutors, had to overcome academic laziness (my daughter was an honor roll student, yet she couldn’t pass pre-algebra or write a decent paper), and dealt with the difficult social aspects of being at home. (Yes, sometimes we are all together a little tooooooo much! Ha!) We do not use traditional Christian homeschool curriculum which, as you’ve so correctly pointed out, is quite bad.

    I can say in all honesty that I’ve watched my girls grow up to be loving, global-minded, non-judgmental, talented, and incredibly bright. Raised to love like Jesus, my kids are amazing and I am so, so thankful they don’t have to overcome legalism and evangelical garbage like my husband and I did. It is a beautiful blessing to be able to watch as my nearly grown daughters fight discrimination, believe that love is love, and choose to follow paths that lead them to make this world a better place.

    Goodness, this has gone on too long (sorry!), but I will end by saying that parenting is the toughest thing I’ve ever done. Sometimes we are forced to make decisions that we thought we’d never have to. Homeschooling was one such decision for us–imperfect but necessary. Just my thoughts. Hope they make sense. :)

  10. A lot of this ring true to my own homeschooler story. I was grading my own schoolwork by fifth grade and pretty much working independently. I’m an independent learner as it is (my two younger sister not so much). I read science and history books and wrote research papers on mustangs and lizards and physics because I thought they were cool. My mom had us take some writing classes but they were more about the mechanics and by the time I took them I had already figured that stuff out. I would have no idea how to spot symbolism and all that if not for fandom. I ended up loving it and spending all my spare time writing meta, mentored by a couple older fandom members, so by the time I started high school and need those skills they were very sharp. If it hadn’t been for that and for all my novel writing I don’t know where I would be–my younger sister didn’t do any of that stuff and is having an awful time with writing high school papers. I have to baby her through them and she agonizes over them a lot more than she should have to.
    Also, is the article about girls turning from princesses into cowgirls on the internet, by any chance? I work at a barn and am surrounded by “cowgirls,” and I love them all dearly.

  11. 1. Thank you for this view from within the belly of the beast. You’ve provided an excellent source on the reality of homeschooling, one I have already forwarded to a friend.

    2. You write about your mother teaching you, not your father, or some other man. I wonder if this affects the teaching of science and math.

    3. Is there any drawing and painting in common home schooling curricula at all?

    Are you aware that public schools often fail at teaching high school level topics? US public education is such a grab-bag. Well-funded schools in well-to-do districts usually do a good jobs, but this is a minority of schools. Administrators are under enormous pressure to cover up problems. It is entirely possible to get a high school diploma and be functionally illiterate or innumerate. Public schools, mostly, are not very good—the grade system makes them boring for good students, and miserable for bad students. I think if one combined the liberal educators that home-schoolers draw on, most of them liberal theorists pressed into service to support a conservative agenda (the names that come to mind are John Holt, A S Neill, Dewey, and Montessori, but there are others—I don’t know the literature) with the resources of public school systems, one might get much improved education.

  12. I’ve enjoyed this series of posts immensely, thank you so much for giving insights into the movement.
    The problem of self-directed learning, even if they love doing it, is like telling a gifted athlete he doesn’t need a coach. Everyone needs someone to encourage and push them a little harder who knows the subject matter.
    A good reader by most people’s standards is in comprehension. Can they remember what they read, but can they analyze what they’ve read? Can they apply the theme of what they’ve read to their lives? Literature class is more than reading.
    Science and math even if you never as an adult do more than balance a checkbook and turn on a computer are needed for the ability to reason inductively and deductively. All citizens should be on juries as a civic duty, how can you understand if a person has been proven guilty if you’ve never taken a geometry course that taught proofs?
    My opinion concerning the weakness of homeschooling and religious private schools in math and science is their blindness concerning evolution creating an anti-science and anti-higher mathematics mindset.

  13. I had a harder time than I thought I would with this series, after rereading it twice even. Hmm.

    I think it boils down to a few points where you and I might disagree on the topic based off our own experiences: primarily socialization.
    I really don’t feel that the homeschool experience was detrimental to my development. At *all*. I got so many wonderful opportunities socially because of homeschool, because of the pure flexibility of my school schedule. My brother and I were HIGHLY involved in multiple sports and that’s pretty much what carried me from child to teen. Church provided *some* interaction but it was pretty bad (cliques, high school drama stuff, yech). Life was a never ending cycle of lessons, club meetings, events, clinics, competitions – rinse, repeat. So I think some things *can* substitute for the lack of public school social structure.
    I’m pretty awkward and seem to still have trouble with human interactions decades after high school. Honestly though, after a lot of researching and counseling etc. I’m beginning to think I may have a touch of either Aspergers or some ADD (add abuse from various sources on top of that too). Whenever someone blames my issues on my homeschooling background I get a bit bristly – it’s a very inaccurate assumption and a harsh critique of a system that socially worked for me.

    In any case it’s been interesting to read your details thoughts on the subject – obviously everyone experiences things differently and it’s good to see it from all angles to examine it better. Thank you for taking the time to write all of this for us!

    • I think the statements I’ve made along the lines of “homeschoolers can totes be socialized, you just have to go out of your way” lines up exactly with what you’re describing here. Your parents went out of their way, it sounds like. I just grew up in a homeschooling culture where every single last homeschooler I knew never left their house except to go to Wal-Mart or church.

      • I guess I never thought of it as ‘out of their way’, just what parents should be doing (IE not locking their children up).
        =( I think I knew one or two families like what you just described, but there was a weird unspoken “thing” about their lifestyle where we didn’t ask too many questions about them.

        Still though, that type of life seems cruel to me… >_< I feel badly that any kid has endured it.

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