by Rebecca Kocsis
Back in the day
That’s a great question. In the olden days of homeschooling—the days of yore—the answer was easy. You could be fairly certain that a homeschool family would fall into one of two camps. There was the traditional single-income family where dad was the breadwinner, with a stay-at-home mom. They were middle class, white Anglo-Saxon, conservative, and largely evangelical Christian. Their purpose for homeschooling was predominantly to disciple their children in their faith. The other camp was a largely secular community that followed the teachings of John Holt. They were identified as “unschoolers” at that time who followed a self-directed learning model. Their purpose was to remove children from institutionalized learning to foster their innate curiosity and gifts. The model shifts from teacher directed to learner directed. Originally driven by progressive education philosophers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries it is now primarily parent-driven.
Obviously there were exceptions to this rule and there was also crossover between the two groups. Both communities, though, operated independent of the government educational system and government funding. Parents took full responsibility for their children’s education. They also enjoyed the most freedom to educate their children in a way that was consistent with their family’s worldview. This is what the homeschool community looked like until the late 1990s.
What’s in a name?
The term homeschooling used to be a narrowly defined term. It used to refer to parent-directed, privately-funded, home-based, and for the Christian family, it was Christ-centered education. Now homeschooling has become a catch-all term that includes any amount of education that takes place at home any amount of time, regardless of who is in charge and who’s paying for it. For our purposes here I will stick to a more traditional model of parent-led education that is independent of government school oversight and funding, also known as “private home education”.
Who’s homeschooling now?
Today research shows all types of families now choose home education. Because of the great success exhibited by the homeschool movement of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, homeschooling has almost become mainstream. We now see a much more diverse demographic. Today you will encounter people of many different faiths and people of no faith. People of all income levels, education levels, and political persuasions now homeschool. There are single-parent homeschools. Mom may be the breadwinner and dad does the teaching. The most dramatic change has been the increase in numbers of families of color. One nationwide study shows people of color making up as much as 41% of the homeschool community.
The primary purpose for private home education has shifted as well. Whereas providing religious instruction used to be families’ greatest motivating factor, that’s no longer the case. Providing faith-based instruction has now been replaced by concern about school environment (safety, bullying, negative peer pressure, etc.) That is followed by moral instruction and dissatisfaction with academic instruction. Religious instruction is now further down the list of parents’ priorities.
Families may be disillusioned with the educational establishment’s ability to meet their children’s educational needs. This is particularly the case with minority families. Some are simply dissatisfied with the status quo, whether it be low expectations or expecting each child to fit into a one-size-fits-all teaching model. Families are increasingly concerned about academic subjects being peppered with, and sometimes even replaced by, progressive ideologies disguised as ethnic or racial studies.
So what is the definition of a homeschool family today?
The predominant trait of a private home educator is the willingness to take full responsibility for their children’s education. Yes, that means financial responsibility, too. When families take full responsibility, they are able to enjoy homeschool freedom to the fullest.
In so doing:
- They are free to create a program of instruction that meets the needs of each child utilizing a virtually unlimited list of resources.
- They are free to choose materials that are consistent with their families’ worldview or faith.
- They are free to tailor their school schedule to their family schedule, not the other way around.
- They are free to choose the number of days and hours of instruction that best suits their students’ needs developmentally.
- They are free to pursue a lifestyle of education rather than to recreate a contrived school in their home.
- Children are free to learn and grow at their own pace.
- Children are free to be the unique individuals that God created them to be without concern for their peers’ approval.
- They are free to determine if standardized testing is in their children’s best interest rather than what’s best for the school.
- Students are free to pursue God’s high calling for their lives at a young age because they are not bound by inefficient school schedules.
- They have a great sense of family identity. The nature of home education helps to foster and nurture family unity.
- They are free to tackle sensitive topics when they determine their students have sufficient maturity to comprehend them.
- They are free to present sensitive topics from their families’ worldview.
- Homeschoolers are busy people. The question, “What about socialization?” is more than likely met with an eye roll in home educating communities.
- They are adept at finding community for their families and equally adept at creating it if it doesn’t already exist.
- They are also intentional about finding meaningful educational opportunities for their children. If they can’t find what they are looking for, they will go to great lengths and expense to create it.
Finally, each homeschool family is beautifully unique. Each family’s homeschool is as varied as the individuals and the needs in that family. No homeschool will be exactly the same from one year to the next as the children grow and their needs change. Homeschoolers are free to accommodate for those changes. Homeschool families are a reflection of our creative God who created this magnificent world where we live and created us in His image. Homeschoolers are free to raise their children to His glory.
“Chapter 2 What Is Unschooling?” Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom, by Kerry McDonald, Chicago Review Press, 2019.
Cui, Jiashan, and Rachel Hanson. “Homeschooling in the United States: Results from the 2012 and 2016 Parent and Family Involvement Survey (PFI-NHES:2012 and 2016).” National Center for Education Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, 19 Dec. 2019, nces.ed.gov/pubs2020/2020001.pdf.
Ray, Brian D. “Homeschooling: The Research, Scholarly Articles, Studies, Facts, Research.” National Home Education Research Institute, 16 Jan. 2021, www.nheri.org/research-facts-on-homeschooling.
Homeschool Freedom, Alliance for Christian Home Education Leadership, 1 Apr. 2021, homeschoolfreedom.com.
Excellent article, Rebecca!!! Your list of freedoms is superb.
Thank you for taking the time to clarify this definition of homeschooling. I have been so frustrated with all the different ways the term is being used. You have articulated the different meanings so well. I guess I may have to change what I call myself from homeschooler to private home educator. 😊