– by Debra Bell
I am all for Christians entering and engaging the culture. That’s the end goal. But I’m convinced adolescence is not the time to make this our priority. It’s like trying to launch a rocket with a rubber band.
So why homeschool for the long term? Here are the reasons that convinced us to teach high school at home:
Our home is the key place our children will see the power and mercy of the Gospel on display and experience how that can affect our lives. If your faith and values matter to you, and these inform your daily attitudes, choices and actions, then your home is the best context for the spiritual development of your children. Sometimes this is a matter of faith for parents—all kids, prior to adulthood, will evaluate and either adopt or discard the values and beliefs their parents hold. Some kids will go through this internally without much indication of the process; others will experience a lot of questioning and struggle. But, no matter how your teen responds to the process, you can be confident this development is taking place and that he is moving toward a place of personally held beliefs and convictions.
Homeschooling allows the daily context for that fragile time to be in your home and with your family. Research has repeatedly found that parents are the biggest influence in their children’s moral development—if they do not abdicate that role. Peers will become the chief socializing influence, if parents are not around. It’s not quality time that trumps quantity of time; kids need both from us.
Homeschooling allows a natural context to exist for spiritual growth—the only one that can truly integrate a child’s emotional, intellectual, and moral development. And that’s important if we want our kids to learn how to live with integrity. Compartmentalizing our faith—being forced to leave it out of the equation, especially during adolescence—is risky business. Our children will learn to disconnect their academic achievement and their knowledge base from the moorings of God as creator and center of all we know and do. It also fosters moral development for utilitarian purposes: I will play by the rules because I want the reward that is offered for doing so. Emotionally, the Psalmist understood God was his source for peace and hope when his soul was wracked with disquiet and worry. He knew to look up, not within, for enduring solutions. Our kids do not figure out on their own how to bring their faith to bear upon all of life; this internal integrity needs to be made visible as we walk transparently with our God before them and talk with them about how this process works.
The culture-at-large is fragmented and idiosyncratic. Modern education is, as well: forty minutes for science, the bell rings, hurry off to forty minutes of English. All the components of the school day are divorced from each other. What is the unifying whole? How does all this fit together and for what purpose? At home, you can seamlessly move back and forth between your child’s emotional upheavals, academic tasks, and spiritual questions.
Homeschooling has come of age. In the past twenty-five years it has matured and multiplied, and it’s now an established trend worldwide. The Internet will connect you to your local and state homeschooling community, and it will open up a wealth of online classes and other programs suitable for middle school through college.
Your access to this vibrant community and the opportunities it can provide is just a mouse-click away. Does your child need reinforcement and remediation in an area? You can plan for that without decelerating his progress in other subjects. Is she capable of working at a college level and accumulating college credit early? You can make that happen with online Advanced Placement [AP] classes or through your local community college system. Does your child have specialized interests? An exotic language he wishes to study or a hobby he devotes extensive time to? You can accommodate this diversity without the burden of also fulfilling someone else’s diploma requirements.
Granted, the wide array of courses and expert teachers in a large, affluent, suburban school district or an urban magnet school can be convenient and consolidated. I admit up front, I spent the high school years driving my kids to a lot of opportunities I didn’t want them to miss. You’re the one who will become master of logistics and scheduling in your quest to design the best program for your teenager at home, but I’m here to say it can be done. And if you’re able to spring for the technology, many of the best opportunities are now or soon to be online at democratic prices.
The homeschool community in particular is the source of much innovation and self-sufficiency. When I first began this adventure back in 1988, adapting curricula designed for mass education was the best bet; today, the best products for home use are specifically designed for homeschooled students.
And if you are concerned that colleges and employers will view a homeschooled applicant negatively, that’s a myth. The trail’s already been blazed in almost every area by homeschool graduates who made their way and left a great impression. I’ve been helping home-educated students get into the colleges of their choice for the past 15 years, and it is truly a non-issue. In many, many ways, homeschool applicants have an advantage, if they’ve made the most of the opportunities homeschooling affords. Many admissions officers have noted that compared to gradates of conventional schools, homeschooled kids come to college better equipped with independent learning and living skills. They are more likely to assume leadership roles on campus and their graduation rate is higher, too.
The biggest advantage I found when I started homeschooling is also the reason that I continued with it—I love the flexibility it allowed us. It’s the only educational choice that doesn’t hold us captive to someone else’s scope and sequence and schedule. Because homeschooling can be modified on a dime to fit into the larger picture of family life, we were able to protect our priorities. If we wanted to focus on our spiritual life, we could do so; if we needed to increase the time devoted to math, we did; if we wanted a vacation, we took it. Likewise, if we wanted to change curriculum or pursue a new avenue of investigation, we did it, and if an unanticipated opportunity appeared, we were free to go for it. Our kids traveled abroad, took advance courses, held jobs and internships, volunteered, and slept in when needed during their teen years because homeschooling allowed us that flexibility.
Perhaps the approaching school year ahead looks daunting as you recall last year’s challenges. I always found it helpful to take a spiritual retreat in August to renew my convictions about homeschooling and to re-affirm God’s call to it. He never failed to meet me there and extend the faith and grace I needed to look to the future with joy. God is faithful and He will once again supply all your needs in Christ Jesus as you continue to look to Him.