Once considered the domain of only deeply religious families who didn’t want to send their kids to secular schools, homeschooling has been gaining popularity among not-particularly-religious families. In “Meet My Teachers: Mom and Dad,” Business Week covers the growth of homeschooling specifically within the “creative class.”
According to Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and The Flight of the Creative Class, the creative class consists of educated, affluent people who, um, “create for a living”:
[They]…seek not only fulfilling jobs, but also tolerant and vibrant communities and cities. This new class of workers does not define itself by national boundaries, but is highly mobile, willing to relocate for the best social, cultural, and economic opportunities. The creative class, 38 million strong in the U.S., produces a disproportionate share of wealth, accounting for nearly half of all wages and salaries earned – as much as the manufacturing and service sectors combined.
Sounds like a pretty good life:
Highly educated? Check.
More than adequate income? Check.
Freedom to live where you want? Check.
So what do they have to complain about, these jazzy, improvisational creators? School, apparently. If they don’t like their public schools, the creative class can presumably find a different community with more suitable schools. Or they can pony up and send their kids to private schools — in fact, some of these parents attended elite private schools themselves. But they’re homeschooling their kids instead. Why?
According to the US Department of Education, 85% of homeschooling parents cited “concern about school environments, including negative peer pressure, safety, and drugs” as their primary motivation for homeschooling.
Other motivations include religious or moral instruction and dissatisfaction with the standard educational model. Many parents don’t like that in most schools, students cover the same material at the same pace, no matter how poorly that content and pace might suit them individually. They also cite the emphasis on rote learning and standardized testing.
The Internet and changing economy have helped make homeschooling appear easier now than it once did. It’s always been possible, of course, but information about any topic is now just a Google search away, and online courses abound. Plus, the creative class can move around as jobs and the economy change without putting their children through the struggle of being the new kids in school.
Homeschooling Is Like a Box of Chocolates
The beauty of homeschooling is that no two homeschool environments are alike, just as no two families are alike. Each family can tailor its “school” environment to its own set of learning styles, interests, skills, schedules, and even biorhythms. That said, a few common flavors of homeschooling exist.
A traditional model sits at one end of the spectrum. Here, parents implement a school-like system, set a daily schedule, plan a curriculum, and teach their kids what they (the parents) think they (the kids) should learn each year.
At the other end sits the “unschooling” model, in which learning and living are intertwined and where the children simply do the things they’re interested in (year-round). They learn just by living, like going to the grocery store and inadvertently doing some math, or by specifically seeking knowledge or skills in something they’re interested in, like playing the piano or learning another language.
No matter which flavor of homeschooling a family fancies, most families share at least one rationale: Who knows my children better than I do?
Homeschooling Could Help Public Schools — But It Won’t
Homeschooling’s fast growth — 1.1 million kids were homeschooled in 2003, up 29% from 1999 — bodes poorly for American public schools in the short run. More and more parents are dissatisfied with public education and are willing to do something about it. Rather than try to quickly change public schools to benefit their children — which is about as likely as me seeing my 21st birthday again — they’re just walking away from school altogether. Opting out makes a powerful statement simply because Americans don’t usually do that. We’re way too worried about being just like everyone else.
Plus, opting out removes money from public schools, which, according to my backwards logic, means the homeschooling trend could help schools in the long run. Most school districts receive funding on a per pupil basis. Each child who leaves “prevents” his or her annual dollars from going to the school s/he would have attended. That’s bad for schools because they survive by economies of scale.
So we don’t just have poor people wanting private school vouchers to get away from dilapidated, dangerous urban schools. And we don’t just have a small religious minority staying home. We also have educated, middle-to-upper-middle-class families deciding they can live without our suburban schools, even the highly regarded ones.
In a perfect world, homeschooling would grow enough within the middle-class that it causes public schools — from the NEA down to the local school committees — to see that they need to change. Homeschoolers don’t really care what happens to public schools because they’ve left the system behind. But still, their leaving could lead to some educational soul searching and positive changes.
But I’m not holding my breath. In fact, I think the Kafkaesque opposite is more likely: homeschooling will so successfully challenge public schools that it will threaten teachers, administrators, and bureaucrats. Unwilling to allow another *free* educational option to compete with theirs, they’ll lobby to pass laws that heavily regulate, standardize, and test homeschooling until individual families can do little more than replicate the public school model at home. Parents who don’t comply will be prosecuted for daring to raise and educate their kids without government intrusion.
Right now, homeschooling laws vary by state; some states regulate fairly strictly, while others take a laissez-faire approach. But give homeschooling another ten years of exponential growth, and I promise you that all states will assert more control and that the federal government will stick its fingers in the pie, too.
Indeed, some education “experts” are already banging the regulatory drum:
Schooling in isolation could threaten civic cohesion and diversity of thought, says Stanford University education professor Rob Reich. Reich favors stricter homeschooling regulations to supplant the current patchwork of state laws so that children can be assured of exposure to more than just what their parents sanction.
First, how do you get “diversity of thought” out of one-size-fits-all public schools and not from individual families charting their own educational courses?
And second, you can see that Reich, who makes his living off the public school model, feels threatened by the people who don’t value his “expertise.” When enough people like him get the ears of our state and federal legislators, you can bet your bottom dollar that homeschooling will become just as regulated as public schools, to the detriment of all parents who value choices in education.