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Homeschooling and the American Spirit

January 15, AD2015

CS Angel2

I hear a lot about homeschooling from the blogs I read and, although it is a controversial topic, I am sure it has many advantages. Homeschooling is not an option for me, but I do think it is a wonderful choice among several schooling options.

Homeschooling is unheard of in Portugal, where I live, and probably in all of Europe. I think that this is because the values behind a homeschooling option inherently reflect an American spirit.

The main question is: who is responsible for the education of our children? The family v. State debate is one in which the US and Europe are vastly different. The government and its functions are grossly enlarged in Portugal, and I wouldn’t doubt that in a survey most Portuguese would without-a-doubt say that the government is primarily responsible for education.

Homeschooling seems to say the opposite. The family is primarily responsible for education and the government, at most, can offer support. Homeschooling gives privilege to the individual, autonomy, do-it-yourself, little government reliance, trailblazing and free thinking (at least in terms of no general, state-run agenda). These terms describe the American spirit well.

Homeschooling seems to value the fact that education is not all about academics. It’s not a simple opening of the brain and inserting information. It’s not just about doing math problems or memorizing historical dates. It’s about educating the entire person, and that includes passing values.

I would also venture to guess that a general poll in Portugal would show that most people unquestioningly support government-run sexual education in schools or consider the school responsible for passing values on to children. In the US, even those who don’t homeschool are more wary of the school teaching about sexuality or other “less academic” topics.

Homeschooling seems to take this idea one step further. It’s the family’s main task to educate the entire person, and that includes passing on values. This is done not with a separate “values class” (which actually exists in Portugal, called “Religion and Morals”), but with the entire educational outlook. In the case of homeschooling, it’s done with parents, brothers and sisters, and community.

Speaking of community, a common critique of homeschooling is that children are not able to socialize with other children their age. Jennifer Fulwiler often reflects on this on her blog, saying our peer-oriented society is not always the best. Even in this, the homeschooling option values more American ideals of individualism, relying on family and community and respecting all generations.

In Portugal most babies go to daycare at the age of 5 months and stay there from about 8-6 o’clock. Most elderly are starting to be placed in old-age homes. There is an immense separation of generations and peer-orientation. (Although this is a recent phenomenon and 50 years ago it wasn’t like this.) Homeschooling seems to say that you don’t have to fit in with a peer group to be successful and happy in life.

For all these reasons, homeschooling seems to be a distinctly American option. I am sure there are many advantages and disadvantages and, like any schooling option, it doesn’t work for everyone. However, homeschooling is definitely a unique and counter-cultural option.

Photography: Kelli Ann Cresswell

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Julie Machado is a 30-year-old Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal to study theology. She now lives there, along with the rest of her family, her husband and her children. She believes the greatest things in life are small and hidden and that the extraordinary is in the ordinary. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

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  • David Peters

    Thanks Julie! It is true that Americans tend to be more individualistic, but I have to agree with the other comments here. My wife and I always homeschooled our children not because of our culture, but we wanted them to learn what values we thought important. I believe that internally they would be completely different people (not for the better) if they had gone to public school.
    Some don’t have the option to homeschool due to economics, but I think Catholic schools are a good option if you can afford it. Homeschool is also good because it is like having a private tutor without the expense.

  • PiccoloFiori

    Homeschooling is wonderful. I pulled my children because I was tired of fighting the terrible things the schools were teaching and pushing on the kids. I wanted my children to learn the Catholic Faith and to actually receive a decent education and solid base to launch from. This was many years ago and they still thank me to this day.
    In parts of Europe the government is trying to ban all homeschooling…

  • Francesco

    Wow, the land of Fatima and the people throw their kids out of the house to learn values? Why did God give those kids to you instead of birthing them from a government cow? Abdication of responsibility! It’s not just American, it’s Catholic, Christian.

  • Patricia

    Many of us homeschool less because of the “American spirit” & more because we understand the wisdom of the Church which teaches that parents are to be the primary educators of their children, particularly in matters pertaining to passing on the Faith.

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  • Julie Machado

    Very interesting points, thank you. Canada seems to have many good things going for it at a public level.

  • deltaflute

    I wouldn’t necessarily call it American. Canadians also homeschool too. While the US does tend to institutionalize children at young ages because of poor maternity care laws, Canada allows for paid maternity leave up to a year. So usually youngsters are in childcare from ages 1-3 and then public school begins. Canada starts publicly educating their children the calendar year they turn 4 even though education is not mandatory until age 6. I think certainly homeschool is more appealing to Americans. Parochial schools in the US are astronomical in price and some public schools are failing to provide a good education. In Ontario Catholic education is public and free. It’s not true of other provinces. So for similar reasons many Canadians also homeschool. Institutionalized education is something relatively new as it became a part of the industrial revolution. Now parents have more flexibility in their work and they are seeing the value of going back to more traditional forms of education. So I wouldn’t say that it’s just about American values. Sometimes parents choose homeschooling because it’s the best educational option they can provide for their children given where they live.