Homeschooling, also known as home education, is the education of children at home or a variety of places other than school. Home education is usually conducted by a parent or tutor or online teacher. Many families use less formal ways of educating. "Homeschooling" is the term commonly used in North America, whereas "home education" is commonly used in the United Kingdom, Europe, and in many Commonwealth countries.
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Before the introduction of compulsory school attendance laws, most childhood education was done by families and local communities. In many developed countries, homeschooling is a legal alternative to public and private schools. In other nations, homeschooling remains illegal or restricted to specific conditions, as recorded by homeschooling international status and statistics.
For most of history and in different cultures, the education of children at home by family members was a common practice. Enlisting professional tutors was an option available only to the wealthy. Homeschooling declined in the 19th and 20th centuries with the enactment of compulsory attendance laws. However, it continued to be practiced in isolated communities. Homeschooling began a resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s with educational reformists dissatisfied with industrialized education.
The earliest public schools in modern Western culture were established during the reformation with the encouragement of Martin Luther in the German states of Gotha and Thuringia in 1524 and 1527. From the 1500s to 1800s the literacy rate increased until a majority of adults were literate; but development of the literacy rate occurred before the implementation of compulsory attendance and universal education.
Home education and apprenticeship continued to remain the main form of education until the 1830s. However, in the 18th century, the majority of people in Europe lacked formal education. Since the early 19th century, formal classroom schooling became the most common means of schooling throughout the developed countries.
In 1647, New England provided compulsory elementary education. Regional differences in schooling existed in colonial America. In the south, farms and plantations were so widely dispersed that community schools such as those in the more compact settlements of the north were impossible. In the middle colonies, the educational situation varied when comparing New York with New England.
Most Native American tribal cultures traditionally used home education and apprenticeship to pass knowledge to children. Parents were supported by extended relatives and tribal leaders in the education of their children. The Native Americans vigorously resisted compulsory education in the United States.
In the 1960s, Rousas John Rushdoony began to advocate homeschooling, which he saw as a way to combat the secular nature of the public school system in the United States. He vigorously attacked progressive school reformers such as Horace Mann and John Dewey, and argued for the dismantling of the state's influence in education in three works: Intellectual Schizophrenia, The Messianic Character of American Education, and The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum. Rushdoony was frequently called as an expert witness by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) in court cases. He frequently advocated the use of private schools.
During this time, American educational professionals Raymond and Dorothy Moore began to research the academic validity of the rapidly growing Early Childhood Education movement. This research included independent studies by other researchers and a review of over 8,000 studies bearing on early childhood education and the physical and mental development of children.
They asserted that formal schooling before ages 8–12 not only lacked the anticipated effectiveness, but also harmed children. The Moores published their view that formal schooling was damaging young children academically, socially, mentally, and even physiologically. The Moores presented evidence that childhood problems such as juvenile delinquency, nearsightedness, increased enrollment of students in special education classes and behavioral problems were the result of increasingly earlier enrollment of students. The Moores cited studies demonstrating that orphans who were given surrogate mothers were measurably more intelligent, with superior long-term effects – even though the mothers were "mentally retarded teenagers" – and that illiterate tribal mothers in Africa produced children who were socially and emotionally more advanced than typical western children, "by western standards of measurement".
Their primary assertion was that the bonds and emotional development made at home with parents during these years produced critical long-term results that were cut short by enrollment in schools, and could neither be replaced nor corrected in an institutional setting afterward. Recognizing a necessity for early out-of-home care for some children, particularly special needs and impoverished children and children from exceptionally inferior homes, they maintained that the vast majority of children were far better situated at home, even with mediocre parents, than with the most gifted and motivated teachers in a school setting. They described the difference as follows: "This is like saying, if you can help a child by taking him off the cold street and housing him in a warm tent, then warm tents should be provided for all children – when obviously most children already have even more secure housing."
The Moores embraced homeschooling after the publication of their first work, Better Late Than Early, in 1975, and became important homeschool advocates and consultants with the publication of books such as Home Grown Kids (1981), and Homeschool Burnout.
Simultaneously, other authors published books questioning the premises and efficacy of compulsory schooling, including Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich in 1970 and No More Public School by Harold Bennet in 1972.
In 1976, educator John Holt published Instead of Education; Ways to Help People Do Things Better. In its conclusion, he called for a "Children's Underground Railroad" to help children escape compulsory schooling. In response, Holt was contacted by families from around the U.S. to tell him that they were educating their children at home. In 1977, after corresponding with a number of these families, Holt began producing Growing Without Schooling, a newsletter dedicated to home education. Holt was nicknamed the "father of homeschooling." Holt later wrote a book about homeschooling, Teach Your Own, in 1981.
In 1980, Holt said,
"I want to make it clear that I don't see homeschooling as some kind of answer to badness of schools. I think that the home is the proper base for the exploration of the world which we call learning or education. Home would be the best base no matter how good the schools were."
One common theme in the homeschool philosophies of both Holt and that of the Moores is that home education should not attempt to bring the school construct into the home, or a view of education as an academic preliminary to life. They viewed home education as a natural, experiential aspect of life that occurs as the members of the family are involved with one another in daily living.
Homeschooling can be used a form of supplemental education and as a way of helping children learn under specific circumstances. The term may also refer to instruction in the home under the supervision of correspondence schools or umbrella schools. Some jurisdictions require adherence to an approved curriculum. A curriculum-free philosophy of homeschooling is sometimes called "unschooling", a term coined in 1977 by American educator and author John Holt in his magazine, Growing Without Schooling. The term emphasizes the more spontaneous, less structured learning environment in which a child's interests drive his pursuit of knowledge. Some parents provide a liberal arts education using the trivium and quadrivium as the main models.
Parents commonly cite two main motivations for homeschooling their children: dissatisfaction with the local schools and the interest in increased involvement with their children's learning and development. Parental dissatisfaction with available schools typically includes concerns about the school environment, the quality of academic instruction, the curriculum, bullying, racism and lack of faith in the school's ability to cater to their children's special needs. Some parents homeschool in order to have greater control over what and how their children are taught, to cater more adequately to an individual child's aptitudes and abilities, to provide instruction from a specific religious or moral position, and to take advantage of the efficiency of one-to-one instruction and thus allow the child to spend more time on childhood activities, socializing, and non-academic learning.
Some African-American families choose homeschool as a way of increasing their children's understanding of African-American history – such as the Jim Crow laws that resulted in their ancestors being beaten or killed for learning to read – and to limit the harm caused by the unintentional and sometimes subtle systemic racism that affects most American schools.
Some parents have objections to the secular nature of public schools and homeschool in order to give their children a religious education. Use of a religious curriculum is common among these families. Recent sociological work suggests that an increasing number of parents are choosing homeschooling because of low academic quality at the local schools, or because of bullying or health problems.
Homeschooling may also be a factor in the choice of parenting style. Homeschooling can be a matter of consistency for families living in isolated rural locations, for those temporarily abroad, and for those who travel frequently. Many young athletes, actors, and musicians are taught at home to accommodate their training and practice schedules more conveniently. Homeschooling can be about mentorship and apprenticeship, in which a tutor or teacher is with the child for many years and becomes more intimately acquainted with the child.
Homeschools use a wide variety of methods and materials. Families choose different educational methods, which represent a variety of educational philosophies and paradigms. Some of the methods or learning environments used include Classical education (including Trivium, Quadrivium), Charlotte Mason education, Montessori method, Theory of multiple intelligences, Unschooling, Radical Unschooling, Waldorf education, School-at-home (curriculum choices from both secular and religious publishers), A Thomas Jefferson Education, unit studies, curriculum made up from private or small publishers, apprenticeship, hands-on-learning, distance learning (both online and correspondence), dual enrollment in local schools or colleges, and curriculum provided by local schools and many others. Some of these approaches are used in private and public schools. Educational research and studies support the use of some of these methods. Unschooling, natural learning, Charlotte Mason Education, Montessori, Waldorf, apprenticeship, hands-on-learning, unit studies are supported to varying degrees by research by constructivist learning theories and situated cognition theories. Elements of these theories may be found in the other methods as well.
A student's education may be customized to support his or her learning level, style, and interests. It is not uncommon for a student to experience more than one approach as the family discovers what works best for their student. Many families use an eclectic approach, picking and choosing from various suppliers. For sources of curricula and books a study found that 78 percent utilized "a public library"; 77 percent used "a homeschooling catalog, publisher, or individual specialist"; 68 percent used "retail bookstore or another store"; 60 percent used "an education publisher that was not affiliated with homeschooling." "Approximately half" used curriculum from "a homeschooling organization", 37 percent from a "church, synagogue or other religious institution" and 23 percent from "their local public school or district." In 2003, 41 percent utilized some sort of distance learning, approximately 20 percent by "television, video or radio"; 19 percent via "The Internet, e-mail, or the World Wide Web"; and 15 percent taking a "correspondence course by mail designed specifically for homeschoolers."
As a subset of homeschooling, informal learning happens outside of the classroom, but has no traditional boundaries of education. Informal learning is an everyday form of learning through participation and creation, in contrast with the traditional view of teacher-centered learning. The term is often combined with non-formal learning, and self-directed learning. Informal learning differs from traditional learning since there are no expected objectives or outcomes. From the learner's standpoint, the knowledge that they receive is not intentional. Anything from planting a garden to baking a cake or even talking to a technician at work about the installation of new software, can be considered informal learning. The individual is completing a task with different intentions but ends up learning skills in the process. Children watching their tomato plants grow will not generate questions about photosynthesis but they will learn that their plants are growing with water and sunlight. This leads them to have a base understanding of complex scientific concepts without any background studying. The recent trend of homeschooling becoming less stigmatized has been in connection with the traditional waning of the idea that the state needs to be in primary and ultimate control over the education and upbringing of all children to create future adult citizens. This breeds an ever-growing importance on the ideas and concepts that children learn outside of the traditional classroom setting, including Informal learning.
Depending on the part of the world, informal learning can take on many different identities and has differing cultural importances. Many ways of organizing homeschooling draw on apprenticeship qualities and on non-western cultures. In some South American indigenous cultures, such as the Chillihuani community in Peru, children learn irrigation and farming technique through play, advancing them not only in their own village and society, but also in their knowledge of realistic techniques that they will need to survive. In Western culture, children use informal learning in two main ways. The first as talked about is through hands-on experience with new material. The second is asking questions to someone who has more experience than they have (i.e. parents, elders). Children's inquisitive nature is their way of cementing the ideas they have learned through exposure to informal learning. It is a more casual way of learning than traditional learning and serves the purpose of taking in information any which way they can.
Structured versus unstructured
All other approaches to homeschooling are subsumed under two basic categories: structured and unstructured homeschooling. Structured homeschooling includes any method or style of home education that follows a basic curriculum with articulated goals and outcomes. This style attempts to imitate the structure of the traditional school setting while personalizing the curriculum. Unstructured homeschooling is any form of home education where parents do not construct a curriculum at all. Unschooling, as it is known, attempts to teach through the child's daily experiences and focuses more on self-directed learning by the child, free of textbooks, teachers, and any formal assessment of success or failure.
In a unit study approach, multiple subjects such as math, science, history, art, and geography, are studied in relation to a single topic. Unit studies are useful for teaching multiple grades simultaneously as the difficulty level can be adjusted for each student. An extended form of unit studies, Integrated Thematic Instruction utilizes one central theme integrated throughout the curriculum so that students finish a school year with a deep understanding of a certain broad subject or idea.
All-in-one homeschooling curricula (variously known as "school-at-home", "the traditional approach", "school-in-a-box" or "The Structured Approach"), are instructional methods of teaching in which the curriculum and homework of the student are similar or identical to those used in a public or private school. Purchased as a grade-level package or separately by subject, the package may contain all of the needed books, materials, tests, answer keys, and extensive teacher guides. These materials cover the same subject areas as public schools, allowing for an easy transition into the school system. These are among the most expensive options for homeschooling, but they require minimal preparation and are easy to use. There is, however, complete curriculum available for free, such as that available at allinonehomeschool.com. Some localities provide the same materials used at local schools to homeschoolers. The purchase of a complete curriculum and their teaching/grading service from an accredited distance learning curriculum provider may allow students to obtain an accredited high school diploma.
Unschooling and natural learning
"Natural learning" refers to a type of learning-on-demand where children pursue knowledge based on their interests and parents take an active part in facilitating activities and experiences conducive to learning but do not rely heavily on textbooks or spend much time "teaching", looking instead for "learning moments" throughout their daily activities. Parents see their role as that of affirming through positive feedback and modeling the necessary skills, and the child's role as being responsible for asking and learning.
The term "unschooling" as coined by John Holt describes an approach in which parents do not authoritatively direct the child's education, but interact with the child following the child's own interests, leaving them free to explore and learn as their interests lead. "Unschooling" does not indicate that the child is not being educated, but that the child is not being "schooled", or educated in a rigid school-type manner. Holt asserted that children learn through the experiences of life, and he encouraged parents to live their lives with their child. Also known as interest-led or child-led learning, unschooling attempts to follow opportunities as they arise in real life, through which a child will learn without coercion. Children at school learn from 1 teacher and 2 auxiliary teachers in a classroom of approximately 30. Kids have the opportunity of dedicated education at home with a ratio of 1 to 1. An unschooled child may utilize texts or classroom instruction, but these are not considered central to education. Holt asserted that there is no specific body of knowledge that is, or should be, required of a child.
Both unschooling and natural learning advocates believe that children learn best by doing; a child may learn reading to further an interest about history or other cultures, or math skills by operating a small business or sharing in family finances. They may learn animal husbandry keeping dairy goats or meat rabbits, botany tending a kitchen garden, chemistry to understand the operation of firearms or the internal combustion engine, or politics and local history by following a zoning or historical-status dispute. While any type of homeschoolers may also use these methods, the unschooled child initiates these learning activities. The natural learner participates with parents and others in learning together.
Another prominent proponent of unschooling is John Taylor Gatto, author of Dumbing Us Down, The Exhausted School, A Different Kind of Teacher, and Weapons of Mass Instruction. Gatto argues that public education is the primary tool of "state-controlled consciousness" and serves as a prime illustration of the total institution — a social system which impels obedience to the state and quells free-thinking or dissent.
Autonomous education helps students develop their self-consciousness, vision, practicality, and freedom of discussion. These attributes serve to aid the student in his/her independent learning. However, a student must not start their autonomous learning completely on their own. It is said, that by first having interaction with someone who has more knowledge in a subject, will speed up the student's learning, and hence allow them to learn more independently.
Some degree of autonomous learning is popular with those who home educate their children. In true autonomous learning, the child usually gets to decide what projects they wish to tackle or what interests to pursue. In-home education, this can be instead of or in addition to regular subjects like doing math or English.
According to Home Education UK the autonomous education philosophy emerged from the epistemology of Karl Popper in The Myth of the Framework: In Defence of Science and Rationality, which is developed in the debates, which seek to rebut the neo-Marxist social philosophy of convergence proposed by the Frankfurt School (e.g. Theodor W. Adorno, Jürgen Habermas, Max Horkheimer).
A homeschool cooperative is a cooperative of families who homeschool their children. It provides an opportunity for children to learn from other parents who are more specialized in certain areas or subjects. Co-ops also provide social interaction. They may take lessons together or go on field trips. Some co-ops also offer events such as prom and graduation for homeschoolers.
Homeschoolers are beginning to utilize Web 2.0 as a way to simulate homeschool cooperatives online. With social networks homeschoolers can chat, discuss threads in forums, share information and tips, and even participate in online classes via blackboard systems similar to those used by colleges.
According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) in 2004, "Many studies over the last few years have established the academic excellence of homeschooled children." Home Schooling Achievement, a compilation of studies published by the HSLDA, supported the academic integrity of homeschooling. This booklet summarized a 1997 study by Ray and the 1999 Rudner study. The Rudner study noted two limitations of its own research: it is not necessarily representative of all homeschoolers and it is not a comparison with other schooling methods. Among the homeschooled students who took the tests, the average homeschooled student outperformed his public school peers by 30 to 37 percentile points across all subjects. The study also indicates that public school performance gaps between minorities and genders were virtually non-existent among the homeschooled students who took the tests.
A survey of 11,739 homeschooled students conducted in 2008 found that, on average, the homeschooled students scored 37 percentile points above public school students on standardized achievement tests. This is consistent with the 1999 Rudner study. However, Rudner said that these same students in public school may have scored just as well because of the dedicated parents they had. The Ray study also found that homeschooled students who had a certified teacher as a parent scored one percentile lower than homeschooled students who did not have a certified teacher as a parent. Another nationwide descriptive study conducted by Ray contained students ranging from ages 5–18 and he found that homeschoolers scored in at least the 80th percentile on their tests.
In 2011, a quasi-experimental study was conducted that included homeschooled and traditional public students between the ages of 5 and 10. It was discovered that the majority of the homeschooled children achieved higher standardized scores compared to their counterparts. However, Martin-Chang also found that unschooling children ages 5–10 scored significantly below traditionally educated children, while academically-oriented homeschooled children scored from one half grade level above to 4.5 grade levels above traditionally schooled children on standardized tests (n=37 homeschooled children matched with children from the same socioeconomic and educational background).
Studies have also examined the impact of homeschooling on students' GPAs. Cogan (2010) found that homeschooled students had higher high school GPAs (3.74) and transfer GPAs (3.65) than conventional students. Snyder (2013) provided corroborating evidence that homeschoolers were outperforming their peers in the areas of standardized tests and overall GPAs. Looking beyond high school, a study by the 1990 National Home Education Research Institute (as cited by Wichers, 2001) found that at least 33% of homeschooled students attended a four-year college, and 17% attended a two-year college. This same study examined the students after one year, finding that 17% pursued higher education. Thus, the data indicate that homeschooling can also prepare students for success in higher education.
On average, studies suggest homeschoolers score at or above the national average on standardized tests. Homeschool students have been accepted into many Ivy League universities. However, The Coalition for Responsible Homeschooling notes that "Our knowledge of homeschooling’s effect on academic achievement is limited by the fact that many of the studies that have been conducted on homeschoolers suffer from methodological problems which make their findings inconclusive."
Homeschooled children may receive more individualized attention than students enrolled in traditional public schools. A 2011 study suggests that a structured environment could play a key role in homeschooler academic achievement. This means that parents were highly involved in their child's education and they were creating clear educational goals. In addition, these students were being offered organized lesson plans which are either self-made or purchased.
In the 1970s, Raymond and Dorothy Moore conducted four federally funded analyses of more than 8,000 early childhood studies, from which they published their original findings in Better Late Than Early, 1975. This was followed by School Can Wait, a repackaging of these same findings designed specifically for educational professionals. They concluded that "where possible, children should be withheld from formal schooling until at least ages eight to ten." Their reason was that children "are not mature enough for formal school programs until their senses, coordination, neurological development and cognition are ready". They concluded that the outcome of forcing children into formal schooling is a sequence of "1) uncertainty as the child leaves the family nest early for a less secure environment, 2) puzzlement at the new pressures and restrictions of the classroom, 3) frustration because unready learning tools – senses, cognition, brain hemispheres, coordination – cannot handle the regimentation of formal lessons and the pressures they bring, 4) hyperactivity growing out of nerves and jitter, from frustration, 5) failure which quite naturally flows from the four experiences above, and 6) delinquency which is failure's twin and apparently for the same reason." According to the Moores, "early formal schooling is burning out our children. Teachers who attempt to cope with these youngsters also are burning out." Aside from academic performance, they think early formal schooling also destroys "positive sociability", encourages peer dependence, and discourages self-worth, optimism, respect for parents, and trust in peers. They believe this situation is particularly acute for boys because of their delay in maturity. The Moores cited a Smithsonian Report on the development of genius, indicating a requirement for "1) much time spent with warm, responsive parents and other adults, 2) very little time spent with peers, and 3) a great deal of free exploration under parental guidance." Their analysis suggested that children need "more of home and less of formal school", "more free exploration with... parents, and fewer limits of classroom and books", and "more old fashioned chores – children working with parents – and less attention to rivalry sports and amusements."
Debate about outcomes
By contrast, SAT and ACT tests are self-selected by homeschooled and formally schooled students alike. Some homeschoolers averaged higher scores on these college entrance tests in South Carolina. Other scores (1999 data) showed mixed results, for example showing higher levels for homeschoolers in English (homeschooled 23.4 vs national average 20.5) and reading (homeschooled 24.4 vs national average 21.4) on the ACT, but mixed scores in math (homeschooled 20.4 vs national average 20.7 on the ACT as opposed homeschooled 535 vs national average 511 on the 1999 SAT math).
Some advocates of homeschooling and educational choice counter with an input-output theory, pointing out that home educators expend only an average of $500–$600 a year on each student (not counting the cost of the parents' time), in comparison to $9,000–$10,000 (including the cost of staff time) for each public school student in the United States, which suggests home-educated students would be especially dominant on tests if afforded access to an equal commitment of tax-funded educational resources.
Many teachers and school districts oppose the idea of homeschooling. However, research has shown that homeschooled children often excel in many areas of academic endeavor. According to a study done on the homeschool movement, homeschoolers often achieve academic success and admission into elite universities. There is also evidence that most are remarkably well socialized. According to the National Home Education Research Institute president, Brian Ray, socialization is not a problem for homeschooling children, many of whom are involved in community sports, volunteer activities, book groups, or homeschool co-ops.
Using the Piers-Harris Children's Self-Concept Scale, John Taylor later found that, "while half of the conventionally schooled children scored at or below the 50th percentile (in self-concept), only 10.3% of the home-schooling children did so." He further stated that "the self-concept of home-schooling children is significantly higher statistically than that of children attending conventional school. This has implications in the areas of academic achievement and socialization which have been found to parallel self-concept. Regarding socialization, Taylor's results would mean that very few home-schooling children are socially deprived. He states that critics who speak out against homeschooling on the basis of social deprivation are actually addressing an area which favors homeschoolers.
In 2003, the National Home Education Research Institute conducted a survey of 7,300 U.S. adults who had been homeschooled (5,000 for more than seven years). Their findings included:
- Homeschool graduates are active and involved in their communities. 71% participate in an ongoing community service activity, like coaching a sports team, volunteering at a school, or working with a church or neighborhood association, compared with 37% of U.S. adults of similar ages from a traditional education background.
- Homeschool graduates are more involved in civic affairs and vote in much higher percentages than their peers. 76% of those surveyed between the ages of 18 and 24 voted within the last five years, compared with only 29% of the corresponding U.S. populace. The numbers are even greater in older age groups, with voting levels not falling below 95%, compared with a high of 53% for the corresponding U.S. populace.
- 58.9% report that they are "very happy" with life, compared with 27.6% for the general U.S. population. 73.2% find life "exciting", compared with 47.3%.
Opposition to homeschooling comes from some organizations of teachers and school districts. The National Education Association, a United States teachers' union and professional association, opposes homeschooling.
UC Berkeley political scientist Professor Robert Reich wrote in The Civic Perils of Homeschooling (2002) that homeschooling can probably result in biased students, as many homeschooling parents view the education of their children as a matter properly under their control and no one else's. A 2014 study showed that greater exposure to homeschooling was associated with more political tolerance.
Gallup polls of American voters have shown a significant change in attitude in the last 20 years, from 73% opposed to home education in 1985 to 54% opposed in 2001. In 1988, when asked whether parents should have a right to choose homeschooling, 53 percent thought that they should, as revealed by another poll.
International status and statistics
Homeschooling is legal in some countries. Countries with the most prevalent home education movements include Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Chile and the United States. Some countries have highly regulated home education programs as an extension of the compulsory school system; others, such as Sweden, Germany and most European countries have outlawed it entirely. In other countries, while not restricted by law, homeschooling is not socially acceptable or considered desirable and is virtually non-existent.
- Alternative education
- History of education
- Homeschooling and alternative education in India
- Homeschooling in the United States
- Home education in the United Kingdom
- Homeschooling in New Zealand
- Homeschooling in South Africa
- Home School Legal Defense Association
- Informal learning
- List of homeschooling programmes
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- A history of the modern homeschool movement, from the Cato Institute.
- National Home Education Research Institute NHERI produces research about homeschooling and sponsors the peer-reviewed academic journal Homeschool Researcher.
- The National Independent Study Accreditation Council
- International Center for Home Education Research Reviews