Is Homeschooling Unfair to Children? A four-part series

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This post is the first in a four-part series entitled Is Homeschooling Unfair to Children?

You can read the other posts in the series here:

Part 2: Knowledge gaps and the thirst for knowledge

Part 3: Socialization and missing out on important experiences

Part 4: The almighty 'career path': what career can a homeschooler hope to have?

Series Introduction

I shouldn’t have done it. But I did. Nothing good ever comes from it; just anger, frustration, and the seething disappointment that burns in you when you feel like you’ve been completely misjudged.

No, I'm not talking about joining a writer's critique group.

I’m referring here to the reading of the online comments on a mainstream article about homeschooling. 

Yesterday morning, this article about unschooling from a major Canadian publication appeared in my newsfeed. I probably shouldn’t have even opened it. It’s rare that I find a positive take on homeschooling in such papers, but curiosity got the better of me and I clicked the link.

And at first, I was pleasantly surprised. The article focuses on unschooling—a form of homeschooling dedicated to student-led learning—and was surprisingly positive. The article profiles Judy Arnall, president of the Unschooling Canada Association, author of Unschooling to University, and mother of five unschooled children.

It goes on to give day-in-the-life glimpses of four unschooling families, the sort of stories that one familiar with the homeschooling world might be accustomed to seeing in a Sonlight Catalogue

It was a refreshingly positive article. The families profiled discussed such topics as:

  • Finding the real-life applications of subjects
  • Giving students accountability for their learning
  • The pursuit of hobbies and passions
  • Fostering a thirst for knowledge
  • Closer family connections
  • Project-based learning

I felt pretty good after reading it, thinking, wow, there’s actually starting to be some mainstream acceptance of this unorthodox approach.

And then I made the stupid mistake of reading the comments, something I always avoid doing on news sites. It’s a complete waste of time and always leaves me feeling hollow and empty.

The general consensus was that unschooling (and homeschooling in general*, as most commenters seemed to be critical of both), is:

  • Child abuse,
  • Doomed to fail,
  • Robbing children of important experiences,
  • Depriving them of interpersonal skills and the ability to learn skills for managing group dynamics,
  • A path chosen by idiots who are not qualified to teach their children,
  • Disastrous,
  • Leaving children further and further behind,
  • Prone to knowledge gaps, and
  • Creating illiterate children with no career paths.

Overcoming negative homeschooling stereotypes

Reading such comments always feels like a smack in the face. Many of these people cite one, two, or half a dozen seemingly dysfunctional homeschooling families that they’ve met in their lives and conclude that all such families must be the same, but that is simply not the case.

I have yet to meet a parent—homeschooling or otherwise—who does not want what is best for their kids. I’m not saying they don’t exist; I know that they do. But the vast majority of parents put copious amounts of time, energy, and thought into making the decisions that they feel will most benefit their children. For some that may be homeschooling or unschooling, for others it could be public school, French immersion, or private or charter schools. Each family—and each child—is unique and has different needs that must be considered.

And those needs change over time. What’s best for a particular family or child this year might not be best for them next year. Many of the most successful homeschooling families I know have had children transfer into traditional or private school settings around grade ten and have had no problem integrating. Adaptability is key in any situation.

I never intended to reply to the comments stream of that article. Doing so is usually a pretty fruitless endeavour. But I felt the need to reflect on some of the comments personally, to put down on paper (and now, on screen) the other side of the story. The one that you may not necessarily see from the outside. The one that knowing two or three homeschooling families may not reveal to you. 

As I sat down to write, the pages quickly accumulated, and I realized that I have a lot to say on this subject! So, I decided to turn it into a short series on the blog. In this series, I will look at some of the claims made by the commenters of the above-mentioned piece, and also offer insights into why our family—and many like ours—have found homeschooling to be the best route for the time being. 

I know that it’s hard to get people to change their minds about worldviews that they hold dear, and that is not my goal here. If it was, I would go back to that article and engage in a bunch of unsatisfying debates.

To the homeschooling mom who lacks support

The person on my heart as I write this is the homeschooling mom who is facing pressure to put her kids in school, the one who faces pushback from friends and family every day, telling her that she is making the wrong choices for her children.

Homeschooling is a massive undertaking as it is. It requires all of the strength, patience, wisdom, and energy you can muster, even on the best of days. But doing it without support is like running a marathon through quicksand while people grab hold of your shoulders and pull you back. Next to impossible.

Homeschooling is a massive undertaking as it is. It requires all of the strength, patience, wisdom, and energy you can muster, even on the best of days. But doing it without support is like running a marathon through quicksand while people grab hold of your shoulders and pull you back. Next to impossible.

If this is you, I want you to know that you are not alone. There are many women out there just like you who are facing a lot of judgment for their choices, and it’s heartbreaking to be under that kind of attack when you know that you know that you know that you are doing the best thing for your children in this season.

So, if you are in this situation, and you need some encouragement, or some answers to the common misperceptions that people are levelling at you, read on. Feel free to share this series with a friend or family member who wants to support you but who hasn’t been exposed to the concept of homeschooling before.

Homeschooling is a wonderful option for many families and can reap rewards for years to come. Read on to find out why.

*In full disclosure, I want to acknowledge that our family does not unschool, though we have certainly moved more in that direction this year. The arguments made in this series generally apply to both homeschoolers and unschoolers as the comments made in the cited article were directed at both. 

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