When I was five years old, I was enrolled in Kindergarten at a Christian school in East Texas. I enjoyed it for the most part. The structure of school was something I immediately caught onto. My new friends were interesting and engaging, and some of them I still keep in touch with on occasion. The only difficult part of my experience was my knack for reading. They were learning the alphabet and I was reading books recommended for third graders.
My teacher noticed this and contacted my mother, telling her something that would change my future. She told her about I was “delightfully peculiar”, and while it might ruin her career for recommending this, I was a kid who needed to be home-schooled. Otherwise, I might get bored and get into trouble.
So, halfway through the year, my mother pulled me out. Since there wasn’t much of a homeschooling community in my hometown, she bought me some Kindergarten Lifepac workbooks to go through and left me to finish them. Somehow, I managed to do them all and do them well.
A lot has changed over time. As of right now, my mother is the President of C.H.E.C., a local and rather large non-profit home-school co-op in our area. All four of my younger siblings are currently home-schooled, and most of my friends have been home-schooled at some point in their lives.
However, almost every single person I know who has been home-schooled for their entire schooling doesn’t think that any other option is appropriate. And why should they? It’s all they’ve ever known, and it likely was the best solution for them. There are countless problems with the public school system, and so it would seem as if anything but home-schooling is irresponsible.
And I disagree with that. Strongly.
Another detail of my upbringing was that I was a private-schooler and public-schooler for what approximately totals half of my childhood and high school years. Even after the first few years of home-schooling, I wasn’t convinced that it was for me. There are certain benefits to the alternatives that can’t be ignored, and I’m here to defend my case for those who would disagree with me.
For my compiled list below, I’m going to avoid the obvious reasons as to why some can’t home-school. You can’t home-school foster children, nor can you do it if your family life is having difficulties or if you are too poor to afford school books. These are perfectly valid reasons, and I do not think it is acceptable to shame someone into homeschooling for the inability to abide by the above. Not that any home-schooler I know would do that, but the point stands nonetheless.
With that said…
Firstly, the extra-curricular opportunities for publicly schooled kids are simply wider. I’d like to point out that I wouldn’t be certified in Photoshop CS6 if it wasn’t for my public school years. Nor would I have experience in a serious theater department. Or a UIL competition. No, the activities provided by a public school are not always what we’re most comfortable with — fort-building and sword fighting are off the table — but they’re things that grow people. If I only did things I immediately knew I’d enjoy, I would have a stunted growth. It’s the things that I find annoying and difficult, but worthwhile to learn, that make everything else in life worth it. And just because I wasn’t thrilled about learning Photoshop doesn’t mean that I haven’t used it, especially since I was paid to use it for a while.
Plus, while I understand that sporting events exist for home-schoolers, they’re not the same. I’m not a sports guy, but I know quite a few people who have left home-schooling for the sports and never looked back. These are people I respect, and there is zero doubt in my mind that this is for the best. I mean, if you’re already paying for a nice football stadium with your tax dollars, you might as well use it every once in a while, right?
Secondly, the people a publicly-schooled child interact with come from a wider pool. When you’re home-schooled, there’s a certain pool of kids you interact with. More often than not, they enjoy classic literature, Minecraft, have strong opinions about movies, and write… often. These are all things that I myself can claim. However, these aren’t the people you interact with inside the workforce. I’ve heard horror stories of students going off to the real world, shocked that college kids in a Christian college get drunk and sleep around. The fact of the matter is that there are suffering people in this world who come from a wide background. The example I like to give most often is one from the film adaption of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (and I can’t cite the book because I can’t remember if this quote is in it:)
“There is something about a tangle of strangers pressed together for days with nothing in common but the need to go from one place to another and never see each other again.”
Life is like that. And that’s okay. Yes, it’s possible for home-schoolers to interact with people outside their comfort zones, but the public school environment, where everyone has teachers, tests, and the system in common… there’s something special about that. No matter what, one person will always have something in common with someone else as long as they have the human experience. We are made in the image of God, what else do we need to draw us together?
Thirdly, unless you’re good at checking the books, you’re in for a ride. I know a lot of good people who do excessively relaxed home-schooling. I don’t have anything inherently against it. But frankly enough, I doubt its effectiveness in the real world. I understand that the law of inertia is relative to humans as well — we like to do what is easiest for us, and when we spend the majority of our time pursuing passions, it can often lead to lop-sided results. If we lived in a world where following our dreams led us to a fulfilled life, then it’d be a very different world. Thus, in many situations, SAT testing is important. Understanding that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell may seem useless, but being able to cough it up proves to an employer that you’ll be able to cough up the seemingly boring, useless stuff you have to be able to in order to hold down a job.
There is a flip-side to this coin, however. A good friend of mine tried home-schooling, but he did so tethered to a system that was designed for remote schooling, tied to his local public school. The project was a flop, and it ended up resulting in him being a year behind. He’s going to have difficulty getting into the college he wants to, and that breaks my heart for him.
I guess the solution to this section is that it’s important to have a clear goal for why exactly you’re schooling your children in a world that works like a machine. But I promise that just because someone goes through what feels like a cookie cutter doesn’t mean that they’ll become a cookie cutter person. I’ll explain below.
Thirdly, the system is broken. And that’s a wonderful thing. That might sound like a bizarre thing to say, but I’m not going to argue with the many home-schoolers I know that insist that the public school system is broken because most of them are. They’re bloated, inefficient, and often so oriented towards standardized tests that no real learning occurs. But here’s the kicker — often times, it’s not a system that encourages people to learn, it’s ninety percent their attitude. A student will always learn if they are willing to, and even the best school systems can’t change a student’s heart. And even if it’s not “book intelligence”, character can be gained at public school that would be difficult to gain in a home setting.
“If I only did things I immediately knew I’d enjoy, I would have a stunted growth.”
At public school, you are a number who is squeezed through a tube. You’re a lump of clay that has to be pressed in a mold. You’re a parrot that has to choke up whatever the teachers throw at you. That’s what it feels like. And I understand that for many kids, school is a terrible place. When you put human beings together, terrible things happen. Assault happens. Bullying happens. Mistakes are made. I am not excusing that behavior in the least.
But for me, public school kept me from being a stuck-up brat. I learned that I was not a special little gemstone. I learned that I wasn’t going to always be the teacher’s favorite or even someone a teacher liked. I got a ladle full of what the rest of my life is going to be like, and it forced me to look down from myself and out towards the hurting people who desperately needed a friend, even if we didn’t have everything in common. And I met a lot of people. I met a girl who also liked tech but berated me about the gender wage gap and refused to let me be a friend, even if I couldn’t find many friends for the first week or so. I met a kid who was so obsessed with money that he wouldn’t talk about anything. I met a kid who didn’t look like he had much money or really any friends. These were kids who were definitely not home-schoolers, nor would they ever be (or ever could be), and that didn’t matter. Our interests were different, as were our perspectives, backgrounds, and… just about everything else. But we were friends. We ate lunch together. We shared the system and we grew from it.
Don’t get me wrong. Home-schooling is a gift, and I’m proud to have been one. It’s something I’ll wear for the rest of my life.
But as other home-schoolers who’ve been through the system will say, I wouldn’t trade that time in my life for the world. It broadened my horizons and expanded my perspective on the human condition.