5 Thoughts on Homeschooling (by a Homeschool Alumnus)

After six weeks of preschool, my mom took me out of the system entirely, and I was homeschooled all the way into adulthood. In addition, I never went to college. Am I a misfit? Did I miss out on something important? Here's my take on the situation.

“Next to the right to life itself, the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to control our own minds and thoughts. That means, the right to decide for ourselves how we will explore the world around us, think about our own and other persons’ experiences, and find and make the meaning of our own lives. Whoever takes that right away from us, as the educators do, attacks the very center of our being and does us a most profound and lasting injury. He tells us, in effect, that we cannot be trusted even to think, that for all our lives we must depend on others to tell us the meaning of our world and our lives, and that any meaning we may make for ourselves, out of our own experience, has no value.”
John Holt

Home is where the heart is…and the classroom?

A few years after I was born in 1982, my parents placed me in a local preschool. In short order, my mom pulled me back out. Why? From what I heard, my mom, having served as a school teacher a few times prior in her life, was already realizing how much time and energy she would have to put in to “manage” my education and make sure the school was doing its job to her satisfaction. Now, to be fair, my mom was never a wallflower and liked to be in charge of a situtation. Yet, to her credit, she was a great teacher and loved children, and children loved her. So, just like the worst patient for a doctor is another doctor, the worst parent for a school is another teacher.

Some time around my leaving preschool (or possibly its catalyst), my mom picked up a book called Teach Your Own by John Holt. One of the leading voices of the homeschool revolution of the 70’s, John Holt wrote a number of groundbreaking books on education and the failures of the public school system. Teach Your Own was to the homeschooling movement what Pagan Christianity (by George Barna & Frank Viola) has been to the home church movement, a book that distills a broad array of innovative thinking and myth dispensing in such a way that it can instigate a whole new manner of debating the topic.

At any rate, after reading through the book, my mom famously (in our household that is!) told my dad “I think we should homeschool our kids.” My dad’s classic reply: “Well that’s radical.” My mom said “just read the book.” So my dad did, and—needless to say—I was homeschooled. So was my brother.

But what about socialization?

It seems bizarre in hindsight, with the explosive success of homeschooling well-publicized across the nation by now, but at the time, my parents’ decision was very controversial. They literally lost friends over it, and more than one extended family member was deeply concerned for our wellfare.

By far the single question we would get asked above all others was: “But what do you do for socialization?” I must admit, I could never understand the reasoning behind this question. I mean, yo, Adult, what do you do for socialization? I always found it strange that putting hundreds of kids of a certain age group into a set of buildings every week to attend multiple meetings headed by lecturers is considered a normal, natural social setting for children. I mean, what do those kids do for socialization, as in being able to talk to a wide variety of people in a wide variety of social settings across a wide range of age groups? (I’ve met plenty of under-18-year-olds who seemed like they had no clue how to relate to anyone not part of their little school-sanctioned clique.)

But what about college?

As my brother and I grew and the 90’s hit its stride, people began to accept the fact that we were homeschooled. It didn’t elicit weird glares from strangers or pained shock from family & friends. We also made friends in the local homeschool community, and eventually got so busy actually doing interesting things (and in many cases making money at it!) that people were more impressed than dismayed.

Until we got to the mid-teen years.

“So Jared, what are you going to do for college?”

“Well, actually, I’m not planning to go to college.”

“….Oh…uh…really?”

Now here’s the deal. I know many homeschooled kids that went to college and did great. In fact, my brother eventually ended up being one of them. But I was always so self-motivated to learn, to explore, and I always had what you might call an entrepreneurial bent. I idolized heroes, past and present, who were “self-made” men and women; who dropped out of college to start billion-dollar companies, or who left school to go sail around the world, or who read books in a log cabin and eventually became President of the USA. Yes, I know it’s not always wise to believe the legends, but the fact is that many of the greats of history were effectively homeschooled.

I’m a voracious reader and always have been. When I was a kid, I’d pick up an encyclopedia and read the essays for fun. The Internet is like a candy store for me. (Yes, you shouldn’t believe everything you read online, but I’ve gotten pretty good at teasing out the legit stuff from the garbage.) When I want to know more about something, I just go read about it. Particle physics, Martin Luther King Jr., Japanese architecture…whatever comes across my radar or stikes my fancy.

Unschooling/hackschooling

People ask me about when I graduated from high school. Graduated? I’m still in school! And I hope to remain so for the rest of my life. In my opinion, when you stop learning, you die. This philosophy of life-long, self-directed learning used to be called “unschooling” but a more recent term I’ve heard is called “hackschooling”. Just as a hacker will build up a computer system piece by piece and maybe even code some of the software by hand in order to understand how everything works, a hackschooler builds up an education piece by piece and seeks out tutoring in a variety of forms for whatever subject is currently the focus. This concept may sound odd and even foolish to someone who’s accustomed to living at the mercy of higher education’s requirements, grades, formal processes, and so forth. Education should be like work, darnnit, not fun and games! (But, why?)

My 5 Observations Regarding the Homeschool Movement

Now that my long preamble is over, on to the list! Here are five things I’ve thought about over the years when it comes to homeschooling. Maybe you’re considering homeschooling yourself, or were homeschooled as a child, or wondering what it would have been like to have been homeschooled. Let me give you some perspective.

  1. Homeschooling is not a one-size-fits-all movement. Not everyone I know who grew up homeschooled was entirely happy with their education/childhood. Maybe their parents were overly strict. Maybe they were raised in a hyper-religious household. Or maybe their parents were just distant and let the kids do “whatever” and it wasn’t healthy. At any rate, it disheartens me when I hear stories like that and the kids (now adults) are planning to put their children in “regular” school as a result. It doesn’t have to be this way! By its very definition, homeschooling is all about learning within the context of the family, and as we all know every family is wildly different. (Sometimes too wildly but that’s a topic of its own!) So if you don’t like the way you were homeschooled, no sweat. Do things differently with your kids. For example, I plan to take my kids on lots of outdoor adventures, learning about activities like boating and fishing and backpacking. I didn’t get to do much of that as a kid, but that doesn’t mean I need to pass on the oversight.
  2. Homeschooling is easier for some kids than others. Some kids like staying at home and working on creative projects, rather than goofing off with the gang. (Ahem, guilty as charged.) Other kids crave social stimuli and go stir-crazy if they’re home a lot. Other kids are painfully shy, and have to be forced to go out and interact with people. So, in a nutshell, it’s important to be aware as a parent of your child’s temperament, and make sure the lifestyle you’re providing for them is congruent with their personality, likes, and aspirations. Homeschools should embrace the ability to create a custom-tailored, personalized educational experience for each child.
  3. Homeschooling is about far more than religion. There’s a perception that parents who choose to homeschool do so for religious reasons…aka to keep their kids out of the evil heathen school system. I think that’s a lame reason to keep kids out of institutional schools—if that’s the only reason. Let me tell you this: if I stopped believing in God tomorrow and felt like secular culture is simply fabulous, I would still homeschool my children. Life is too short to put up with bozo bullies, boring teachers, dry textbooks, and stuffy classrooms. I trust myself to steer my children towards a better education far more than I trust anyone else. (Call me a “education libertarian” if you will.)
  4. Not every parent is cut out for homeschooling. Note: before you send me nasty hate mail, I want to make it clear I fully understand that some parents are in challenging situations that require sending their children to school…e.g., you’re a single parent, you have to regularly travel for your job, you’re working multiple jobs to make ends meet, etc. So please don’t interpret the following as applying to you in such cases. As much as it pains me to say this, I think some parents are probably better off sending their kids to school. They simply don’t have the appetite for acquiring and sharing knowledge, a prerequisite for being a good teacher, and they don’t have the fortitude to spend that much time with their children. Let’s face it: letting some other group of people babysit your kids all day can be mighty handy. It’s challenging to live with youngsters 24/7. But I believe the reward, and the joy, of raising your children up into adulthood with that committed a focus is completely worth it. I attribute much of my success as a human being today to my parents in this regard.
  5. Homeschooling is easier today than it has ever been. The above caveat notwithstanding, you really don’t have much of an excuse to forgo homeschooling your kids today when it comes to available resources. The price of education is trending towards free or nearly free, thanks to the Internet and devices like the iPad. You can watch videos on any subject. You can get ebooks about any topic. You can explore the entire world in gorgeous 3D detail. You can converse with subject matter experts in any field. You can get virtually any question answered. It makes me sick how much better kids have it now even compared to when I was a little tyke. I had a few CD-ROMs. They have millions of interactive apps ready at the push of a button. I had a bunch of textbooks. They have Wikipedia. I had a 486 PC. They have Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, iMac, and Apple TV. (No offense if you’re an Android user, but if you have kids, you need to get an iPad. End of story.)

John Holt, many years ago, made a statement in Teach Your Own that I think still rings true. I will close with this:

“Even though many and perhaps most adults today dislike and distrust children, there is at the same time a growing minority of people who like, understand, trust, respect, and value children in a way rarely known until now. Many of these people are choosing to have children as few people before ever did. They don’t have children just because that is what married people are supposed to do, or because they don’t know how not to have them. On the contrary, knowing well what it may mean in time, energy, money, thought, and worry, they undertake the heavy responsibility of having and bringing up children because they deeply want to spend a part of their life living with them. Having chosen to have children, they feel very strongly that is is their responsibility to help these children grow into good, smart, capable, loving, trustworthy, and responsible human beings. They do not think it right to turn that responsibility over to institutions, state or private, schools or otherwise, and would not do so even if they liked and trusted these institutions, which on the whole they do not.”
John Holt

I would love to hear your feedback and any questions you may have on this subject. Add your voice to the comments section here!

Jared White