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Busting the two biggest homeschooling myths

Post · Jan 6, 2020 ·

Despite it being the fastest-growing segment in education, homeschooling (or unschooling, hack schooling, home education – whatever your personal flavour or term happens to be) is still a widely misunderstood world.

The reasons for making the home education choice and the approaches home educating families take have all broadened significantly over the years. How it’s all viewed by the wider population, however, has not. Common perception is as narrow as it was 50 years ago.

At best, this is causing awkward conversations in the playground.

At worst, it’s holding the world back from advancing how our children experience life (and that goes for their adulthood when they get there, too).

I’ve had many of those awkward conversations over the past few years, and through them I’ve noticed that people get stuck on two main things. Perhaps they were true at one select point in history. Perhaps they’re still true for a small segment of homeschoolers. But for the vast majority of home educating families going into 2020 they are nothing more than misguided, misinformed, outdated opinions.

They are long-held myths, and they are in desperate need of being taken apart.

Myth One: Homeschooled children will fall behind their schooled peers, hurting their career options as an adult

It’s obvious on the surface, right? The idea of young Jimmy sitting at his kitchen table while his mum tries to muddle through teaching him calculus (which she failed in school) doesn’t fill any of us with much hope for his future. He’ll inevitably fall behind where he should be in most subjects and have little chance of ever catching up. And you can forget about the idea of college or university.

Sorry Jimmy, we’re going to make you completely unemployable. 

Except that lone figure sitting at the dining table while their parent tries to impart whatever knowledge they have simply isn’t how home education works. For most, the concept of the classroom is flipped. The parent doesn’t deliver knowledge, they facilitate the discovery of it – and in today’s world we can access more raw information than we could possibly imagine. The child drives their own learning journey, drawing from many, many different resources around them – both digital and from the real world. They are not told what to do and when to do it. The how is not prescribed. What they learn about is often up to them.

The motivation to learn comes from an internal place, and that will always trump external drivers like rewards and punishments. Home educated children are learning, don’t you worry about that, and they’re going deep with it.

Ok, so maybe they can learn whatever they could have in school. But even then homeschooled kids can’t just rock up to college or university and enrol like their schooled peers, right? So then what happens?

There are two points I’d like to underline here. 

Firstly, homeschooled kids can enrol at most colleges and universities. We need to get this clear right here, right now – choosing to homeschool does not close college doors. It’ll take a little more work to prepare their application, sure, but I’m yet to meet a homeschooler that’s afraid of a little hard work for the right outcome. Harvard, for example, doesn’t even evaluate homeschooled applications any differently to the ones coming out of public school. It’s a level playing field, folks – those high school diplomas are far from make-or-break.

What’s more, many top colleges are now actively recruiting homeschoolers.

Why? The answer, according to the research so far (like this and this), is clear: on average, homeschoolers are outperforming their schooled peers in entrance exams, are completing their first year of study with higher average marks, and are going on to graduate at a higher rate.

An Australian study of home educated alumni (over here) even showed that a higher percentage of homeschoolers were going on to tertiary study than the rest of the population. 

We need more research in this space, yes, but far from showing a picture of underperformance these early studies are pointing to strong academic results achieved by motivated young adults who know how to learn.

The second point worth making here is that a degree is not the free career ticket it used to be. Yes, you will need to train to become a teacher or lawyer. No, you will not be able to walk into an operating room and perform surgery without the necessary training and qualifications first. But the list of professions that require – as in, really require – a degree is shortening.

I can speak from personal experience here. I work – and hire – for a company that includes teams of developers, designers, product managers, marketers and writers, social media managers, analysts, testers, finance people, support people, and salespeople. It’s a hugely successful company with a genuinely caring culture, the kind of place you want to work, and I could pull out a star performer from any one of its teams who was hired without the ‘right’ qualification. Without, in many cases, any formal training at all in the position they applied for. What they would have had were skills they’d developed on their own steam. Real-world experience. Impressive personal portfolios of work they’d poured energy into. The right blend of confidence and humility. The ability to listen and learn. Passion and enthusiasm.

If a homeschooler needs a degree they can simply go and get it – and from the research so far, they’ll be just as successful in doing so (and possibly even more) as anyone coming out of the school system. But maybe, just maybe, they’ll decide they don’t even need that piece of paper at all.

Either way, choosing to homeschool will categorically not hurt your future career prospects.

(hey, it may even help)

Myth Two: Homeschooling my child will negatively impact their social development

It’s probably the widest held perception of home education, this, and it all starts with putting too much emphasis on the word ‘home’.

Fact: most home educated children aren’t inside the four walls of a house day in and day out.

Where are they? 

They’re at libraries, skate parks, swimming pools, markets, galleries, beaches, playgrounds and museums. They’re at gymnastic halls, drama schools, karate dojos and dance classes.

They’re interacting with librarians, gallery curators, museum staff, surfers, skaters, market stall owners, drama students, park rangers and karateka.

There is actually research (over here) that suggests home educated children are more connected to the community around them. That they are more active participants in their local neighbourhoods in various ways, connecting with people of different ages and from different walks of life more often. That they take up more social and extracurricular activities every week than school children.

Could anything possibly fit the definition of socialisation better than all that?

I sometimes wonder if the socialisation argument is actually just a polite way of saying that homeschooled children are a bit weird. If that’s the case, I would wholeheartedly agree (I’d prefer the word ‘different’, but let’s not split hairs).

 Think about it – how could someone who has experienced an entirely different version of life to you not seem weird? It would be…weird…to expect the same result. 

Also, I challenge anyone who is afraid of differences in people to reflect deeply on that.

Regardless of what the underlying social point is, the idea of promoting 13 years of age-segmented classroom time that’s routinely punctured by manic releases of energy in small play areas as being the best form of social development for a child is absurd.

And the idea that being different is a bad thing…well, that’s just dangerous.

While there are exceptions to any rule, it’s clear that these perceptions of home education are tired and outdated. They have not kept pace with a global home education movement that has rapidly grown and developed.

If you believe either of these myths I’m not expecting you to suddenly drop them and become a raving advocate for home education. But what I would like to ask is that you step back and look at all this objectively before you next throw one of these lines into a conversation. It’s easy to reject the unknown by falling back on old arguments, but if you’re going to continue holding a position you should at least make sure it’s still a strong one. 

What you do next time it comes up is entirely up to you, but you’ve read this post now. Ignorance is no longer bliss.

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