OpsLens

I Was Homeschooled and Became a School Teacher. Here Are Honest Pros and Cons of Learning at Home.

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It’s true. Sometimes homeschoolers do school in their pajamas.

But that wasn’t the norm in my home when I was growing up. Generally, my mother kept us to a set schedule. Piano practice was at 8:15 sharp. Math class started at 9:00. The other subjects fell into place around that. Often, we finished our work by lunchtime, after which my sister and I would go outside and play in the woods behind our house, read, draw, or work on some other personal hobby.

Overall, I had an excellent experience with homeschooling, and when I was younger, I saw the educational landscape in very black and white terms: Homeschooling = good; anything else = bad. As time has passed, though, I’ve encountered the whole educational gamut, from both sides of the desk. I attended a public technical college and a public university, taught briefly at the university as part of my graduate program, and then went on to become a teacher at a private academy.

Over the course of these varied pedagogical adventures, my views have become more nuanced. Now, as a father, wrestling with the educational question has grown somewhat more strenuous and urgent: what is the best educational option for my own child? I’ll be honest: I don’t have a perfect answer to that question yet.

What I do have are some honest reflections on what I’ve seen and experienced as a student and a teacher. I hope that these observations may be helpful to other parents and teachers trying to determine the right course for them.

Pros of Homeschooling

Focus on Family Life

Homeschooling keeps a child’s life centered on home and family, as it naturally should be. Home is where education takes place, so in that sense it is home-centric. Further, homeschooling usually involves less busy-work, which allows students to finish earlier and have more free time.

Of course, free time can be used for good or ill, but in a best-case scenario it allows more space for the pursuit of hobbies and creativity, family activities, and family bonding. Homeschoolers generally seem to have stronger relationships with parents and siblings, a tremendous asset that serves them well throughout life.

Flexibility and Individualized Instruction

Obviously, a homeschool environment normally allows for more flexibility in curriculum and schedule and tailored instruction to the needs of each student (though there are exceptions to this). More academically gifted students can move more quickly, while those struggling can move more slowly, as opposed to the one-size-fits-all approach of the traditional classroom. Students can also pursue their individual interests and talents more freely.

Wide-Ranging Experiential Learning

Education is about a lot more than mere book learning (though I’m far from anti-book—I was a literature teacher!).

As Fr. Francis Bethel writes, summarizing the thought of educator John Senior, “[physical education] begins in experience and ends in delight; poetry or music begins in delight and ends in wonder; philosophy begins in wonder and ends in wisdom.” In Senior’s own words, quoted by Bethel, “The first two stages of education [physical and poetic/imaginative] allow the mind to become awake” in order to truly benefit from the pursuit of more abstract knowledge.

A true education engages and forms the whole human person: body, senses, imagination, memory, emotions, intellect, and will. Oftentimes, standard school curricula neglect the physical and poetic, and confinement to a classroom all day every day fails to train the aspects of a student besides the intellect and memory. This could result in a person who is not whole.

Homeschooling, by contrast, often allows for a wider range of experiences that are still crucial to education, though they may not always bear that name: cooking, cleaning, agricultural work, fishing, singing, dancing, drawing, hiking, field trips, etc. My wife grew up on a dairy farm and learned as much from that as just about anything else in her formation.

Lack of Evil Political Agendas

This point hardly needs stating since it’s one of the main reasons people choose to homeschool in the first place: You have control over the curriculum, so you can prevent your children from being indoctrinated with radical political ideologies.

Cons of Homeschooling

Overwhelming Work for Parents

In my family, there were only three children, and so my mother was able to keep up pretty well with our education. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard or a heroic sacrifice on her part, but it was manageable. In a larger family, the task becomes more and more difficult. This is a lot to ask of a mother (or a father) who is often maintaining a household, doing the shopping, cooking, and cleaning, and educating several children at different grade levels in every subject.

For some families—though not all—it’s simply too much. The mother will suffer and the children’s education will suffer. Add to this the fact that, at the higher grade levels, Mom and Dad are simply not likely to be experts in every subject, and it becomes clear how some children’s education may have major gaps in it.

Lack of Structure and Discipline

This point ties in with the one above. If the parents are stretched thin trying to perform all their duties, including the education of their children, disorder and laxity may set in. I have known students who came from a chaotic household or were simply not challenged enough at home and lacked study skills and self-discipline. This is a great setback to overcome. The achievement of anything worthwhile in life demands a degree of discipline and perseverance, and these are best formed as a habit in childhood through the loving, gentle, but firm enforcement of rules and expectations.

To be clear, I am not saying that homeschooling necessarily leads to a lack of academic discipline (and certainly there are schools that do!), but, in general, a school will provide a base level of outside rules, structure, and discipline that some homeschools may not be able to.

Troubles With Outside Authority

Children need to learn that they are accountable to authorities outside their own family. The family is an imperfect society in the sense that it is not sufficient unto itself to achieve all its ends. We need the wider society of other families that form communities. There are authorities outside the family we must submit to. A school can be a good way to learn this through the intermediary of the teacher. In my experience, families that rely too much upon themselves to fulfill all of their children’s educational, social, and spiritual needs are in dangerous territory. This is not the nature of human society, which is something bigger than any one family. We must learn to be a part of it.

Unbalanced Views of the World.

Every family is “unbalanced” in that sense that we all our families have their quirks, their distinctive ways of doing things, their certain biases. This is part of what makes them lovable and beautiful.

At the same time, we cannot remain limited only to our family of origin’s perspectives on everything. The world is bigger than that. Sometimes we need to be challenged by the perspectives of others in order to arrive at the truth. Children who are homeschooled sometimes struggle to understand and accept other families’ ways of doing things, even on matters that are not questions of moral principle. This can be a setback in social life and even in future marriages. Ideally, a school provides children with an opportunity to experience other family cultures, other perspectives in a way that will help balance their own character and views.

I didn’t discuss the notorious socialization question when it comes to homeschooling because socialization can be a pro or a con depending on the situation. I’ve known homeschoolers with above average socialization skills and below average. In general, I would say they tend to be more socially adept, not less. There are, of course, ways to ensure socialization even if children are at home for school—church, youth groups, homeschool co-ops, camps, etc., though the classroom does seem like a natural way to achieve that socialization as well.

The above lists of positives and negatives in home education are not exhaustive. I welcome reader contributions to this important discussion: What pros and cons do you see in homeschooling?

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