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September 18, 2005


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I went to public school and had, for the most part, a positive experience. I later attended a little Catholic college where I met a whole spectrum of students who'd been homeschooled, and while many did quite well, there were several who were completely unprepared for college. Seeing that travesty helped form one of my strongest opinions about homeschooling: if parents don't have the ability to homeschool their children well, I don't think they should homeschool them. If they have to spend lots of extra time on their spiritual development to equip them to handle public school, fine, but they should make sure the kids have the opportunity to get an education.

That being said, I don't have a high opinion of American public schools in general. And when we have kids, we will almost certainly homeschool them, because I feel confident that I could do a better job educating my children than our local public schools could. Children learn so quickly in the first decade of their lives, and like you, Jamie, I don't want mine to spend large chunks of that time waiting in line to go to the bathroom.

I've known lots of families who homeschooled, many of them because they thought the public schools were dens of iniquity, and they didn't want to expose their children to that. But in my (admittedly limited) experience, homeschooling for that reason doesn't generally work out very well, because those parents who homeschool their children for the sake of their souls can justify doing less for the sake of their intellects. But if parents look at the schools and say to themselves, "we can give our children a better education than this" then they've given themselves a motivation and a goal, and it seems to me that it works.

For someone who doesn't even have children, I think I've gone on long enough about this. Thanks for starting this thread, Jamie. I'll be interested to see what others have to say.

As a parent who is looking forward to homeschooling her now two year old son (and subsequent children) I am most anxious to hear what everyone has to say. I would also like to add my own questions, such as How do you know you will be able to homeschool well? How do you get started in the right direction? How do you know if you have the kind of discipline established with your child that will best support a homeschool environment?

Can you sense my apprehension?

Why do we homeschool? Because I always wanted to. Because I don't want my daughter to ever see her intelligence, her love of learning, or her joy as odd. Because I remember well what it was like to be the smart, socially awkward kid in public school.

I love being the one to be there when she first hears the stories of King Arthur, of Don Quixote, of the Iliad. I love hearing how much she loves this collection of Edna St. Vincent Millay's poetry. I love watching her growing mastery of Latin. I love having our own schedule.

We can choose our priorities. I want her to know more about the history of the larger world than the American-centered history in our schools would give her. I want her to come out of her childhood knowing the great stories of the Bible, of Homer, of Shakespeare. I want her to learn about how to treat other people from a wide range of adults and children, not a tribe of 30 children all within a year of her age.

I think that homeschooling allows us more freedom to center our life around family, human relationships, and social service. When my husband's grandmother had a stroke last year, we could drive out to Virginia and be with her, without worrying about missing classes. We can go up to Milwaukee to be with a friend going through chemotherapy, and we can bring our schoolwork with us.

It is not perfect. There are days where everything goes wrong and I find myself shouting "For goodness sake, it shouldn't take you 45 minutes to do 10 math problems!" Days when I threaten boarding school. Days where I feel wholly inadequate and worry that I'm doing everything wrong. But I really wouldn't trade this for anything.

I could go on and on. I guess I already did. :)

Thank you! I am so grateful to all of you for your time and patience - and since no good deed goes umpunished, I'll badger you some more (somehow, I've never managed to have an actual conversation about this before - all I hear are 'these people are wierdos' or 'this is our belief and that's that'). First, I couldn't agree more with Jamie's sentiments about worksheets - just thinking about them makes my teeth stand on edge and my toes curl. and I should say that from what I've read, I would have given an arm and a leg to be in your school. But see, that's exactly the place I get stuck - this seems so wonderful, but it is all about you; and I could easily see a situation where homeschooling leads to even more worksheets (which is maybe what Arwen is describing). I shoudl explain a little more where I'm coming from: I'm used to a state system which is divided into secular and religious schooling. The orthodox religious schools tend to stint on anything except religious studies, especially when it comes to boys' educations. The result is a whole swathe of the population lacking in what I would consider basic skills for living in a modern society: these boys at 18 can barely do primitive addition and subtraction, cannot read English at any level, etc. This is the education the state gives them, as dictated/designed by the parents. Having seen the problems when a grown man is only barely literate, only barely able to function with numbers, I wish the state would in this case impose itself more, assert more what are the fundaments without which a child cannot be considered as educated. Alicia writes of the low standard in public schools; true, but at least the school system ensures that a certain standard - a lowest common denominator - is taught to everyone. I can well understand the frustration with just how low the bar is set; but I wonder whether opening up the home as an alternative source of education does not risk resulting in some children never achieving even that lowest standard.
and now that I've ranted and rambeld, I'm wondering if maybe this is all irrelevant: does one have to be certified to homeschool? Or do you need to commit to teaching certain basics? Please correct me if I'm way off in thinking it's completely up to the parent what one teaches.

PS: I don't mean that the only people who should be 'alllowed' to homeschool are educated parents; seems like there might be just as many problems with parents pushing their kids. I'm thinking of JS Mill - no time to look it up since I should be doing other things, but as I recall his father started him on regimen of Greek together with teething, had him memorizing subjuctives with weaning, and set him compositions in aeolic meter while potty-training. My memory is that all this led to Mill having nervous breakdown and losing command of Greek, but I suspect that even without the evidence of the breakdown most people would agree that this is tantamount to child abuse. I think of this and wonder whether a state teacher would have been allowed to stuff the poor child with Greek like that.

Rachel, first of all, to address your question about certification: it depends on what state you live in. Here in Illinois, homeschooling is considered the equivalent of private schooling, and there is no real governmental oversight. The law says, and clearly I'm paraphrasing, that you have to teach equivalent subjects to the public schools, in English. There is no oversight mechanism or certification process. Other states have vastly different laws, since education is (supposed to be) a matter left up to the states. Pennsylvania has a whole set of complicated hoops to jump through, I do believe, and many are somewhere in the middle of these two.

But study after study has found that children who are homeschooled, overall, do as well or better than their schooled peers by just about any measure. These studies could be limited in scope and/or flawed, but we do know at any rate that no one has yet to demonstrate that homeschooled kids are worse off than their peers. And several studies have also shown that kids in areas with more regulation of homeschooling (places that require teaching certificates, or yearly approval of curriculum, or whatever) are also not doing any better than the kids in less-regulated areas. So it's certainly not clear that adding requirements to teach is beneficial in any way. If you're interested, I will take the time to dig up the studies I'm paraphrasing and email them your way.

As for making sure kids hit at least a minimum achievement standard, I'm not clear that schools are, in fact, achieving even that goal, in any consistent way. So much, at least in this country, seems to depend on the relative wealth of the community the school is in, and the level of involvement of the parents. I would argue that there are few people who care more about the outcome of a child's education than their own parents, whether they send their kids to school or school them themselves. There are bad ones out there, to be sure, just as there are bad teachers and schools, but by and large parents' motives are sound. And for every story of a JS Mill or a neglected homeschooler, I'm sure I could counter with at least one about an abusive teacher. But that's rather beside the point; and I do think most schools are decent enough, just as I think most homeschooling parents do a decent enough job.

Anyway, Jamie, sorry to soapbox in your comments. I appreciate the opportunity to have a reasoned discussion with someone with genuine questions about homeschooling. :)

I would love to homeschool my son and any future children we may have. The problem is that my husband and I both work, and there is no forseeable situation where one of us stays home. I know that there are families with two working parents who homeschool, but it takes a toll, and then you have to deal with what to do with the children while the parents are at work, school is convenient and free.

That being said, I had a terrible experience in public school that was finally corrected with two years of homeschooling. My experience ran the gamut: physical disability, abusive teachers, abusive children, and disaffected administrators. I was diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of nine, and nearly had a nervous breakdown at the age of eleven. All because of school. I homeschooled for two years (what would have been my seventh and eighth grade years) and went back to school a year behind (should have been in ninth grade, but I was in eighth grade). When I went back to school, I was a different student. I loved school, made the honor roll, participated in activities, etc.

I did not receive a bad education from public school, but I have always been something of an autodidact and a voracious reader. Both of those qualities enhanced my public school education.

When it comes to my son (he is currently two), I worry about doing the wrong thing. What if he is a social butterfly that would wing his way through school, charming the teachers, making friends, and getting an excellent education? How could I possibly keep that child in homeschool?

On the other hand, do I want to risk him getting damaged the way I was (and the way my brother was -- we have similar histories when it comes to school, but he is 9 years younger and was never homeschooled)? What if his first grade teacher is a total shrew who ruins his outlook on school? What would I do?

There are steps parents can take to make sure their children are doing well in public school. The main thing is that you have to get in the school and get to know it before your child gets in there. You have to know the teachers, know your child's learning style, and learn how to work the system to match your child with the right teacher. You need to volunteer and make yourself known at the school, both to the teaching staff and the administration. Be proactive, stay involved. This is where the stay at home parents have an advantage, in that they have more time to volunteer and so forth. It would be more difficult for a working parent.

Arwen, I'm very, very interested in your perspective. How were the unprepared kids having trouble? Could you pinpoint trends in problem areas?

Sarah, there is lots of help for moms who want to homeschool. If you are feeling called to it, I believe you can find a way to make it work.

Lisa near Chicago, keep talking. I appreciate your perspective since your motivation isn't religious.

Lisa C., what a story! I hope you find a solution you're happy with for the Moosh.

And Rachel, thanks for reading and asking questions. I'm glad to hear our school sounds like a place you'd want to be. As the first Lisa pointed out, homeschooling requirements vary from state to state, so what's expected of you depends on where you live.

Many homeschoolers bristle at state oversight, but I think that implemented judiciously it can be a good thing. NY, for instance, is quite regulated; NJ is not. In 2003 there was a horrible abuse case in NJ: two "homeschooled" kids died of atrocious neglect. Is there any chance that more involvement with the outside world could have made a difference for them? I don't know, but I still wonder. (This is where the evangelical homeschoolers jump on me with both feet -- are you reading, Amie and Blestwithsons? Some homeschooling families feel strongly that the government should stay out of education, but I disagree. Of course I don't want to jump through unnecessary hoops, but I'm willing, if asked, to stay in touch with someone outside my family about how my kids' education is going. I think that can be valuable for everybody involved.)

My parents are staunchly anti-homeschooling; my father, in particular, is convinced that homeschooling is unleashing a torrent of woefully underprepared kids into the job market. He says they're not prepared to stick to a task for eight hours a day because they've never had to do it before. I'll be interested to see how the research shapes up as more homeschoolers become adults.

Oh, and I think JS Mill's dad sounds like he would have been impossible to please no matter how his son was educated. Any teacher can tell you that parents with unrealistic expectations are a problem wherever children are educated.

Jamie and everyone,

You should check out Steven Kellmeyer's column on homeschooling, called Abnormality Thy Name is Homeschool


He points out what a new thing formal schooling is, and how it was modeled on asylums (!!) to keep kids no longer employed off the streets. It goes nicely with his column


in which he lays out what home-educated children and teens were doing, and how being treated as a productive member of society tends to train one to *be* a productive member of society. Perhaps school teaches us to be better underlings, better behaved under a management, but home-education doesn't necessarily unfit us for living lives full of worth.


Even though I didn't formally homeschool my now grown children, I taught them all to read by the age of 3 and made sure that we had tons of books in the house. I wish that I had paid more attention to math skills. I used many of the educational methods of Glenn Doman (Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential - patterning et al) to prepare my children to be effective learners. This encompasses a lot of developmental stuff like breastfeeding, floor time, avoidance of walkers etc - and I used "You can teach your baby to read" as a guideline.

In 2003 there was a horrible abuse case in NJ: two "homeschooled" kids died of atrocious neglect. Is there any chance that more involvement with the outside world could have made a difference for them?

Now, Jamie...you do realize that this family was already under the "watchful and caring" eye of the state, don't you? Social services knew all about this family. I suppose that if there were regulations on homeschoolers that maybe this family would have been picked up...but only because "let's regulate homeschools" is a fresh and new fad. I really think that *Social Services* dropped the ball on this one and the kids paid dearly.

I'm against regulation. I'd be more for it if I thought there was a chance that it wouldn't spiral out of control. Unfortunately, anytime the government gets involved, regulation spirals out of control and I'm not willing to allow that.


We consider school decisions on a child by child, year by year basis. So, this year I have a 4th grader in public school. A second grader at home. A 4yo in a two day a week co-op preschool. (and a 10 month old at home :-)
The 4th grader is in a special program that is perfect for him and he loves where he is. The 2nd grader chose to homeschool.
Sometimes I think its harder on me to do a little bit of everything, rather than have all in one or the other, but I do think it is best for each child.

I'm torn about this whole homeschooling thing. Seems like there are some doing a great job and some doing a Really Crappy Job. Seems to me like Jamie is doing a great job. The ones that worry me are the ones who either don't seem all that educated, or like Rachel said, seem mostly interested in the religious end of it and not so interested in actually teaching things. ALso,I come from public schools and sort of bristle at "all public schools are terrible"-type judgements.

My one question is -- how well are homeschooled kids prepared for college? This is not a judgemental question, I genuinely want to know. IT seems like homeschooling is much more fluid and less structured, so how do they react to "physics class is at 8:30 am" with a more structured schedule?

My husband has taught a math-intensive subject at two highly ranked universities now. His general impression is that the self-identified home-school kids come in with greater passion for their particular interests, but less tolerance of the scut work of learning. So they tend to want to argue a lot about whether a particular problem set is "worth it." Whether that's a good thing (questioning authority) or a bad thing (imagining that you know best how to learn an advanced subject) is infinitely debatable.

As a group, the homeschooled kids have tended to perform more poorly in advanced-level math, too. Their language skills far outstrip their math and science skills, or so the "conventional wisdom" has been among his colleagues, and in his experience.

Although it's arguable that the new generation of homeschooled children is being taught by more highly-credentialled parents (the trend of academics' spouses, especially wives, to homeschool their kids, for example), it's also probably the case that most homeschooled kids that my husband has taught did NOT come from evangelical/Christian families (because they're not likely as a group to have applied to his universities).

I would also point out that my husband is only in a position to know that a student was homeschooled if the student tells him. There could be just as many homeschooled kids who adapt to the rhythms of formal schooling without protest, whose math skills are strong, and whose identity as homeschoolers simply isn't known.

I liked school. I LOVED school. We paid a 25% premium on the cost of our house to live in the best public school district in our state. All our neighbors' kids have had good or great experiences in our neighborhood schools (including the junior high). So, even though I am reasonably convinced that my kids would learn more at home with me, and suffer less boredom, they will be starting in the public schools. I think the number one reason why has to be that I loved the schools, I loved having my own family-free space (even though I was ostracized by most of my peers for all my school years), and my gut says that my kids will love school, too.

The number two reason is that homeschooling isn't in my skill set. Not even close.

One thing that bothers me: when homeschoolers write that they don't believe in the value of tests or grades, as if parents who send their kids to school do. I think standardized tests are a huge waste of time, and grades are a completely inadequate form of feedback. I'm choosing public schools in spite of those problems, not because of them.

I think it's very, very hard to explain one's own choices without implicitly dissing someone else's. It's refreshing to read these comments and see arguments that avoid that trap.

I didn't mean to imply that evangelical and Christian homeschoolers are less well-credentialed as a group than non-Christian homeschoolers. I really have no idea what the profile is or has been, as far as degrees attained. It's been my impression that many, many evangelical Christian women have college degrees, and use the skills acquired in college to homeschool their kids (possibly because they feel a religious calling not to use their degrees in the workforce after parenthood).

As a group, the homeschooled kids have tended to perform more poorly in advanced-level math, too. Their language skills far outstrip their math and science skills, or so the "conventional wisdom" has been among his colleagues, and in his experience.

I was educated with 3 years of public, 10 years of Catholic and 2 years of public college.

That said, as an adult, the highest level of math I need in my day to day life is balancing my checkbook and doubling recipes!! I frankly hated math, and was so glad when I finished my last required math course. English grammar and literature on the other hand, I loved. I don't think it's a public vs. homeschool thing - I think it's just how different people are wired!

Ahhh, but Jody is talking about taking higher-level math courses. So these folks are probably majoring in something like math, engineering, physics, etc. So they DO need more math than balancing their checkbook. I think Jody had some really interesting insights, there.

I'd be interested in seeing statistics on what Jody mentioned -- what is the education level of homeschooler-parents? I have read of some that have a high-school education, all the way up to (as she states) wives of professors who have their PhDs homeschooling. And how does it break down as far as "reason for homeschooling"? Fascinating stuff, really. I'm enjoying this discussion.

Jody, I'd love to hear more if you're still following this thread. Do they not follow through with homework assignments? Are homework assignments graded in your husband's courses? My college math courses never had graded homework assignments; it was all about whether you could pass the quizzes and exams.

Also: what kept you loving school if you were ostracized? Like Lisa near Chicago, I had a hard time in school because I felt like something was wrong with being smart.

I hope you don't mind my jumping in, when you don't know me. My perspective on the issue of homeschooling is, perhaps, unique in comparison to those already stated here, and I hope that it might be useful. You see, I was homeschooled from preschool through my senior year in high school, and when my son (and any future children) is old enough to start learning, I plan to homeschool him as well. All things considered, I view my schooling experience optimistically, and I'm excited to continue the "tradition" in my own way.

I've thought considerably about homeschooling, and I don't know if my thoughts are orderly enough for me to attempt to state them all here. Besides, it would take entirely too much time and space. But in brief...

I don't believe that homeschooling is for everyone. Some parents choose to homeschool for solely "religious" reasons; but I think that the most successful homeschoolers are those who, like my mother, are dedicated to providing their children with a well-rounded education. She taught us responsibility and accountability in completing our assignments - though there were always some things that we never "got around to" finishing :). As her children approached high school and subjects beyond her grasp, she continually looked for ways to branch out. She sent us to classes taught by individuals specifically for homeschoolers, so that we could be trained in (especially) the maths and sciences that were beyond her expertise.

I don't profess to be above average in intelligence, nor to be exceptionally bright and intuitive. Nevertheless, upon completing high school, I went on to attend college, and during the course of my time there (I didn't finish - I got married and had a baby, so I've put it on hold for the time being) was a good student, earning all A's and B's. I think that my high school experiences prepared me for "the classroom experience," but I suppose that personality played a large role in my ability to complete assignments and hand them in on time :).

Being a homeschooler myself, I could often pick out the other homeschoolers on campus, but I think that I was less identifiable. I didn't WANT to broadcast myself as a homeschooler - after all, no one goes around noting that they attended public school, and I didn't see any reason to point myself out as different. I had cause to be thankful for this decision. In my experience, homeschoolers often have big heads, especially if their parents have pounded into their brains that the education they received is infinitely superior to public school education (which is probably the truth where I live). I don't admire the way that I've seen (or hear of) students show off in college - exhibiting an attitude wholly childish and out of place in the setting of higher education.

I apologize if I've been too longwinded. Homeschooling is a topic which interests me greatly, and I'm always interested in different perspectives and dicussing it's pros and cons.

Jamie, I don't know about Jody's husband, but my husband teaches college physics. He does, in fact, grade the homework. He says he doesn't know which, if any, kids are homeschooled, though.

The other thing I find intersting is Deb's comment that she went to classes specifically for homeschoolers when in high school. I do not understand how this is very different from sending your child to school. I am genuinely puzzled and am not trying to be judgemental or rude (it's hard to convey tone in email!) so please do not take it that way. I guess my vision of Homeschooling is the mom (usually) teaching everything, the whole way through.

Like Mary's husband, my husband assigns problem sets and the problem sets constitute part of the course grade.

He taught at an ivy-league school where the homeschoolers identified themselves as homeschooled. They used their own experience to prove the value of homeschooling.

In Minnesota where I grew up, high school students could earn graduation credits by taking college courses. If I decided to homeschool through high school, I would pursue that route for math and science. We've got a national shortage of scientists and engineers, and you can't do good science without labs. The scientific method thrives when people debate experiment outcomes. I believe advanced science is best taught in a classroom setting. (Now, I also believe the average homeschool family can do a better job with grade-school science than the schools do. Depends on the district, of course: ours has a great reputation for science instruction.)

Most public high school math teachers weren't math majors in college, so it's harder to argue that homeschooling is worse for math. But an argument can still be made....

There's a real trend for academic families to homeschool their kids. I would GUESS that most of them expect to send their kids to bricks-and-mortar high schools, but I honestly don't know the percentages. My husband and I have joked more than once about homeschooling and travelling during the kids' seventh- and eighth-grade years. Those two years are a wasteland, as far as I'm concerned.

Maybe ostracized was the wrong word. I was ignored by the in crowd, but I wasn't bullied. Everyone knew I was a smart-kid geek, but my district placed some value on that -- in the classroom and among families -- so I didn't have very many friends, and people thought I was a dork, but the worst that happened was I felt left out. It wasn't just me: being on the Science Olympiad or the Math Team or the Chess club may have made you socially bizarre, but people would also say "well done" in the hallways after an award.

Our school distrcict was regularly ranked in the top-ten in terms of academic performance. 80% of the kids went onto a 2- or 4-year college after graduation. I lived on the wrong side of town, wore the wrong clothes, and never had more than two or three good friends, but I got a great education and it took me where I needed to go.

Also, my mom was angry my entire childhood. School was one of the two places (church was the other) where I met adults who praised me, and the praise wasn't caught up in that complicated relationship that caused so much trouble for my mom and me. I was on solid ground at school. At home, I never knew where I stood.

I guess that I would liken my experiences in "homeschool classes" to that of taking classes at a private school. The curriculums we used were written by Christians and the classes were small - there were never more than a dozen students, and at least three of my classes included only me and one or two other students. The advantage of this was that we got one-on-one attention still, and our teacher really cared that we grasp the concepts presented in the material. True, our parents didn't teach us, but it was still a similar environment. It was a way for us to interact with other people our age (outside of church) without having to deal with a lot of the peer pressures of a school environment. It also developed a sense of community - families who had committed to teaching their kids at home helping each other over the rough spots.

When it comes time to teach our children, my husband and I will be better prepared than perhaps my own parents were. My strenghts are in the area of English, writing and literature, while his are in math and science. If we found opportunity, however, we would be willing to teach other students whose parents struggle themselves with concepts in high school subjects. Similarly, if our children developed interestes in music, art or sports, we would look for ways to help them develop their interests outside of home.

Ultimately, I think that homeschooling is a way of directing your chidren's educations in ways that benefit them the most. You can watch your children learn and discover individual needs and learning styles, then do what you can to accomodate the differences. And essentially, homeschoolers' sending their children to classes outside of the home is comparable to parents' involving their children in math club, soccer, or other things that the children might not be able to do in a home setting.

Oops...I meant "curricula." :)

Deb, thanks for the answer. I guess, to me, I don't consider that "homeschooling" anymore -- I consider it private school, to an extent, like you said. And Jody, I have to agree with you about teaching science (also about jr. high being a wasteland!). Like I said, my husband teaches physics; I am an engineer by training. We both feel science and math are extremely important and are not being taught well enough. I cringe when I hear that people "hate math" or "can't do math 'cause I'm a girl" or other such nonsense. And it worries me that a these folks will then pass that along to their children, etc.
Also, Jody, your school experiences sound like mine (minus the angry mom). Not bullied, but not popular either.

When I think of 'homeschooling' I definitely have some negative connotations in my head. But I can't really shake them loose and identify them. However, I'm sure they're based on prejudice and ill-founded assumptions!

I do know that I don't have any worries about the academic performance of home-schooled kids (well, maybe with the ones who are home-schooled by redneck fundamentalists whose justifications are hatred of the state/fear of their kids being told they're 'the same as monkeys' or something. You see? Prejudice and assumptions!). Certainly, in the UK, home schooled kids are middle class kids - they do fine academically.

I DO think that h/s is right for some kids, and not for others. Or rather, I think its REALLY right for a minority of kids, and that school could really be a problem for them. So I wish that primary education (not pre-school)started a little later (it's 4 in the UK). If it started at 6, parents would have longer with a 'school-age' child to figure out what's right for their kid, and make an informed decision.

Gah! Didn't mean to imply in any way that Jamie had made as uninformed decision! In fact,I was going to ask her if she would mind homeschooling me - it sounds so great.

Jamie, what help do you suggest I look for when I start organizing myself to begin homeschooling? Right now I'd just like to know where to begin!

Just one data point--I was homeschooled for a few years and chose to go back to high school, and am now in postgraduate education heading for PhD...in MATH. As a GIRL :) So it can't all be bad. I also have a friend who was homeschooled until college, and she's now doing postgrad work in Biology--her homeschooling experience gave her all afternoon to catch frogs, and then later to work at the local University doing real research *as a high-schooler*! It depends on the interests and resources.


I'll chime in again to thank Amanda for her post. My fears are somewhat allayed. For now. It's hard when all you want is for your children to be able to choose the path they want and for them to have every oppertunity to be successful in that field. If only we could see how our choices for them would turn out in the end!

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