Advice From the Other Side of a Homeschooling Journey

Laura Gadbery

Wife to an enginerd, graduated homeschool mom, a little snarky.

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52 Responses

  1. This is excellent!!! Kudos!Report

  2. Marchmaine says:

    Nicely put. I think this was a good insight too:

    “What many families are now having to do with the closure of schools is very different than homeschooling, and in my opinion, much harder. Some have even labeled it panic schooling or crisis schooling.”

    My wife and I have joked that even though we were already homeschooling, the quarantine has ended all of the groups and activities we’d built into the process, so now were back to Homeschooling 101… just the raw materials without the support.

    So one takeaway is that if you find this experience to be maybe not as bad as you thought, or, even something you kinda like… be aware that once all the support groups come back online, its even easier!Report

    • Laura Gadbery in reply to Marchmaine says:

      Very true! There were times we had lots of outside activities and times we didn’t. Just to stop them so abruptly without the choice has got to be so weird! Thanks for reading!Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    Whenever I discuss homeschooling with pro-public schooling (I wanted to say “pro-traditional” but I’m pretty sure that homeschooling *IS* the traditional way that children were taught stuff… until recent generations, anyway), the first thing that I expect to hear is “what about socialization?!?!?”

    My response to that is usually some variant of “Those boys should be playing Smear the Queer on the playground!”

    Way back when we discussed “What is the point of Lower Education?”, my question was some variant of “what is on the list of things that every high schooler should be able to do?”

    Like, is there a list of things that is short and dense enough that if a high schooler can’t do one of the things on it, we can say that they had been failed by their high school?

    When I think about that list, and I think about homeschooling, I think that there are quite a few things that homeschooling is likely to be able to complete successfully. Like, over and over again, we talk about Adulting 101.

    Homeschooling seems very likely to be able to teach a child how to turn a pound of hamburger and a box of Hamburger Helper into a meal for four. I mean, just recipes teach a lot of really interesting skills that all interact with each other. Light chemistry, fractions, home ec, and Adulting. All in one.

    I mean, if you come up with something that ideally a student would be able to do… but if someone graduated wasn’t necessarily able to do it… and someone else said that that student had been “failed” by their high school, I’d say it belonged on the list.

    And there are a lot of people that I know that can’t do a lot of things that, ideally, a student should be able to do but they can’t.

    And I’d even be willing to fudge. 90% of students who graduate should be able to do these things. That other 10%? It’s a crying shame but there are some people who just can’t be helped and will fall through the cracks.

    And every time I come up with that list, I find myself knowing that we’re in a place where homeschooling should do just as good (hey, we already agreed that 10% would fall through the cracks) and that, yeah, huge (HUGE!) numbers of students are being failed by our high schools.

    And I don’t see how homeschooling would be likely to be worse.

    I mean, if, at the end of it, you had a kid who could do the stuff on the list that we thought about above.

    Well, maybe the kid wouldn’t know how to best socialize with kids who spent 12 years in that particular institution, of course.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

      Back about a decade or so ago someone once commented to me that gay parents seemed to be the most intensely focused parents out there, like they were the sort who fastidiously coached their kids, were ferociously devoted to their every health issue, and in general were more attentive to parenting than anyone else.

      It occurred to me that maybe it seemed this way because unlike heteros, the only way gays could become parents is by being the sort of intensely focused, driven people with a burning desire to be a parent; I mean its not like they just had a drunken hookup and woke up with a baby like God intended.

      I think homeschoolers are a bit like that. The entry requirement to be one is to really, really want to be one.

      It will be interesting to see how people’s attitudes towards the practice of teaching changes, once millions of parents get a taste of what it takes.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        Let’s look at the example that originally kicked my train of thought off.

        Do you think that the parents in this school district, if they were in charge of homeschooling their kids, would have done a worse job than 42% graduating?Report

        • InMD in reply to Jaybird says:

          Bad as it is I think it would clearly be worse. Most of the parents in question would not be capable of the job and the result would be equivalent to no attempt to educate at all.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to Jaybird says:

          …Probably? Academic performance is mostly hereditary (in the narrow sense, but especially in the broad sense). If kids can’t cut it in high school, their parents probably aren’t the kind of people who can do better than even a mediocre teacher.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to Jaybird says:

          I’m confused. The DC public school system is second only to New York in terms of funding per student. How do they get such bad outcomes when funding is the main determinant of school quality?Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

          I honestly don’t know.
          Do you have some sort of evidence that would suggest a conclusion one way or the other?Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            That the general response was “holy crap, those education officials were monstrous and cheating!” rather than “well, you know, Washington DC… the teachers only have but so much to work with…” tells me that blaming the students failed by the system is inappropriate.

            The amount of fighting against stuff like “charter schools” in an effort to keep these kids in the schools that were rigging numbers tells me that something else entirely was going on and that it was *NOT* about educating children but, instead, keeping funding flowing.

            As such, I think that maybe letting parents educate their kids is likely to have an above 50% success rate.

            And before you say “Oh? You think a 50% success rate is something to crow about?” let me say “no… I don’t.”

            But I think it’d be better than 42%.Report

            • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

              What are you seeing, that would cause you to think that the DC parents would achieve a higher success rate than the public school district?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Shit like “parental love” and “desire for kids to go to better schools like charter schools” or something.

                Just that level of investment tells me that more than 42% have a decent shot of achieving mediocrity (as opposed to failure).

                Do you reach a different conclusion?Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

                So you’re thinking that a high percentage of parents in DC are these aggressively interested parents who are so deeply invested in their children’s education they would homeschool successfully?

                And that somehow the public school district is preventing them from thriving currently?

                Is that the gist of it?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                You’re using terms like “aggressively” and I’m not.

                I’m suggesting that they’d be capable of achieving mediocrity… and I’m comparing mediocrity to failure and not mediocrity to what my high school achieved (and, I assume, your high school).

                Edit: And another thing. You said “a high percentage”. I said “half”.

                Do you consider “half” to be a high percentage?

                I’ll grant: It’s higher than 42%.Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        “It will be interesting to see how people’s attitudes towards the practice of teaching changes, once millions of parents get a taste of what it takes.”

        Yes; for some, as noted above, they aren’t homeschooling so much as proctoring an attempt at online distance learning… I expect their experience will be negative.

        But for others?

        “Having been part of a traditional school setting, you are going to be surprised at how little time it takes to do assigned schoolwork. As we homeschoolers say, it’s all basically homework. There will be extra time for them to think and just be kids.”

        The heroic work of most primary/secondary school teachers is classroom management. Home schooling introduces a new dynamic and a different set of challenges to managing your own progeny… but I expect the takeaways to be as mixed as one would expect.

        If I had to guess, I’d bet that all things being equal and with more flexibility vis-a-vis work (and the hybridization of schools) you’d see a number of parents opting to bring their education closer to home. Not all, to be sure, but more than I think you imagine.Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to Marchmaine says:

          My priors on education, based mostly on my experience and witness, is that parental attitudes towards education are the single biggest driver of success or failure.

          Homeschooling I think heightens this, for better or worse. A poor home environment can be mitigated by traditional schooling, or add things to a good home environment.

          But a poor home environment coupled with home schooling leaves the student adrift with no hope of rescue.

          Again, this is my experience and witness.Report

          • Marchmaine in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            How many middling parents of middling children have been set adrift in institutional schools? How many excellent students under-perform and never live up to their potential? How many poor students have been driven deeper into despair by youth culture that isn’t controlled by the institution?

            If we want to play the zero-sum game, when you come clean on the number of children who have been ruined by our school systems, we can talk about edge cases.

            What fascinates me is the moral certitude that a system that at best is barely adequate is the answer… no need to reckon with structural failures… no need to explore different models.

            Many folks who are homeschooling actively advocate for hybrid systems… and for reform of the education system in general… new ideas, new models… but instead we’re met with an ideological bludgeon of a system that doesn’t scale well and manifestly fails many of the students you’re suggesting you help.

            To the point where *you* and *yours* made it out by virtue of your zip code… but for the “others” — well, only your model will save them.

            The model they are already in. Bull. Shit.Report

            • Marchmaine in reply to Marchmaine says:

              edit: I realize highlighting you/yours implies a very direct “you” and “yours” when I want it to be the bourgeois you and yours – which is inclusive of you, and of course, me. I should have used *we* and *ours*

              Apologies if that came across as too personal… I have no idea what your particular education experience or zip code might be.Report

            • Chip Daniels in reply to Marchmaine says:

              I’m not sure where you are getting this idea that I am wedded to a particular system, since I don’t think this is a systemic problem at all.

              [IMO] Students with high functioning homes and dedicated parents who aggressively participate in their child’s education will thrive, no matter what system they are placed in.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                What does it mean to “thrive”, though. I think this is the disagreement. You’re describing a situation where kids from the right kind of homes, with the right kind of parents, will thrive *despite* being placed in a sub-optimal school system. March’s argument is that placing your kid in sub-optimal school system will, all things equal, impinge on that kids ability to actually thrive.

                My own argument is that school is largely day care, so insofar as you are able, pick a school which nurtures your kid.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Stillwater says:

                Even if we just defined “thrive” in the most objective way, test scores, I think the driving variable is parental involvement.

                I say this because I’ve never seen any other plausible variable; Educational success doesn’t seem to track closely with funding levels, or pedagogy; It doesn’t track with private versus public, union versus nonunion, religious versus secular.

                There’s plenty of data, but its messy and you can find all sorts of outliers.

                Which itself is sort of the point; You can find spectacular schools from any given structure, and you can find awful ones. Which means to me that the structure isn’t driving this.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                So what does all that mean for homeschooling vs. public education? I thought you were expressing thoughts on that subject, but maybe your view is that discussion doesn’t matter because a kid can’t choose his or her parents?

                Add: If I understand you correctly, your saying that the answer to a parent who’s torn between homeschooling and public school schooling their kids is that it doesn’t matter, just be better parents. But that can’t be right, right?Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Stillwater says:

                Yes, that is right.

                It’s not that all other variables “don’t matter” as in, the other variables have zero effect.

                Its just that a good parent can make up for a poor school, whereas a good school can’t make up for a poor parent.
                And a poor parent won’t create a good home school.

                So yeah, if we want better students, we need to be better parents.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                But according to your metric, the right conclusion to draw is that if we want better *test scores* we need better parents, right?

                I’m still uncertain what that has to do with the home vs public school debate….Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Stillwater says:

                Me either.

                Because I’m uncertain why there is even a debate about homeschooling at all.

                Are there parents who want to home school, who are being prevented from doing so?

                From what I can tell, all the people who want to home school, are already doing it.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Got it.

                But again, the argument isn’t about passing a law preventing people from home schooling but the relative merits of one option over the other. Eg., Marchmaine’s comment and your response at the top of this subthread.Report

              • Slade the Leveller in reply to Stillwater says:

                Thriving happens all the time in the Chicago public school system, despite its well known and well deserved reputation. Granted, you have to be a bit helicoptery, but isn’t that the kind of parent we’re talking about here?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Slade the Leveller says:


                I’d say it this way: kids in Chicago public schools may thrive according to one conception of that word, but there are others. When my wife and I discussed our own kids education we opted for a Waldorf school because in many important ways those schools are the opposite of public schools.

                What does it mean for a kid to thrive, though? Is it *merely* getting good test scores? Re-read Marchmaine’s comment at the top of the thread. He’s talking about something which runs in a different direction than merely “test scores as a function of good parenting”, seems to me.

                This one.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Stillwater says:

                Is this the comment you’r thinking of?
                “Many folks who are homeschooling actively advocate for hybrid systems… and for reform of the education system in general… new ideas, new models…”?
                Otherwise I’m not sure what “different direction” we’re even talking about.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                The difference I see is that you’re taking an institutional perspective on school choices whereas March is taking a more cultural/personal view of what it means to raise a kid who thrives and how the public school system has become uniquely unsuited to that task.Report

              • Slade the Leveller in reply to Stillwater says:

                Nah, not test scores. I’m the last guy to equate good standardized test scores with anything other than overreaching governmental meddling in the school system.

                I mean thrive in the sense of taking pleasure in learning, part of which is going to school to be around other kids of the same mind. Sure, not all kids are going to be like that, but, then again, real life ain’t all unicorns and rainbows. My kids were around other kids from all over the city and all walks of life. I would not have had it any other way.Report

    • Laura Gadbery in reply to Jaybird says:

      The socialization question should be a mute point now. Thrown into the trash bin of history. Everyone will see how kids survive. The things you point out are still a parent’s job. I have a friend who went to private school and couldn’t make a bed or wash clothes or boil water when she left home. That’s not the fault of the school, imo. Of course, I’m coming from a perspective of “it’s all a parent’s job” so what do I know. Thank you for the comments!Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

      Call it socialization if you want, but there is incredible value — and I’d argue a need — to learn to be a part of a group. This goes beyond socialization in my opinion. And it can be achieved in a home learning environment, but its hard because it isn’t inherent to the environment.

      One example: my son is pretty naturally talented at math. Lots of things just click for him. The way he is taught math doesn’t often work for him, in part because it is meant to simplify — and therefore make more accessible to others — skills and concepts he just gets.

      Today he had an assignment that tasked him with solving an arithmetic problem using a number line and explaining his process. He was able to draw the model but his verbal explanation to me used a different strategy, one that was more efficient in general and much easier for him.

      I affirmed his work but then explained he also needed to explain it using the strategy stated. Why? Because that is what he is tasked with. And, like it or not, he is going to experience times in life where he is tasked with doing things a way other than his own. Could be a teacher, could be a boss, could be a life partner… who knows. But that day WILL come because no person is an island.

      A massive benefit to home schooling is individualizing to the child. This can lead to better outcomes in shorter time. Huzzah! But if the student only understands themselves in an individual context… things will be a real struggle as soon as they enter a group setting.

      Not impossible but more of a challenge. Sadly, group schooling is also moving increasingly to individualization and I think it’s problematic. Worse yet, the reason is NOT in pursuit of better educational outcomes but for socio-cultural reasons.Report

      • Urusigh in reply to Kazzy says:

        You make a good point. Homeschooling organizations do tend to take the socialization side into account though and often provide a lot of the same event-based activities (i.e. sports teams, field trips, dances, etc) that more conventional schools do, so that students still spend significant time interacting with peers in a group environment. Maybe I just had an above-average organization supporting my folks, but it didn’t seem “hard” to me to get that group time as a homeschooler. The flexible schedule made it easy for me to participate in sports, boy scouts, and martial arts without cutting into homework time. My homeschool org even hired tutors to teach individual classes that parents weren’t well qualified for, like English composition. So what I’m trying to add to the discussion is that being homeschooling doesn’t necessarily imply a lack of group socialization or a lack of institutional support.

        On the flipside, homeschoolers often have an advantage over traditionally schooled students in socially interacting with individuals outside their own age group (e.g. comparatively more time spent with younger/older siblings, parents, and other adults). There are upsides in both social development and self-esteem to having your primary form of social interaction be with mature adult role models rather than the often toxic cesspool of school cliques. So if you want a student who has experience negotiating directly with their boss or getting work done while also supervising juniors, homeschoolers can actually have the edge over traditional schools and their more age-constrained, flat, inflexible hierarchy.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Kazzy says:

        “there is incredible value — and I’d argue a need — to learn to be a part of a group.”

        Begs the question of whether out-of-home schooling is better at (or, perhaps, even capable of) teaching this. “throw all the monkeys together on the playground” has been the traditional strategy of traditional schooling; I’ll let you decide for yourself whether the broken trash this process spits out is a bug or a feature. Who knows, maybe internalizing “you’re a weak gay wimp who’ll be an incel forever” is a vital aspect of being part of a group.Report

  4. aaron david says:

    They have since corrected the misspelling, but Harvard Magazine put out a rather unhinged bit on the “dangers” of homeshooling. Rather sad, what with all the people stuck at home with the kids, educating them.

    Harvard Magazine has a cover story on the dangers of home schooling and suggest a presumptive ban. In the cover image they misspelt arithmetic.— Shruti Rajagopalan (@srajagopalan) April 19, 2020

    • DensityDuck in reply to aaron david says:

      honestly, I thought the misspelling was intentional, a clever and subtle dig at the kind of people they imagined homeschoolers to be–very much focused on Proper Christian Instruction, not so much on the actual learning.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck says:

        I’d need to know how old the artist was.

        Over 40? *MAYBE* it was intentional.

        Under 30? They’re used to spellcheck and sounded out “ar-ith-ma-tic” in their head and ran with it.

        Just now, as a test, I spelled it out the wrong way in this comment box and it automatically fixed it and I didn’t have to do a thing.Report

      • aaron david in reply to DensityDuck says:

        That might have been a good way to dismiss the criticism, but then they went and changed it. It looks like they got caught with their pants down on this one.Report

      • North in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Well they apparently quietly corrected it, so I’d say that suggests unintentional.Report

    • Laura Gadbery in reply to aaron david says:

      Yes I was all over that immediately. Such a garbage article. An 8th grader could have written a better one. The misspelled cover art was changed after all the homeschoolers pointed it out. Laugh out loud!Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    This happened to make its way across my timeline and I thought it was fascinating.

    Homeschooling seems to be catching kids before they fell through the cracks.


    • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

      tired: moving across town to a good school district
      wired: moving across town to a bad school district so you can claim that poor local school performance justifies homeschoolingReport