At face value, this is a nice, guilt-inducing train of thought for those of us who believe quite avidly in offering public schooling to society at large but who, for whatever reason, do not want our children participating in it. But let's break it down to explore what it's really saying, and the questionable thinking behind these seven popular myths.
Myth #1: If all the good parents abandon public schooling, public schooling can't improve.Ok, I see what people are saying here. We home educators, it is thought, are the passionate, idea-driven ones. We're also, prima facie, the ones with time on our hands. Shouldn't we be driving the revolution?
Well, here are a few problems with that line of thinking, right off the top of my head. One: It's racist and classist. Oh, yeah, I said it. How come homeschoolers are the "good" parents in this argument? Does this make people who do use the public school system the "bad" parents? Because, um, that's almost all the parents. And I have to imagine that very few of them are bad. More on racism in a bit, but you can see where classism fits in: Working parents are much more likely to send their kids to schools than families with one or more stay-at-home parents. Are all working parents morally inferior for doing so? Of course not. And even the people making that argument know that, because for the most part, they're people who are sending (or intending to send) their kids to public schools.
Secondly, this argument trashes public schools. I'm not in the business of saying public schools are bad, just that formalized education itself has many problems. I see where people might be confused by my argument here, but let me elucidate. I went to public schools, kindergarten through high school. I had mostly wonderful teachers, and I got a good education. I'm actually against the whole philosophy of cookie-cutter, factory-inspired education. Not individual public schools, not individual teachers — the whole idea of it all. How on earth can I "improve" public schools? I want to take a sledgehammer to the concept of schooling. Do I wish kids were tested less and had more recess? Oh, yes. But that's just scraping the surface. And more on that later, as well.
Also? Homeschooled students make up something like 2.9% of the U.S. school-age population. Big, flipping deal. I can't emphasize enough: Most children are going to public schools. This will always be true. How is our rebellious 2.9% funneled back into schools going to fundamentally change things? Answer: It won't. (And more on that later, too.)
Plus, and I have mixed feelings about this, most homeschoolers are white, middle class, financially well off, and religiously fervent. You know where people like that send their kids when homeschooling's not an option? Private schools.
And just one more point here: Many public schools are bad, but their inferiority has nothing to do with how many people are homeschooling in that neighborhood. They're failing usually as a result of having the bad luck to be situated in a low-income area that can't attract good, or any, teachers. I've visited some of them, and tutored some of their students, and that situation's the pits. I feel awful for those kids who are getting such a bum deal that they still can't read by the time they get to high school. But it's not homeschooling's fault. Homeschooled kids are more likely being kept out of the schools in higher-income neighborhoods, for whatever that's worth.
Myth #2: Children should live out their parents' ideals.But let's say that I decide that public schools are so important to me, for whatever reason, that I must support them. Well, then, why don't I support them? Why must my children pay the price for my zealotry? Why must they be the guinea pigs in my social experiment?
Here's the thing: I spent most of my daylight hours in school each day from age three through age twenty-two. Nineteen years of my life, in classrooms. That's a lot to ask of the children of even the most committed reformers.
This is not to say that parents can't drive revolutions that start in the home. Many parents who are vegetarians raise their children to eschew beef (see how I slipped "chew beef" in there? little joke). Many children will adopt their parents' religious or political beliefs. However, in those situations, the parents believe the acts themselves (being vegetarian, believing in a certain faith) are good. If someone believes public education is bad for children, how on earth could parents in good conscience require their children to marinate in it for all of their formative years? Day in, day out, living out some ideal of their parents. Wouldn't that be selfish?
No, here's the thing: If you the critic of homeschoolers want someone to change public schools so badly, then you take the hit. You make the sacrifice. Become a public school teacher, the kind who inspires students to stand up on their desks and recite poetry (although that was a private school, alas). Run for the school board. Head up the PTA. Tutor in an after-school program or mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Don't expect us to force our kids to make some imagined sacrifice for your philosophical comfort.
Myth #3: Homeschooling focuses only on what the parents want to teach.Well, I think this is kind of silly, because it assumes a school-at-home environment, where there's a classroom of two (or however many) kids, with a single parent (mom) at the blackboard in front, teaching class after class throughout the years from her own notes. I'm sure there are homeschools that look this way, but I don't actually know of any. Ours doesn't.
For parents who choose a school-at-home model, they almost always work with curricula, workbooks, and outside resources, including various homeschool groups. Those who are more freeform (like us) follow our children's interests and seek expertise outside ourselves to satisfy them. I "teach" my son very little that's solely from my own knowledge or memory. I know nothing about whale sharks — well, I should say, I used to know nothing. Now I could tell you a thing or two.
A lot of U.S. states (I haven't done the research for all the states' laws, only my own) have specific requirements of homeschooled kids. That often means they are regularly tested to see how they're scoring with regard to more traditionally schooled students, or at least when it comes time for college admissions. And, you know? They do just fine.
Myth #4: Homeschooling is insular.Again, I think people imagine the two kids in the basement classroom with Mom all day when they argue this. I don't know any homeschooling family that doesn't have friends. (Well, I wouldn't know them, would I? Ha ha.)
It seems to be an object of prominent concern, every time I tell people we're homeschooling, that we offer "socialization" for poor, dear Mikko. Yes, because (a) we his family are not humans and therefore not capable of "socializing" him and (b) we are recluses who never emerge from our cave. Oh, wait, neither of those is true. Some people's socialization looks like structured homeschool groups and field trips. Some people's looks like meetups and play dates. No one is ever forced to attend a siblings-only prom. (I saw a short film about that and can't find it now. Source? It was pretty funny, though ludicrous. And depressing.)
You also have to consider: What is so social about conventional schooling? In my high school, we were allowed three minutes for passing in between classes, and twenty minutes for our lunch "hour." Yeah, real social. And the people we could socialize with were only those in our peer group in terms of age, location, often ethnic background, and usually educational tracking. I don't mind, and in fact wholeheartedly endorse, our children interacting with multiple ages and demographics. Speaking of which…
Myth #5: Homeschooling is racist.On the one hand, I would love for more diversity in the homeschooling crowd. As a white parent myself, I would love to see other tones when I get together with my homeschooling groups, both now and in the future. I absolutely support any family who wants to pursue home-based learning, and I hope more can make it happen. However, I don't see homeschooling as inherently racially problematic. Could there be some people removing their children from schools because they're racist? Oh, golly, I shudder to think so, but probably a few. From my experience, that's far from the norm, though. (Again, statistically speaking, many homeschoolers are doing so for religious or environmental reasons, though neither is the primary reason for us.)
There's a high school near our pool that's incredibly diverse. When I see the students let out, I'm always agog at the variety. I say "agog" because (a) it's a funny word and (b) the schools where I grew up (in several states and even a couple countries) were astoundingly white. Like, I had one black friend in my graduating class. Woot. I do get a little wistful thinking my kids could go to a school like that one I see from the outside, and just be steeped in otherness until it became non-otherness. Though I know from my own research that that's not how it happens (at least not yet, and not without intentionality on the part of, well, everyone). If I look more closely at those incredibly diverse students, I see them walking along in cliques of like-like-like.
And, anyhow, the schools my kids would attend are not nearly so diverse. The high school I was referencing above is 20-ish% white (I know!), but it's not in our district. In contrast, the elementary school near us is 60% white; the middle and high schools over 40%. Not bad, but my kids would still be safely in the majority, and I don't know that it would magically cure racism. (I actually do know that it would not. Sadly.)
I don't intend to allow my family to associate with only people like us. We are intentional about seeking out other points of view and backgrounds and lifestyles. Again, we do not live in a cave, and having all types of different friends is important to us. I don't at all want to cast aspersions on public school parents, but I think it would be easy to assume the diversity at school would do the work for you. It does not. Are all homeschoolers intentional about seeking diversity? Probably not. But neither are most families, period.
Myth #6: Parents involved enough to be homeschoolers could do more good in the public school system.I realize this is kind of a repeat, but I need to get this off my chest. HOW could parents do more good in the public school system? Seriously, someone tell me how this is possible.
Public school systems are a mix of bureaucracy, committees, and rooted cultural conventions. Tell me where in all that is an opening to bring about change.
Even in my kid's fricking preschool, we were shut out and not allowed to participate. And that was a private school, where we were paying particular money. Even in our former church's nursery — yes! for babies! — we were not allowed past the sacred half-door of we'll-take-it-from-here-thanks.
The schools? Do not want us. The school system is set up for parents not to interfere.
Seriously, just try going to your kids' public school classroom and saying, "So. I had an idea for what you could study this quarter. Also, I think we should skip the testing this year and see how that goes. And, by the way, I'm staying for lunch. Which I'm cooking." There's a reason there are big signs on all the public school doors warning outsiders to report to the office immediately for a badge. You are a visitor, at best. A nuisance, at worst. You can effect pretty much zero change. That's how the system is rigged.
And, again, my change would be: anarchy. I don't want fewer tests; I want no tests. I don't want more benign punishments; I want no punishments. I don't want fairer grading; I want no grades, no rewards at all. I want children to be able to follow their own interests, even if that means wandering out to the monkey bars and staring at a butterfly for three hours.
Does my way work in the public school system? With one teacher for 30 kids? No, it does not. And so it will never be implemented, because it would be untold chaos. I'm cool with chaos in my own home, but no one in public schools is going to take me up on that on a system-wide basis.
Myth #7: Homeschooling (especially unschooling) is lazy.I don't know, I don't think you can have it both ways. We unschoolers have been called too involved in our kids' lives (stop smothering them!) and then told in the same breath that we're unschooling just because we're too lazy to get up to push our kidlets out to catch the bus.
All I have to say is, I've been tempted — very tempted — to take advantage of the FREE CHILDCARE that is the public school system. I say that with no snottiness implied. I seriously cannot believe the government will hire competent adults to take care of our kids for hours and hours every day with just the tax money we've already given them. Whoa. But so far, Sam and I are not taking that easy out, even though it would greatly simplify our work-home balance. It's just — and let this be an inspiration to anyone hesitant but wanting to take the plunge — the more we unschool, the more I can't even summon a twinge of regret that we're missing out on anything the schools could give us. I love this. I love the freedom, the excitement of learning, the ease and simplicity of our days. I don't know — maybe I am selfish. Maybe I just want to eat it all up, this precious time with my children, seeing firsthand how they learn. But I'm not apologizing for that.
I want to say that I know, absolutely, that home-based learning is not right for every family. If you've chosen conventional schooling for your family for whatever reason, know that I support you in that and that you are firmly in the 97+% majority (in the U.S.). So don't worry. In the interests of being (a little) funny, I've also chosen to be blunt, but I'm not intending to hurt any feelings.
I just wanted to defend our littler group against the critics. Homeschoolers aren't selfish. I can't speak for everyone, but I'm just doing what's right for my children, at this particular time. If what works for us changes in the future, I'll roll with that then. For now, I'm enjoying unschooling; I'm soaking it up. But I'm not greedy about it: I'd love to share it if you want to give it a try yourself.