Can’t You Say Anything Good About Homeschooling?: Libby Anne

positives

Can’t You Say Anything Good About Homeschooling?: Libby Anne

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on March 31, 2013.

I’ve been fairly critical of homeschooling in a good number of blog posts over the past two years.

One thing I’ve been asked a number of times is whether, looking back, there was anything about my homeschooling experience that was positive. It’s true that Sierra of the Phoenix and the Olive Branch and Lana of Wide Open Ground, while generally critical of many things about homeschooling and their own homeschool background, have both written posts outlining the things they found positive about their homeshooling experience. Can’t I do the same? So here it is, my attempt to write about the positives side of my homeschool experience.

But I’m going to warn you up front that I don’t think this is going to go all that smoothly.

1. Self motivation.

I’ve always been a very self-motivated person. There were some years I worked ahead in my subjects and finished all of my schoolwork for the entire year by the end of March. I was always extremely hard working and driven, and this followed me into college as well. No one had to make me study. My parents have always chalked my self motivation up to the fact that I was homeschooled—and I used to do the same. Indeed, self-motivation is one thing I always see listed as a benefit of having been homeschooled. But I’m afraid I no longer buy this—at the very least, it’s not this simple.

Even as I was self-motivated, many of my siblings weren’t. I watched many of my siblings procrastinate and drag their feet and sometimes flat out lie about whether or not they were doing their work. I watched them work all summer trying to catch up for everything they’d fallen behind on during the school year. There were several years when my siblings literally finished their math textbooks for the previous year a week or two before the next school year started. Even today, I see this same thing happening with some of my siblings who are still at home, being homeschooled. Some of them seem to lack self motivation entirely, and will only do their work when there is the threat of losing some privilege over their head.

Now after high school I attended a state university on scholarship. Because of my grades, I was enrolled in the university’s honor college and lived in the honors dorms. I suddenly found myself surrounded by a cohort of extremely self-motivated public school graduates. This confused me. I honestly had not expected to see that level of self motivation in the products of public schools. I had thought they all just did the bare minimum to pass standardized tests, because of the way public schools were set up, and that they weren’t self motivated like us homeschoolers. I was wrong. Yes, I know that these kids were honors kids, and thus not representative of the public school population as a whole, but still, they proved to me that you absolutely didn’t have to be homeschooled to be self-motivated.

So did homeschooling make me self-motivated? After thinking about it, I doubt it. Some homeschoolers are self-motivated. Some aren’t. Some public schoolers are self-motivated. Some aren’t. I have no idea what makes people self motivated, or what part is simply innate, a chance of birth. But I can say with confidence that, if the family and homeschool community I grew up in is any indicator, being homeschooled does not automatically make someone self-motivated. So yes, I was homeschooled and I ended up being self-motivated. But does that really mean anything? Probably not.

2. Love of Learning

As a child, I loved learning. I checked out books from the library, explored the fields beckoning from my back door, and taught myself to knit. The world was my textbook, and I loved it. At the time, I was taught to chalk my love of learning up to being homeschooled. And for a long time, I thought there was a connection. But I don’t anymore, and for—I think—good reason.

For one thing, being homeschooled does not guarantee that you will end up with a love of learning. I know a guy who was homeschooled K-12, and his experience actually stunted his love of learning. For him, homeschooling consisted of sitting at the kitchen table, or at a desk in his room, filling out workbooks. And that’s it. Every day for twelve years—thirteen if you count kindergarten. Nothing interactive, nothing collaborative, just workbooks. To this day, thinking of school or any sort of formal learning gives him mild PTSD symptoms. So this idea that being homeschooled automatically makes one love learning? Yeah, that’s absolutely false.

Further, the friends I made in my honors college dorm in college all shared the same passion and love for learning that I had—even though almost every one of them had attended public school. They didn’t just study what they had to for their classes, or just do their homework because they were required to. They went above and beyond and loved learning for its own sake, whether it was required or not. And they didn’t limit learning to their academic coursework, either. For them, learning was a part of life, as natural as breathing. Once again, this confused me. I had been taught that public schools stunt children’s love of learning, and also that attending public school causes a person to divide their life into learning—i.e. formal school—and not learning—i.e. everything else. But I found that, for these honors kids at least, this was absolutely not the case.

So did homeschooling give me a love of learning? In the end, I don’t think so. I think my love of learning came from my parents, not from being homeschooled.

They made it obvious that they loved learning, and they sought to make every moment a teachable moment—and in a fun way.

We were always learning things, whether it be gardening or carpentry or zoology or the culinary arts, and my parents encouraged us to love learning, and worked to make learning fun. If I’d attended public school, my parents still would have taught me to love learning. They wouldn’t have suddenly stopped making every moment of life interesting and teachable. They wouldn’t have stopped encouraging us to learn, and teaching us to see learning as enjoyable and just a part of life.

In the end, I honestly don’t think gaining a love of learning is determined by the method of education.

3. Freedom

One thing both Sierra and Lana hammered on in their discussion of the positive aspects of homeschooling was the sense of freedom it gave them—freedom to follow their own interests and study at their own paces, and freedom from the constriction of a public school schedule.

When I look back on being homeschooled, this is indeed what I look on most fondly.

In elementary school, my mom set my schedule, including what I studied and when I studied it. However, homeschooling did allow the flexibility for spontaneous trips to the zoo, or spur of the moment park dates. In middle and high school my mom still set the subjects I studied each year—always asking me for input first—but I was free to determine when to study and for how long. I wasn’t required to have fixed hours, I was merely required to complete the textbooks I’d been given by the end of the year.

I loved this—like I said above, I sometimes rushed through and finished some or all of the subjects early.

I loved the flexibility of choosing when to study, and in what order to study. I frequently got up early in the morning and would set myself the challenge of finishing all of my seatwork—meaning things like math and science and vocab, but not things like free reading or debate research or music—by breakfast time. I wasn’t usually able to fit quite everything into that time, but I was always finished by lunch time, leaving me the afternoon free for reading or sewing projects or digging for medicinal herbs or baking a pie.

But—and this but is important—this freedom was limited to choosing when and at what speed and in what order to do my academic work. I wasn’t free to go to the mall with friends, or free to have a part time job, or free to randomly go over to a friend’s house. I wasn’t free to go anywhere at all. Because I was homeschooled I didn’t have an outlet away from my family. Instead, I was home all of the time, both home to have my comings and goings and friendships micromanaged and home to be on call as a junior mom 24/7. As I’ve mentioned before, my parents didn’t believe in teenagers. They expected me to go straight from child to adult, and I wasn’t allowed to do the sort of things normal teenagers do.

In some sense, was given the freedom of a two year old and the responsibility of a thirty year old.

I grew up as the oldest of twelve children. There was always a baby in the house, and there were always toddlers and preschoolers who needed constant attention and help. When I think back on my time spent doing school work, the image I get is of sitting at the desk in my room doing math problems while also supervising two or three toddler and preschool age siblings playing nearby, because mom needed them out of her way so that she could teach the middle ones. For several years I was also in charge of all of the laundry for the family, and for a while I was in charge of all—yes, all—of the cooking. I was also expected to teach some subjects to my younger siblings, as a sort of tutor. My mom figured that teaching the subjects would help cement them in my mind, and also that helping with the children and housework was good practice for my future, when I would be a homemaker and stay at home homeschool mom.

All of this responsibility also meant that I rarely got to actually spend time alone with friends, or out of the house—in fact, when I think back on hanging out with friends, the image I get is of chatting with a friend while making mountains of peanut butter sandwiches and watching our 15+ collective younger siblings, our mothers having gone out for lunch together. I don’t want to give the impression that I begrudge my mother these lunches out—she needed them for her sanity! And besides, by that time watching kids came as second nature, and I savored what time I did have with friends, so the memories I have of chatting over mountains of sandwiches and quick roll counts of children to make sure we hadn’t lost any are actually pleasant ones.

So did homeschooling give me more freedom? In the end, I think it was a wash.

Yes, I had more freedom to set my academic schedule—when to study and what to study and how to study—and I thoroughly enjoyed that. But at the same time, because I was always at home under my mother’s watchful eye and able to be on call to help with whatever needed doing, be it children or food or housework, I had much less personal freedom than I would have had I attended public school. And when I compare my thoughts here to those of Sierra and Lana, I am reminded that Sierra was an only child and Lana was one of only four. So it’s not surprising that my experience here might be a bit different.

Conclusion

So, are there positive things I can say about my homeschooling experience? Sure. But every time I locate one, I end up finding a negative flip side. And maybe that’s why I haven’t spend a lot of time trying to draw out the positives.

I simply don’t feel that I can discuss them outside of the more nuanced context.

Homeschooling can help students develop self-motivation and a love of learning—or it can limit both of these. Some kids simply work best with formal teachers for each subjects, and with the firm academic deadlines formal schools provide. I’ve also seen cases where homeschool kids end up well educated in the subjects their parents find interesting, and not well educated at all in other subject—and this is something having the variety of teachers formal schools offer serves to counteract.

Homeschooling frees kids from the formal schedule of the public school—but it also places them 24/7 under the complete control of their parents, who may give them personal freedom or may, well, not. And besides that, some homeschool parents—like the parents of the young man I mentioned—simply reconstruct the formal schedule of the public school at home, just without the same level of peer interaction.

In the end, it’s complicated.

7 comments

  • I thought my homeschool was fairly normal at least it seemed very similar to what my peers in homeschooling experienced including my husband. But I suspect that is because I was early homeschool I graduated from highschool in 1995 the curriculum available today is much more extensive than what my Mom had to choose from. Maybe this lack in the early days forced parents to be more creative? I know my Mom didn’t approve of what she called doing school at home which was just doing the boring part of regular school without creativity.

    Self Motivation
    Yes I do have it and I actually do attribute this to homeschooling because it isn’t my natural state. I am perfectly happy to just follow a schedule and I was distinctly lazy as a young child. My parents encouraged independence and getting things done on my own schedule and maybe the math didn’t always get finished in a timely manner but I eventually learned to make myself do things. This independence has served me well as an adult. I am pretty sure in a traditional school setting I would have been a model student and just kicked back and made good grades without much effort.

    Love of Learning
    I absolutely loved the learning that wasn’t in a traditional setting spending time with elderly neighbors to get I witness accounts of history, going to every museum you can think of, running several different small businesses, etc. We took several major trips across the country during the school year I don’t think those would have ever worked out had we been attending school.

    Freedom
    Unlike many people posting here I had tons of freedom. I had almost no rules to follow, my parents were some of the most relaxed I knew of yet my siblings and I almost never got into trouble and were absolutely model teenagers. There is something to be said for teaching your kids and then letting go with the expectation that they will be responsible. I now wish I had taken advantage of the freedoms I had more and done more social things but that wasn’t my parents fault they encouraged social activity I was just happier with a book. My Mom gave up after awhile and didn’t force me to do anything along that line.

    I loved homeschooling I only wanted to attend school very briefly when one of my cousins started going to public school. I got over it as soon as I found out about the social nonsense that goes on in middle school it didn’t sound fun anymore. My Mom was frustrated with my laziness that year and offered to take me down to school and enroll me I think she was disappointed when I turned her down.
    But like you Libby Anne I don’t think homeschool holds a monopoly on these values I have seen plenty of public school students students experience all of these things. I have encouraged multiple parents who have their kids in public school that all they have to do is be involved in the education process and their kids would be fine. I believe that parents are the defining influence on children no matter what form of education and checking out and working 80 hours a week is an influence too just not a good one. Kids know when parents really love them and care about them and they respond well to that. I plan to homeschool me kids mostly due to my husbands career we have a nontraditional schedule and homeschooling will give us more family time. But if something changes in the future and some other school looks like a good option for my kids we will do it. I hope I sounded somewhat lucid here it took me two hours and multiple interruptions to write this post.

  • I agree that homeschooling doesn’t guarantee self-motivation, a love of learning, or even give more freedom.. We homeschooled our 4 kids and are on our 7th year of homeschooling.. The older 3 are all back in public school.. The 2 oldest because they lacked the motivation for me to continue dispite my honest and sincere efforts.. My daugher is back because she felt she was missing out on friends and other activities that she is prohibited from participating in at the public school as a homeschool student. I will keep the youngest home until she is in 7th grade.. When I first started out on this journey I thought that this was a GREAT idea.. I still see some good in it, but like everything, there IS a flip side to it.. I know a lot of homeschool parents who do this to keep their children from experiencing negative things in school. I think this is very dangerous.. They HAVE to know how to handle adversity.. I appreciate your honesty in your post.. I know many homeschool parents that will argue this, but I feel the same as what was stated in the above article.. I don’t want my kids missing out on anything or holding a grudge for me “keeping” them out of school..

  • Libby Anne, I completely agree that your discussion of homeschooling must ALWAYS be in context. All of ours should.
    Thanks for giving into the pressure to write this piece; I didn’t need it, though. And this website is NOT INTENDED to comfort the masses about their decision to homeschool.

    Nonetheless, your writing, determination, strength all speak TESTAMENTS to homeschooling, but mostly to YOU.

  • Pingback: A Week of Joy: An Index | H . A

  • Thanks Libby Anne – I can relate – my parents moved to homeschooling when I was in High School I was in public school before that. In ninth grade my dad decided he didn’t like me acting like such a teenager basically and pulled us all out over the summer between years. I wasn’t given a choice though I pleaded to go back to school. Two lonely, isolated years ensued, of constant struggle until I just left one day, and never moved back.

    But I escaped. I had the tools to move on thanks to solid public school education moved in with my grandparents who were concerned about us and went to college.

    My siblings were controlled, and around the age of twenty all married severely controlling people. They have never been free, and unless something changes, I don’t know that they ever will be.

    I have nothing good to say about it as result. Self-motivation? I learned that in public school. Love of learning? Public School. Freedom? I had much more while in public school.

    People have asked me as well, do I have anything good to say about homeschooling – in my experience, no. But I only had two years and the experience of being forced away from my friends – told I was going to “socialize” with the creepy homeschool association kids (whom I could never truly be a part of because I was too “public schooled”) watched like a hawk when my public school friends came over (they were “bad” influences) forbidden to do and go anywhere……..

    No, I have nothing good to say about homeschooling. Nothing.

  • I think whether we’re ‘hating on’ homeschooling or ‘hating on’ public schooling or whatever, Libby Anne is right in that it is complicated. We make choices for our children according to our religious, political, cultural and social beliefs and that leads us on different paths. Every path has a flip-side. For every homeschooler that was confined to a specific set of mores and forced into some sort of vacuum there is a public schooler that was peer pressured into a differently shaped vacuum and a different set a mores who ended up driving home drunk causing an accident that changed their lives forever. The poor kid who sat at the dining room table and did workbooks for 12 years could’ve been the same poor kid who sat through 12 years of public school being ignored or told they weren’t good enough, all the while just wishing they could DO something that didn’t involve pencils or memorization. In any educational system there exists a paradigm that is inherently imposed from the outside, in.
    I think our responsibility is grace and understanding in individuals.
    There is grace that reminds us of our humanness, our resilience after mistakes, a humility to change when we recognize something isn’t working for our children and the ability to triumph victoriously when it does. The same grace that accepts the responsibility and consequence of the paths we, and our fellow humans dare to tread. Peace.

  • anon homeschooler

    Love it. Fascinatingly, my husband (public schooled all the way) has all the qualities you mention… and so do I (homeschooled). We BOTH are very self-motivated, love learning, had different kinds of freedom growing up and thrived in that freedom, etc. But interestingly… my HUSBAND (the public schooled one) is the main one who wants to homeschool. He seems to feel he made it through public school IN SPITE (in his opinion) of all the social pressures to be un-motivated, to dis learning, and to abuse freedom at home. He doesn’t want our kids exposed to those same pressures. Conversely, I sing the yuck of homeschooling — the lonliness, the controlling parents, the fear of non-homeschooler (the “us” and “them” mentality), etc. But the fact that my husband and I are just so similar in so many ways — in spite of having RADICALLY different growing-up experiences makes me think it all comes out in the wash.

    Incidentally, I was recently reading an essay about why kids growing up in the Depression did not resent having to drop out of school and work… whereas kids today (I’m thinking homeschoolers here) resent not getting a “fun” experience in their teen years, resent having too many adult-responsibilities put upon them, etc. And the essay concluded that the kids during the Depression KNEW in their BONES that their work was NEEDED by their family in order to SURVIVE… whereas kids today feel like their work is imposed on them either because the mom is a little bit lazy and wants a break… or because they are supposedly “in training” to become a mom or dad, etc. But these kids also feel the deserve a break, deserve some fun, etc. The bottom line seemed to be that if kids feel they are HELPING (*genuinely*), they tend to be okay with the arrangement. If they feel the work is “made up” they are less accepting. Makes sense to me!

    As such, I have a lot of hope that my kids will have a decent homeschool experience when I explain that we don’t have the money to send them to school AND do really, anything, outside of just plain school (in fact, we would even have to decrease our grocery budget so meals wouldn’t be as nice!) So we’re choosing to homeschool the school part and then have some leftover money so they can learn a musical instrument or play a sport or shop at the mall or whatever they would like. If they see that we REALLY could not have done it all, I hope they will feel better about our choice. In my personal case, my parents could have kept me in private school… they just CHOSE to pull me out and isolate me because they were afraid of what “the world” would “do to me.” Its a choice I think was misguided (and it didn’t help that they said they KNEW that GOD WANTED them to do it! Um… I highly doubt that, lol!)

    Anyways, enough rambling. Loved the article. Keep being real!

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