Students, Welcome Home(school)!

Earlier this week, a classmate of mine created an awesome and thought-provoking post on our blog regarding her experience with homeschooling (if you haven’t read it yet, make sure to check it out here!)  As you’ll see in the post, she explains that the homeschooling system has some really great ideas that could be implemented in public schools to combat the negative effects of standardization.

So, her post inspired me to write my own take on homeschooling.  As someone who did not grow up in a homeschooling environment and only knows a couple of people who have gone through it themselves, I know that there is a considerable sense of “taboo-ness” surrounding the system in the wider education community.  Now that I have seen the many benefits of pursuing this particular mode of learning, I am hoping that this post can help chip away at that stigma.

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To help guide my post, I will be utilizing an excellent and recent Business Insider article titled “Americans are rejecting the ‘homeschool myth’ – and experts say the misunderstood education might be better than pubic or charter schools” (what a mouthful)!

Firstly, I think it’s important to point out that the number of kids taught at home is now estimated to be up to 3.5 million (which the article points out far surpasses the number of children enrolled in charter schools here in the United States).  That’s a lot of kids – this number alone genuinely surprised me at first glance.

If you have been immune to what the article, written by Chris Weller, refers to as the “homeschool myth,” critics of the system argue that the “instruction is uneven in subject and quality and makes kids asocial.”  If this is true, then those 3.5 million children are in for a rude awakening when they pursue higher education – right?

Not so fast.  Weller’s article includes an anecdote from Harvard sophomore Claire Dickson who was homeschooled from K-12:

“I have to explain to people that we didn’t have a blackboard in our kitchen with equations written on it. I was out in the world,” she says. “Homeschooling more refers to the lack of going to one institution.”

In the article, Claire and her mother also explain that she was given the unique opportunity to choose what she wanted to study after seven years of the core subjects us public school folk were force fed up until graduation.  This lack of structure, Claire says, allowed to her explore her own interests in a way that is unique to homeschooling.

This more fluid educational model does not seem to be a hindrance to students who are a part of it when it comes to standardized testing and college success.  Weller references a 2009 study that boasts some pretty interesting results:

“…the proportion of homeschoolers who graduated from college was about 67%, while among public school students it was 59%. Catholic and private schools fell even lower, with 54% and 51% of kids completing all four years.”

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After hearing Claire’s perspective on homeschooling, I can definitely see why that method might be more effective for college graduation rates.  I would argue that homeschooling allows you to explore learning in your own way – and allows you to fall in love with it in a way that public schools often cannot.  It is hard to become enamored with education when you have to adhere to a very rigid structure.  At my high school, we took four classes a semester.  Because of North Carolina education guidelines (and the pressure I felt to remain in the top 10 of my year), I did not have the opportunity to explore my interests in education.  I opted for taking AP classes in subjects I had absolutely zero interest in (I’m looking at you, AP Calculus) because I felt like I had to.  The most “personalized” my education got was choosing which online AP courses to take because my school did not offer enough.

I also am a huge proponent for out of the classroom learning.  I remember more about the Civil War from going on a field trip to the historic part of my town in third grade than I do from AP United States History.  Learning passively does not work for everyone – at least for the long term.  Most schools do not have the time (or resources) to take students out on field trips.  Another mom cited in the article shares her opinion that “traditional schools [are] too strict and formulaic.”  The freewheeling education that homeschooling provides is something that I wish I had the opportunity to be a part of when I was younger.

As my classmate mentioned in her article, homeschooling is not a feasible option for everyone.  As a first generation college student, I think that being in a traditional school with structure is the reason I have adhered to structure so well in college.  Also, in my case (and for many others), I came from a home where both parents worked.  It would not have been realistic for me to have gone to any kind of school but public.  But, with that being said, that does not mean that the way public schools operate right now couldn’t take a few tips from homeschooling.

The idea of personalized learning is incredible, and I think that every student can benefit from it in some way.  We retain the information that we’re interested in – that’s why I know the life story of Alexander Hamilton (#HamforHam) but I couldn’t explain partial derivatives to you right now if my life depended on it.  I think a student should have the responsibility of being proficient in every subject they’re required to in schooling, but should also have the opportunity to explore other fields once that proficiency is reached.

Personalized learning is the reason that Claire was able to explore her interest in psychology after seven years of learning the core subjects: her unique schooling method allowed her to find out what she was good at before even stepping foot onto a college.

So, to what extent can personalized learning be applied to the traditional K-12 model?  I have no idea – but I’m interested in hearing your opinion on it.

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