Thoughtful Revolution

Thoughts on Homeschooling, Part 1

I spend a good deal of my time picking apart subjects (current events, movies, etc.) that exist at a relatively safe distance from my own life. The same cannot be said for education. I have been homeschooling myself since the end of my 9th grade year; before that, I never stayed in one school for more than 3 years, and therefore have had the opportunity to sample firsthand a number of the most raging controversies in the education sector. Magnet/gifted programs? Check. Homeschooling? Check. Socioeconomic stratification? Check. Misallocation of funding? Check. Standardized testing? Check, check and check.

In my experience, these debates, and debates on education as a whole, are among the more passionate and less productive I have encountered on any topic. Participants on all sides immediately become defensive — who, after all, wants to be perceived as making the wrong choice for their child, and therefore implicitly harming that child? This is especially notable in “educational styles” debates (public vs. private, mainstream vs. magnet, magnet vs. private, public vs. homeschool, homeschool vs. unschool, you name it), which more often than not devolve into blind ideological fury and name-calling of the highest degree. And often, the greatest offenders are those parents (and older students, like myself) who have made unorthodox educational choices; we can feel so embattled on a daily basis that accepting constructive criticism or admitting any failure begins to smell of rank capitulation. This is a dangerous and often counterintuitive viewpoint to hold, as numerous non-educational arguments have proven — but I digress.

As that last paragraph may have evidenced, I feel that the discourse around homeschooling leaves very little room for discussion of the vast and varied gamut of homeschoolers’ emotions, reactions, successes, and failures. With little to no input from the students themselves, homeschoolers are streamlined into two categories, as much by their friends and family as by the mainstream media: we must either be damaged by (and/or unhappy with) our alternative education, or we must find it a life-changing, mind-broadening experience that will enable us to be twenty times more independent/smarter/happier than our schooled peers. I do, from time to time, set myself intentionally in the second category, especially when challenged by skeptics — but I am increasingly uncomfortable with it, as I am with the “either you’re with us or you’re against us” mentality that is so prevalent in the homeschooling community.

Because I’m neither “with us or against us.” Like many of the homeschooling students in my life, I can recognize the many pros of homeschooling, even as I suffer its rarely-constructively-discussed cons. Unlike many of those students’ parents, I don’t feel that sharing my personal experience and hoping for feedback will irrevocably sabotage the entire homeschooling movement, and so I will say that, on the whole, this educational choice has been a failure for me.

Before I go into this, let me just say that I do not claim to speak for anyone but myself. Homeschooling, I’m sure, can be a profoundly rewarding experience; the fact that it is not rewarding for everyone does not negate its tangible merits for some. That being said, I have found my homeschooling experience to be an odd and destructive combination of physical/mental idleness and physical/mental stress, with — in a supposedly pressure-free educational environment — more pressure and higher expectations than I believe are appropriate for any high school student. (And as a former pupil in the famously high-powered Montgomery County public school system, I don’t take such a statement lightly.) This, compounded with a relative dearth of social outlets, has led me to the conclusion that homeschooling was the wrong choice.

In the first two years of my homeschooling tenure I did not talk about this. I tried my hardest not to think about this. My problems, I reasoned, were the result of individual, day-by-day mistakes (not signing up for x course, participating in y underwhelming one) or broader New Year’s Resolution-esque difficulties (not doing enough work, looking for friends in all the wrong places) — they couldn’t possibly be related to my educational choice as a whole.

It’s only in the last few months that I’ve realized a certain pattern: more and more, I’ve been using my homeschooled freedom to recreate school. I do engage in “extracurriculars,” of course (political internships, theatrical productions, blogging), but the keystones of my days are traditional classes. Now I don’t always like these classes — there’s probably not a class out there that could make me enjoy integrals — but I appreciate that they give me a structure, a discussion format and, yes, a set of boundaries that I have rarely experienced since I left school.

And some people may learn better without these. I am not one of those people. Though group projects do tend to frustrate me, group discussion and challenges and feedback is what I thrive on; without it, whether this is definitively true or not, I get the sense that my mind is stagnating. Likewise, I thrive on social connection, both during a session of conventional academic study or outside of it. Though I have no doubt that some homeschoolers are able to carve out a satisfying social life, I have some difficulties: for one thing, I live in Bethesda, an area with few to no homeschoolers. Because my parents both work full-time, it’s well-nigh impossible for me to access the enclaves of homeschooled students in far-away Columbia or Gaithersburg; I could certainly befriend schooled students, and have, but it’s difficult to keep them as close as friends should be when I am completely absent from the vast majority of their lives. And when one is penned into a ready-made social group as small as the D.C. area-homeschooling community, one is forced to stick to that social group, no matter how divergent personalities may be or become — which, while clearly an education in social skills, can become a restrictive and depressing ordeal. School provides a ready-made hotbed of people, and while I wasn’t necessarily the best of friends with all of them, I was neither cut off from peers completely nor forced to work at or simulate closeness with an available few. In my particular situation, Grace Llewellyn (who I mostly have tremendous respect for) was wrong: for me, a learning community could more easily be established in school than outside of it.

But putting all that aside, homeschooling must have been more educational than boring old school, right?  Well, yes and no.  I appreciate that it’s given me the opportunity to engage in activities and explore a number of subjects in more depth then I ever could in school.  I also believe that it’s left my mind stagnant.

Cliffhanger!  Part two will be posted either tonight or tomorrow morning, depending on how behind I am on my NaNo.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Thoughts on Homeschooling, Part 2 « Thoughtful Revolution pingbacked on 9 years, 7 months ago
  2. Judith — Day Six « The Transformation of Things pingbacked on 9 years, 2 months ago


  1. * Danny says:

    Oh boy, cliffhanger ending! Will the heroine resolve her difficulties with homeschooling? Will her mind recover from its stagnation? Will her snappy commentary continue to be a pleasure to read? Will her NaNo get finished? Will she ever find true love?

    Less silly comment later, I promise. Honestly, though, I never realized you regretted leaving the MCPS pressure cooker behind. Sort of wish I’d known sooner… And I guess that need for structure and connection is part of what kept me from following you: I’m pretty sure if I tried homeschooling my life would still be falling apart.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 7 months ago
    • * thoughtfulrevolution says:

      I’d have told you sooner if I’d realized it myself… 😛

      | Reply Posted 9 years, 7 months ago

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