It’s a new year, time for new intentions, resolutions, and oh yes, predictions. Last week I came upon an article that predicted four major education trends in 2020. One of them is “hybrid homeschooling.” It could just as easily be called “part-time school.”
“For many families, the costs and obligations related to homeschooling are simply too burdensome. Some parents don’t have the confidence in their own abilities to teach every subject to their children. Others cannot devote themselves to homeschooling full-time. Perhaps most of all, many homeschooling families want their children to socialise with other children to learn how to share, cooperate and get along with others,” says Mike McShane of EdChoice. A friend of mine remarked that based on McShane’s quote, we seem to have utterly failed in conveying an understanding of how homeschooling works.
For one thing, it doesn’t have to cost a lot. For another, parents don’t “teach” everything, nor do they need to “teach” in a didactic, school-like manner. One of the points of homeschooling, after all, is to opt out of the system and do something different. Support groups can provide community that offers parents help in the form of cooperative projects like book clubs and math groups, child care swaps, playgroups, and more. Socialization? Spare me. Homeschoolers have been saying for decades, again and again, that they can get socialized just fine. There’s also the question of whether the socialization kids get in school, and the idea of socialization itself, is overrated.
In addition to students splitting their time between home and a more traditional school environment, centers offering a non-instructional environment for part-time or full-time enrollment are trending. Kids can go to these centers one to five days a week and choose how to spend their time based on the resources and culture of the center, rather than the wider world, which is where we found our homeschooling legs.
Hybrid programs, how ever they are structured, certainly offer parents more options, and that can be a very good thing. They also seem to be contributing to a structural change in homeschooling that’s transforming its very core. One of the reasons this may be likely to continue is that, as my friend opined, it is difficult for people to wrap their brains around homeschooling, and even harder for them to get unschooling (or slow homeschooling, as I now call it).
Like so many other homeschooling parents I know, it took time in the trenches for me to figure out homeschooling. When I started almost thirty years ago, I had every intention of replicating school at home. It was only through the experience of watching my kids, reading John Holt and other authors, talking to other homeschooling parents, and observing other young people and families that I began to understand that my kids did not need me to stand over them with textbooks, worksheets, or math curriculum. What they did need was time with their family, friends, and themselves, exposure to books, nature, and the world at large, and lots of love and security. I learned that my role was to help, support, and guide — to follow, rather than lead their learning. Over time, I found that pursuing this lifestyle offered rewards I could not have predicted or imagined. Hybrid homeschooling or other structured programs may not have given me the time or space to make these discoveries.
New homeschooling parents are often insecure. As McShane pointed out in his prediction, they worry about whether they can do a good enough job at educating their children. They worry about socialization. And in an increasingly complex and financially difficult modern world, they worry about the economic impacts of homeschooling. I get it. I worried about those things, too. If learning centers or other hybrid programs had been around when I started homeschooling, if I could have afforded them I know I would have jumped on board. Things might have turned out fine, but it would not have been homeschooling as I and so many other families experienced it.
In addition to insecurities and uncertainties, new homeschooling parents may be attracted to hybrid programs for other reasons. The practical reality is that whenever a structured program for homeschoolers pops up, the integrity of grass roots support groups diminishes. That means families have to look elsewhere for community and connection. They may find some form of it at hybrid programs, but in hindsight, I’m grateful to have had to engage in organic community building with other homeschooling families.
Hybrid homeschooling also addresses concerns and agendas of disparate groups. Those who believe homeschooling is under-regulated are happy to know that homeschoolers may be observed by adults outside the family one or more days a week. Those operating particular kinds of learning centers and other programs see hybrid homeschooling as a way to spread the gospel of “self-directed education.” Education activists looking to stem the tide of homeschooling may see hybrid programs as a way to pull homeschoolers back into the system. The common thread in these disparate interests is the rejection of family as the educational and decision-making center of children’s lives.
Change is inevitable, of course, but I think it’s important to keep talking about slow homeschooling. One thing we still don’t know is how the legal ramifications of the changes we are seeing will pan out. Compulsory attendance laws, for the most part, don’t allow for part-time school, so education reformers look increasingly to homeschooling to try out their latest ideas, often using homeschooling laws in ways they were not intended to be used. Homeschoolers are large enough in number now that they’ve become a market, so there’s that, too. Still, there will always be families that would like to embrace slow homeschooling, either for philosophical reasons, or because like me, life shows them the value of it. Keeping it part of the discussion can help ensure that it remains an option for those who choose it.