Four Homeschooling Questions

Q: As a former teacher sympathetic to homeschooling, I often wonder, who guarantees that the parents actually have the appropriate knowledge to teach? My (older) friend and I were talking about a family we know who home schools; my friend said, “God forbid if I were teaching my own kids math.” In other words, she wouldn’t be qualified…so how do homeschoolers provide the resources for all that kids need to learn? In school, of course, there are different teachers who specialize in various subjects. In my own case, I specialized in English/reading/writing, but not social studies, so we had a different teacher for that. And just a curious question: do states require any sort of testing of homeschoolers? And how do colleges handle admissions of homeschoolers? (Submitted by Joanne)

A: Thanks Joanne for your question. Essentially, you have four questions which all have a variety of answers. I’ll try to be as brief and straightforward as possible.

1.  Who guarantees that parents who homeschool have what it takes to teach their children? Well, that varies state to state. But essentially, it has the same answer as the question: who guarantees that parents have what it takes to have children and raise them? There is a spectrum of opinions on who actually is responsible for determining the best way to raise and educate children. But most people, and state laws, would agree that parents are ultimately responsible for the well being and education of their children – not the state. The laws across the country generally reflect that perspective. The state’s responsibility is not to guarantee that parents have what it takes to teach or parent their children, but that children and parents have the resources to do their best in these roles, and to make sure that children are not being “abused” (although, what constitutes “abuse” is another mess in and of itself).

What it boils down to, is that every state gives the basic right and responsibility to the parent to decide how to educate their children. Each state has a varying degree of requirements of the parents (all of which, by the way, do not seem to have an effect on the overall results of educational success). And each state has its laws as a result of what the people in that state have decided is the best way to balance the freedom of individual parenthood with the responsibilities of the government.

2. Since nobody knows everything, how can a parent be able to teach their own children successfully? The answer to that question is – they can’t. And they don’t. Homeschooling parents don’t teach their children everything.

The one thing that, in my opinion, is the most essential, and pretty much the only requirement of being a homeschooling parent, is resourcefulness. We live in a world where information is everywhere. And it’s almost always free. There is no topic that we can’t find a way to learn.

Being resourceful allows us to find solutions that may or may not be traditional in nature. It allows parents to find ways to help their children with the tools that are currently available to anyone who has a curious mind. So, when we ourselves cannot teach our children how to do some things, we can, instead, find a way for those things to be learned in the world around us.

School is no longer a sacred establishment of knowledge.  We are living in a technological age, and a social age, where avenues for understanding and opportunities for advancing a person’s skills are not reserved for teachers and those with degrees.

That isn’t to say that those things are useless, or that school is useless. Rather, the traditional four-walls dominant, teacher co-ordinated learning environment is only one of the many ways to learn. It may be true, that at one time, school was pretty much the only place to have access to information beyond what’s handed down by family lore. But in the society we live in today, this is no longer the case. It hasn’t been for a while, but we’re so used to that idea, it’s hard to imagine learning any other way.

Overall, it’s not a big deal if a parent doesn’t know something. They either stay one step of the game and help their kids with the thing they just learned (lots of school teachers do this too BTW), or their kids study it on their own or with a study group, or they find a mentor, or they go to a community class, or they take an MIT free online class, or they take a community college class, or they create a homeschooling exchange with anther parent, or, or, or… the possibilities are literally endless. The only limit is our perception.

3. Do states require testing? Some do, some don’t. Others offer it as an option. Overall, the states that require testing do not have any significant advantage over states that don’t. And states that require testing almost always have a highly tolerant application of the scores, giving parents time and options to provide evidence of learning.

Testing is the tool of schools to assess learning. Parents of homeschoolers, and governments who are assessing this very small population, have other tools at their disposal.

Then, we also have to ask – who gets to decide what a “good” education is? Who gets to decide if a child is learning? The answer will be different depending on who you ask. So, how can there ever really be a objective gauge of a child’s learning and progress, such as testing? In states that require it, it is a quick and dirty way for homeschoolers to keep the govt. out of their kids’ education. But it doesn’t really tell the govt. much, except that the kids can take a test. What about families who emphasis resourcefulness? Logic? Critical thinking? Deep understanding of topics? Curiosity? Accepting that there may not be one right answer? To question everything? These things bring the best out of a child’s learning, especially when they are young, and may not reflect on a test.

Anyway, testing does exist in some states, but there is a huge debate whether it even means anything. Heck, that debate exists in schools, where testing has far more relevance and usefulness. If it’s debatable whether testing works in schools, it’s even moreso when you look at its effectiveness in assessing a single child’s learning.

4)  How do colleges handle homeschoolers? It depends. Every college is different.

Typically, private schools tend to have more generous acceptance policies, and are willing to review individualized admissions portfolios, instead of weeding out applicants by number cutoffs. But, more and more public/state colleges and universities are starting to create their own policies for students that come from an alternative education experience.

For homeschoolers that are college-bound, again, the skill of being resourceful is the most important to have. These kids need to do research on each school they want to attend, and find out what their requirements are. They also need to talk to other high school homeschoolers who are interested in the same topics and find out how they approaching the college goal. Lastly, college bound homeschoolers often choose to dual-enrol in community college classes, in order to apply as a sophomore or freshman in a four-year university, with college grades to help with their admission.

Getting into college as a homeschooler is not an obvious A->B->C->D path. But then, nothing about the life of a homeschooler is set on rails. So, especially for life-long homeschoolers, getting into college is just another one of the many life learning experiences that practice their ability to figure out the complex problem of setting and attaining a goal.

That said, not all homeschoolers head straight to college. Many of them work, travel or volunteer for a while first. Then go to college when they are more mature and are pretty darn sure what they need to go to college for. Or, they might skip traditional college altogether and choose a trade school or get certified as a specialist.

Overall, homeschooling works. It is not perfect. And it’s not guaranteed to produce perfectly intelligent children. But then, what is? Public school certainly isn’t. And private school isn’t either. Homeschooling is just one of the many options for educating kids today.


5 Responses to “Four Homeschooling Questions”

  1. christy Says:

    “The one thing that, in my opinion, is the most essential, and pretty much the only requirement of being a homeschooling parent, is resourcefulness.”

    Well said.

    I want to point out that I have an uncle who is a public high school teacher. He has a PhD in history. In the past, he always taught History and Spanish. This year, they were short a math teacher. Guess what he’s teaching this year? That’s right, history, spanish and math. He tells me he stays one lesson ahead of his class, by reading the teacher’s manual.

    IMO, there is no difference between what he does for his high school students in math and what I do for my middle school student in science.

    I appreciate your perspective and your willingness to write publicly about it.

  2. tania Says:

    i have a hunch that the teachers in the public schools aren’t actually educated in the subject matter itself. But rather the method of teaching, the resources of teaching, the way to learn the resources. it reminds me of when i was an instructional designer, the software i wrote training for changed all the time. i was paid to to learn. they paid me because i was trained to learn. A good example was, i was taught math in the most horrendous way ( that ensured high SAT scores ) and i am looking forward to learning anew with my 4 year old, less about the subject but a brand new way of approaching a body of knowledge with joy and curiosity. my greatest fear that is that her teacher one day will not have that same goal.
    (sorry if this is all over the place ; )

  3. Joanne Says:

    Very informative. Thanks for all your input. Resourcefulness is indeed a good key.

    It is true (in elementary and junior high at least, maybe not so much in high school) that teachers are expected to be generalists. Methods and psychology of teaching are important, though…witness how many college professors are hired with no knowledge of pedagogy, and how students suffer for it. I think it’s an irony that we certify teachers and push national board certification only for elementary and high school teachers. But that’s a whole ‘nother debate.

    It is wonderful to approach a topic with joy and curiosity–and lots of that is killed by the emphasis on testing. It is quite a complicated situation and we could talk (or at least I could–I really enjoy the field) for days . . .

    Meanwhile, thanks for your thoughtful responses.

  4. Melissa Says:

    I really appreciate this entry today. “Testing” is a theme this week with many to whom I have spoken. Your writing and your approach to these issues is an incredible inspiration to so many……

    Tammy, you totally ROCK!

  5. Tara Says:

    What a wonderful and inspiring post. I just recently discovered this blog and am really enjoying it. I find your writings a great inspiration to keep on keepin’ on with homeschool. Family members and well-meaning friends hit me with some of these same issues on a regular basis… how will you know if she’s learning… when will she be tested… and so on. I’m bookmarking this post for future reference!

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