Homeschooling is a Lie

Oh ho ho, a provocative title! (Though that’s the very point of a headline, you pedantic philist—)

“Homeschooling is a lie” in that the term is extremely dishonest. The giant elephant in the homeschool room is how rare it is for a kid to be tutored entirely within their own home throughout K-12 or whatever, and usually those kids are, how did Liz Lemon put it, crazy. (As one would expect.) Rare is the homeschooled kid that hasn’t stumbled through some variation of what is, for all intents and purposes, some form of traditional education. This is what my own experience was like. We did, what, two or three years of Abeka VHS training in our house? Even then we had a school day and homework and a curriculum. Then I started taking college classes at 11 and did a simultaneous co-op (a mini private school based on social circles) for most of what we’d call “high school.” How is that “homeschooling?” Because that’s what we called it so we could avoid talking about the elephant.

Think about it. It’s impossible for your parents to provide you what we consider a modern education. By definition, a modern education is a very broad knowledge base taught to you by specialists, either in how to educate and handle a mob of tots or subjects like math and geography, a base we expect everyone to have just to be a productive member of society. Such a thing didn’t exist in 1620. We created an education system to make that happen. It’s incoherent to try to do that, but differently. You can try to make paper on your own, I guess. Most of the time it’ll be crappy; some people might get lucky and get it right, but the reason we systematized it is to take luck out of the equation and make crappy paper a rarity. We want the most number of people to as educated as best they can. Trying to homeschool kids is missing the forest for the trees in perhaps the most pristine way possible.

Now, setting aside illegitimate reasons for wanting to homeschool your children—namely religious/ideological ones hiding behind legitimate complaints about the public school system, or a wicked desire to control every possible aspect of the rearing of ANOTHER LIVING BREATHING HUMAN LIKE YOURSELF as if they’re some pottery vase you’re trying to perfect, or laziness, or sheer fear and ignorance—, the most common reason for parents to “homeschool” their progeny boils down to something like “I think they could do better in a different environment.” Schools, private and public, specifically those common in the developed world (YES, I KNOW FINLAND EXISTS, BUT IT’S 5 MILLION WHITE PEOPLE WITH A CRAZY LANGUAGE. WOULD YOU STOP TRYING—) are kind of zoo-like, often stifling children’s creativity, focusing way too much on metrics, tests, and the quantifiable aspects of education, fostering bullying, cliques, bad social habits, etc. Legitimate, as I said, although please make sure (really, seriously, no honestly, check yourself) that those are your actual concerns for trying to wing one of the most important parts of your child’s development. Being worried doesn’t qualify.

As an aside, it should be noted that, indeed, some children with learning disabilities might not do well in a more traditional classroom. That’s a thing, yes. Still, A) go back to the previous paragraph and make sure that’s relevant to your concern, B) a highly developed school system with a long history and lots of resources is a lot more likely to be able to find a happy medium between educational needs and specific learning limitations than your own household. This isn’t an argument against the traditional school system per se, only for expanding its ability and performance in accommodating such needs. Stick to your lane.

Now back to the lane. You know those issues are par for the course, right? Parents have been complaining about them since public schools came into existence. Nobody likes seeing Junior struggle with multiplication tables they couldn’t care less about. Fine. But…what are you going to do? Not have them know their multiplication tables? Do you think they shouldn’t know multiplication tables? Then make that argument. (I’ll wait.) If you do think they should know them, how are you going to teach them then? Wait around for them to decide they want to? Great parenting, that. If not when their five, at the most crucial time in their physical and mental growth, then when exactly? And how are you going to structure your approach to this? How are you going to organize their day? How are you going to get them to stick to task when their mood swings? In short, how are you going to get s— done? It’s not going to do itself. Walk down that path and you’ll find yourself making many of the same decisions as those evil, soulless teachers who just won’t leave those kids alone.

No matter what, schooling requires some amount of rigor, some amount of scheduling, some amount of discipline, some amount of control, some amount of focus, and some amount of give-and-take in what things you want the curricula and philosophy to emphasize. Yes, kids don’t react to that as well as adults—because they’re kids. They’re full of energy, their bodies and brains developing at an astonishing rate. You can’t just let them run around in fields sniffing flowers all day. They won’t learn anything in the end. Learning is a skill. It’s work. You have to do sit down and do it. It’s the same thing as teaching them how to sit still quietly, to take no for an answer, and be nice to people. They don’t naturally learn these things. They have to be taught. Being taught is more than worth it.

One larger motif in this line of thought is that we’ve recast growing up and “adulting” as some sort of miserable injustice that shouldn’t be foisted upon innocent young souls in the prime of happiness. One, that’s projection—your early years aren’t coming back—, and two, it’s called infantilization. Childhood is not the point of life. It’s supposed to go away. You can’t build a civilization on children. My God, man. Think of what you speak. The mess, the chaos! When Junior is in first grade or fifth or whatever, they’re not even remotely mature. They’re useless. They can’t function on their own. They don’t know enough about the reality around them to make sense of it, to go out into the world and own themselves. That’s why we sit them down in these zoo-like buildings. Left to their own devices, kids don’t magically turn into scholars, engineers, writers, or even worthwhile laborers. Education is a massive infusion of worth. It’s not all they amount to, yes, but yikes, it’s pretty crucial, don’t you think? Please, argue this point with me. I’d love to hear about how being school-smart is somehow a bad thing. No, an overemphasis on school-smarts isn’t healthy, but neither is eating French Fries at every meal. This is obvious. Debate class was ages ago.

It’s good to be an adult with a broad scope of knowledge and capability. It’s good to be be able to do your own laundry without (much) griping, to socialize and interact with people of very different backgrounds and worldviews, to be knowledgeable, smart, and wise. These things are virtues. We as a society have spent untold amounts of effort making sure the next generation receives the fruit of the toil of the previous one. Kids don’t do that. If we’re being honest, they’re mostly little idiots who haven’t learned how to behave. That process never stops, by the way. Remember the kind of person you were ten years ago? Wow, were you stupid. So was I.

Back to homeschooling, it should be pretty obvious a better term for it is “ad hoc schooling,” as my friend Rob put it. No two homeschooled kids have the exact same experience, because the crux of the enterprise remains throwing different books, programs, teachers, and schools at the wall and seeing what sticks. You don’t want to shove them through the traditional system (boooo! hiss!), so you form one by the seat of your pants, yanking them in and out of stuff that doesn’t seem to work (far too often just based on a gut feeling or how much you’re pitying them in the moment), ignoring the serious downsides to that approach, then hoping your socioeconomic status will take care of the rest.

Yep, that’s the gist of it. Don’t lie. Do you see lots of single black mothers among the ranks of homeschooling apologists? No. Most glowing stories are of kids who would’ve almost certainly come out fine going through the public school system anyway, because their parents had the ability and, just as importantly, the desire granted by that ability, to guide their child’s development with a strong, steady, loving hand. Just as war is mostly determined at the outset by those boring macro-factors of economics, demographics, and logistics, just as parenting comes down to mostly how stable and loving a home environment you can create, the range of your educational outcomes for children are determined overwhelmingly by your socioeconomic status. Parents like to concoct Great Men Theories about how they were the deciding factor in why their Junior is so special and awesome. Individual actions do have an impact; sometimes they can be a deciding factor. But scale is a thing, and scale brings all valor and cowardice low. Sorry, Eustace and Margaret, but putting kale in Junior’s cereal and deciding to enroll him in the Parkside Afterschool Program for Excellence did not make or break his path to success, just as one more bayonet charge didn’t decide WW1. I know you know this, Homeschool Success Story. If you don’t, that begs an inconvenient question.

Aye, sure, there are lots of great homeschooled kids out there. There are also, what, eight billion people on planet Earth at this point? If you’re a homeschooler or parent wanting to tout the virtues of your tribe (that’s what it is) and the esteemed caliber of your education, maybe, I don’t know, avoid making such basic scholarly mistakes in public. It doesn’t matter how many potential scripts for a Lifetime movie you can reference off the top of your head. What’s relevant is the overall breakdown of success and who benefits from it. Spoilers: we don’t have that. All we know is that homeschoolers represent maybe 1-2% of the educational population in the US, i.e., a very small fraction. The rest is largely speculative nonsense, tainted by a mountain of pro-homeschooling organizations with every impetus and motivation to inflate the prowess of their particular shtick. The HSLDA is notorious for playing up every possible public school horror story, protecting parents blatantly guilty of abuse, and tainting the whole idea of public schooling for their own obvious selfish gain. They aren’t looking out for you, and they sure aren’t making sure whatever literature they publish extolling the virtues of their cause are rigorous and accurate.

Speaking of which, are you citing rigorous studies in your defense of homeschooling? No, because there basically aren’t any. And if you aren’t citing rigorous studies, then cease and desist. If you really are an amazing HS student who’s As Good as the Rest, odds are you got lucky. That’s not an argument for an educational paradigm. There are just as many (if not far more) homeschooled students whose parents didn’t make a combined $250,000 a year and who had serious gaps in their upbringing, adults who will now carry that burden for the rest of their lives. Those kids are ignored, forgotten, and outright erased from that gilded narrative. If you don’t take into account the full horizon of outcomes, to include the failures—the myriad of abused, neglected homeschoolers—you’re doing yourself, them, and your cause a disservice, not to mention selling someone else’s snake oil. In this day and age, you have no excuse. Their stories are a Google search away. Here’s one. Now go find another. Do your homework.

Finally, if you want your child to be raised in the Finnish education system, just move to Finland. Here’s a chart of all fifteen Finnish grammatical cases. You’d better start Junior on them now! They grow up fast, after all.

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