Homeschooling Still on the Rise, and in Places You Might Not Expect

A couple of articles about homeschooling in the last week or so have caught my attention and give reasons for continued optimism about the future of this educational model.

First, data from states that keep track of homeschooling show a continued rise in the number of homeschooled students over the last decade. Milton Gaither links to all available 2011 data from the states on his blog. The more homeschooled students there are, the harder it will be for the educational establishment to stop or otherwise curtail the practice. This is all to the good.

Then there was the piece on urban homeschooling that ran in Newsweek magazine recently. It profiles an urban family with two professional parents who decided to cut back their lifestyle to what they could afford on one income so the mother could stay home and homeschool the kids. This family is part of a growing segment of the population that homeschools for non-religious reasons:

You only have to go to a downtown Starbucks or art museum in the middle of a weekday to see that a once-unconventional choice “has become newly fashionable,” says Mitchell Stevens, a Stanford professor who wrote Kingdom of Children, a history of homeschooling. There are an estimated 300,000 homeschooled children in America’s cities, many of them children of secular, highly educated professionals who always figured they’d send their kids to school—until they came to think, Hey, maybe we could do better.

The article notes that homeschooling methods are quite diverse:

Some families seek out a more classical curriculum, others a more unconventional one, and “unschoolers” eschew formal academics altogether. There are parents who take on every bit of teaching themselves, and those who outsource subjects to other parents, tutors, or online providers. Advances in digital learning have facilitated homeschooling—you can take an AP math class from a tutor in Israel—and there’s a booming market in curriculum materials, the most scripted of which enable parents to teach subjects they haven’t studied before.

In my view, this is a great strength of homeschooling. One size need not fit all. Over time, I’m confident that the classical curriculum will prove itself to be the superior option and that it will draw an increasing share of students.

Newsweek is about as Establishment-approved as you can get when it comes to reporting current events, so you can expect at least a half-hearted attempt to call the trend into question. Here it is:

Still, you can’t help but wonder whether there’s a cost to all this family togetherness. There are the moms, of course, who for two decades have their lives completely absorbed by their children’s. But the mothers I got to know seem quite content with that, and clearly seem to be having fun getting together with each other during their kids’ activities.

That’s because, contrary to militant feminism’s wishes, most mothers do not view their children as “career interruptions.”

And the kids? There’s concern that having parents at one’s side throughout childhood can do more harm than good. Psychologist Wendy Mogel, the author of the bestselling book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, admires the way homeschoolers manage to “give their children a childhood” in an ultracompetitive world. Yet she wonders how kids who spend so much time within a deliberately crafted community will learn to work with people from backgrounds nothing like theirs. She worries, too, about eventual teenage rebellion in families that are so enmeshed.

One word: LAME. This is nothing more than fretting over a lack of Establishment indoctrination. As one wag put it when accused of giving his homeschooled children a “sheltered” upbringing, “What are you going to accuse me of next? Feeding and clothing them?”

And the last part about rebellion is laughable. Where has Wendy Mogel been for the last century? Age-segregated schooling and “youth culture” have contributed more to teenage rebellion than anything else in our society.

If the yuppies continue to homeschool in increasing numbers, any lingering negative stereotypes about the practice will be mitigated. Again, this is all to the good. I would love to see a drive for property tax abatement for homeschool families led by some secularist CEO in Silicon Valley.

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About Dr. J

I am an Associate Professor and head of the Department of Humanities at Faulkner University. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy.
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7 Responses to Homeschooling Still on the Rise, and in Places You Might Not Expect

  1. Mitchell Stevens’s ethnography, _Kingdom of Children_ is excellent. He notes that the contemporary home schooling movement began back in the 1960s as part of the sixties counterculture, with families seeking to “unschool” their children from the conformity of public education. He also notes, correctly in my view, that the secular home schooling movement typically relies on a very different conception of human personhood than that of home schooling evangelicals, made manifest in the difference in educational practices in each circle. He also chronicles the story in the 1980s of how secular home schoolers felt like the movement was co-opted by evangelicals. Even today I found hints of division in my own dissertation work in Atlanta, with well-organized evangelical homeschooling support groups existing in proximity to less-organized, occasionally resentful secular home schooling families who would qualify their introduction by saying things like “We aren’t like those families . . . .” Jason, tell me what you think about this observation I had from my research. In a way home schooling has evolved to the point where it’s not as easy to distinguish the practice of home schooling itself from that of more traditional private education. I observed numerous home schooling families in Atlanta who had become part of what are essentially grassroots private academies, with parents paying monthly tuition to send their home schooled kids to be privately tutored alongside other home schooled kids. It seems to me that home schooling no longer means what it used to.

  2. Dr. J says:

    It looks to me like there’s a spectrum of practice ranging from, on one end, all the education done “in-house” by parents (whatever the structure), to co-op programs (like one here in Montgomery) where the children go to a central location one day per week for various classes and activities, to situations where a big part or even all of the education is “outsourced” to local providers or online academies. I don’t have any idea what the percentages would look like if you tried to break these different models down.

    In our own case, the kids have something called “Fun Friday” at a local church twice per month where they do classes and activities with other children. There’s no homework or grades assigned, but it gives the kids opportunities for certain kinds of interaction they don’t get at home. They also go to a Youth Chorus rehearsal once per week at a different church in town. I’d definitely say that what we do qualifies as “traditional homeschooling.”

    For those families who “outsource” more, the continuity with models like my family’s is that it’s still the parents who are ultimately in charge of what the child will be taught and how the educational experience will be structured. I teach an online class in logic for homeschooled students; for some of them, my class is their only one directed by someone outside the home, whereas others have several others in addition to mine.

  3. chellesnell says:

    Thank you for this post. I am a stay at home mother whose family decided to cut back to homeschool our now 6 year old daughter. Technically we started when she was 2 years old. Now she has her own tablet pc, reads on a high 4rd grade level, has the reading comprehension of a 5th grader, and loves music, math and science. I honestly don’t think a traditional school system can teach her better than I can. She has a curriculum taylored to they way she likes to learn each subject and includes a massive about of technology. Needless to say people are always impressed by how smart yet grounded she is. Sometimes parent’s just get their kids. “many of them children of secular, highly educated professionals who always figured they’d send their kids to school—until they came to think, Hey, maybe we could do better.” My family in a nutshell.

    • Dr. J says:

      Most school systems, however well intentioned, are driven by the lowest common denominator. I’m sure your daughter will flourish under your guidance. Congratulations on your successes thus far!

  4. chellesnell says:

    Reblogged this on SkittlesMomma and commented:
    Found this post very intriguing.

  5. Just to respond to Vic McCracken – I have homeschooled for more than a dozen years in three southern states. I have to say that I and most of my friends are mystified by academics thinking Kingdom of Children is an accurate portrayal of homeschooling. It’s been a while since I read it, but if I remember correctly, the division of homeschooling is far more exaggerated than many of us feel. While the extremes exist, homeschooling seems more accurately to us to exist on a continuum, and a mix-and-match one at that. There are Christian unschoolers and Classical secularists, for example, although such depictions in the Kingdom-like lit are rare. There are many folks homeschooling in reaction to the over-emphasis on testing and a test-driven curriculum, and they actually seem to strongly identify with the word “mainstream” – they see themselves as “mainstream homeschoolers,” if that is not an oxymoron. They don’t identify with any particular camp or any particular extreme. They just want to help their kids learn and feel appropriately loved and valued, in reaction to what may best be described as Institutionalization that occurs in some schools. I have always felt that Kingdom only gets at some kind of iconography of homeshooling, but not that way it is lived and shared by many. For example, many of these “mainstream homeschoolers” strongly identify as “Christian,” but they may not use curricula, discipline methods, or approaches to homeschooling that are identified as “Christian” within homeschooling or by researchers studying homeschooling. They may even be (gasp! another oxymoron alert!) Christian humanists, which is one reason why the portrayal of the extremes of homeschooling does not work well. And they are everywhere – taking classes with the Christian folks at the local church and hanging at the park with unschoolers of whatever religious persuasion. They are “doing what works,” which seems to me to be the point. Anyway, this may be my own small sample, but I thought I’d throw it out there.

  6. psam ordener says:

    Jeanne’s “small sample” agrees with mine. I started homeschooling thirteen years ago when my older son, “bored out of his mind” at our “Exemplary School in an Exemplary School System” in Texas, asked to homeschool. His head was full of things he wanted to try, to build, to do, that he couldn’t do because he had to spend 7 hours a day in school learning nothing new. This is a kid who read the newspaper as he ate breakfast in kindergarten.

    We were fortunate to find a group that did not require a Christian “statement of faith”. The members were homeschooling because it was right for the family, right for the children, not because God told them to do it. Through our homeschooling career, we’ve met everything from rigid school-at-homers who won’t even let the kids go outside during public school hours, to radical unschoolers who refuse to “teach” anything. Our sample is large – we live in the Houston, Texas area and attended events all over the area with many different groups.

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