By Allison Barrett Carter
While the rest of the parenting world thinks ahead to summer camps and languid months of their children lounging on their sofa all day, my thoughts are consumed with the month following that: September. My desk has stacks of paper with applications and printouts. It’s the season of charter school lotteries, open houses and registration forms. My anxiety level rises as I desperately look for a perfect answer for my children’s education. Then I unearth an old email about home schooling.
I do feel fortunate to have so many educational opportunities available to my children; it is certainly a privilege to have options. But somewhere between the local public school and its poor performance report, the open choice options, the four private schools we can’t afford, and the six charter schools that are an option only if we win the lottery (literally), my husband and I are lost. What is the best fit for our family?
I grew up the product of public school, as did my husband, and we did just fine. Before we had kids we never imagined we would look for alternatives to the public school down the street.
But things have changed in six years and we, like most American parents, have been bludgeoned with news that the U.S. public school system is failing.
Articles about how public school systems are especially ill-suited for boys are huge. Books about the superior education systems of other countries are bestsellers. One of the most-watched TED Talks, with more than 9 million views, is of Ken Robinson declaring that schools “kill” creativity.
Robinson says: “Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.”
Thus, my husband and I struggle. We want to be part of America’s education solution, but not at the cost of our children’s futures.
So when an email from my friend Gina, who home-schools her three children, hit my inbox, I was intrigued.
“There is a misconception of how much time it takes to educate your children at home,” she writes. “I enjoy that we can really focus on each child’s interest. Each of my children has a separate curriculum that highlights areas where they excel as well as areas where they need more focus. Then, we have certain activities that they always do together.”
Home schooling takes the old axiom “the best teacher is no substitute for what you do at home” and boldly cuts out the middle man. Perhaps it is the solution for our family?
After reading Gina’s email, I became aware that more parents in my social circle are taking this route. I have been privy to numerous playground talks about Classical Conversations — a Christian-based home schooling support network — and my Facebook feed shows many friends teaching at home.
So I did some research. I learned that I live in a state where more children are home-schooled than enrolled in private school.
The New York Times has reported that home schooling is on the rise across the nation, regardless of race or religion. In the 2011-2012 school year, according to the Times’ reporting, nearly 1.8 million children were home-schooled in the United States, compared with 1.5 million five years earlier.
These statistics surprised me, but I guess they shouldn’t. The Internet has opened many alternative educational opportunities; it was only a matter of time before individualized at-home learning reaped the benefits. America is a nation of “do-it-yourselfers” full of grit and determination, so why should we not DIY what matters most: our children’s education.
The Internet offers a potential home schooling parent free step-by-step how-to’s, lesson plans, books, activities, proposed daily schedules, and active communities for support and connection. In my immediate area, I have found multiple Facebook groups of home schooling parents who meet regularly for lessons and field trips.
Add to this the popular lifestyle blogs, such as the Handmade Home, that dedicate entire series to their home schooling tips, and I can’t help but romanticize the idea. It seems like a simpler, slower way of life. No more school buses, 6 p.m. homework battles or packing lunchboxes at 7 a.m. I can change my office into a classroom and our home will ooze family time and learning.
With the help of the Internet, home schooling has become normalized. In fact, with all my clicking and reading, I find myself excited about it.
I am an educated woman with a degree from a top public university; why wouldn’t I be able to teach my own children elementary school topics? After all, the media keeps telling me that many teachers may not be qualified. Maybe I am? With the Internet as my partner, I feel strong.
Home schooling isn’t right for everyone. It is a commitment and it requires an intense dedication from the entire family. My husband and I are aware that a making a decision to become our children’s primary educators is a big one. And like all things in education, there are pitfalls to the decision.
But as families like mine tire of waiting for our country to fix public education, as the Internet puts resources at our fingertips, as it becomes normalized and even romanticized, home schooling is a serious contender for our educational choice this fall. I might just decide to not worry about my lottery chances and DIY it.
Allison Barrett Carter is a freelance writer in North Carolina. She blogs at allisonbarrettcarter.com.