As stories of the coronavirus continue to dominate the news, another battle is being waged largely behind the scenes. The legal rights of parents to homeschool their children are under hot debate both here in Minnesota and across the United States. Legislation currently proposed in the Minnesota Legislature is seeking to rewrite the state Constitution in an amendment saying that “all children have a fundamental right to a quality public education.” This may not seem problematic at first glance; however, the concern of advocates of homeschooling is that this will give preference to public education and eventually lead to the elimination of private education, which includes homeschooling.
The recent article on homeschooling in Harvard Magazine and Harvard Law School’s upcoming “summit” on homeschooling (whose invitation list only includes anti-homeschooling advocates) further bring to light the attack on parents’ legal rights to educate their children as they best see fit. It’s clear that the intent of liberal elites is to restrict, and eventually make illegal, the institution of homeschooling. In an attempt to dispel some myths and shed some light on facts about the benefits of homeschooling, I’d like to share my personal experiences here.
Homeschooled for six years
I grew up in Illinois and was homeschooled for a collective six years. Finding local public schools lacking, my parents pulled me out and decided to educate me at home. It was not a decision they made lightly and, in the mid-1990s, homeschooling was a fringe movement to say the least, much more so than it is today. Despite popular belief that homeschooling was an ineffective method to educate children, I excelled academically and participated in a number of activities, including gymnastics, theater and choir via our homeschool group, Girl Scouts, and more. I made a number of friends both through homeschooling and through other activities and today still consider an old homeschool playmate and my sister, who was also homeschooled, among my best friends. My parents consistently received feedback from their friends about my sister’s and my maturity and ability to interact with people of all ages. Upon entering high school, I placed into honors classes.
Although I credit much of my academic success to homeschooling, perhaps the most important lessons I learned were that the personal sacrifice of giving up time and resources to invest in others’ futures, standing up for what you know is right despite societal pressure telling you differently, and choosing the hard right over the easy wrong despite its challenges, are all worthy of pursuit. (Since I haven’t taken the time to say it publicly yet, thanks Mom and Dad. I’m eternally grateful.)
Drawing from several models
Upon having my own children, I began looking at the wide variety of school choices offered here in Minnesota. There were several wonderful options; however, for a variety of reasons, I found them all lacking in some way and began imagining how I would want schooling to look if I were to put together my own plan. I didn’t limit myself to the standard American school system model, but began exploring other educational philosophies and how education was done in other countries. I was fascinated by the Finnish school system where formal schooling doesn’t begin until age 7. Although homework and testing throughout the younger grades is minimal, Finnish schools produce students with some of the highest test scores in the world. I loved the Waldorf model, which focuses on more imaginative learning and prioritizes free play and ample time outdoors. I was impressed by the academic rigor of the classical model, which demands repetition and the memorization of basic facts. I ultimately concluded that the only way to have all these things was to homeschool my children, so I began planning.
Although we are still in our first years of homeschooling now, the experience has been life changing. My kids study a number of subjects, including math, language arts, science, history, music, art, foreign language, and religion. We’ve been blessed with friends and a wonderful sense of community through our weekly meetings with our homeschool group. My kids participate in community educational programming, make frequent visits to our local theaters, museums, and libraries, meet friends for play dates, and participate in additional music and foreign language classes. Nearly every day we spend time outside, often visiting our local playgrounds and nature centers. Perhaps most important, we get ample time together as a family. I see my kids bonding with their grandparents and becoming good friends with each other.
Parents’ reasons vary
There are a number of arguments those opposed to or skeptical about homeschooling often bring up as concerns. One is that children are not properly socialized. Socialization by definition is “a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.” This interaction should be with people of all ages, including kids of the same age, not exclusively with kids of the same age. Another concern often brought up is that homeschoolers are not adequately educated. This point has been continuously refuted and a number of studies show that homeschoolers, on average, outperform their publicly educated peers.
Still another charge against homeschoolers is that the vast majority are Christian conservatives who want to live a reclusive lifestyle. While it is true that the pioneers of homeschooling were overwhelmingly Christian, today many fewer families are choosing to homeschool for religious reasons. A growing number of homeschool families belong to other faiths, or no faith at all. The reality is that the vast majority of homeschool families choose to educate their children for a variety of reasons, including out of concern that their children get an education tailored to their unique talents, weaknesses, and learning styles.
If you are interested in learning more about homeschooling or would like to support homeschooling in Minnesota as well as around the United States and the globe, some simple internet searches will result in vast array of available online resources. A great place to start is with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). Its site features some great tips for how to get started, explanations about the rules and regulations for each state’s requirements, lists of groups and organizations to join, and much more. To find homeschool events, field trips, and classes in Minnesota, check out Homeschool Adventures.
Andrea Roeger is a mother of three and lives in south Minneapolis.
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