In the New York Times magazine this weekend, Margaret Heidenry wrote of her experience as a homeschooled child in the 1970s—a time when, of course, homeschooling was illegal in the U.S. (it was not legalized in all fifty states until 1993). The piece (titled "My Parents Were Home-Schooling Anarchists") echoes a lot of the sentiments I hear from my peers and my students who were homeschooled. Most of us agree there was good stuff about it, and most of us agree there was some not-so-good stuff about it, and so we feel ambivalent.
Why this interests me, as a 2001 homeschool grad who attended a small private Christian school for K-5, has a lot to do with the fact that (as Jamie Smith says in Desiring the Kingdom and Ashley Berner says in an article in our latest print issue of Comment) every pedagogy presupposes a philosophical anthropology—that is, every way we choose to educate stands on certain assumptions about human nature (which, in turn, have a lot to do with our religious beliefs and practices). So in the case of Ms. Heidenry's parents and the "unschooling" wing of the homeschool world, the assumption is that children are fundamentally creative and curious and it's appropriate to have them direct their own educations; on the other side are highly authoritarian or rigorous forms of homeschooling, which assume that children must have the demons knocked out of them (to put it hyperbolically), and everything in between.
I also find this whole discussion interesting in terms of the recent Cardus Education Survey (well summarized by an infographic from Christianity Today). There is, of course, debate over the findings for homeschoolers, since graduates of religious homeschools are certainly not accustomed to thinking of themselves as "most likely to want a job that pays well, get divorced, feel helpless in dealing with the problems of life, lack any clear goals or sense of direction, accept authority of church leadership, feel prepared for a vibrant religious and spiriitual life, and marry young," nor as "least likely to want a job that is directly helpful to others or is worthwhile to society, spend much time volunteering or going on mission trips, or be involved in political campaigns."
I wasn't too surprised when I read those findings. Homeschooling, after all—at least in its first real wave—was about doing something madly different from the world around you. It was something revolutionary, something that pushed back on established cultural mores, that sometimes even openly flaunted what parents felt was the too-restrictive regime that would not let them make choices about their own children's education. And most religious homeschoolers of my generation would attest to how profoundly weird we felt whenever we were thrust into "that world," the world of our peers, whether in college or in a job or just when we went to church camp. Most of us were far more comfortable around adults than our peers. And for some of us, that dislocation left us feeling like third-culture kids (citizens of one, raised in another, and ultimately just dislocated).
In that context, I feel like these findings make sense, and Heidenry's article actually affirms them in many ways, while still affirming homeschooling as a practice. But I'd like to know what my fellow homeschool graduates think—those of us in our twenties and thirties who were homeschooled—about the results.