Article by Laurie Block Spigel
Homeschooling Myths Explained
This article first appeared on the Momthingz website (which now appears to be defunct), with the comment: "I just want to thank Laurie for this amazing article. Laurie answered all the questions I had about Home Schooling and so much more. Even if this isn't the route you take now, whatever you decide, Laurie has some fascinating view points that made me really think about what I personally contribute to my son's learning resources. Her website contains so much more - do check it out! And thanks again Laurie!"
Homeschooling was one of the best things that ever happened to my family. But at the start, I felt overwhelmed and scared. I had heard some terrible opinions about homeschooling. It didn’t take me long to learn the truth. Here are the facts.
There are many myths about homeschooling. When I first started homeschooling, I heard them all and each one scared me! Within just a few months I realized how wrong these myths were, and, in fact, the exact opposite of each myth turned out to be the truth.
Myth #1 – A parent is not qualified to be the teacher.
I believe that if parents truly care about their children (as all good parents do), that, by itself, makes them more qualified to be in charge of their children’s education than any school or teacher. You are their first teacher from birth. They enter school having already mastered some of the most difficult things humans ever learn: physical mobility, mastery of language, and adaptive behavioral skills. Even when your kids are in school, you continue to be the primary educator. Successful hard-working people usually learn those values from their parents or grandparents, not from school.
Several years ago I sat on a panel of homeschoolers facing a class of graduate education students at Columbia University. These students were already experienced teachers working in classrooms, now earning advanced degrees. One young teacher asked me a question that shows the extent to which we believe this myth: "What do you do when you cease to be a resource for your child?"
I was momentarily taken aback. I had never considered myself to be my child's sole resource. I looked this fellow teacher in the eye and asked, "Are you the only resource in your classroom?" There was a pause as the entire room realized that a classroom is full of books, computers, maps, and other resources. "What about your school?" I asked. "Are you the only resource there?" Of course he had access to other teachers: an art teacher, science teacher, gym teacher, etc., and their resources. "What about your students?" I asked. "I sincerely hope you regard each and every student, and their families as well, as valuable resources. They each come to you with a history, knowledge, and background that are unique." I paused. "If you think that you're the only resource, quit now! You're lost!"
Paolo Friere, one of the greatest educators of the 20th century, wrote about this misconception of the teacher as the sole resource. In fact, this is one of the ominous overlooked problems of our current school system. Teachers are told that they are the primary resource for learning, perhaps even the sole resource, and that is simply not possible. No one knows everything about anything, even the greatest experts. It is a ridiculously burdensome, false role to present yourself as one who knows all, and it will not inspire trust in your students. Paolo Friere used the metaphor of a well. In our current system, students regard the teacher as the well. The student must go to the well, and, with permission, can then draw precious knowledge from that well, the teacher. But, as Friere points out, this is not the truth! The truth is that the world is our well, and the teacher and student go there together and draw from the well together. This is a crucial concept that I wish schools and teachers would embrace. But it is easy to embrace it when you step out of a crippled system. Within a matter of days after commencing homeschooling I realized that we were not stuck at home, and not stuck with just me. The world was our school! Resources abound! They begin right next door, run down every block and through every neighborhood. We attended museum lectures, outdoor concerts, library events, used libraries both big and small, specialized and general, interviewed everyone from our next door neighbor to the immigrant shopkeeper on the corner to a costume designer and a marine biologist. And that was just the beginning.
One homeschooling parent compares herself to the contractor of a house. Is your contractor also the plumber? The designer? The gardener? The electrician? As a parent, I do what excites me and what I do best. I taught my kids literature and writing. When it came to math and science, I got help! Just as the contractor is the person who pulls the job together and oversees the big picture, I became the educational facilitator and supervisor who coordinated my child's program.
Myth #2 - Homeschoolers are social misfits.
A popular myth is that homeschooling is done alone, in a closet, without any companions or group experiences. While this may happen to homeschoolers who I have never met, my experience in NYC is as far from this as you could imagine. I have met hundreds of homeschooling families. Yet I have never met a parent who did not want their child to have friends, and I have never met a child who did not want the same. The short answer to this question is that parents hire teachers and organize field trips and play dates, and create on-going group activities. But there is a longer answer to this question that defines homeschooling as participating in the real world. In fact, homeschooling is a misnomer. It does not happen (exclusively) at home, and it is not like school. I have heard homeschooling parents (myself included) beg their child to please let them spend just one day a week at home! I have heard other homeschooling parents actually say that the problem with homeschooling is too much socialization, too many group activities, and not enough alone time!
The end result of this approach, where education is more experiential, is a resulting social sophistication that is hard to explain without witnessing it. I can always tell a homeschooled teenager because s/he will look me in the eye, greet me with an outstretched hand, and engage me in conversation. I can always tell a schooled teenage because they do not look me in the eye, and instead turn away to avoid adult contact, and respond with short, monosyllabic words when I try to engage them in conversation. The truth is that homeschooled kids interact with people from all walks of life and all ages in a wide variety of ways. They lack the age prejudice that we were all saddled with in school, which many of us remain unaware of. I had a light bulb moment about this one morning at the homeschoolers' chess club. We met weekly at a pastry shop on the upper west side. The moms sipped tea while the kids flitted from table to table playing chess. At a break I asked my 12-year-old son why he wasn't playing with the other kids his age, and gestured to two kids ages 11 and 12. "Oh, Mom," he explained, "they're just beginners. He's the kid I want to play with. He's the best one here!" and he pointed to a seven-year-old. Suddenly I realized that I had a prejudice my son lacked. He was meeting and judging others on merit and personality, not by age!
Myth #3 - Homeschooling is expensive.
I still see this myth appear in articles written by reporters who obviously have interviewed a community of homeschoolers but neglected to ask this question and assume that it must be expensive. This is not the case! All you need is a computer and a library card to have access to unlimited materials. In NYC homeschoolers are eligible for student metrocards, providing free transportation, but when I first started homeschooling, perhaps twenty years ago, we did not have this option. I could only afford one bus trip a week, when we went to the children's library center for free computer lessons and computer games, and visited a free museum during hours when admission was by donation - so we could visit for pennies. Other days we joined homeschoolers in the park for soccer, walked to other free museums, took free workshops at library branches and other locations, and used our city in countless amazing ways. The result was a list that I gathered of free and cheap educational activities, many which are outstanding opportunities (http://homeschoolnyc.com/freenyc.html). This approach can be taken with any city. Start asking around, and doing an internet search for opportunities in your area, and you might be amazed at what's going on in your own neighborhood.
Check out your local homeschooling groups, where parents gather together to hire a teacher or workshop leader and share the costs. Some yahoo or list-serve groups have zero dues. If parents need a space to meet, they use parks, their own homes, church basements, retirement homes, and free or low-cost community spaces. What might have seemed expensive is actually affordable.
With a free library card and a home computer you have access to countless lesson plans, textbooks, and course outlines on every subject at every grade level. Today, technology is rapidly changing the face of education and you can now find fee courses from top universities. If you can't afford a home computer you can reserve hours on a library computer for free, and even request free computer instruction there.
I like to compare the cost of homeschooling to the cost of throwing a party. It's possible to do it for nothing, and have folks bring potluck dishes, and make all of your own decorations, or find used or discount items, and spend next to nothing. But most of us know that once we set a budget we sometimes go over it. As soon as my income increased I spent more on my kids, and that included summer programs, music lessons, books, computers, and other things. It is possible to set a meager budget for homeschooling, and easily find all of your books and materials free or used or at a swap meet. You can join with other parents to team-teach, and find free classes and workshops in your city or on-line. Or you can spend a bundle. It's all up to you.
Myth #4 - It's hard for homeschoolers to get into college.
The most selective colleges actively solicit homeschoolers! They know that homeschoolers tend to be self-directed independent learners who are socially well adjusted and better equipped to adapt to college life. Colleges seek diversity in their student body and they know that homeschooled students will provide this to their campus.
Most homeschooled high school students take courses at local community colleges, have jobs or internships, and gain more real world experience than their schooled peers. The freedom of homeschooling allows students to be selective in their learning, so many kids became experts in their interests by their middle teens. They know what they want to learn and the sort of environment where they want to experience that learning. Most kids in a typical high school have never had to make a choice or a decision. They are herded in hourly increments from one place or subject to another. Many arrive at college feeling clueless. I have interviewed teens and college students coming from both traditional and homeschooled backgrounds. Naturally, every situation is individual, and there are always advantages and disadvantages with every choice. But I have seen that homeschoolers have a real advantage over regularly schooled kids when it comes to applying to a selective college. For more information about homeschoolers applying to college, go here: http://homeschoolnyc.com/resources/college.html
Where do I go from here?
How do you start? What are the state regulations? Who do you answer to?
The first step is to know what your legal obligations are. Homeschooling regulations are different for every state. To find the regulations for your state, go to this list from HSLDA.In New York State you can legally take your child out of school at any time! See for a summary of the regulations in New York State, and information on filing in NYC.
The second step is to join a support group. No one does it alone! Here is a list of support groups in the NYC area. For your area, try doing a Yahoo search with the name of your city, or county and state, and the word homeschooling. You can also do an Internet search the same way. This will lead you to local groups. There might be a homeschooling family living on your block!
How do you create a curriculum that will allow the child to reenter the system? Do you have to use the Common Core Standards?
I wrote a book on how to create your own child-led curriculum, and I also explain why the school system has a backwards approach. You can read excerpts from my book, Education Uncensored.
While I personally believe that an individualized child-led or student-directed curriculum is the best approach, many homeschooling parents choose a distance curriculum or an approach that they share with other families. Read some parent reviews of distance curricula.
As an educator who has closely examined the Common Core Standards, I am convinced that these standards are terrible! I would never recommend using this curriculum, which all public schools are advised to adhere to. In fact, it is so poor, that I believe by ignoring the Common Core you will automatically rise above it. Focus on keeping the student engaged, feeding their interests, and encouraging them to take their next step (whatever step that may be), and you will quickly outpace any student who stays stuck in the mire of the Common Core!
Is there any specific age that is best to start homeschooling? If you leave school, do you lose your friends?
The best time to begin homeschooling is the moment you see the spark of learning leave the child's eyes. If they remain bored or frustrated in school, don't waste these precious years! If your child is happy in school, actively learning and obviously thriving, then it is your job to extend his or her life beyond the school, and offer multi-generational social opportunities that extend beyond a limited age group. My own children, like many other homeschoolers, experienced a mix of school, summer camp, the freedom of self-directed homeschooling, and college and university. As adults, they ended up with close friends and contacts from all of these places, including bonds formed as far back as a second grade classroom. I know of several families whose children happily never attended school until college (where they did quite well). As homeschooled children they had friendships with cousins, neighbors and friends who attended schools as well as friendships with other homeschoolers. There is no "best age" since everyone's educational experience is different.
Ask yourself - Where did I find my richest, most memorable learning experiences? What were they like, both in school and out of school? Who were my greatest teachers? Were they all in schools? If I could learn something new, what would it be? What sort of teacher and learning environment would be my ideal? Now ask those same questions of your child. No two people will answer in the same way. But the answers just might lead you on a life-long adventure of learning for you and your child.
See also Questions about Homeschooling