Avoiding dumb advice about homeschooling

Since the next academic year is beginning in many states across the country next month, various homeschooling bloggers are seizing the opportunity to offer their advice on choosing an approach to homeschooling. Some of this advice is excellent, and some of it is truly awful.

I am not going to be a jerk and fisk specific people here, tempting as that may be. But I will make some general observations, some of which I have made before.

(1) You should care how long someone has been homeschooling before listening to what they have to say on the topic. You should care how old their kids are as well.

I see some of the folks publishing homeschooling advice and they’ve only been homeschooling for like five minutes. Some of them aren’t far removed from choosing a day care and now they are Charlotte Mason reincarnated. But because they were doing it in the Pre-Coronavirus Era, they think that makes them more of an authority than the newbies they are addressing. It doesn’t.

The advice provided by someone who has taught a kid how to read, how to use grammar or logic, how to do math problems that cannot be communicated using simple manipulatives, is going to be better than people who think homeschooling is about hymns and nature walks, because that’s the sort of thing you do with a kindergartner. Childhood is about creating an aesthetic, but it’s about a lot more than that too.

(2) The decision to take control of your child’s education is not quaint.

Providing an education is the most important thing you will ever do as a parent. A child’s education is their fate. You should take this seriously. This is not a question that revolves around your relative comfort, although homeschooling can provide many benefits in that regard.

At some point, this is not going to be about sitting in an armchair with your favorite hot beverage reading Alice and Wonderland to adoring children. It’s going to be about teaching chemistry and calculus, and it’s going to drive you crazy at points. A lot of the “Mother Culture” commentary is useful, inspirational, and it has its place. But it is not the substance you need to obtain to be good at homeschooling. Eventually your child is going to have to compete in a modern economy.

(3) The homeschooling mothers who say “it doesn’t matter what you teach in a given year” are the WORST.

If someone tells you this, walk away. Seriously.

If you have a kid that is headed to college, you better believe it matters what you teach them in a given year. You need to produce a detailed transcript and you need to be able to show they are qualified to attend college courses. You need to be looking at college websites for the sections on admitting homeschooled children and research what is required to get in. Look at the requirements public schools have to graduate. That’s your low watermark. The minimum you must do.

A significant number of homeschoolers will not be homeschooled through 12th grade. That’s a fact, not me being a pessimist. A spouse dies and suddenly they are the sole breadwinner and cannot make homeschooling work. Something happens to the primary educator. They get divorced. Their kid wants to go to school to be with a set of friends. They move to a place with the classical school of their dreams.

For the parents who, for whatever reasons, end up putting their child back into a public school or a traditional private school further on down the line, their kids will need to have met certain prerequisites. They will be given a placement exam and it will be correlated to grade levels and specific academic standards. If they spent all their time on Alice and Wonderland and not on math because they thought math was icky and there are no requirements for homeschoolers year-to-year so why not, then their kid is going to be in a remedial class and it will probably be humiliating for them. That’s not the kid’s fault – that’s the parent’s fault.

Many of the people looking at homeschooling now are unsure how durable a lifestyle it will be for their family. Will they still be doing it after the pandemic madness is over? If the answer is no, then they absolutely need a curriculum that will produce a smooth transition back to a government school. That’s not going to be Charlotte Mason or unschooling or any of the other bespoke approaches to education homeschooling true-believers love.

(4) Academic standards should be EXCEEDED not IGNORED.

This is true no matter how your child is educated, frankly. But it is especially true for homeschoolers. If your right to homeschool is ever legally challenged – which most often is not because of a conflict with the school district, but because of a breakdown in personal relationships, like the gossipy little bitty next door hates homeschooling and reports you to authorities – you need to be able to realistically demonstrate that your child is making academic progress in a conventional sense. You need to have solid documentation of what you are teaching. You need to be able to say you have a plan and you are a sensible grown-ass adult that isn’t messing up their child.

There are a lot of homeschooling hippies out there trying to sell the idea that education can be this organic, primarily child-driven enterprise. Some level of child-driven activities in education is indisputably a good thing. But your child also needs to be a literate and numerate individual who has been exposed to culture. An educated individual is a well-rounded person, not someone who has spent their entire life being told they can do whatever they want because the world revolves around their impulses.

Chances are, if they want to be a doctor, a lawyer, a stockbroker, a general contractor, etc. they are going to have the uncomfortable experience of having to sit for a test. It would be generous of you as a parent to have prepared them for that experience.

3 thoughts on “Avoiding dumb advice about homeschooling

  1. I hope many follow this great advice. Also, regarding Charlotte Mason: I’ve found that quite a few will use (or misunderstand) her philosophy as a reason (excuse?) to be very unstructured and loosey-goosey in their schooling. I agree with her philosophy but I think that people today need a pretty strong background or the desire to learn how to structure classes before they adopt it if they are to meet the standards you’ve outlined here. I did see a curriculum recently at a home school conference which is based on her method, but I don’t know anything about it. Maybe you do. I just found the link. I’m not specifically recommending it – I don’t know much about it, but it looks interesting. https://simplycharlottemason.com/planning/curriculum-guide/

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    1. So I am planning on writing an entirely separate post on people who mistakenly characterize Charlotte Mason as an unschooler. Mason had a rigorous daily routine and very detailed opinions on curriculum. In many ways, she was the opposite of an unschooler.

      I like CM, but I disagree with some of the things she said about classical education. In my opinion, Mason tried to aggressively feminize education, and saw classical education as a threat to the feminine. She was a creature of her time, however, as her career overlapped with the introduction of the first serious schools for girls.

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  2. Incidentally, I just bought a nice little set of Charlotte Mason’s home education series this week. If I am mentioning her a lot lately, it’s just because her books have been on my mind.

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