The Homeschool Look

A couple weeks ago, just as my fall semester at Jefferson State was about to get started, I attended a writing workshop specifically geared for freshmen composition courses, which is about half to two-thirds of my course load each semester. The workshop offers a chance for English teachers from high school, community college, and four-year institutions to come together to discuss best practices. I was thrilled to learn new ideas, until my second breakout session began this way:

                Speaker: “Who here teaches high school? Raise your hands. Who teaches junior college? Who teaches college?”

I was shocked. Did this woman just say what I think she said? Did she just imply that junior college or community college isn’t “real” college? Some that I have told that story to have said that maybe it was a Freudian slip, but in my mind, that made it worse. Clearly, this woman didn’t respect  the two-year institution, and didn’t believe that the courses we teach are actual college courses, even though they transfer and are the same courses that she teaches. I should have thrown something at her. I should have shouted. I should have walked out, but I stayed. After all, I thought I could learn something from her – even if I didn’t respect her.

Still, it speaks to a problem we have in education and society, in which some people don’t see that the teaching we do at the two-year is valid.  I felt like I had been punched in the gut, but it wasn’t the first time.  I get that same feeling sometimes when I tell someone we homeschool Collier.

We’ve all gotten that look, right? When someone asks what school your children go to and you respond with “They’re homeschooled.” The look that says, “Oh, that’s fine for your son/daughter, but I want my kids in public school.” Why is that, exactly?

I think about some of the things kids learn in public school, and I’m not ashamed to say that my son gets to avoid them. My son doesn’t have to worry about getting teased or bullied. I don’t have to worry about him coming home and telling me the new four-letter word he learned that day, and we as a family get to decide when we teach him about sensitive topics like sex – topics I don’t think public schools have any business teaching anyway.

Public school is not for everyone, and I think there are some fears that keep many well-intentioned parents from making the leap to homeschool. They worry about things like socialization, leadership opportunities, and college. I don’t blame them. I worried about those things before we made the leap, too.

Collier gets plenty of socialization and leadership opportunities from church and Boy Scouts, and there are a number of other organizations nowadays that offer something similar. Most homeschoolers use a cover school for their grades and transcripts, and many cover schools also offer co-op classes, so when homeschoolers get to a college classroom, they don’t act like it’s their first time in one.

Speaking of college, homeschoolers can go to college. With their transcripts and ACT scores, they can enroll just like anyone else. I’ve seen a huge jump in the number of homeschoolers in my classes over the last three or four years. One of my first assignments in freshmen composition is for students to write an essay about an event that changed their lives and made them who they are now, and every semester, I have some homeschoolers, writing that the decision to leave public school turned out to be the event that changed their lives for the better, even if they weren’t the ones making the decision.

No more sitting alone at lunch for 30 minutes or worse – sitting down beside someone only to have the person get up and move. No more getting picked last, or not at all. No more having to take a different elective class because the one they wanted was full. No more struggling to learn concepts at the speed of the rest of the class and getting left behind. And no more simply working just to pass a standardized test, without developing a love of learning. These are all true stories I’ve read in student papers.

I also happen to be the Student Government Advisor at Jeff State, and we work with several other student groups on campus, and guess what? Every year, I meet an officer from another student group – one of the leaders – who was homeschooled. I’ve even had an SGA officer who was homeschooled.

Few things get under my skin like being discounted and disrespected. The words we use have meaning, and can have a lasting sting, whether it’s my profession that’s being put down or my own family’s educational practices. That workshop session leader’s words stung, and when I hear someone put down homeschool, I feel the same way.

But sometimes they don’t say anything. They just give you a look instead.

If you’re a homeschool parent and get that look when you tell someone, don’t get frustrated as I did when it was implied my classes weren’t real college classes. If you’re a public school parent, don’t give that look when a friend tells you they’re thinking about homeschool. After all, mandatory public schooling is a relatively recent notion in history. To both groups, I would say that homeschool is not an inferior education. I know of lawyers, scientists, and folks with MBA’s who started out as homeschoolers.

We all have a purpose and a destination in life, but everyone’s path is not the same.

~ Brian

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