Dec 24, 2018 By Team YoungWonks *
How helpful is homeschooling? Is homeschooling good or bad for your kid? Like in many cases, there are both proponents and opponents of homeschooling. At the outset, we need to examine what homeschooling entails. Only then can we debate the merits and demerits of the homeschooling system.
What is homeschooling?
Homeschooling, as the name suggests, is when the student is schooled or taught at home, instead of in a school. It is called homeschooling in North America but it’s also known as ‘home education’ in the United Kingdom, Europe, and in many Commonwealth countries. The tutoring can be done by a parent, an instructor or even an online teacher. An alternative form of teaching, homeschooling is legal in several countries, including the US.
A brief history of homeschooling
Interestingly, homeschooling was the norm at one point of time; it’s not exactly a new thing and has been around for years now. In fact, the education of children at home by family members has been a rather common practice. Of course, getting professional tutors was typically an option available only to the wealthy, but home education as such by parents was the main form of education until the 1830s. By the early 19th century, this began to change as formal classroom schooling became the most common means of schooling throughout the developed countries.
What was the reason behind popularity of the formal classroom? More than anything else, it did well because it encouraged the pursuit of a certain kind of uniformity/ discipline in teaching. That said, in the coming years, research also began to show the other, not so pretty side to formal education.
For instance, in the ’60s, American educational professionals Raymond and Dorothy Moore researched early childhood education which covered independent studies by other researchers and a review of over 8,000 related studies. They shared that formal schooling before ages 8–12 was not only not effective enough but that it also harmed children. The Moores published their view that formal schooling was damaging young children academically, socially, mentally, and even physiologically, citing evidence that childhood problems such as juvenile delinquency, nearsightedness, increased enrollment of students in special education classes and behavioral problems were the result of increasingly earlier enrollment of students. They put forth the argument that formal teaching was robbing kids of quality time at home with parents and the individual attention that they so desperately needed at their young age. They said that this quality time was crucial to emotional and all-round development of most children, barring those with special needs or impoverished children.
Common reasons behind homeschooling
So why do parents choose to homeschool their kids? The answer lies in parents wanting to play a bigger role in their kids’ education. Often these parents are dissatisfied with the schools around, they think that individual attention is being compromised upon or the schools are too far from their homes and that they, the parents, would rather teach their kids at home than send them so far.
It can also arise out of the parents’ religious conviction; many want to imbibe certain teachings and values in their kid which they do not trust the schools to do a good job of. But one of the most pressing reasons for homeschooling is that parents believe it is better for their kids; and for what it is worth, it is known to have yielded impressive results in terms of the students’ academic performances.
Homeschooling in the US
In fact, several studies have shown a positive correlation between homeschooling and academic performance; including ones examining the impact of homeschooling on students’ GPAs. A 2010 study, for example, found that homeschooled students had higher high school GPAs (3.74) and transfer GPAs (3.65) than conventional students. Studies have also shown homeschooled students typically do better in terms of pursuing and performing well in higher education. Thus many of them get into elite universities.
According to the US National Center for Education Statistics, about three percent of all children in the US were homeschooled in 2011-2012 school year. And as of 2016, there are about 1.7 million homeschooled students in the United States.
What homeschooling critics say
It is important to assess the effect of homeschooling on a student’s social skills. A very common, generic criticism of homeschooling is that while all that individual attention will hone your kid’s academic skills, the same can’t be said of the student’s social skills. The argument is that these students, because of little or no interaction with other students in a classroom setup, won’t know how to act or react in certain social situations.
In fact, many parents choosing to send their kids to schools have voiced concerns over how homeschooling their children would lead to the latter missing out on a “healthy social environment” and how it would adversely impact the kids’ social skills. They also feel that after-school programs do not suffice when it comes to interactions with other kids and that schools take care of this problem.
The National Education Association, a United States teachers’ union and professional association, opposes homeschooling. It believes that homeschooling programs based on parental choice cannot give students a comprehensive education experience. Homeschooling critics also point out that the school is not just a place for the kids’ intellectual development, but it’s also where they learn to cooperate, face social challenges, and work out their differences. They add that in contrast to this, homeschooled kids tend to have a sense of entitlement; often they do not know to adjust with other people as they do not realise that unlike in their homeschool setup, the outside world is not one where everything is custom-tailored to suit their individualistic needs.
What homeschooling advocates say
Homeschooling proponents, on the other hand, are quick to point out that today most parents of homeschooled students are aware of how tricky things can get and thus address the problem by having their kids participate in several social activities.
YoungWonks parent Sally Daniel points out that homeschooling her 11-year-old son Danny has been instrumental in bringing about a 180-degree change in his achievements. “Initially, I sent my son to different private schools, but with each school I faced similar issues: I felt that for a young boy like my son, these schools were not offering proper protection in terms of nurturing a child. A lot of other things go into nurturing a child; for example, is the child having lunch properly, is he/ she happy in the classroom setting, how is the kid getting along with others his/ her age, are they being bullied, are there proper security features at the facilities and so on. I felt that a lot of these things were not being looked after at these schools. There seems to be a cold, laboratory way of administering education in many schools today. Students spend way too much time in classrooms at their desks, and come home to another 3 to 4 hours of homework. As a result, many public-school students seem chronically stressed.”
And so, in 2016, she decided to homeschool her son instead of looking for another institution. “For starters, he suggested it to me. I too had thought about homeschooling for many years but hadn’t found appropriate online and/or community support in terms of programs or models to follow.”
And how has the homeschooling journey been so far? “I have been homeschooling him for two years now. This past year, for his sixth grade, I designed my own curriculum since I wanted to move away from the conventional US curriculum and incorporate my own philosophies and educational ideas across subjects such as physics, chemistry, botany and history. I also had him evaluated through an online elite school and based on the results, he will be starting with the seventh-grade curriculum next month (this January).”
Needless to say, Ms Daniel’s commitment to her son’s education is no cake walk. She is quick to share that while homeschooling her son “literally takes up to 16 hours” of her day, she finds it highly rewarding. “I have made sure that my son doesn’t just spend all his time on the curriculum alone. He is studying the arts, sports and music; he plays the piano. Next year, he will start learning a third foreign language to complement his four computer science classes with YoungWonks each week. The special programs he studies have created ample opportunities for him to meet with other exemplary educators throughout the Bay Area and it has also ensured that he’s in touch with other homeschooled students. Homeschooling has helped Danny become an independent and confident individual who is a far cry from several years ago when he felt alienated and insecure about his environment. So yes, as it stands today, I will not be using a standardized educational institution for his primary K-12 education.” she says.
Another YoungWonks parent, who chose to remain anonymous, agrees. Recounting how the past five years of homeschooling her kid have been amazing, she emphasizes that homeschooling gives parents the opportunity to work on their child’s weaknesses and strengths. “Homeschooling gives one the flexibility to explore different classes and curriculum; this way, the student can excel in his / her field of interest. It definitely needs a lot of time and commitment from the parent, even though you could send your children to all day homeschooling classes if you are a working parent or not comfortable teaching yourself. Moreover, there is a large homeschooling community here in the US, and it is always there to support and encourage parents & children. They also organize many classes and fun activities as a group. I’d say that homeschoolers are always out and about in the community for group academic classes, field trips, recreational classes and other social-group activities, so there are many socializing opportunities. It ultimately depends upon each family how much or little they want to socialize,” she says.
Homeschooling can get tricky
Having looked at both sides of the fence, certain things remain unchanged: that indeed, homeschooling can be quite tricky to execute. The fact remains that parents have a way more important role in a homeschooling setup than in the case of conventional classroom schooling; and this is regardless of who is actually teaching the student. So the kid may be taught by the parent or a private tutor and in both cases, it’s very important to set clear educational goals for the student. In the absence of this, homeschooling can be reduced to a whim, because there’s no classroom teacher to set the time table now, decide what or how a particular subject is going to be studied.
This is why the results of homeschooling may vary from student to student. In other words, not all homeschooled students are equally successful. Homeschooling is still quite subjective and its impact on kids varies on a case to case basis. The key, like is the case with most things in life, lies in execution. In this case, it is about the ability to stick to the teaching/ learning schedule.
Charter schools – a middle ground option?
It’s important to point out here that parents also have the option of sending their kids to charter schools, a sort of hybrid system of schooling.
What sets these charter schools apart from other public schools is that these are established by a ‘charter’ that lists the school's mission, educational program, and methods of assessment. They have greater freedom than a typical public school and work independently of the established state school system in which it is located. This means that it is ideal for parents seeking a school that’s part of the state system and yet offers a certain amount of freedom to operate.
California, for instance, has a fair share of charter schools today. Connecting Waters Charter School at Waterford, Ocean Grove Charter School, Boulder Creek, Sky Mountain Charter School, Diamond Springs and Valley Oaks Charter School, Bakersfield are some of the well-known charter schools. There are also religious charter schools such as the Ilm Tree at Lafayette in California, which focuses on imparting knowledge about Islamic studies - in addition to subjects like science, math - in a homeschool setup.
In the end, we must recognize that regardless of what parents opt for – whether to send their kids to school or homeschool them – it is imperative that they (the parents) do their research and see what ultimately suits their child. The fact remains that each child is unique and his/ her parents would have to acknowledge this in order to fully realise the child’s true potential.
Below is a video throwing light on the same subject:
*Contributors: Written by Vidya Prabhu; Lead image by: Leonel Cruz