With over two million children now educated at home in the US, homeschooling ranks growing by around two to eight percent a year , and ample though not always positive media coverage, increasing numbers of people are at least aware that homeschooling is indeed a legal option and a thing people do. That might just mean that new homeschooling families are less likely to wrongfully be reported for truancy and increase the odds of coming across people who will simply go on and on about the many benefits of homeschooling, but believe me — folks still have questions.
We've been homeschooling for around eight years now — my kids have never been to brick and mortar school — and when the questions started, homeschooling was as new to me as it was to all those inquiring minds. Frankly, I felt defensive at times, in part because I didn't know how it was all going to work either. With some experience under our belts and results speaking for themselves, the questions have frankly all but disappeared. I'll share what people asked and sometimes still ask, and what I'd say if I was feeling particularly undiplomatic and open, both to help new homeschoolers prepare for the barrage of questions and to satisfy naysayers' curiosity.
'I could never do that.'
That's OK. Homeschooling isn't for everyone, and you certainly shouldn't do it if you don't want to, actually can't, or think it isn't the best path for your child. That's why it's so good that we have choices. We chose homeschooling, but that doesn't mean we think any less of you for making a different decision. Really, we don't. We're not condemning you with our choice.
'But what about socialization?'
Socialization, in a strictly sociological sense, refers to the process of learning to conform to societal norms, something we humans are pretty much pre-programmed to do, whether we gel well with mainstream society or find ourselves in a particular sub-culture. Socialization is a long process that starts at birth and really continues throughout life, by being exposed to, well, society — and as you can see, we're very much part of society, just in a slightly different way.
Oh, you were asking about friends? Yeah, my kids have those, thanks. Some research suggests that homeschool children actually have higher-quality friendships, as well as better relationships with their parents and a keen sense of social responsibility , so yeah, all that can happen, and a few looks at our family should confirm that we're quirky but indeed pretty social.
More about socialization here:
- What about socialization? How to meet your homeschooled child's social needs
- Homeschooled kids can, but may not, thrive socially
'Are you even qualified or competent enough to teach?'
Nope, I'm not a qualified teacher, and that's OK. Some homeschool parents are indeed former public or private school teachers, and the ones I've spoken to have assured me that their unique skills relate more to classroom management than to subject matter at the elementary level. With two kids, I don't need classroom management skills — just empathy and an intimate understanding of my children's needs.
I'm not an expert on all subjects we're learning about either, but then again, neither is the public school teacher down the road, not in elementary school at least. Some homeschool teachers are even high school drop-outs, something research reveals would adversely impact their children's academic achievement in a brick and mortar school, but not so at home . Curious, right? You don't need to be a qualified teacher or even have a degree to homeschool well — a good, curious, head on your shoulders will do.
There was a time I taught — reading, arithmetic, the correct formation of letters, those kinds of things. If I walked away from my own public school experience unable to teach the first few grades, I'd think there was something seriously wrong with the public school. Honestly, every adult should have mastered this material enough to be able to explain it to a child.
I am honestly not sure we'd be able to do all that if we lived in a time before internet connections were ubiquitous, but now, there's a veritable ocean of resources out there. That includes curriculum choices, both online and offline, of course, but also people. Whether it's someone giving you feedback on chemistry textbooks, someone sharing insights into the Indian independence movement, or someone helping you get past roadblocks, they're there, and I'm very grateful for my online homeschool community's global perspective.
Education isn't about spoon-feeding, but about exploration! An Eton-educated upper-class Brit whose brain we've recently had the opportunity to pick explained that his teachers asked questions and provided subtle scaffolding, rather than simply giving answers. The goal of his education was, after all, to teach him to think for himself. That's very much what we're going for in our homeschool as well, and if it was good enough for him, it's certainly OK for my kids, too.
'All homeschool kids I met are really weird.'
Alright then. "Data" isn't the plural of "anecdote", so that really means nothing, but normal wasn't exactly what we were going for, anyway.
'You can't shelter them forever.'
That's good, 'cause I'm not trying to.
'What about college?'
Yeah, while you have to consciously work on college prep, and make sure your kids are academically ready, plenty of colleges have no trouble at all accepting homeschool students — and some even go as far as to actively seek them out, seeing them as innovative thinkers who have something different to bring to the table. [3, 4]
'What's wrong with the public school?'
I certainly looked at "everything that is wrong with public schools" when we were considering homeschooling. Bullying  featured on the list. So did the stress of standardized testing, the loss of real education that comes from "teaching to the test", and the fact that standardized tests inexplicably favor white, middle class, students  is an issue too. Then there's underfunded schools that haven't yet left the last century, and, well, the bit where schools are designed to teach kids of the same age to the same schedule, regardless of aptitude and passion.
'What if your kid wants to go to school?'
They don't. Why would they? We've got a pretty good thing going. If they did, though, that would be a discussion to have within our family and it is, frankly, none of your business.
'Aren't all homeschoolers religious nuts?'
As an agnostic, I personally wouldn't go so far as to automatically tack the word "nut" onto the word "religious". I do know devout homeschool families — LDS, Jewish, and Muslim — and all they've done is been good friends and taught us a great deal about their religious practices. At our request, I might add, because religions are mighty fascinating. (They didn't indoctrinate us. My son still walked away from the experience defining religion as "stuff people believe in that isn't real.") I'm not going to judge them because they happen to believe in a higher being and I'm not sure there is one. Anyway, homeschool families come in all sorts of incarnations, and research suggests that academic and pedagogical reasons for homeschooling are more prevalent than religious reasons . In short, we just might be "nuts", but we're certainly not all religious.
Bonus Questions Homeschool Critics Ask
- 'Who chooses your curriculum?' When my kids were smaller, I did. Now, we do it together.
- 'Who grades their work?' Nobody. We move on when subject matter has been mastered. If they'd be getting failing grades for it at school, we'll keep at it until they wouldn't (and then some).
- 'How do you know they're really learning?' You know, 'cause I'm there.
- 'So you get together with other people who homeschool and each person teaches one subject?' Yeah, that's something some people do. Homeschool co-ops are a thing. We don't do that, though, though we do have numerous people from outside the family involved in my kids' education — from online courses to the lady down the road who lived through the Holocaust, and from the friend who recommended a great geography curriculum to the one who agreed to run a public speaking course together with me.
- 'How will they ever learn to stand up to bullies if they don't encounter any?' Nasty humans aren't exclusively found in public schools, believe me.
- 'How will they learn to deal with authority figures?' Well, there's me, and I'm pretty scary. On a more serious note, my kids are not outside of society just because they don't go to a brick and mortar school. They've come across police officers, doctors, swimming instructors, friends' moms and dads, and need I go on? I'm impressed with how my kids handle them — with respect, but without blind submission.
- 'Will they even get a real diploma?' They don't need one, necessarily, as a parent-issued diploma and transcript combined with SATs can do the job just fine (whether a student is college-bound or not), but in our case, yes. My kids are enrolled in an "umbrella school" that will issue them with a diploma, and are also looking to take British IGCSEs.
- 'Are you sure you're not f*cking your kids up?' Nope. I'm quite sure we all do, parents that is, in different ways. I'm also quite sure homeschooling has nothing to do with it.