Hey! It’s Nathan guest writing once again. I wrote this piece as a contrast essay for my English class earlier this month. Thanks for reading!
It’s an unconscious reaction. Strangers just can’t help but do a double take when they first discover that my siblings and I were home educated. They describe us as “surprisingly normal and social.” Their reaction reveals an underlying notion that homeschoolers are supposed to be strange, that they are somehow supposed to be different from their public school peers. These experiences have taught me that although public and home educated students are actually quite similar, there exist major differences in how their respective education systems approach social exposure, academic scheduling, and athletic opportunity.
The first difference is in the way students learn social skills. In public schools, the students learn through inoculation, adapting social skills in a largely untampered environment. Most social interaction occurs between the student and his peers, then the skills learned in these interactions are extrapolated to interactions between the student and his elders. The student must also adapt to certain social norms to fit in with what’s popular, or else risk being ostracized from the general pool of his fellows and suffering the ultimate social humiliation: being labeled “weird.” This fear leads the student to shun people and ideas that could be considered strange and stifles the development of a unique sense of self in favor of a character that better fits with what is the norm.
In contrast, many forms of home education seek to teach students to interact with their elders first. Once the student understands how to address his elders, he is well equipped to interact with his peers by extrapolating the respect with which he addresses his elders to his relationships with his peers. This respect causes the student to take every concept at face value and choose the ones which best reflect his own tastes, rather than selecting friends and activities based on social enforcement. The student is thus able to find his niche while at the same time respecting other viewpoints.
Another difference between these education systems is their respective flexibility. In public schooling, the students live by a consistent schedule, much like they will in life after school. This is necessary in a system where there are many students enrolled, as it would be impossible to account for the individual needs of each student. Although there is an inherent rigidity to this, it allows the school to organize events and classes which require large groups to work together regularly, such as dramatic productions or fundraisers for trips.
Conversely, in home education there is a great deal of flexibility, with the academic schedule often being adjusted to fit the needs of the family. In addition to this, since the home educators are in charge of the curriculum, they can tailor the academic experience of the student to his specific needs or interests. Since the curriculum can travel with the family, home educators and their families are able to take trips during the school year that they would not be able to otherwise, increasing opportunity for the student to be exposed to other cultures and foreign ideas. While it offers many advantages, this flexibility requires the student to learn to keep his own schedule and stay on pace if he wishes to succeed after graduation. It also makes coordination between home education families difficult, limiting their ability to create clubs and other organizations.
A final difference between public schooling and home education is athletic opportunity. In public schools there are many different sports teams with which the student can be involved and there is often a focus on athletic ability, with those students who are athletically gifted being treated differently by their peers and their teachers, though this treatment is not always favorable. Since schools often offer several different sports, the student can choose the ones that best suit his talents, whether football, basketball, soccer, or another. Even those students who are not involved in competitive sports can take advantage of PE classes and club sports. These teams and clubs help foster fitness, sportsmanship, and teamwork in the students and can help students receive scholarships to colleges they would have otherwise been unable to attend.
Home educated students, on the other hand, do not have these same opportunities. Unless one of their parents has an athletic background, homeschoolers often do not learn to play sports, and unless they are part of a cooperative home education group, many families replace physical education with practical arts. These homeschoolers learn trade skills instead of sportsmanship, workmanship instead of teamwork, working fitness instead of athleticism. Unfortunately, this effect makes it difficult for home educated students to receive athletic scholarships, making it that much more difficult for low-income students to achieve higher-level educations.
These are just a few of the differences that exist between public and home education. While public schooling offers greater peer interaction, more school based activities, and more opportunity for athletic advancement, home education allows the student to learn from his elders, travel more due to academic flexibility, and study his environment, creating a young adult who is arguably better-equipped for life than his public school peer. I would argue that while both systems have their advantages, the reality is that good students will succeed in either system, and poor students will fail in either system. Perhaps, then, we can remove the stigma associated with being home educated, and realize that the only true difference between homeschoolers and their public school peers is the system in which they were educated.