Community Voices

Beyond the Classroom: Alternative educational platforms: home schooling and unschooling

As preschoolers set foot in their first classroom, who they are and what they know is linked to their home life — exposure to the natural world and interactions with others. And once in school, the ongoing support, insight and guidance children receive from their parents is pivotal to their continued learning and academic success.

However, there are less traditional roads to academic success.

Home schooling is the education of children in the home as opposed to within a formal setting of a public or private school. Home education is usually conducted by a parent or tutor where traditional school education is taught by a certified and endorsed educator.

The term home school once evoked images of religious families, who in protest against secular education and the eroding morals of the nation’s youth, took matters into their own hands. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) says that the modern home school movement began in the 1970s when John Holt, an educational theorist and supporter of school reform, argued that formal schools’ focus on rote learning created an oppressive classroom environment designed to make children compliant employees.

Since then, the number of children being home-schooled has grown immensely. According to the Department of Education, approximately 1,770,000 students are home-schooled in the United States (3.4% of the school-age population). Of these, 68% are white, 15% are Hispanic, 8% are black, and 4% are Asian or Pacific Islander. And it’s not just in rural towns — many children are being home schooled in large cities nationwide. There are an abundance of homeschooling support groups providing resources, classes, and curriculum help.

Home schooling and regular public schooling each has advantages and disadvantages. One offers a more controlled environment, while the other could expose him or her to a world of ideas. Making the right choice depends upon how your child learns, and what you would like him or her to learn.

Why Home School?

There are as many reasons to home school as there are parents who choose to do it. Religion is certainly one reason, but families in urban areas (where religious reasons make up less than 1%) cite others.

The greatest proportion of home-school parents in the United States earn between $50,000 and $75,000 a year and have a bachelor’s degree or more. They consistently do not like what’s being offered from their Department of Education and can’t afford or don’t want to pay private-school tuition. Other reasons include:

▪ With federal and state education policy placing ever-greater emphasis on core standards and standardized tests, many parents want to give their kids something more creative, flexible and engaging than a school day they see as factory-made.

▪ Parents of students who have special needs and those who require a flexible schedule to accommodate professional needs (such as athletes, actors, musicians) find the one-size-fits-all education model unappealing.

▪ In some districts, there are complaints about overcrowding and limited course offerings.

▪ According to the Department of Education, nearly 88% of U.S. home-school parents express concern about the school environment, citing drugs, negative peer pressure and general safety.

Homeschool vs Public School

If home-schooled kids have conquered national spelling bees and have obtained generous scholarships to elite universities, why isn’t everyone doing it?

There are numerous factors to consider before deciding whether your child should stay at home to learn or should be sent to a regular public school.

▪ Time: When parents take the responsibility of educating their children at home, they need to make it work. For working or singe parents, this is not easy. Lessons must be organized and prepared, there is instruction time, time for tests as well as field trips).

▪ Cost: In comparison to public schools, where education is free, homeschooling can be costly. Purchasing the newest curriculum and teaching tools can be very expensive. Other costs include project materials, books, computer software, and field trips. Parents who choose to home school their children should be prepared to spend more money than parents who send their children to public schools.

▪ Infrastructure: A home will never be as equipped as a school, in terms of facilities. For classes that require experiments like physics and chemistry, it can be hard to get all the necessary chemicals, materials, apparatus, and so on. The home would also need to find facilities for athletics like swimming pools, running tracks and gyms.

▪ Environment: Proponents say home schooling offers a calm, safe environment of the home where children thrive better and focus on the instruction better. While opponents agree that environment is important to learning — and that public school classrooms are not exactly calm environments — this does not mean students cannot thrive in such environments. Supporters of regular public schooling argue that the chaos of the classroom is actually what children need to succeed.

▪ Socialization: Home-school proponents say that students do not have to worry whether they are wearing the right clothes, are shopping at the right stores or playing the right video games. Since there are (usually) no other children around, home-schooled children learn in a relatively calm, peaceful environment, and have the opportunity to work at their own pace and in their own style. For some, that spells the difference between success and failure.

Public school advocates reiterate the fact that humans are social creatures and that children should interact and to work with one another in order to build real, vital skills needed in the real world.

Home-schooled children may not have as many opportunities for social interaction with other children as compared to children who attend regular schools. Forming bonds and socializing with children their own age is important for developmental health and development of social skills. Those relationship situations can only truly be formed in regular schools. Students can only learn how to handle and overcome peer pressure if they are faced with it.

▪ Curriculum: Along with the environment in which they learn, students (and their families) also have to consider what they are going to learn. Homes chooling and regular public schooling have different philosophies about these elements as well.

How children learn is a major factor in determining whether your child should stay at home or should go to school. Home-schooled children tend to learn through an individual experience, and maybe that is best for your child. Regular public schooled children learn through relationships, and that may be what your child needs.

Another vital component, though, is what they learn. Whether home schooled or traditional schooled, children are expected to learn the same basic skills. They all learn to read, write, and solve basic math problems. What moves beyond this common foundation is where home school and regular school differ.

Parents who home-school their children generally get to determine the focus of their child’s education. The curriculum at can be developed on the passions of the parents, or for what the child has a natural curiosity.

Regular public schools, for the most part, base their curriculum on state standards, and the lessons are geared so the students can reach and surpass those standards. Students are exposed to a broad range of ideas and concepts.

▪ Separation of parent and teacher: Home schooling can be challenging when parents lose patience. Trying to educate a child is difficult and requires a delicate balance of tolerance and discipline. Some parents may be too overbearing or impatient, which may cause the child to react in a negative manner. It is difficult to draw a line between educator and parent in a child’s mind.

▪ Motivation: Some children need to be challenged to excel in their studies. Many thrive when they are involved in some competition. Children who are home schooled would not have this motivation because most of them are educated separately.

Changing Laws and a Growing Movement

In a New York Times article, “Home Schooling: More Pupils, Less Regulation,” Motoko Rich shares the new, more relaxed regulations offered to home schooling families. Until recently, home-schooling families were required to register each year with their local school district, provide outlined study plans, certify that adults in the home did not have a criminal record, and at the end of the year submit portfolios of student work to private evaluators for review and send on to the superintendent.

After years of campaigning by home-schooling families, many states have relaxed some of their requirements.

According to the CRHE, 11 states do not require families to register with any school district or state agency that they are teaching their children at home, 14 states do not specify any subjects that families must teach, and only nine states require that parents have at least a high school diploma or equivalent in order to teach their children.

In half the states, children who are taught at home never have to take a standardized test or any formal outside assessment. Educators have fought these recent changes, which also eliminated the requirement that families submit their children’s portfolios. And some adults who were themselves home-schooled, say the push to withdraw from state supervision could put children at risk.

The new law also allows parents to certify that their children have completed high school graduation requirements and to issue homegrown diplomas without any outside endorsement.

Impact of Testing

Home schooling is now attracting parents who want to escape the testing and curricula that have come along with the Common Core, the new academic standards that have been adopted by more than 40 states. But because many states do not require families to register with a school district or state agency, precise figures are difficult to collect.

Home school vs. Unschool?

A Maryland Home Education Association article by Gail Withrow, “Unschooling or Homeschooling: whats the difference?” shares a new movement arising out of the homeschooling camp - unschooling.

Unschooling is explained as a growing, radical method of homeschooling that puts the desire, drive, motive and responsibility for learning in the hands of the learner.

In unschooling, students learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, mentors and social interaction. Unschooling believes that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child. While courses may occasionally be taken, unschooling questions the usefulness of standard curricula, conventional grading, and other features of traditional schooling in the education of each unique child.

Basically, the child decides what, when, and whether she wants to learn.

Unschooling is a risky business. Some kids are more self-motivated than others, and children don’t have a broad enough context to know how to gain knowledge. Many are not inclined to expend the mental energy necessary to learn the basics. While they will learn some things on their own, they’ll likely miss out on acquiring basic skills. They may not even notice what they lack until its too late or too embarrassing to go back and acquire what they missed.

The ultimate goal of education is knowledge, not freedom.

Whether home-schooled or traditional schooled, parents are responsible for their child’s education. They should not hesitate or apologize for teaching.

Laurie Futterman ARNP is a former Heart Transplant Coordinator at Jackson Memorial Medical Center. She now chairs the science department and teaches gifted middle school science at David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center. She has three children and lives in North Miami.

For more information

Follow these links to learn more about the homeschooling versus public school debate.

▪ Homeschooling vs. Public Schools: Outlines the advantages and disadvantages of homeschooling and public schools.

▪ Weighing the Options: Discusses the options of public schools and homeschooling.

▪ Distributed Learning vs. Homeschooling: A look at the pros and cons of homeschooling versus distributed learning.

▪ Homeschooling vs. Alternative Learning Exp. Programs: Breaks down the advantages and disadvantages of these programs.

▪ Home School & Formal Education: Explores the advantages and disadvantages of these two options.

▪ Homeschooling vs. Schools: The article highlights the socialization issues of homeschooling.

▪ Statistics: Reveals some statistical information on homeschooling versus public schools.

▪ Home School & Public School: A good discussion on the debate.

▪ Academic Statistics: Offers some academic statistics on homeschooling.

▪ Home School vs. Public School: Some considerations on the debate.

▪ The Debate: Explains the pros and cons of homeschooling versus public schools.