January 23, 2017

Sophie Miller

Homeschoolers in the Spotlight, Part 4

Topics: Learning at Home



In the past few months, we’ve taken looks into the lives of several homeschoolers in our ThinkFun community to see what that experience has been like for those parents. This month, we wanted to hear another side of the story, so we spoke with an adult who grew up homeschooled. A current college student and graduate of homeschooling, Joseph seemed an excellent candidate to provide some insight into what a homeschooling experience can be like.

For many years, Joseph crossed back and forth between the worlds of institutional education and homeschooling, which many might think of as polar opposites. Joseph doesn’t feel that way. “To be honest,” he admits, “I don’t remember feeling much of a difference.” Some of this may have had to do with the rigid schedule that his parents established as their children’s homeschooling regimen. Joseph remembers that “both private and home school had fairly strict schedules,” but sees few other differences in how he felt about the experiences. “In retrospect,” Joseph muses, “probably the biggest difference was the amount of contact I got with my peers.”

The Routine in Retrospect   

Joseph’s parents, like many parents who homeschool, made sure to enroll Joseph and his siblings in extracurricular programs so that they had many opportunities to play with other children their own ages. Because of these efforts, Joseph says that he didn’t feel secluded or isolated from children his own age, “at the time or even now.” Still, he admits, tongue in cheek, “being home schooled probably contributed in a large part to my social mal-adjustment, but luckily I picked a career where that’s completely normal!”

While socialization was not a problem for Joseph and his siblings, the flexibility intrinsic to a homeschooling environment leads to mixed feelings for Joseph. In elementary school, the flexibility of homeschooling afforded opportunities for education that fostered an enthusiasm for learning in Joseph. Part of his lessons included “looking up entries in dictionaries and encyclopedias — I always took the chance to read any number of entries that caught my eye.” The freedom to explore his curiosity in this way as a young child led him to follow his interests and pursue his curiosities later in life. “I still do it in fact, it’s just worse having the internet available now.” His favorite subject, science, was sometimes taught to him and his siblings by his grandmother, who lived halfway across the country at the time, via telephone or even email conversations. While Joseph remembers the inconvenience of this process at times, he recalls how “each lesson seemed to contain something different,” and science became an interest that stuck with him through to his adulthood. And, of course, the flexibility of the lesson plans left creative time for Joseph and his siblings to engage in enriching pursuits such as drawing, reading, and construction with building blocks.

However, a huge part of Joseph’s unease towards his homeschooling experience results from the unstructured format of his home education. In his younger years, Joseph’s parents were able to maintain a schedule and rigid routine over all three of their children at the same time. While the children were instructed to finish their lessons around the time institutional schools were released for the afternoon, “really we just took however long as needed until all scheduled lessons for the day were finished.” While this bend in their otherwise concrete routine allowed for learners of different strengths to take learning at their own pace, the rigid structure that his parents enforced when Joseph was a child broke down once he entered high school. “The subject matter had gotten much more complex and my mother was busy with my two younger siblings,” so Joseph was responsible for developing his own schedule for getting his lessons done. As a result, “I ended up getting distracted or falling asleep and never finishing for the day – every day.” Perhaps with more structure Joseph would have different feelings about his homeschooling experience but given the circumstances he terms it, bluntly, “a disaster.”


Looking Back

Joseph’s overall takeaway on homeschooling is a feeling of ambivalence. Grade school, he believes, is an excellent time to homeschool one’s children. “There’s lots of resources available and you can tailor the pace and content of the education” in a way that he found invaluable as a young learner. “While I can’t say the lessons were explicitly catered to my learning ability, they essentially were due to the one-on-one nature of the teaching.” Joseph believes that this flexibility benefits both the parent/teacher, who “gets more control, and the child has a chance to take advantage of more flexible lessons in their younger ‘impressionable’ years.”

A distinct benefit that Joseph believes he received from homeschooling was his moral education. Joseph cites this as a key reason that his parents chose to homeschool him and his siblings in the first place. His parents “both are or have identified as traditional Catholics,” and “they wanted more control over my education” and the values their children were being taught. A 2012 study indicates that on this point, Joseph’s parents are not alone. 64% of surveyed homeschooling parents cited “a desire to provide religious instruction” as a key factor in their decision to homeschool, while 77% cited “a desire to provide moral instruction” as their reason to educate their children themselves. Joseph says that in this area, his homeschooling education was highly successful. “I feel lucky to have had an exposure to frankly impressive theology and philosophy from an early age, something that many of even those who went through Catholic school did not have.” Joseph feels that apart from being taught any rote theology, his parents gave him a deep understanding of what it means to be religious and “a strong foundation for approaching moral and social questions.” Joseph notices the impact of this side of his education every day, and feels that he could not have learned these values had he not been homeschooled.

Overall, though, Joseph believes that the older he got, the less effective homeschooling became. “Due to kids’ increasing mental maturity and resulting independence, they’ll gain more benefit from the rigid structure of institutional schooling.” Joseph believes he needed more external guidance in order to reach his academic goals. Additionally, he found that once he got to a certain age, the material he was expected to learn surpassed his parents’ knowledge in some subjects. “Most high schools will have teachers that somewhat specialize in their subject, with resources like labs and clubs,” training and resources that his parents lacked. Once he reached high school and his lessons became more advanced, Joseph had to handle his education mostly for himself -- a huge undertaking for an adolescent.


Where Are They Now?

Joseph has certainly made up for the lack of structure that he felt as young man in homeschool. Since graduating, he has had a tightly packed schedule, attending college and working a multitude of jobs. He currently attends George Mason University, majoring in Computer Science and minoring in Japanese Language. Additionally, he works in web and systems development at a non-profit in the Washington, D.C. area. He still enjoys reading and researching random topics on the internet, and has recently renewed his interest in drawing and making art. While he reflects on his homeschooling experience with mixed feelings, Joseph has certainly accomplished a lot as a result of his education.


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