Homeschool: My Experiences, Reflections and Responses

Wikipedia:Homeschooling [HohM-SKooLing]  (home education) is the education of children at home, typically by parents but sometimes by tutors, rather than in other formal settings of public or private school.

Homeschooling equals brainwashing, no?

 As soon as you see that word--homeschooling-- it makes you tense up, right? The most common question I have been asked when talking to friends about my being homeschooled is: "but what about socialising?" It's true, as pop culture would have it, kids who are homeschooled are socially inept, awkward, probably with learning difficulties and brainwashed. What a positive picture. In this post, I argue that nothing could be further from the truth. My experience as a homeschooler was overall highly positive and this matches up with extensive research by Dr Ray. I'll also put a magnifying glass over common assumptions and problems in Australian, French and American (USA) school systems and hopefully help you, as the reader, to reevaluate your own preconceptions about education in the home. 

The curriculum my family used

I was taught at home from age 7 until about 16. My parents had been concerned for a while about the public education system in the little town where we had lived and so decided to try a Central American-based curriculum-- Accelerated Christian Education (ACE). It was the same curriculum that a private school had used at which I had become a student at age 6. My parents' decision to home educate myself and my siblings has had and still continues to have profoundly positive outcomes in my life. ACE was a highly structured curriculum,designed to be mastery-based learning, meaning students aim to get 100% rather than 50% to pass (a pass is 80%). Regular reviews and practise were built into the curriculum which helped enormously in improving memory retention and healthy learning habits. Quotations and world-views from the Bible were integrated almost seamlessly into the daily coursework, which my eager brain soaked up like a sponge. It is an understatement to say that my parents' choice to teach me at home has shaped me as a person.

So what did I learn?

It's worth reflecting on what I learned at home. ACE had a rigorously structured approach to learning which helped me to develop a routine as well as time-management skills. Firstly, ACE helped me to learn about managing interest-levels. I learnt doing harder subjects when I had more energy and easier subjects later on. Secondly, at home I learnt to have accountability, in particular to my mum. For example, I marked my own work and showed my weekly progress chart to her.  Thirdly, I was taught a wide-coverage of basic subjects as a part of balanced education, including English (spelling, grammar and writing), maths, science and social studies. Fourthly,  being homeschooled has really trained me for life. I have been well prepared by building self-discipline, nurturing the perspective of life-long learning  and indeed  developing a strong sense of ownership of my own journey of learning. My learning process was certainly not always easy and it's worth noting that my ego has often gotten in the way of clear  communication. Sometimes I would inaccurately mark my work, inflating my grade, which in the end become evident in the final test! Finally, home schooling was, far more than just the formal learning time; it was relationship and friendship building with my mum, dad, brothers and sister. To this day, I treasure my strong trust and friendship with my brothers and sister, as well as the two-way communication with my parents.

A different approach to education

Home-schooling is a simple but wide-reaching way of thinking about education and family. My parents were convinced from a biblical worldview that it was primarily their responsibility--not the government's--to educate us as their children. The daily interactions between me and my siblings, both with each other and also with our parents, fostered a warm, friendly, trusting and supportive environment that we fondly call "home". Often when I had a maths problem I couldn't solve, I would come to Dad in despair and he would walk me carefully through the problem. Thanks Dad. Due to his patience, I stuck at my love of maths and now study mechatronics engineering (er, robotics). And often our parents would learn something from us, as we shared regularly about what we were learning. My family strongly feels that family--and not peers-- is the centre of our social network. My family would regularly do activities with other homeschooling families such as visiting science exhibits such as SciTech, sport and socials. We were also regularly involved in local community sports activities such as Little Atheletics. In our teen years, my brothers and I got involved in the local PCYC (Police and Citizens' Youth Club), doing gymnastics and Greco-Roman wrestling, of all things! By making the home the centre for learning rather than school, my parents effectively taught us that they were always available for insight, skills and wisdom. In doing so, they instilled in us a strong love of learning.

'Below-average', communication and 

As an adult, I look back on my years of being homeschooled with a mixture of fondness and sadness. There were so many things good about it, but at the same time I was still affected by an Australian culture which was hostile to homeschoolers and indeed anyone who was a little bit 'odd' or different. I still feel this hostility today. As a teen, I became increasingly concerned about how I ranked with other school students and had a nagging feeling that I was 'below average'. Despite doing diagnostic nationwide tests which showed exactly the reverse, my self-esteem and identity was at times on the rocks. I think those negative times have helped me to empathise with friends nowadays who struggle with a deep sense of inadequacy or inferiority. Ultimately, I think I can certainly say that my underlining identity was not founded on my academic performance but on my unique value in my family and my friendship with God. Another difficulty I experienced was my hatred of the 'essay' during my mid-teens. I just didn't really get it. What I unconsciously knew I needed was a tutor to help me develop my ideas and a framework in which to structure an argument, but I didn't know how to communicate this to my parents. Now after doing some personality tests, I realise I'm a audio-visual learner which means I thrive on discussion of ideas and seeing how something is applied in practise. My dad wisely identified something in my learning problems and we chose together a mature-age highschool which would fast-track me into university. It was a wonderful decision which addressed my need for a more interactive, discussion-based learning environment. 

My university experience

My university experience in Australia, and particularly in France, has continued the process of 'learning how to learn' while at the same time developing my independent thinking. Of course, whenever the expression 'independent' is used, it needs to be asked, 'independent from what'? In Australia, I've noticed that it's not uncommon for students to be super keen to leave their families as soon as they can either to develop their sense of independence or because life at home is not pleasant or easy. I don't want to say that somehow I don't need my family or that I don't respect my parents' opinions--not at all! I mean independent in the sense of relationally, a stronger focus on developing other friendships outside my family circle; mentally, developing my personal opinion on issues; spiritually, continuing my reading of the Bible and discussing with friends in other Christian communities what I'm reading. Notably, for the last point, I've found the Christian Union and the FEU (Foyer Evangélique Universitaire) particularly helpful as university student clubs. Although my parents have been less and less involved in my learning process due to my engineering specialisation, location and time usage, nevertheless, they have been supporting me throughout the process.

Research resources

So that's what I've experienced, but do my positive comments match up with the research on home education? Brian D. Ray, who has done extensive national research across USA, says a resounding "Yes!" For a short document relating to research by Hornick, Thomas Smedley, Dr. Larry Shyers and J. Gary Knowles (University of Michigan), click here. For a list of relevant research papers, click here

social networks. Source: wikipedia.

Homeschooling produces social misfits, right?

But let's answer the question on everyone's lips: "Does homeschooling produce socially awkward kids?" I estimate I've been asked this question--in one form or another--about 100 times in my life. Doubtless, like any question, behind it are many assumptions, as alluded to in the following paragraph. But briefly, the answer is "No." No, generally not, actually! Dr. Brian D. Ray has argued that home schooled children in USA outperform schooled children markedly in terms of social skills.  Also of note is this poll of homeschooling families as well as Homeschooling Within the Public School System, both Canadian-based studies. Granted, almost all kids go through difficult, socially awkward or disruptive stages in their lives, thus it is unsurprising that homeschooled kids will be socially awkward at times. Logic! It is also true that sometimes parents have chosen to home educate because of their child's learning and social-interaction difficulties. (Imagine how wonderful that must be for a struggling kid to have that lengthy 1-1 connection with their mum or dad to help them through the difficult time at their own pace!) It's amazing how healthy family dynamics can really teach kids how to ask good questions, develop careful listening skills and flexibility with relating to a huge range of ages. For example, my own family would regularly interact with elderly people, pre-school children and everyone in between! 

Questions to ponder

For this subject, it might worth asking some more basic questions: Is it really the role of the government (or private institutions) to raise a nation? And when we advocate for experienced school educators over parents to be responsible for the roughly 12 years of kids' education (about 14,400 hours), are we really being open-eyed about school cultures? The prevalence of bullying in Australian, American and UK public and private school systems that kids as well as staff experience is disturbing. The anti-family influence which education systems engender is strongly due to peer-pressure, to the assumption that parents are not really qualified to teach their kids (even about important subjects such as sex, drugs and morality/ethics) and to the lack of careful integration of families in their children's learning process. Of course, it's easy to demonise opponents--that is, overplay their negative aspects-- and this no less true of schools (or indeed homeschooling families) if you happen to firmly disagree with their ethos and practise. For the record, I do think there are some health models for how schools can be done well. And if you've had a look at my other blog posts you would know that I don't think the fundamental problem is school, institutions or money. It's us-- humanity. Here's my story. But despite our imperfections and our parents', I am convinced that parents have a unique responsibility, privilege and indeed potential capacity to train and nurture their kids which no $10,000/yr education facility can replace. 

Get Moore info

Want to know more? Why not check out The Moore Formula, a diagnostic resource designed by Dr. Raymond Moore, father of homeschooling in USA. Looking for resources or homeschool networks? If you live in Australia, click here; if in the US, click here; or if United Kingdom, click here

For more research, check CBN's article 'Socialisation: Homeschooling vs. Schools' as well as the Dr Brian Ray's research (see last page of link for references).


Lance Mac said...

Good post Mark! Thank you for sharing from the unique perspective of a former homeschooled child. Most homeschooling articles I read are from parents who are homeschooling so its good to read yours.

As a Christian from the Midwest US and now in Western Australia, I have known many homeschooling families. I have known all of these families to be a joy to be around, as close as any families while at the same time wonderfully hospitable to anyone coming into their home.

Academically, homeschoolers have proven in study after study to do very well academically and be able to develop varied, advanced skills and careers later in life.

As I become older, I have learned to take popular opinion with a grain of salt. As a people, most of the world just engages in groupthink without much evidence to back it up.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Markus,
I congratulate you on a well thought out and written article. I am especially impressed with your explanation of 'homeschooling' terms in easier to understand english. The word 'PACEs' doesn't make much sense to most people!
I was wondering how long it took to write and edit the blogpost. I find, for myself, that even short posts take a while to move from brain to paper to internet. Cheers bro!

Mrbonchapeau said...

Hey Pedro & Lance,

Thanks for your comments - good to have feedback.

@Pedro -This blog took about 4-5hrs research as well as couple hours of planning then about 2 hours writing and then about an hour editing :D Editing is an ongoing process with a blog, cos I just realised then I had made 3+ mistakes!

On ya bro

Sheridan said...

Hi Mark,
Good post, very interesting and well said :)
I also did my homeschooling using the ACE program - and I agree with it being excellent for instilling a sound biblical worldview.

Sheridan 'Casey'

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,
I didn't get to receive homeschooling, but I can see some of the advantages. Like you, I've seen both home schooling and institutional schooling done badly, and well. When the homeschooling parents are sufficient to the task, I've seen some outstanding results too.
This was an interesting article to explore. Thanks!
- Mark Wilson

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