Homeschooling moms often write blogs, stories, and articles about what they do, and I love reading those articles. However, I have a unique perspective on homeschooling. You see, I’m a practical outcome of all the tips and strategies and pieces of advice that are floating about online. I want to testify to the Catholic world that homeschooling works and you can actually do it. Sometimes in my daily routine I feel like everything is unconventional and crazy . . . but it works. I’ve been home educated since birth, and if I had it to do over again I would not choose to go to institutional high school or grade school or even one of those interesting classical schools that use the Socratic method: because homeschooling works.
I enjoy conversing with people about education and schooling because, sooner or later, I get the chance to reveal that I am a homeschooler. This is typically an amusing portion of the conversation, as my interlocutors are often surprised by “the socially well-adjusted homeschooler.” Sometimes, folks don’t seem to know what to do next, and I am often peppered with vaguely accusatory questions about everything I have been missing during the last twelve years of my life. The trouble really stems from a basic misunderstanding of what I do on a day-to-day basis, so allow me explain that a little. Here are some common beliefs about why homeschooling doesn’t work:
*Homeschoolers aren’t properly socialized.
*Homeschoolers can’t participate in sports.
*Homeschooling parents aren’t qualified to teach higher math/religion/physics/you name it.
All of these concerns have some validity to them. Allow me, then, to provide, from the perspective of a homeschooled young person, some evidence that homeschooling has not failed me.
Homeschoolers aren’t properly socialized.
The concern here is that a homeschooled child will be deprived of a healthy and positive social experience, due to the lack of daily contact with peers. After all, who do we walk and talk with as adults but our peers?
This stems from a misunderstanding – that proper socialization can only occur in the context of a room crammed with identically-aged individuals, all of whom are equally unprepared to teach or lead with wisdom and right reason . . . and yet, all of whom depend upon each other for the great majority of their developmental milestones. Rather, it seems more fitting that socialization, correctly understood, leads to a young person with a working knowledge of how to interact with mature adults. This befits both citizens of the United States and adopted sons and daughters of God.
Homeschooling teaches this skill in a unique and beautiful way, through a daily and helpful exposure to adults who are striving to live a life of virtue, and who care more deeply for the child’s development than anyone to whom this responsibility is delegated. In my case, rather than seeing my family only at dinner and on weekends, I spend the majority of my time with my mom and dad, having reflective conversations about politics, the workplace, family dynamics, my vocation, and the vagaries and struggles of life generally. I have the opportunity to spend time with my grandparents multiple times each week; they are gifted conversationalists, and my grandpa can get along with anybody because he truly cares about people. I get to see how smart, godly adults talk to each other, treat cashiers with respect, show reverence for priests, and expect my peers to be responsible and mature. And, through years of mentorship by such example, I often find that am more comfortable among those who are more mature than with many kids my own age.
To be sure, a homeschooled student occasionally fails to properly socialize during grammar class and high-school, but experience tells us that this is the exception and not the rule. And, keep in mind, the rate at which institutions fail their students in this fashion is one of the very reasons that homeschooling has been enjoying the fastest rate of growth among all types of schooling during the past two decades. Homeschools have a fantastic success rate of turning out well-adjusted, socialized young people – the growing number of universities trying to attract homeschool graduates with tuition incentives is a testament to this success.
Homeschoolers cannot participate in sports.
The fallacy here is that homeschooling will limit good experiences with extracurriculars in general, and sporting activities in particular.
Sports teams and opportunities abound in institutional schools, and the pressure to join them can be immense. In fact, the student who chooses not to participate in sports at institutional schools are sometimes ostracized and made to feel odd. While it may take a bit more effort for the homeschooled student to participate in sports, it is simply not true that it cannot be done. For instance, I have set regional records in competitive swimming, and had the opportunity to play at the USA Volleyball Junior Nationals with a state all-star team (on which my dad was a coach.) Four of my siblings play volleyball even now, with both local and competitive leagues. My parents always encourage us stay physically active and healthy, and they try to find a way to allow us to participate in the activities that interest us. In some areas of the country it can be difficult to find the sorts of opportunities like we have been blessed with; but we have also been able to play in local CYO sports and high school volleyball without attending the schools. If you are a homeschooler and want to play sports, it can happen!
Homeschooling parents aren’t qualified to teach higher math/religion/physics/you name it
This misconception is that, since most parents don’t have a deep knowledge of every subject and specialty, the homeschooled child will be deprived of basic information and the chance to learn from an expert. Instead the child needs to go to a place where every complex subject is treated by a person (ostensibly) competent in every field of study.
The idea that the homeschooling mom is responsible for having a practically omniscient competency is, in fact, the leading canard scaring off otherwise willing homeschoolers. These “supermoms,” when they are not cooking some delicious meal or maintaining a spotless home, must be busily engaged in teaching every child all the intricacies of everything from astronomy to zoology. Nothing could be further from the truth. My mom, for example, makes available every resource that we need, and often allows us the academic freedom to pick the style of study or learning that works best for each of us in a given situation or subject. One such resource that I have used to great effect is Khan Academy, an online selection of videos on topics ranging from economics and calculus, to classic puzzles and computer programming. Since my mom does not have (admittedly) an “Einstein-ian” grasp of high-level Algebra, I used Khan Academy to learn what I needed to know.
Of course, it can be helpful to have a real person who knows a subject helping a student along; I know from experience. In the rare case that I find myself needing outside help with math, for example, I don’t have to attend an institutional school to find a really good math teacher. I have the freedom and challenge of networking to find an adult who knows math and ask for help. In my case, it could be an uncle, or an acquaintance attending college, or a friend of my mom who was a math major. The same is true in the sciences; I know adults who could certainly give me a hand studying their favorite subject. When dealing with Catholic Theology and religious studies, I’ve been blessed with a dad who has an advanced degree and a deep understanding. But I’ve learned a great deal from my pastor and priests and deacons as well…it’s part of their job description (and usually a great joy to them) to share the Truth, so ask them! Homeschooling gives you the ability to do all of this and to pick the best solutions to the daily challenges and problems of life.
Recently, I have been reflecting upon a wonderful quote from Helen Keller that describes my life as a Catholic homeschooler quite nicely:
“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education…Let [the child] go and come freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks…Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of, before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.”
My life has been full of Miss Keller’s innovative understanding. I’ve studied math while our substantial addition was under construction; I’ve gained a lifelong appreciation of music while singing in Medieval polyphonic choirs; I’ve experienced Liturgical Theology at the feet of good and holy Priests; I’ve pursued discipline of the body while winning and placing at championships in two different sports; I have learned English grammar by reading Dickens, Chesterton, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Scared Scripture, Augustine, Aquinas, Newman, and innumerable others. I have been cooking with my mom, my sister, and the Food Network. I have been blessed to learn: military tactics and strategy from my former-Marine uncle; the art and science of leadership from my dad; oratory skills from my grandpa; politics from Plato, Aristotle, and even a local state senator; videography from my mom (which translated into winning several video competitions); how to build my own computer from a parish friend of the family; and even patience (and other virtues) from my six younger siblings.
Homeschooling is working – for me and for a growing number of others. My mom and dad made a very deliberate and fundamental choice when they decided to keep me home. I am thankful beyond telling for their wisdom and courage. I share all of this with a bit of a challenge in mind. I don’t know your situation or your children, but I do know that the personalities of my six siblings and I are as varied as the elements on the periodic table, and that a cookie-cutter approach will not work for every child. One of the (many) reasons homeschooling works is that parents can do the best thing by every individual child. As a young person who has been formed and guided in a homeschool for the greater glory of God, I ask you to prayerfully consider giving the gift of homeschooling to your children. God will bless your effort and you will be blessed by the success of your sacrifice!