This post reviews Glenda Jackson, “Home Education Transitions with Formal Schooling: Student Persspectives” in Issues in Educational Research 17 (2007) (Available fulltext here)
Jackson, a doctoral candidate at Monash University in Australia, here conducts three case studies of homeschooled students transitioning to and from formal schools.
Jackson begins her study with a thorough review of the available literature both on homeschooling in Australia and on studies conducted in the United States and Europe on the transition of homeschoolers into other schools. One element lacking in most of these studies is the perspectives of the students doing the transitioning, and that is Jackson’s focus in this piece.
She interviewed three students: Zara, a fifteen-year-old who began her education in formal schools, homeschooled for four years, and decided on her own to go back to school; Sam, a precocious ten-year-old who had been homeschooling for two years after very negative school experiences; and Robert, an seventeen-year-old who had spent one year homeschooling with the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum while his family travelled. Each student was asked for positive and negative evaluations of both approaches, what the transition was like, and what educational professionals might do to help smooth transition. Jackson then summarizes the results:
Positives about homeschool: all three interviewees appreciated the autonomy homeschooling gave them (an interesting finding given the Rob Reich debate): flexibility, opportunity to pursue their own interests, and freedom from tedious force-feeding of textbook information at schools.
Positives about school: Zara liked spending time with friends at recess and lunch but hated class, Sam hated everything, especially how boring and easy school was, and Robert liked school a lot.
Negatives about homeschool: Zara missed her friends, Sam loves everything about homeschool, and Robert hated the by-the-book ACE curriculum and the social isolation he felt as his family travelled for a year.
Negatives about school: Zara didn’t like how her slowness at learning made her a pariah. Sam experienced the exact opposite, as kids teased him for being smart. Robert also chafed against the normed and boring learning schools provide.
Adjusting to a new learning environment: Zara and Robert both transitioned smoothly back to school and were surprised at how they were actually ahead of their peers academically when they returned. Sam took some time adjusting to homeschool but now loves it.
Advice for Professional Educators: The children basically wanted school personnel to understand that homeschooling can be fun and academically nourishing–that it’s a good thing, not something to be feared.
Jackson concludes by suggesting that her study adds weight to claims that homeschooling is neither academically nor socially restricting, and it demonstrates that homeschoolers engage in a variety of pedagogical styles, from the school-like ACE approach of Robert’s family, to the semi-school-like approach of Zara’s family, to the informal “natural learning” style of Sam’s family. She advises school professionals to think of homeschooling as a useful option for children who for whatever reason are struggling in traditional schools–it may help them weather an uncomfortable stage in their lives so that they can eventually return to school emotionally healthy and academically stable.
I’ll have to admit to being a bit disappointed in this study. It is a promising beginning for Glenda Jackson, but as a piece of qualitative research it is pretty thin so far. She acknowledges at several points that her three-child sample is not really sufficient to make generalizations. And she does not explain to us why she chose these three children. Were they selected to provide any sort of demographic variability? Were they friends of hers? Increasing her sample size considerably and analyzing the responses she gets to her questions by looking for patterns by child’s age and sex, parent pedagogical style and educational level, family’s religious orientation and SES, and so on would vastly increase her study’s value. At present it is little more than three anecdotes introduced by a good lit review.
But the lit review is really good, especially for researchers looking for transatlantic (and now transpacific!) perspectives on these issues. American homeschooling researchers have to date paid very little attention to the emerging European (and now Australian) literature on some of the same questions Americans are asking. Jackson’s work provides a convenient means of helping American researchers track some of this literature down and comparing its findings to their own.