Burning Gnome

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A Letter on Home Education and Labels

   Apr 13

A Letter on Home Education and Labels

Recently, there was a flurry of emails on a local Unschooling list regarding labels and structure. A friend of mine, who was homeschooled herself, wrote a beautiful response:

Some humbly submitted thoughts on recent debates and why we all deserve a pat on the back…

Back a long time ago, around the beginning of the current homeschooling movement, I was homeschooled all the way through high school. I did a little preschool and a little 2nd grade but that was it. My three younger siblings never went to school. We lived in ex suburban Massachusetts. Back then there were far fewer homeschoolers. There was a large contingent of religious homeschoolers and some secular ones. Among the secular ones, there was a mix of homeschoolers and people who identified or would be identified now as un schoolers. We were secular homeschoolers who used curriculum for a couple hours a day to cover basic subjects and got to follow our interests for vast amounts of the rest of our time. We had lots of friends who went to school and lived in our town and fewer friends who homeschooled but lived outside of town and thus a drive away. We went on field trips with religious homeschool groups and met with secular groups as well. Sitting around the sandbox in our backyard, my mom helped found the state secular homeschool association (which is still around!).

I didn’t think about it much before having kids, but once I had one it never occurred to me that they would go to school. So here I am with a kindergartener and a three year old, homeschooling myself. It’s been an interesting adventure to start seeing things from the moms perspective (all that glorious free time I had as a kid? My mom was working her tail off!).

A few years ago I decided to connect with the homeschool community in the Bay Area. I was amazed. There are so many groups and so many people! So many classes! Charter schools! The Internet! We eventually found this community at the local park days and have been going ever since (I’m the pregnant one with the two blond girls).

One of the interesting things to me is how far the homeschool community around here has shifted toward unschooling. Where are the Christian fundamentalist homeschoolers? (Ok, I suspect they are on the other side of the tunnel.)Where are the people using curriculum? I know some people in <local unschooling group> are less unschooling than using a hybrid approach but they seem to feel the need to whisper this confession. It’s obviously the stated intention of the group to be about unschooling, so there is nothing wrong with the bias in the group, I just find it interesting how things have changed in the wider homeschool community as well.

The truth is, the debate about structure vs no structure, homeschooling versus unschooling and all the other issues recently brought up on this list are the same issues my mom debated with her friends many years ago. I am not sure there is a perfect definition of un or homeschooling, nor a resolution to the questions of structure versus no structure or any of the other issues except in the context of individual and family decisions that evolve yearly/monthly/daily. It may sound strange coming from someone of my background, but while I believe passionately in homeschooling and do not suffer from the pervasive and understandable anxiety about “how it is all going to work out”, I don’t and wouldn’t want to label my style of homeschooling. Nor do I have a big philosophy about how to do things aside from working out what works for me and my kids over time.

From my perspective, all these debates about ways of homeschooling and methods (love/hate waldorf/montesorri/free range/no range/sit at desks/do math upside down in bed) if done respectfully, are wonderful and stimulating.


Please don’t forget that by not sending your kid to school and paying attention to their life and education, you are already doing something truly radical which will benefit them tremendously regardless of the label you put on it or the methods you use or even the amount of time you do it. The best part of homeschooling is that You (plural) Get To Decide what you are up to. So be gentle on your fellows and debate all you want but be sure to also give them major kudos for taking this step at all and for figuring out what is best for them. No matter what we do or who we are, the act of not sending kids to school should bring us together and make us extra supportive of each other. As moms, dads, families and kids, we are all pretty darn awesome!


PS To answer question number 2 (question number 1 is about “socialization”), all four of us chose to go to college and got in easily. I’m an acupuncturist on break to raise kids. One sister is the founder and principal of an alternative high school in New Orleans helping disadvantaged teens, the other is an assistant DA in NYC. My brother is studying advanced Arabic and civilian affairs after rising a few ranks in the army. Upon retiring from home schooling, my mother dusted off her law degree and is the director of a community/courtside mediation center. We all followed our dreams and appreciate our home school background.

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