Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Homeschooling Stereotypes: We Should Talk

Wait! Don't leave! I know this week's post isn't a delicious chocolate desert or a pretty pattern, but I think you might enjoy it. 
See, I didn't write this for my blog (or else it would probably be a lot shorter!), but it's still about a topic I love: homeschooling.
So, if you're interested in homeschooling too, you might get something useful out of it. If that's the case, then enjoy! :)
Let Me Introduce Myself
For years, from fourth grade through high school, I was educated at home. Through my years as a homeschooler, I encountered a variety of arguments against homeschooling that took root in stereotypes and assumptions. These claims, although mostly false, are often the mainstream way of viewing homeschooling.
We homeschoolers are often viewed as hillbillies, extreme conservatives, or a mixture of the two. True, there may be homeschoolers who hide from the world, play the harp by candlelight and wear matching dresses. There may also be 'gator-wrestling, Bayou-livin’ homeschoolers who don't wear shoes and build illegal moonshine distilleries. But they're the exception.
Generally, home education is a wonderful experience that provides a solid education, appreciation of creativity, and exposure to the modern world and society. To better inform people about the beneficial realities of homeschooling, we should encourage discussions and open communication that will transform the way people view home education.

What’s the Point?
The issues I just mentioned may seem insignificant in light of wars, politics, the economy and the all-too-recent near-catastrophe of Twinkies. But the issues surrounding home education are incredibly important; they involve the next generation of entrepreneurs, innovators, and explorers who will shape the world in which we live. Anyone concerned for the future of our nation should participate in the discussion and understand the weight of homeschooling stereotypes and assumptions.
Now, to be clear, the purpose of this essay is not to claim that traditional education is inherently wrong or that everyone must homeschool their children. I acknowledge that there are parents who cannot, or will not, homeschool their children for a multitude of understandable and acceptable reasons. But I don’t want parents – or particularly their children - to miss the benefits of homeschooling simply due a handful of stereotypes and a lack of communication. A purpose of this essay is to promote a healthy discussion that informs people about home education and the basic misunderstandings that surround it. I had an incredibly positive interaction with homeschooling, and I want others to experience that, too.

Where’s This Going?
Now that you’re pumped to learn more about homeschooling, let me tell you about my master plan. The topic of homeschooling contains a wide variety of concerns that can, and should, be researched and debated in depth. Among those branches are the issues of state regulation and parent's ability to teach. But, for the purposes of this essay, I would like to set those important things aside to focus on arguably the most relevant and impactful aspect of home education: the homeschooled students themselves.
One of the concerns about homeschooling children is how their present education will affect them in the long run. Writing in the article “Disadvantages of Homeschooling”, Karen Hollowell states, “homeschooling can have long-term effects on children that are not positive.” She goes on to write about homeschooled children’s inadequate socialization and struggle in college. Overall, she boldly claims that the “disadvantages of homeschooling outweigh any benefits.” Her view, which mirrors many people’s perspective, leads to the claim that educating kiddos at home produces anti-social, under-educated members of society who aren’t prepared for the real world. These arguments, however, aren’t entirely true.
To encourage further growth of the existing homeschool discussion, I would like to address these claims individually, followed by a few more common concerns. Perhaps, by further opening the door to communication, I can shed some light on the falsities and truths surrounding homeschooling.

Socialization or Lack Thereof
Socialization is arguably the most common and misunderstood issue surrounding home education. A large majority of under-informed people assume that homeschooled children will not be adequately socialized due to their education at home. From this limited perspective, their assumption makes sense. According to Merriam-Webster, the simple definition of homeschool is “to teach your children at home instead of sending them to a school”. Going by that definition alone, one could infer that homeschooled children are only educated in their house, meaning that their in-school social life is limited to their immediate family. In addition, homeschoolers are often compared to traditional school, where the students spend hours every week near dozens of children their age. With that comparison in mind, it may appear that homeschoolers are truly under-socialized.
But the story doesn’t end there. In public school, children mostly learn to interact within their grade, where they make friends with others close to their age. But, as my mom/teacher likes to point out, people in the real world don’t only interact with people in their age group. Instead, they socialize with an array of people who are older and younger than themselves. Her view pairs nicely with Responsible Homeschooling’s perspective in the article “Homeschooling & Socialization”:
“…many homeschool parents and leaders argue that the socialization children receive in school is unnatural and actually harmful, and that socialization is best gained through life experiences that center around the family, and should include interactions with those in a variety of age groups.”
If both claims are true, as I feel they are, than it appears that homeschoolers have the upper hand. Like my mom and Responsible Homeschooling mention, socialization in public school doesn’t represent normal socialization that takes place in the real-world. Homeschoolers, however, have the opportunity spend less time in a school building and more time learning and applying real socialization skills.
Take, for example, my experience. During my family’s time a homeschoolers, we often had an open, flexible schedule that allowed us to participate in truly well-rounded social activities. We went grocery shopping and made friends with a butcher at Hyvee; my brother and I played Chinese checkers with an elderly lady while my mom cleaned her house; I volunteered at VBS (Vacation Bible School), where I helped young kids; and I learned to care for infants after my youngest brother was born. Because I was homeschooled, I was allowed to have those experiences and an abundance of others, where I learn to socialize with different ages. Now, that’s not to say that publically schooled children can’t have those experiences. But after spending “four hours a week on homework” and “about 32.5 hours a week” (Swanbrow, Diane) in school, the time for such activities is limited.
In addition to socializing apart from school, many parents choose to participate in a homeschool co-ops and homeschool enrichment programs, where children can take classes together and learn important social skills. For several years, I took a few classes with other kids my age, made friends, and learned to socialize. When both those methods are combined, using extra time away from school to socialize and joining homeschool co-ops, home educated children can even become more socialized and well-rounded than their traditionally educated peers.

Transitioning Into College
A less typical, yet perhaps more important, concern about homeschooled children is their preparation for college. Some people worry that children’s experience in the sheltered and unconventional methods of homeschooling will not translate into secondary education and the world of academia. Why? Because homeschoolers who never experience regular school schedules, a variety of teachers with differing views, and difficult testing could be incredibly underprepared for the rigor of college. Although the option of skipping college is available, often the most productive members of our society are college graduates. If homeschoolers cannot survive in college, how will they have the skills to positively impact our world?
As with socialization, the worry about college preparation is reasonable and valid, but can be easily refuted. Adapting to a schedule, dealing with new teachers, and learning to test on higher level are adjustments that every freshmen encounters. A home educated person doesn’t “transition all that different from the public or private school student.” as Regent University points out in the article “Five Things to Know About the Transition from Homeschool to University”. Despite a person’s educational background, be that traditional education or homeschooling, students may still encounter a rough transition patch. Granted, traditionally educated students may find the transition easier, after years of moving grades and teachers. But they will still have to transition from a relatively easy education to a more rigorous one.
An advantage of a homeschooler’s transition to college was not acknowledged in the formerly established argument. While a shift to new schedules, teachers, and tests may be important, arguably the most valuable skill in college is the ability to study and regulate tasks in a self-motivated manner. Dr. Brian D. Ray, writing in “Homeschoolers on to College: What Research Shows Us”, remarks:
Research and probability show that the home-educated college applicant is very likely to succeed in college, both academically and socially. Consider that the home-educated typically have strong self-discipline, motivation, and self-initiative.
Unlike traditional school, home educated students are often given the whole day to complete their work. While I was homeschooled, I learned to balance my homework with leisure activities. If the day was beautiful, I could set my books aside and enjoy the weather. If I was falling behind, I could spend extra time doing homework. By regulating much of my time early in my education, I was able to develop the “self-discipline, motivation, and self-initiative” that Dr. Ray mentioned.
Almost needless to say, learning to organize time gives a beneficial advantage to homeschooled students. After making statements similar to mine, Regent University notes that homeschoolers “tend to study in more personal, individualized ways than their private and public school peers.” Because many homeschoolers are given an abundance of free time, they can learn to balance their responsibilities and hours well before secondary education. By the time they reach college, many homeschooled students have already learned the styles and methods of balancing time that work best for themselves.
            Because the transition into college is relatively similar to traditionally schooled students, and homeschoolers tend to learn time management at early age, thriving in college is a likely possibility. Some may refute this claim by pointing to examples of under-educated homeschoolers who drop out of college or barely scrape by. But are they the normal ones? The answer is no. While there are certainly cases of former homeschoolers failing in college, the same can be said for traditionally schooled students. Time and time again, reports have found that homeschool students thrive in college. In a study by Michael Cogan, and reported by CBS, research found that home educated freshmen received a GPA of 3.37 while “other freshmen” received a 3.08 during their first semester. Although the lead is small, it shows that homeschoolers have the ability to succeed in college. By thriving in college, homeschoolers can graduate from college and go on to make mark on society.

Others Concerns
Now that I’ve discussed two main homeschooling stereotypes in depth, I would like to address several more topics of concern. Although I won’t discuss them in as much depth here, the issues are still important and should be properly considered and weighed. I decided to organize each section with a hypothetical quote from a curious, and oddly blunt, person. After each question, I’ll analyze the issue and provide my perspective as a response.
“What about normal school?”
Be it life-long friends, influential teachers, or exciting field trips, many people can think back to their years in school with fond memories. In the same way that I have wonderful homeschool memories and don’t want others to miss out on similar experiences, these people have wonderful traditional school memories and worry that homeschoolers are missing out. And honestly, this claim is true: even with the aforementioned ability to make friends and socialize, home education can’t exactly replicate the traditional school experience. However, I personally feel that homeschooling makes up for that area with a plethora of more valuable experiences.
            To understand my perspective better, let me paint you a picture: on a typical fall day, I spent hours doing things I loved. Sometimes I would work on school, but many times I would walk, swing, read books, play with my stuffed animals, or write a song, poem, or story. I wasn’t worried about catching the bus in time, the drama of my school friends, trying to stay awake in class, or finishing an overwhelming amount of homework. Instead, I developed a love for learning, creativity, exploration, and the beauty of nature. If I had been in school, I wouldn’t have had as much time to learn those things. But I did. And to this day, those values have a special place in my heart. So to claim that I, or other homeschoolers, missed out on the traditional educational experience doesn’t offend me; I’d much rather have my experience than to trade it for a more “normal” one. And I’m sure many other homeschoolers feel the same.
 “Aren’t homeschoolers weird?”
In addition to concerns about lack of socialization and preparation for college, many people stereotype homeschooled children as being odd, misfits of society who don't blend in. This perception is often due to our attire, acceptance of alternative ideas and preferences, or a mixture of the two. Put another way, we homeschoolers are seen as weirdos. Unlike before, when I disagreed with the commonly held view, this time I agree in part: some homeschoolers are kind of strange. Why? Because homeschooling itself is inherently strange; it differs from the standard educational route. Through parent's influential view and the structure of home education, homeschoolers are often allowed to form opinions and be themselves openly.
Parents who chose to educate their children at home approve of an uncommon method of instruction and education. But the story doesn't end here. Joel Salatin, writing in the foreword to "Born-Again Dirt" by Noah Sanders, believes "the home-schooling movement spawned an entire awakening to alternative ideas" (Salatin, Joel and Sanders, Noah xiv). As parents accept home education, they often open themselves to a variety of other alternative ideas. In turn, parents teach their children to value and accept such ideas, which often translates into the lives of their homeschooled children.
Also, home education allows kiddos to discover passions and express traits that might have otherwise been suppressed. Unlike children attending traditional school, homeschoolers aren't as rigorously molded by their friend's opinions and ideas. Even if they regularly socialize, the pressures to conform can be quite limited. With an acceptance of different ideas and ability to grow their true personality, homeschooled students are almost bound to go against the grain and develop a few interesting traits along the way.
While it's not fair to put every home educated student in the same oddball basket - there are plenty of normal homeschooled children with typical interests and personalities- being labeled weird isn't necessarily bad. What one person would view as weird, another might view as unique. And in a world where children are encouraged to be themselves and express individuality, unique personalities are incredibly valuable.
 “Will talking do anything?”
One of the largest motivators behind this essay is to encourage a discussion that will inform people about homeschooling. I’ve been working to address common stereotypes and help people understand the joys of home education. By doing so, I hope to participate in the conversation and encourage others to do the same. However, after reading this far, some may have grown skeptical of my opinion. They might feel that growing the homeschool discussion is pointless. After all, will talking making an impact? We’ve been talking about homeschooling for decades, and yet false stereotypes still exist. Will talking do anything productive? Quite frankly, yes. But it might take awhile.
Think about it: how many issues were resolved only after years of discussion and determination? Often, the major changes we seek after do not happen instantly. On a recent episode of Freakonomics Radio, host Stephen Dubner discussed incrementalism, the idea that big changes happen through a series of smaller changes. He believes that “we shouldn’t ignore the power of incrementalism” (Dubner, Stephen). And he’s right: we shouldn’t avoid the benefits of an incrementalist approach. So, although encouraging a homeschool discussion may seem small, when it sings in harmony with thousands of other people, the impact becomes far more noticeable and beneficial.

In the large homeschooling conversation, what I've written is only the tip of the iceberg, a drop in the bucket, and other clichés meaning "a small portion”. But I’ve been working to share my perspective as best I can. While a conversation currently exists, we should help it grow by diligently using our voices to contribute to the discussion. If more people can become aware of the falsity in homeschool stereotypes and understand the value of home education, perhaps the common perspective of homeschooling will change. As I mentioned in my introduction, I don't want anyone missing out on an amazing homeschool experience due to a lacking conversation.
My personal homeschooling experience showed me that, contrary to popular belief, homeschoolers can be social members of society who are prepared for college. Often, they love to be themselves, and celebrate the skills they learned while other kids were in normal school. Julie Bogart, a former homeschool mother, says, "I believe in homeschooling… it helps everybody become their best selves. That's what I love about it.” And truly, there is something to love about homeschooling: it equips children with the values and knowledge necessary to thrive every single day and leave a positive impact on our world.
Works Cited:
Bogart, Julie. "55 Things I Did NOT Do as a Homeschooler [full Length]." YouTube. YouTube, 08 June 2016. Web. 05 Nov. 2016.
Dubner, Stephen J. "In Praise of Incrementalism." Freakonomics. Freakonomics, 26 Oct. 2016. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.
"Five Things to Know About the Transition from Homeschool to University." Regent University. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2016.
Hollowell, Karen. "Disadvantages of Homeschooling." EHow. Demand Media, n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2016.
"Homeschooling & Socialization." Coalition for Responsible Home Education. N.p., 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.
Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2016.
O’Shaughnessy, Lynn. "Can Homeschoolers Do Well in College?" CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 20 July 2010. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.
Ray, Brian D. "Homeschoolers on to College: What Research Shows Us." The Journal of College Admission (1977): n. pag. 2004. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.
Salatin, Joel, and Sanders, Noah. "Foreword." Foreword. Born-again Dirt: Farming to the Glory of God. 2nd ed. N.p.: Rora Valley, 2013. xiv. Print.
Swanbrow, Diane "U.S. Children and Teens Spend More Time on Academics." U.S. Children and Teens Spend More Time on Academics. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.