Why do so many parents who seriously consider homeschooling stop short of actually trying it?
Quite a few of them worry about their children’s ability to earn a living when they grow up. When we run into resistance to homeschooling, we often hear something like this: “If he doesn’t go to a ‘real’ school, how will he learn the skills he’ll need to get a good job? To say nothing of going to college!”
Yes, parents worry that without kindergarten, twelve grades of public school, and four years of college, their children will be doomed to low-paying, menial jobs for life. The public school may fill a child’s head with propaganda for socialism, abortion, homosexuality, and New Age superstition — but at least it’ll equip him for the job market.
Skills without School
Some points seem too obvious to be stated, and because these points are never made, many people miss them altogether. It is possible to miss the obvious.
My wife had a long working career as a bookkeeper. “Full charge bookkeeper” is a skilled job; it pays well, and the skill is always in demand.
My wife never studied bookkeeping in school. She taught herself the basic skills, started at the entry level, and learned the higher skills from her bosses at each job. Along the way, she also learned how to keep books in cyberspace and became an adept with the computer. With each new job, she mastered a higher level of bookkeeping skills. She learned by a series of apprenticeships and rose to the top of her field, without a college degree, without a single bookkeeping class in school. Her earning power far outstripped that of many college graduates.
I have a college degree in political science. Unless I had wanted to stay in academe, earning higher and higher degrees while training more political scientists, my degree was virtually worthless on the job market. When almost everyone has a degree, why should a prospective employer be impressed because you have one?
Eventually, after a lot of this and that, I had a career as a newspaper reporter and editor, a set of skills I picked up simply by reading newspapers all my life and understanding what a newspaper article was supposed to be. No journalism classes, no journalism school — and I knew other reporters and editors, good ones, who could say the same.
I also started and operated my own closeout/liquidating business for seven years. I learned how to do this from a manual and home-study course that cost $140.
Neither my wife nor I applied our educations in any practical way when it came to settling down to careers.
True, our public schools did spend time and effort teaching us skills that were and are absolutely necessary: reading, writing, and basic arithmetic. I have yet to “use” algebra, physics, or Spanish in real life, for all the sweat I had over them in school. (My wife learned Spanish by working in a Hispanic neighborhood.)
School did not teach us how to read intelligently or express ourselves clearly in writing. How did we acquire those skills? By reading and writing a lot! Practice makes perfect. The more you do, the more you learn, and the better you do it. Nor did it hurt that our homes were full of books, that our parents strongly encouraged us to read and write (although they didn’t homeschool us in any formal way), or that whole worlds opened to us through reading. You could hardly ask for a more positive reinforcement than that.
Multiply the two of us by millions, and you have a cross section of Working America.
Education without Public Schools
Millions of teenagers learn to drive years before their schools offer driver education.[i] They learn from their fathers, or from older teens, or simply by observing how it’s done. They learn well enough to pass a test and earn a driver’s license.
If there were no driver education programs in the public schools, would Americans stop learning how to drive? Certainly not. The motivation is too strong. Very few of us would care to do without this skill. If a friend or family member couldn’t teach us, we’d go to driving school.
Millions of adults have learned to operate computers long after their schooling days were over. They learn on the job, from other family members, from a short computer course at the nearest community college, or by teaching themselves. Computer literacy is a must in today’s job market. Because it’s such a highly desirable skill, people make sure they learn it, one way or another.
There are, of course, highly specialized skills that you can’t teach yourself or learn from family members. This is why there are specialized, private schools for everything from hairstyling to the martial arts. You don’t need to complete twelve grades of public school before you enroll in a program to learn how to repair air conditioners, play golf, or speak Japanese.
History refutes the contention that public education is the only education that matters. The printing press and bookstores came on the scene centuries before the public schools. Roman engineers designed and built aqueducts that functioned for hundreds of years, without having gone to public school. Why would Tyndale have translated the Bible into English and why would the authorities have collected and burned his Bibles if no one had the ability to read them? There were no public schools in those days.
As an established institution, public education is not yet 200 years old. Obviously, civilization made quite a lot of progress without it.
But Can You Still Get into College?
What about college? How can your child get into college if he hasn’t been to school?
As overrated as it is as the key to a well-paid career, college is by no means out of reach for the homeschooled. College entrance exams and the Scholastic Aptitude Tests are open to all. If your child’s SAT scores are high enough, you can be sure he’ll get into college.
Getting into college is by no means problematic for homeschoolers. For an article updating the list of major colleges (including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Notre Dame, etc.) that accept homeschoolers, see http://learninfreedom.org/colleges_4_hmsc.html. For advice as to how the homeschooled teen should seek admission to college, written by a former admissions officer, see "Helping Homeschoolers Go to College," by Barb Henry (1999), http://www.homeedmag.com/HEM/163.99/mj_art_cllg.html.
Don’t get hung up on college. One of my cousins is rich. His job is to supervise major engineering projects, and he has traveled all over the world doing it. He never went to college.
Some parents think they must become super-scholars themselves before they can try to educate their children. History and common sense say they’re wrong.
Your child can learn to read and write at home, as millions have done before him. If you can teach your child to drive a car, prepare a good meal, or balance a checkbook, you can certainly teach him how to read and write. For assistance you can turn to every book that’s ever been published. And the ability to read is foundational to learning anything else. No worldly knowledge can be withheld from a good reader.
As for more specialized knowledge, you don’t need to become a piano virtuoso yourself before you sign up your child for piano lessons. You wouldn’t send him to the public school for that; you’d bring in a professional piano instructor.
The obvious point is that all of us have learned important things, even complicated and difficult things, that we use every day of our lives without having learned them in a public school.
It is this simple, commonsense observation that provides all the practical support homeschooling needs.
[i] As inspiration for this section of the article, I am indebted to John Taylor Gatto, The Underground History of American Education, “The Art of Driving” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 8–10.