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What Is Homeschooling?
Don’t assume you know what’s happening when someone says they’re homeschooling.
The technical definition of homeschooling is presumed in the way it combines two common words: schooling at home. However, the subjective definition is incredibly broad. Ask anyone what they think of when they hear the term, and they will conjure up a different mental image.
Those of us who were homeschooled know that each family did things differently. Some kids got partial education at home, supplemented with time at local schools, online, cooperatives (often called “co-ops”), and sometimes tutors. Other kids, like myself, were 100% homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. Some went to college. Others lived with their parents and continued to help with the household after graduation.
Ultimately, homeschooling can mean whatever the homeschooling parent wants it to mean. This is because there is little, if any (depending on the location), regulation for homeschooling. Parents or guardians can declare that a child is being homeschooled and remove them from school. From then on, routines and schedules are optional. Even the most dedicated parents struggle to keep up with education on a regular basis. Without structure or professional teaching, especially when regular testing is not required, children often end up isolated – or, worse – abused without intervention.
Homeschooling is different from regular schooling because it takes the work of an entire organization – with a variety of teachers specializing in different grade levels of different subjects – and puts the entire workload onto one parent, or sometimes two parents.
The homeschooling world has changed significantly over the past 40 years. I was born in the early 90s, and my older siblings, who were born in the 80s, were being homeschooled before I was old enough to start. Whether they would blatantly admit it or not, most homeschoolers at the time were white conservatives who wanted to teach their children with a political and religious slant. They pushed the narrative that public schools were secular institutions bent on making kids think Christianity was false and America wasn’t great. This continued into the 2000s and 2010s.
With the pandemic starting in 2020, there was a massive rise in homeschooling among people who didn’t fit into this group. Many parents were surprised to realize that local homeschool groups were full of conservative evangelicals. They wanted resources on how to give their kids well-rounded education. However, top Google results pointed to the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, a conservative group that lobbies against oversight and defends abusive parents. A few years later, with the pandemic declared “over,” many students returned to school. There’s still more people homeschooling than there were before 2020, but beyond that, little research has been done on homeschooling overall.
This is usually the point when people ask about unschooling. What’s the difference between homeschooling and unschooling? In my experience, people who practice unschooling tend to view it as a more anti-establishment approach, one that emphasizes putting their children’s interests ahead of forced curriculum. The problem is that it depends on who you ask, and many unschooled children end up with educational neglect, too. While proponents of unschooling are more likely to favor gentle parenting over corporal punishment of children, there is no standard way to measure the educational approach.
I say all of this because it’s important for people to know that they can’t just assume they know what homeschooling means. Even though I was homeschooled and had a lot of homeschooled friends, what it means to me is not the same thing it might mean to someone else. It’s very subjective.
This is not a defense of mainstream education. I cannot defend a system I’ve never participated in, and I’m not saying the education system is perfect by any means. I’m talking about this because it’s a chance to look at education itself and examine where it fails children.