To homeschool or not to homeschool

by Joanna K. M. Bratten

Over the course of a four-year sojourn at Franciscan University, students can hardly help but notice two striking features of the family lives of our professors: first, the fact that most have no fewer than six children, and second, the fact that most of these children are homeschooled. The questions begin to fly, particularly among the first year students who had never before encountered anything akin to what we shall refer to as the Steubenville phenomenon. The most common questions are along the lines of: “Will they get a good enough education from their parents?” or “What if the mother wants to work?” and—the clincher—“Won’t home-schooled children be socially inept?” I tend to chuckle at such concerns, because I was homeschooled from first grade on up and find that I am neither socially nor intellectually inept, and can vouch for the fact that my mother was able to be extremely active outside the home, for all her work inside.

However, since not every one has first-hand experience of the benefits of homeschooling, these questions deserve to be answered at some length. The majority of us university students will likely have children of our own in the next ten years, and the question of whether or not to homeschool is one to be considered carefully. There are several arguments in favor of home schooling, which I would like to enumerate as follows:

First and foremost is the fact that education in most schools is no longer what we would call “quality.” Children are hardly learning basic skills and are instead being instructed in social and civil issues, not to mention moral issues, which should be addressed not in the classroom but in the home. Homeschooling allows the parents to shape not only their children’s moral attitude, but their attitude towards political and social concerns, both of which are important in the formation of the person.

This leads to another point in favor of homeschooling: that the parents can work with their child as an individual, apart from his peers and at his own pace. In the average classroom the child is often overlooked by the teacher or intimidated by his peers, which renders him less capable of grasping those important links in knowledge, leaving him confused and disenchanted with learning itself. Statistics indicate that the average homeschooled student reads better than the average public school student; he has better logic skills and can focus himself better. These abilities come from the combination of close attention from the parent in the early stages of education and the independence the student develops as he works his way through literature and other texts on his own, learning from reading and synthesizing his ideas and relating them properly to each other. This balance is not easily had in public schools and its lack is apparent in the poor reading, writing and logic skills of many of today’s college students.

Still, there are certainly some disadvantages to homeschooling. While the homeschooled student may be able to tackle Shakespeare in fourth grade and work through algebra problems by the sixth grade, in other areas he is lacking the advantages of conventionally schooled children. Particularly in the scientific disciplines, the homeschooled student, unless his father or mother is a chemist and has scads of equipment, will not understand science practically; he will grasp it only theoretically. Many students complain, as well, of not being able to be involved in sports, music, drama or other group activities which public schools provide. This leads to the concern of homeschooled children being “socially inept,” which is no doubt a real concern. It is easy to imagine that children who stay at home all day reading might not learn how to interact socially, and most parents do not wish to see their children become social misfits.

My response to these objections is simply to point to the “Steubenville phenomenon.” Here you have not just a collection of individual families who happen to homeschool, but a community in the truest sense—where people pool their resources and share each other’s burdens. The children of the Steubenville homeschool community are, for the most part, taught by their own mothers and fathers, but some subjects are taught in groups, such as literature, biology, Latin or Gregorian chant. This allows the parents to guide their children in their education as well as expose them to a large range of subjects that perhaps they themselves could not teach. It also allows the parents to have time to pursue interests apart from the education of their children. The children are not only given broader opportunities (how many children in public schools learn Gregorian chant or Latin at eight years of age?) but are able to learn to interact with their peers without the pressures of constant competition.

If the child still has a difficult time interacting with his peers who attend the public school, simply because he thinks on a level above that of most children his age, or because his interests differ from those of his peers, all the better for the child, I say. To sacrifice genuine and wholesome intellectual development for the sake of keeping pace with badly schooled peers seems a despicably unfair exchange for the child. There are cases, however, when it would seem that a child should be sent forthwith to a good public or parochial school. These cases arise when the parents are not fully equipped to properly educate their children. I have encountered individuals whose parents attempted to homeschool them, but with pathetic results, as the parents themselves were never properly educated—by this I mean a solid, liberal arts education.   Such cases only prove further the need for quality education from kindergarten to graduate school.

Education, like many other things in our modern world, seems to have gotten itself into a vicious cycle from which most of my generation has not escaped.

Much more could be said in this discussion, but it seems apparent that the majority of students who are educated at home remain largely immune to the most ridiculous whims of societal evolution and have a clear understanding of themselves as individual persons. This alone indicates that it really does “pay” to homeschool. All the pros and cons culminate in a single question, that of priority: upon what aspect of education should be the most emphasis and at which stages of education should these emphases be placed? This question must be answered by each individual parent, or potential parent, and the answer should be considered with care. Our children, after all, will one day be faced with the same decision.

Joanna Bratten is a senior English drama major, and Copy Editor for the Concourse.