Are homeschoolers prepared for life?
That was the sweeping question addressed at the May 20 installment of “Post-Pandemic Future of Homeschooling,” a web conference presented by Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government. I have a standing appointment on Thursdays when sessions are held, so I only tuned in for the second half hour.
The first thing I heard was one of the panelists acknowledge the difficulty of the question. Whose life? What kind of life? Whose priorities, values, and goals? Indeed.
Academic researchers engaged in studying children, families, and education need to find some way to define, quantify, and structure the topics they are studying, and as more than one panelist pointed out, homeschooling is somewhat of a slippery, amorphous blob that complicates scientific evaluation.
First, there’s the question of definition (a question I explored in my last blog post, albeit with a different focus). What counts as homeschooling? Students who are temporarily homeschooling, students bouncing back and forth between school and homeschooling, students enrolled in hybrid models — do any or all of these qualify as homeschooling for the purposes of study, researchers ask? If so, should distinctions be drawn in the research? How does research attempting to measure outcomes account for all these variables?
One panelist raised the issue that some older homeschoolers take community college courses, or learn calculus online, or find other ways to be taught that don’t involve their parents, thus describing almost every homeschooler I’ve ever met yet asking: Is this really homeschooling? Can these students be called homeschoolers for the purposes of research?
My takeaway from the discussion is that even highly educated academics who have researched homeschooling don’t always come away with a real understanding of it. Is the specter of regulatory frameworks and the idea of authoritative top-down education so ingrained that they don’t see that kids having agency in their lives and learning is at the very heart of homeschooling?
As to asking and answering questions about outcomes, in order to determine whether homeschoolers are “prepared” for life, one not only has to define what is going to count as homeschooling, one also has to define what “prepared for life” means. Do we use the usual markers (college and employment) in the usual way when we’re looking at a population of people who may see the world and its possibilities in unique ways?
Academic researchers with a focus on families and education have growing interest in homeschooling, especially now that numbers have grown so large. Some will be concerned about making sure children are “okay” and “prepared for life,” while others may seek policy options for other reasons, for example providing equal access to homeschooling.
With homeschooling evolving, changing, and growing so rapidly, I wonder whether the slow homeschooling I practiced with my kids will even be relevant to the discussion. The things that made homeschooling so valuable for us involved letting go of worrying about what we were supposed to be doing when, and focusing on the present rather than focusing on future outcomes. Curiosity, creativity, play, community, people, and time. These were the things we learned to prize and value. As my friend Sophia Sayigh wrote in her article Give and Let Give: Homeschooling from the Ground Up, “Our lives are happening now, not something we’re getting ready for later. So are children’s lives. That remains one of the things I am most grateful for — my children living their lives at every age, blossoming in their own time, having the time to figure out who they are and build relationships and connections over years.”
Amen. What better way to prepare for life than to live it?