Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Will homeschoolers save the schools?

It seems like virtually everyone now knows at least one homeschooling family. Most people are still skeptical about the practice, but the mere existence of these families forces people to think, however briefly, about the possibility of doing things differently than they’ve been done in the past.

I know that there are all kinds of arguments about homeschooling, pro and con, and that it’s impossible to see homeschooling as the solution to the challenge of educating a nation full of kids, since it’s just not an option for that many people. But I do wonder if the mere presence of homeschoolers will ultimately make people look differently at certain features of our educational system that we might otherwise just take for granted.

Do homeschooled kids end up exactly the same as schooled kids? Probably not; otherwise there would be no point in doing it. They may be worse off in some respects, and better off in others. Presumably they’re different, but the more we see of them, the less it seems like there is anything disastrous in the difference. Are the outcomes perfect? No. Are the outcomes of conventional schools perfect? Hell, no.

It’s hard to generalize about homeschooling because there are so many different approaches to it. But the more traditional “school-like” homeschoolers have more in common with the lefty/libertarian “unschoolers” than you might think at first glance. They all value the opportunity to treat the child as an individual, rather than as a face in the crowd; to take each child’s particular needs into account; to allow the child to progress at a rate that is appropriate for him or her, and not one that is dictated for everyone; to immerse the child in a wider world that is not artificially limited to other children of his or her own age group; to better model values that will enable the child to lead a fulfilling life; and to reach their educational goals more efficiently, with less of the child’s time wasted. In those respects, even a relatively authoritarian homeschooling environment is more humane and child-centered than an authoritarian conventional school.

When people look across the street and see that their neighbor’s kids are somehow becoming functioning adults with only a fraction of the coercion and dehumanization that their own kids are experiencing in conventional schools, won’t they start to wonder what the added value of all that coercion and dehumanization is? Even if people remain skeptical of homeschooling itself, they may begin to look for ways to incorporate some of the positive aspects of homeschooling into their kids’ existing schools. In that way, homeschoolers may be doing conventional schools a favor in the same way that third parties have historically done the major parties a favor: the practice itself may remain marginal, but the existing institutions may be forced to address some of the underlying concerns that motivate it. One can hope, anyway.

No comments: