Homeschooling has gotten a fair bit of media time lately, thanks in large part to the outspoken nature of Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. Becoming a public face to homeschooling with his seven kids who he claims to have educated at home, Santorum is taking it upon himself to educate the nation about the value of homeschooling.
Thanks for that, Rick, but speak for yourself. Exclusively utilizing online education, as through cyber schools, doesn’t quite constitute homeschooling. Sure, it’s a great alternative to traditional schooling and if your local district isn’t meeting your needs, online education can offer a more rigorous curriculum along with academic and administrative support, without any cost to you beyond the taxes you’re already paying.
For families that have two working parents, a single parent, or don’t have the confidence to shoulder the full burden of their child’s education just yet, quality cyber schools can serve as an excellent replacement or a temporary scaffold. Cyber schools (or online public charter schools) such as K12 or Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School, are flexible, comprehensive, and customizable. They are able to offer more course options, be available for students such as professional athletes, pregnant teens, or dropouts, and still bring the expertise of educators, counselors, and advisors to a student’s home. It’s an emerging opportunity for alternative students and while I support having a variety of academic options, I haven’t yet seen data that indicates exclusive online education increases academic achievement.
Painting the homeschooling community in this monochromatic brush really doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve talked with hundreds of homeschoolers in the past few years and while some take advantage of online education, the vast majority (and the group that is growing the fastest) is looking for individualized education and quality learning opportunities. These homeschoolers are completely tailoring their home learning environment to their child’s needs. They are interest-driven, rather than standards-driven. They realize that learning doesn’t have to come from a textbook and demonstrated through recitation of facts and a multiple-choice test. These parents are seeking to remind their children (and themselves!) how fun learning can be. Carl Sagan said he was “amazed at how much more capability and enthusiasm for science there is among elementary school youngsters than among college students.” Somewhere around those pesky middle school years, kids in school lose their passion and wonder. These homeschool parents are seeking to rekindle this fire and you can’t do that by replacing an 8-hour school day at a desk with an 8-hour school day at a computer.
As I hope Rick Santorum could tell you, homeschooling is so much more than just “schooling at home.” It is a lifestyle, an identity. And research is coming out in droves about how this homeschool lifestyle creates individuals who are competent, social, happy, and active, both at home and in their communities. When compared to public school students, they perform 30 percentile points higher on standardized testing. Homeschoolers are involved in seven activities within the community, including volunteering, sports, and working with a church. They are more likely to attend college and finish with a higher GPA. And they are more likely to say that they’re happy (shouldn’t everyone feel this way?). Check out this ebook from No Agenda Homeschool to learn more.
There are many terms that encompass home education: unschooling, lifeschooling, roadschooling, and so on. Strategies like Montessori, Unit Studies, Charlotte Mason and, yes, virtual education give parents options on how they think their children learn best, many of which support each other and can be combined to form an “eclectic” education. Homeschooling, in whatever form, involves experiential learning, creative thinking, identifying and optimizing learning opportunities (planned or spontaneous), pursuing interests and placing emphasis and value on exploring the world. Homeschoolers, on average, spend about 3-4 hours a day actively learning, compared with the 8-hour public school day with about two hours of usable time. In small classrooms, you can be more efficient with your time and have more fun doing it.
Homeschooling is about finding a better solution. It could be online, it could be on the road, or it could be a combination of self-education (software, college courses, tutoring, and a library card). I appreciate that Rick has participated in bringing home education to the center stage, but he should do so carefully. It is a community of over two million people of different backgrounds and educational pedagogies; many struggle to agree with his platform, given how he has implemented education in his own home. I hope the American people don’t see Santorum as the spokesperson of homeschooling, much like the Duggar family with their 19 children. Neither can claim to be representative of this diverse group; there isn’t just one face of homeschooling.