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The way we do it

Until recently, pretty much every mention I found of homeschooling in the mainstream press looked nothing like what we do at our house. Or nothing like people I know do at their houses. And definitely not like what the homeschoolers I know do when they’re out of the house, which is in general a significant piece of their time. According to the popular press, we were separatist religious fanatics or hippies raising our children like wolves.

Recently, however, I’ve seen a few pinpoints of light out there in the dismal mainstream world. Two of them come from Quinn Cummings, who is apparently famous as a child actor (since I ignore popular culture her name was meaningless to me!). Her message, however, was the one I’d been hoping to see in the popular press: Homeschoolers are choosing a valid form of education that is different from school, but most of us are neither separatist religious fanatics nor hippies raising our children like wolves.

Cummings has put out a book, which I haven’t read, and in the process of publicizing it she has made us rather invisible homeschoolers more visible. In the Wall Street Journal, she not only presents her own reason for homeschooling but also gives people a sense of what is a much more important thing in homeschooling: the hybrid ways of learning that most of our kids are involved in. On the Diane Rehm Show, she necessarily had to stay more personal, but she pushed back nice and hard against the really yawn-inducing questions (as far as homeschoolers are concerned) of socialization and how well former homeschoolers integrate with other kids.

Today EdWeek, an education industry publication, published “Hybrid Homeschools Gaining Traction,” a story about homeschooling that is much more familiar to me and the other homeschoolers I know. Though Cummings mentioned “outschooling” as an option in homeschooling, she still answered questions like “how can you teach your daughter math when you are math-phobic?” with traditional homeschooling solutions—in that case, her husband does the teaching.

Of course, sharing the responsibilities of homeschooling happens all the time in homeschools, and it’s a great part of why one of our local homeschooling programs is called Alternative Family Education. Homeschoolers are all about making learning a family affair.

But the reality for most of the families I know is that what we call “home”schooling would be better called—as people I know do—”custom schooling” or “a la carte schooling” or “cooperative learning.” The EdWeek article hits this nail right on the head, and also the article’s very existence is noteworthy: The only “related story” they could find on EdWeek was published in 2008! If that’s not proof that the education establishment has been ignoring a tidal wave, I don’t know what is.

This is not the sort of tidal wave that is going to gather everything into it and destroy everything else in its path. This is the sort of slow-moving wave that is already changing education, though most of the people in the educational establishment are “blissfully” ignorant.

I use the quotes because they only think they’re blissful. They have been ignoring us and it’s been serving them just fine, or so they think. We are educated parents, people who often went to public schools ourselves. We are people who support the concept of education for everyone. But we are people who know that it’s being done all wrong. And we have found that we can’t vote at the ballot box—Republicans and Democrats are largely unified in their ignorance over what public education should be.

So we’ve taken the vote to the streets. We are leaving schools—both public and private—and looking for something else. We’re looking for an educational world in which, when a teacher doesn’t mesh with a particular learner, you simply find a different teacher. We are looking for an educational world in which a kid who studies algebra at the age of 9 is just as comfortable as a kid who’s not ready for algebra till 16. We’re looking for an educational world in which knitting, map-making, and storytelling are as respectable to study as math and science.

And—EdWeek readers will be surprised to hear this—we have found that world. It’s homeschooling, and whatever we don’t find out there for our kids we are busy creating. It’s a tidal wave because there is no way that our experiences are not going to create fundamental change in education. The blissful establishment has been put on notice by one of their own publications that people are starting to notice what we’re doing.

Outschooling, custom schooling, a la carte schooling, unschooling, cooperative learning, family education, life learning… Whatever you call it, that’s what we’re doing.

Our kids are learning, they’re doing great on standardized tests (though we don’t really care about that), and best of all, they’re doing great at life, which is what we care about most of all.

Posted in Culture, Education, Homeschooling.

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3 Responses

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  1. Heather Suhrie says

    This article surprised me with how much I could identify with so many aspects. Raised by wolves indeed! Thanks for putting this into words.

  2. gasstationwithoutpumps says

    Nice post, Suki! Though I’m not sure that lumping together all the different flavors of home schooling is really a good idea. (“Whatever you call it, that’s what we’re doing.”)
    Just as lumping together all the different variations of public, charter, and private schools into one category (“school”) doesn’t capture the important differences between individual schools, lumping all home school approaches into one category doesn’t get it right either.
    Although I’ve been homeschooling my son for a year (using a mix of different approaches), so am basically supportive of home schooling, there are home schooling approaches that I’ve seen do a terrible job (like a neighbor whose adult child never learned reading or math past about 4th grade level).

    • Suki says

      I agree that there’s a huge variety of ways to homeschool. I’ve also met families who are not as focused on academic learning as we are, and families whose homeschools are more structured than I’m comfortable with, and so on. But the thing I like about these recent pieces is that they are finally admitting that the popular concept of homeschoolers is so wrong when it comes to how most of us are really educating our kids. Though I have little in common when it comes to specific homeschooling goals with many of the families I meet in our community, the thing we all have in common is that we’re not locking our kids away from society. From my point of view, every time I see myself judging a family negatively for how they homeschool, I have to admit that I can’t be certain that sending their kids to school would have any better effect. I certainly have met many fewer homeschooling families who I think are doing a bad job than I have met public school teachers who I think are bad at their jobs! And these families I meet are out in the community – their kids aren’t being shut away from others and if they want to get an education, they know it’s there for the taking. I think homeschooling is by its nature very difficult to quantify, and this will always make some people uneasy. But I’m just glad that those of us who are out there taking advantage of all the great ways our kids can be educated without school are finally being reflected in our popular media. Heck, if I had to be stuck in our house all day every day with my kids, there’s no WAY I’d have chosen to homeschool! 🙂

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