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Has Homeschooling Evolved or Devolved?

Has homeschooling simply evolved or has it begun to devolve?  This question is rolling around in my head, prompted by a discussion on the Well-Trained Mind Forums about the closing of homeschooling forums and the shift in homeschooling supports from at-home-education supports to outsourced supports.  For many homeschoolers, the plethora of homeschooling outsourced options is seen as nothing but a boon.  They see these changes in the homeschooling landscape as only positive because numerous options are always good.  But, while the options have opened doors to widely varied educational supports and resources, have those very resources and supports opened into a circular perspective that leads back to traditional schooling and the arguments against parents-as-teachers?

When I first started homeschooling back in the early 1990s, the main argument against homeschooling was that only experts were qualified to teach students. Parents were not only unqualified to be their children’s educators, but students’ post-high school educations would also be limited by their poor quality homeschool educations. The idea that a parent could successfully teach high school chemistry without a chemistry background or teach precalculus without a math degree was dismissed outright.  The perspective of the anti-homeschooling position was that it was not even debatable.  They were emphatic that their position was the only truth.  Parents without credentials could not be as successful in teaching students as professionals with teaching degrees.

Homeschooling parents fought the prejudice against the ideology that teaching well and at a high level necessitated having a teaching degree. Parents would sit side by side with their children both learning and teaching simultaneously.  Those struggles and successes forged a path different from traditional brick and mortar classroom educations.  Students in these parents-as-teachers homeschools were learning that answers could be sought and mastered without experts standing in front of them telling them exactly what they needed to know. These students learned not only course content but also perseverance and self-confidence in knowing how to learn foreign material.

I used to know numerous families who fell into the above category.  We drove to Kinkos to make photocopies.  We met for moms’ meetings to discuss different resources on how to teach various subjects.  We had family day gatherings for our kids to play and hang out together.  Though all of us were from different backgrounds, we shared the bond that we were our kids’ teachers, and we were responsible for what and how they were learning. We were focused on individualizing our kids’ educations to meet their specific learning needs and moving at whatever pace fit their learning abilities.  We were education enablerswe believed (and knew!!) we could teach our kids, and we encouraged new homeschoolers that they could do it as well.

We witnessed the “mom-taught, learned-alongside mom” students go on to college and prove at the collegiate level that their unqualified parents had provided them with the foundation necessary to succeed at college. Colleges started to realize that those homeschooled students were positive contributors to their campuses. Restrictions on what colleges expected for homeschoolers to provide for “proof” of educational foundation started to decrease.

Fast forward to today.  What are the dominant topics of conversation among homeschoolers?

  • Who is the best provider for ______?
  • What co-op do you belong to?
  • Did you know that ______ offers classes in ______?
  • Do you know any online program that teaches ________?
  • Do you know of any program that elementary kids can use for school independently?
  • Where are your high schoolers dual enrolling?

Today’s conversations no longer revolve around questions like how are you teaching _______, but instead what provider are you using for _______?  Those who advocate that more options are always better fail to recognize the subtle shift toward undermining the foundation upon which the homeschool movement was built, that unqualified parent educators could prepare their students for academic success without expert teachers.  The premise that an outsourced provider is the default answer is contrary to core values of the original movement. I am not referring to the odd outsourced class but that outsourcing has shifted from the exception to the norm.

The whys behind the new muddled face of the homeschooling movement are easy to identify–mass marketing materials and profit-oriented businesses built on stoking parental fears. The original homeschooling market materials were focused on enabling parents to be great teachers.  Today’s homeschooling market materials are focused on being your homeschool’s teachers. Throw in the misleading and untrue mainstream mentality where homeschooling is seen as just another educational option, and you end up with families who have withdrawn their kids from school but don’t have the energy or the desire or the self-discipline to put in the immense effort absolutely required for teaching their children themselves.  The idea of creating an individualized education that meets only the needs of one specific child, the one you are teaching, is far removed from their sphere of reference.  These parents hand over the reins of curriculum selection, individual pace, input/output decisions to some other teaching source, just not a brick-and-mortar-building teacher.

The homeschool movement of today is more focused on not sending children to that traditional brick and mortar building for their educations than about parents being their children’s teachers.  While those homeschoolers that embrace those goals see that as a distinction without a difference, one does exist that subtly erodes the “unqualified homeschooling parent-as-teacher.” I see it most distinctly at the high school level.  In talking with homeschooling families with high schoolers, those stoked, parental fears are their greatest motivators.  These parents are the ones repeating the original arguments that were used against homeschooling (often repeating what they have been told by the for-profit “homeschool” businesses). The parents believe that students will not be prepared for college without taking courses from a qualified outside provider, that their students will not be accepted to college without providing outside validation of what was done at home, and that transcripts with only the parents-as-teachers will be viewed as untrustworthy.  They believe that students need AP scores, dual enrollment credits, co-op teachers, and online teachers in order not only to be educated but also to be accepted into college.

Thus, the homeschool mindset has gone full circle.  It started off as a movement away from the idea that only qualified teachers could provide solid educational outcomes. It was fueled by parents who believed they could be their kids’ primary teachers and that the outcomes would be equal or even superior to what was being provided through the traditional educational system.  The movement peaked when those unqualified parents succeeded in providing their kids educations that surpassed critics’ expectations. Eventually, those originally outside of homeschooling circles started to see it as a more normalized path.  The more normalized view of homeschooling encouraged more families to pursue it as an option but without holding the same core “education at home with parents-as-teacher” focus.  As the movement has grown, the homeschooling profit-oriented market has equally morphed to feed on those views and the accompanying parental insecurities by encouraging dependence on what they have to offer because it is better (often accredited), easier, and necessary. Those inside of homeschooling circles are now the ones who routinely say they need outsourced providers. Homeschoolers are the ones who say that they can’t do it on their own, that they don’t want to do it on their own, and that professional teachers provide better educations and more accountability for their children.

Evolution or devolution?  I don’t really know.  But whatever it is, the difference is palpable to someone who has lived through almost 25 years of homeschooling and still has 3rd grader at home. My hope is that homeschool laws and college admissions won’t revert to greater levels of control and restrictions because if they do, fewer voices will care.

But, to end on a more positive note, I am encouraged by my friendships with a couple of younger moms who are excited about teaching philosophies and methodologies. They have the exciting future of determining what their children will learn every single day. There is a deep sense of satisfaction that comes from knowing your child has experienced an education tailored exactly to their needs while you sat right there beside them, learning with them along the way.

8 thoughts on “Has Homeschooling Evolved or Devolved?

  1. I really enjoyed reading your article and the comments are just as good! I have noticed this trend even though I myself have only been homeschooling my kids for 4 years I was homeschooled in the 90’s and never did a co-op or group or anything else. I do think even with that background have fallen into the group of thinking another source can teach better than I can.mostly because I felt I wasn’t taught at all in my home education so someone else might actually teach where I’m afraid I’d be too much like my own upbringing.
    As I’m teaching my kids I am wanting more of a life without so many options, where homeschooled kids are actually home and not outsourced to everything under the sun! My own kids do not do more than 2 things outsourced (sports, math dvds, etc.) but their friends are outsourced to the point I wonder sometimes if they really are homeschooled at all.
    This was a great read to enlighten my mind about where the homeschool trend is going and my part in that movement.

  2. I happened on your blog today and you have said exactly how I feel. My children are very spread apart with my two oldest having graduated from college and my youngest is three years old and the rest are in between. I find that when you ask anyone who home schools what they are using these days, they simply list off all the places they outsource to. Many people who outsource never get to see the beauty of home schooling and often quickly give up. I am an oldie in the home school world, but still have young children. It has become very difficult to relate to the current generation of home schoolers.

  3. As one who aspires to “old school homeschool” without co-ops, pre-packaged curricula, etc., I find that forums are fading in usefulness, partly because of the shift away from the DIY approach, but also because the veterans who have the knowledge that would help the next generation are retiring – they’ve graduated all their kids and no longer have any vested interest. I’m not criticizing them; it’s perfectly reasonable – but still I lament their departures. Pretty much the only information that interests me seems to come from archived posts that are 10+ years old (and with forums shutting down, so much collective wisdom could just vanish). I have a hard time accepting that the questions I have are no longer valid; instead, I think many people have just signed on to what CC, or whoever says and therefore don’t have a need to question it or explore other ways (which might be better for some students).

    I would love to see an online place dedicated specifically to ye olde ways. Note that this doesn’t mean avoiding newer resources or technology. It’s more about how each of those are selected and integrated into a larger philosophy that is the opposite of one-size-fits-all. I know there are others out there who feel as I do, but it’s not easy to find them. As mentioned above and by other commenters, this used to be the norm and now it is the exception. If anyone knows of something or would want to create a way to keep in touch and share, please speak up!

    1. This is how master teachers are created in schools, they are mentored by “old school” teachers who pass on their knowledge and experience. When I was getting my BS in Elementary Education, the most valuable part of my education were the field experiences and my student teaching. The last two weeks of student teaching we were told to go and observe as many other teachers as we could. All the teachers would oblige, and we could see a variety of methods and techniques and strategies. But more than that, the teachers would chat with us, for as long as we needed. They would tell us why they did things the way that they did, they would discuss philosophy and learning and knowledge from years of experience. It helped me figure out more about my own style and goals as a teacher.

      This was just before No Child Left Behind, before testing took over our schools. When teachers in my area still created their own teaching materials geared towards their students, and passed on whatever they had to share to the up and coming teachers. When I started homeschooling 7 years later, that was what the homeschooling community felt like as well. Warm and inviting and plenty of people who wanted to share.

      This seems to have waned as more experienced homeschoolers become empty nesters and bow out. But I would love to see more veteran homeschool parents come back to mentor younger parents. This younger generation require more patience to teach, they were never taught how to learn. But it is worth it to try, for the sake of our children and the world they will have to live in.

      1. Yes, I had similar experiences years ago when I was getting certified as a teacher, although it seems that the public schools are becoming less welcoming to the innovations/contributions of individual teachers. My time as a public school teacher convinced me that homeschooling is what my children deserve. I believe that veterans (both homeschooling parents and school teachers of that older time) have much to offer.

  4. Homeschoolers have a great opportunity to teach their children the word of God, plus give them the academics too. This is a great privilege!!!

  5. Thanks for writing, Karen.

    I have wondered if the lack of questions re philosophy/ foundation partially reflects a better equipped homeschool base.

    By the time I entered homeschooling in 2009, I had a good number of homeschooling friends with kids in various stages of schooling — from babies to graduates. I didn’t have to look very far for answers to homeschooling foundations/ philosophy. So, those conversations were only one, maybe two, people deep. Where I struggled — issues specific to the type of kid I was teaching… the need for those conversations brought me to the internet.

    Of course now that I’ve written that all out, it feels terribly optimistic in light of what I’m experiencing locally…

    Being a member of the largest and oldest homeschool support organization in my city used to guarantee membership to the teacher resource center (for those rock/mineral kits, body system models, books, etc). No more. Between the state’s offering (with a box of “free” educational materials) and the online charter, homeschool support looks very different and doesn’t apply to what we do.

    Actually, three weeks ago, one of those pioneering homeschool moms who mentored me reached out… She’s teaching her caboose child and is feeling discouraged because the landscape has changed so dramatically. Her go-to resources and community are gone.

    Full circle… hmm.

  6. Right on the money.

    I much prefer the original mentality of: “we don’t need so-called experts to teach our kids”. When I talk to people about homeschooling I do bring up that there are lots of alternatives to simply pulling the plug on traditional school and doing it all yourself 100% from the get-go, but I also encourage them to use those options to take steps towards being completely independent educators of their own.

    I think you are correct though that a lot of people are falling right back into the same traps they were in when their kids were going to brick and mortar schools. It’s not surprising really, as many of those parents had their self-confidence and creativity stripped away in the very same system they are trying to avoid with their children.

    To your question in the title of the article: I think it’s doing both simultaneously. It’s evolving in the sense that more and more families are coming to realize that their child is being ill-served by the traditional school system and are actively seeking alternatives. It’s also evolving in new ways to accommodate a diverse group of parents with very different ideas about what shape that alternative schooling should take exactly; how it fits in with their lifestyle and educational goals.

    But it is definitely devolving in the precise ways you point out – where the market shows an opportunity for people to make money off of other people’s fears and trepidations, those market forces will drive businesses to push the (unenlightened) idea that you still need “expert” help if you want to do the best thing for your child. Similarly, I think human nature is at play within that devolution: people have very poor memories and typically have an even poorer understanding of the history of our education system that brought about the homeschooling movement in the first place. Even though I’m not a religious person, it does remind me of the story of Exodus and how quickly the Jewish slaves turned back to worshipping “false idols” in the desert as soon as Moses left them to go up onto the mountain. Despite having seen multiple miracles that ultimately set them free from captivity, with a bit of time and some perceived hardship the people fell right back into their old ways and habits.

    I think it’s harder than we think for people to break free from the brainwashing they were put through in the public school system. I also think that even when they do find the courage to do so, a bit of time and perceived hardship is really all it takes to make them fall back into old ways and habits.

    It takes 14+ years of conditioning to strip away the creativity and individuality from our children in the Prussian, industrialized school system we have today. I believe it will take a new generation of kids raised and educated outside of that system to trigger the next big evolution in education.

    Here’s hoping my three homeschooled children will be part of that generation!

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