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