“Homeschooling” is a Big Tent

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“Homeschooling” is a phrase that tends to evoke one of two images in the layperson’s mind. One image includes seventeen kids loaded up into a church bus, all wearing denim down to their ankles and churning butter at four in the morning. The other includes a few kids at home under the auspices of a highly-educated tutor or stay-at-home parent, while the other parent rakes in high six-figures every year.

Both types of homeschoolers exist, certainly, but the spectrum “homeschooling” includes a lot more. Homeschooling as an educational movement is a much bigger tent.

I recently had an exchange on twitter that was tangential to this and more directly related to whether or not reformers should shrink from public battles in the public school (I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but that’s not the core point of this article here).

In the course of that exchange, it was implied that homeschooling is something only the privileged few can do, either because they live somewhere cheap enough to do it on one income or because they make enough money to hire tutors.

This is a common misconception. It’s one that I had for a long time growing up. Then a few years ago, I immersed myself in the homeschool community as a function of my work. I was surprised to find just how wrong I was and how wrong the popular misconceptions around homeschooling are.

(Go spend a weekend at a Great Homeschool Convention if you don’t believe me.)

Homeschooling is a big tent that includes a lot of different educational approaches.

Here’s just a few:

  • Homeschool co-ops: families come together for a few days every week and students learn in a group setting, not unlike a community school.
  • Unschooling: children are largely left to their own devices. They may be given resources to learn, like books and computers, by parents, but the parents are generally hands-off.
  • Classical education: children focus on learning the Western canon and may learn Greek, Latin, or other classical languages based off of curricula purchased by the parents. These can often be re-used for multiple children.
  • Micro-schooling: similar to co-operatives, students come together for a certain number of days every week, but the school focuses on a specific pedagogical style. I’ve met parents who send their children to micro-schools two days out of every where, where they focus on socratic discussion and practical skills.
  • Cyber-schooling: students learn online with other students enrolled in annual classes. In some states this falls more firmly into the “charter school” category rather than homeschooling.
  • World-Schooling: students travel around the world, either in groups or with their families, and learn based on local customs and culture.
  • Mixes of all of the above that I haven’t included.

Some of those approaches cost money or privilege that few have, but many are much more affordable and accessible than people think. Curricula can be re-used between children and families, tutors can be hired for groups, schools and churches can be made available to co-ops for free or a small fee that the community raises together.

I know plenty of families that support homeschooling two, three, four, and even five children on a single modest income. They do this by connecting with other homeschool families and accessing the resources civil society makes available to them.

Not everybody can (or should!) homeschool, I get that. But I want people to understand that if it is something that is appealing to them or their family, they shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand for financial reasons.

For many families, some flavor of homeschooling is the best available option to guarantee that their children get quality educations that prepare them for what comes later in life.

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