Homeschooling - What it Can and Can't Do
Patrick and I homeschooled our kids and we loved it. And the kids say they loved it. Overall, it was a good experience.
Now that a generation of kids has been homeschooled, though, we're starting to see some backlash against the homeschooling movement, particularly the Evangelical Christian homeschooling movement. I'd like to explore that a little here. For some real data, go to the Coalition for Responsible Homeschooling. This organization is made up mostly of the generation that came up through homeschooling and has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. They don't advocate for homeschooling, but for students. I'm going to talk about our family's experience and what I've seen in our local area, so it's all anecdotal data and can't be extrapolated to a larger sample. But, anecdotal data isn't useless. When we look at enough stories, some themes start to emerge. You'll see what I mean.
Our family's reasons for homeschooling were multiple. We lived in an area with good schools, but we felt like we could do a better job academically, especially in the early years, when the research shows that kids need more play than structure. I was also working as a family physician, so homeschooling gave us a lot more flexibility as a family in terms of schedules. Even when I had to quit working and was at home with chronic migraine, a flexible schedule was an advantage. I will say that we evaluated our homeschooling decision every year after about 6th grade to determine if we were going to continue.
One of the other "advantages" that was propounded for Christian (Evangelical) homeschooling was that, if done properly, the children would be raised with a Christian "worldview" and turn out to be good little Christians and part of the "Joshua Generation" that would go on to win the world for Jesus.
Here's a spoiler: this didn't work for us. When we were young parents and home educating, we were kind of into the idea that we could shape these little humans into warriors for Christ. But, we got older, learned more about life, got closer to Jesus, and learned more about God. We figured out that kids are more complex than what's in a textbook. Also, we didn't use many textbooks. As Patrick and I grew in our relationships with God, we quit teaching a lot of the super conservative Evangelical stuff that we had always planned to teach. We realized that the science of evolution is quite sound and that a proper exegesis of the Pentateuch supports that, so that's what we taught our kids. We relearned that American History is not the history of a "Christian Nation", but the history of a bunch of folks who were mostly Christians setting up a new nation. And that God doesn't have a special relationship with the USA. Patrick and I began to reject purity culture and taught our kids as comprehensive a sex education as we could (yes, Lydia complains that I didn't include much about LGBTQ in the curriculum, but, in my defense, neither did the public schools; I did, though, include a robust section on consent).
All that is to say that Patrick and I weren't model Conservative Evangelical homeschoolers. When our kids didn't turn out to be "The Joshua Generation", you could argue that it was our fault for not following the formula. But, there are plenty of families who did follow the formula. Some of their kids turned out to be great, Evangelical families who are walking the same path that their parents chose. Others came out as LGBT and were either embraced or rejected by their families and churches. Some got pregnant without being married first. Some went to college; some chose not to. There were probably some abusive families in there, but I don't know of any. Our group activities were rather superficial.
All of this is to say that homeschooling by the formula doesn't guarantee anything. You can do it all right - and these families were doing it right - and the kids are going to do what the kids are going to do. And they're going to be fine!
What happened to our kids? Lydia (who is bisexual and non-binary and prefers the pronouns they/them/their) thrived with home education. Both kids had plenty of outside activities with church, dance, and sports. Lydia liked "school" activities as a kid, but they also enjoyed make-believe play and dress-up and music. And, after 12th grade, we had a "Graduation Party" at home, complete with graduation cap (no gown) and cake. They were able to teach dance their senior year of high school. Then, they went on to college.
Christopher loved doing anything play-like. In 4yo preschool, he had a hard time with the academics. We knew he was left-handed, but he had a hard time with anything to do with recognizing letters. Homeschooling was really good for him. He did a lot of listening to books, number games, etc. When I quit working and he wasn't yet reading for information at age 9, it was time to get him evaluated. And, yes, he is dyslexic. So, we spent several years with different programs to get him to learn to read, write, and spell. And, he learned them well - not that he liked them. Both kids had been taking at least one class in the local high school and Chris's choices had been music. We had him start high school in 11th grade to balance out his day a little (he had been spending all day at school and only doing his academic work after 8pm!). He thrived at public school, especially in band and choir.
Both kids went on to college to study music. Lydia left faith immediately and by their second year came out as bisexual. They are currently agnostic, but not opposed to doing a Torah study class on occasion. When they left college in their third year, they had a religion minor and was doing well in it. Chris just kind of quit going to church. He's generally agnostic. He's engaged to be married, not in a church, and with the officiant being his voice teacher.
Evangelicals looking on might say that we screwed up our kids. But, since Patrick and I believe that LGBTQ people are loved by God and have an active role to play in the church and community and have moved our own membership to a progressive PCUSA church, I suppose those same Evangelicals would probably write us off too. Our kids are not screwed up. They love us and they love others. They are on their own faith journeys and they aren't shy about coming to us to talk it. But, they are generous, loving people who live out Jesus' commands even when they aren't so sure about Jesus himself.
Do we regret homeschooling? Absolutely not!! Are there things we could have done better? Absolutely! The thing to remember is that homeschooling is not a panacea for society's ills. Hunkering down with your kids at home is not going to save them from every bad thing in the world. And, maybe some of those "bad" things aren't really so bad.
What homeschooling can do
- Provide a quality academic education, particularly if you are in a subpar school district or if your child has special needs.
- Allow parents and children plenty of time together, although this isn't a guarantee. It just makes it easier.
- Allow parents and children plenty of opportunities to discuss academic learning.
What homeschooling can't do
- Guarantee any outcome. Your children are not robots.
- Make your children like you more.
- Change your child's basic personality. If you've got a quiet, shy kid, that's OK. If your kid climbs the walls, that's fine, too. Work with it.
- Make a kid learn. No educational system can guarantee that.
- Make you a better parent. Or give you more parent points. No matter what your church group or social group says.
- Make you or your kids more godly. How we educate our kids is between us and God, but there is no mandate that we teach our kids at home.
If you are thinking about home education, think and pray hard, Research curricula. Talk to other people. There are some excellent curricula out there, but there are some really rotten ones out there. Message me - I can tell you about some real stinkers. But make sure that you are doing it for the academic and emotional health of you and your family. And re-evaluate constantly. Back in the 90s and 2000s, Homeschooling was touted as the solution for all family and school problems. It's not. It's one way to live life as a family. Maybe it's for you.
Best Wishes!! Don't be afraid to leave comments!