What do inner-city Black cultural enthusiasts, suburban Catholics and Silicon Valley techies all have in common?
Almost nothing, except that they choose to homeschool their children.
For mother April VaiVai in the city of Baltimore, homeschooling means that her daughter Cameren will be appropriately challenged, free from the racial inequities in their local public school system, and able to learn the history of Black exceptionalism in America.
For suburban Catholics, homeschooling means that they can infuse the Catholic faith into their children’s curriculum. These families are driven by practical as well as religious concerns. Lower-income or middle-class Catholics, especially those with large families, simply cannot square saving for college while also paying primary and secondary school tuition at a private, sectarian school. Interesting hybrid models such as Regina Caeli are springing up—these blend three days of homeschooling with two days of classroom education inspired by the Socratic Method of discussion.
For Silicon Valley techies, homeschooling is a way for them to pass along their technological expertise while giving their children the opportunity to nurture their inner creative spark. The innovators driving creation in the tech sector report feeling unstimulated in schools—and some notable household names even dropped out, preferring to start companies in their garage or dorm room. These same parents are now taking their children’s education into their own hands, creatively incorporating coding and advanced computer science skills into learning.
Though it is not often discussed, this radical personalization of learning may be the proverbial “sleeping giant” of education reform. During Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s three-hour confirmation hearing, lawmakers referenced charter schools more than 60 times but homeschooling only once.
Despite its lack of attention in the public eye, homeschooling quietly doubled to 3.4 percent of the school-age population from 1999 to 2012. The most recent survey by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in 2016 estimated that about 1.7 million students (ages 5-17) were currently being homeschooled.
When compared with the 3.1 million students currently enrolled in charter schools—the type of school that arguably garners the most attention—this figure suddenly seems more significant.
Over the years, mainstream culture has tended to isolate homeschooling as a fringe movement.
Various stereotypes, such as “it produces antisocial children,” or “parents don’t know enough to fully educate their child,” or “it’s just a mechanism for religious people to avoid evolution and sex-ed,” no longer hold weight.
In fact, concerns about school environments (including safety, drugs, negative, peer pressure, etc.) were the main reasons motivating homeschooling in 2016.
Indeed, the very definition of homeschooling—initially single-home-based, parent-led education—is shifting. Today, some have rebranded it “independent learning” and one California parent quipped that “what we probably don’t do is spend a whole lot of time at home alone.”
Intrepid parents, through the assistance of support groups, have formed educational co-ops that allow their children to socialize, have forged partnerships that allow their students to participate in community and civic life and have leveraged opportunities that museums, theater groups and businesses provide for students outside the traditional educational system.
Homeschooling’s goal in the 21st century, according to California homeschooling advocate Lisa Betts-LaCroix, is to save kids from creativity-killing standardized tests and to cultivate a disposition of lifelong learning.
“It’s a revolution,” Betts-LaCroix said, and her 400-plus member co-op in the San Francisco Bay Area certainly supports that assertion.
Today, personalized learning, or meeting the unique needs of every child, is on the forefront of educators’ minds. Blended learning, or melding traditional classroom instruction with adaptive learning software programs, continues to further personalization by tailoring practice problems and texts to meet students where they are.
Homeschooling has great potential to deliver the fullest iteration of personalized and blended learning. It can leverage the combined power of the internet, videos of master teachers, adaptive software, traditional texts and community partnerships that allow students the opportunity for hands-on learning and field trips to provide an extremely thorough and well-rounded education.
Students sitting in rows doing worksheets to practice standardized tests sounds even less appealing.