Sometimes when you are asked questions about homeschooling, it is best to answer the question with a question. Not to be obtuse or shifty, but to help you and the asker know what it is they are asking.
There are assumptions buried in many of these questions, and for real answers to emerge, those ideas need to be brought out into the open and followed to their logical conclusion.
For instance: "What about socialization?"
- What do you mean by 'socialization'?
- How is one socialized? By what methods, and by whom?
- How much socialization is enough?
These questions get quickly to the heart of the matter, which is - "What does it mean to be 'socialized'?" For most, it is being able to get along with others, understand and practice common courtesy, and exercise sympathy and empathy.
However, there are folks who have no idea what 'socialization' means. They've heard the term tossed around, especially in the direction of homeschoolers, and they are just repeating what they've heard. Unless they know what they are asking, your answer is going to go right past them. What's the point of answering if no new information is being exchanged?
Instead of giving examples of how socialized your kids are, with music lessons and sports teams and volunteerism, ask a few questions of your own. You are not obligated to prove to anyone that your children are being properly nurtured and taught, but you can use the questions about socialization as an opportunity to have a real conversation about what it means to raise children to be respectful and responsible members of society.
The following question isn't heard as often as it was 10-15 years ago, but recently a friend's mother was concerned that her homeschooled grandkids were spending their morning relaxing and playing, and therefore weren't learning, and were even picking up bad habits.
"It's 11am on a Tuesday; shouldn't the kids be doing school right now?"
- Do you think that school can or should happen on certain days at particular times of the day?
- Do you believe that unless children are kept on a strict schedule they won't know how to get up in the morning or organize their day?
- Does learning only happen when a child is sitting at a desk using a textbook?
- How many times should a child wake up to an alarm to know how to wake up to an alarm?
The heart of the matter is that we have been programmed by our own experiences in a traditional classroom to believe that learning is something that is done in a specific way:
- In a room full of desks
- With a teacher at the front of the class doing most of the talking
- Using textbooks and workbooks
- Between the hours of 8am and 3pm
Folks may not realize it, but this is exactly what they are saying when they wonder if homeschoolers can really be educating their children properly while also being flexible with their schedules. When it is pointed out that learning can happen any place at any time, many of their questions become moot.
In real life, situations change, and people adapt. Someone's work schedule may suddenly change from 1st to 2nd or 3rd shift. They may transition from a blue collar job to a shirt-and-tie desk job. A family may move from the East Coast to the West Coast, or even another country. People don't need to go to school, where the environment is static and homogeneous, to learn how to innovate and modify.
Another set of questions often asked are, "How will your kids get into college?" "Don't you need to have a state accredited diploma to graduate?" "Will they know how to act in a classroom if they've never been in one?"
You can ask:
- What are the requirements for entering college?
- Do all colleges have the same admissions requirements?
- How does accreditation work?
- Do you ever have trouble knowing how to act in a new situation? If so, what do you do?
- How much time should a student spend in a traditional classroom to know how to act in one?
The purpose of asking questions isn't to make people feel stupid, but if each question is based on a faulty assumption, then the only way to answer is to create a bridge with accurate information.
I admit it can be annoying to be asked these kinds of questions again and again, knowing that the person is ignorant of how college admissions and accreditation work. It even makes it difficult to believe that they are sincere in their questions when their assumptions are unfounded and their knowledge of the topic is shallow.
College admissions officers are no strangers to homeschooling. Home education has been an option long enough for colleges to adjust, and even warm up to the idea. The underlying notion here is that what homeschoolers do is so far off planet that colleges don't know how to deal, and the parents aren't preparing their children for higher education. That's a big leap in logic and a very unfair and inaccurate stereotype.
The facts are: Homeschoolers create transcripts of their educational experiences and take the same tests as any other student entering college, and qualify for financial aid based on those tests. If a homeschooler has been complying with the regulations in their state, a homeschool diploma carries every bit as much legitimacy and weight as a public school diploma.
Accreditation is one of those things that everyone thinks they know all about, but in truth, almost no one understands. In many states, public schools can lose their accreditation, but can still award valid diplomas to their students. Many private schools are not accredited at all.
Colleges exercise a tremendous amount of independence and autonomy, and can be accredited by one of "19 recognized institutional accrediting organizations". There is no single education entity or government agency that grants legitimacy to schools and colleges.
Then there are the questions about 'the school experience', such as "What about prom?" "I had a great time in school - aren't your kids missing out?" "Will your kids be able to make friends in the real world if they don't share 'the school experience'?"
- Does everyone go to prom?
- Is prom an essential educational experience that will impact students in a meaningful and positive way?
- Do you know of anyone who had a negative, even traumatic school experience?
- Do you have any friends of diverse ethnic/cultural backgrounds and life experiences? How did you make friends with them in spite of your differences, without being in a school classroom?
The basic premise here is that everyone who attended a traditional school had the same positive experience. Obviously, this is erroneous.
When confronted with questions about the necessity of shared backgrounds and experiences, it is important to point out the value of diversity and the development of skills needed to make connections with others, regardless of similarities or differences. It simply isn't necessary for people to have shared experiences in order to communicate, cooperate, or coexist peacefully.
The focus on uniformity is a contradiction to the constant demand for equality and diversity.
There are many other inquiries that could be answered in the same way; with questions that dig a little deeper into the basic assumptions that frame some of the challenges aimed at homeschoolers.