The word "homeschooling" makes some people cringe. They envision a fundamentalist Christian Mom teaching creationism at the kitchen table, or a counter-culture bohemian, making tie-dye shirts and ignoring algebra.
These are stereotypes of the two camps that spearheaded homeschooling as a populist movement in the 1970s. In recent decades, however, homeschooling has expanded beyond its original base, involving families from a vast variety of religious, ethnic and political persuasions, and reaching into the lives of an estimated two million children. Conservative Christians still form the largest, most politically energized block within the movement, but with homeschooling growing at an annual rate of approximately 7-10 percent, the face of American homeschooling is changing every day.
As a result, homeschooling has become an option even for public school Moms like me. A few years ago I decided to give my ten-year-old daughter, Julia, a break from her usual school routine. My reasons were complex, ranging from Julia's homework burnout and aversion to deskwork , to my disgust with the overzealous standardized testing in our state (Virginia). I told Julia that for the fifth grade we could try something different-we could craft our ideal year of learning, full of field trips and concerts and art, but with plenty of math and English every day.
Many lifelong homeschoolers will wince at the thought of short-term ventures. For them, homeschooling is a way of life, not a year off. The potential benefits of home education (strong family ties, increased academic achievement) develop gradually over time, and the first year of homeschooling can be especially hard-not an ideal sampling of the complete experience.
Still, for some parents, a year of homeschooling is all we can manage. Whether due to financial constraints, career conflicts, or personal preferences, there are plenty of families who will never homeschool for the long term, but who still want to give a special child one good year. And one good year can make a big difference in a young child's life, especially when it comes to renewing a love of learning or reducing peer pressure. I've written about my year with Julia in a new memoir called Love in a Time of Homeschooling. That book describes the considerations behind any short-term foray into home learning, while exploring the ups and downs of mother-daughter love.
When Julia and I embarked upon our year of homeschooling, I thought we were doing something strange and rare, and so I was surprised at all the families I met along the way who were trying, or had tried, similar experiments. Their reasons ranged from a desire to supplement a public school's curriculum, to the need to escape a persistent bully. And then there were the families who simply wanted to enjoy more unhurried time between parent and child.
In upcoming posts I'll share some of the stories parents have offered about why they were inspired to try short-term homeschooling, and how it went. I welcome input from any readers who have done it themselves, have considered trying it, or have friends or family who have homeschooled short-term. Feel free to send me your impressions, whether at this site or through my website: http://laurabrodieauthor.com/.
With our nation's public schools in a state of financial crisis, now is the time for debate not only about No Child Left Behind, but about the entire future of education in America. Homeschooling, whether short-term or long, is going to play an increasing role in that debate.