One of the most interesting recent developments in homeschooling is the expansion of the practice to populations that historically have not been associated with it. Given the dearth of representative, randomized sampling studies of homeschoolers, it has been very hard to quantify growth of this sort. Many of the most oft-cited studies of homeschoolers, such as those conducted by Brian Ray and HSLDA (which I review here and here), use methods of data collection that lead to an over-representation of conservative Protestants. Even the best quantitative data available can’t deliver even basic information on the racial, socio-economic, or ideological diversity among homeschoolers.
Another, less reliable way of getting at the growth of homeschooling among groups that have not traditionally done it is to attend to newspaper articles and so forth that offer more impressionistic, often intimate portraits of homeschooling. This post briefly makes note of several recent news stories that describe homeschooling among a wide assortment of Americans who are choosing it for many reasons.
Richard Greenberg’s “Right at Home in School” from the August 21, 2008 edition of Washington Jewish Week [Excerpt available here] provides information on several Jewish homeschooling families, not all of them Orthodox. One Conservative and one Reconstructionist family are profiled along with the others. The Jewish families Greenberg interviews sound quite a bit like Chrisitan homeschoolers in their emphasis on Jewish identity and heritage and in their incredulity toward claims that homeschooling stifles socialization. Curricularly, those interviewed tend to be more experiential and experimental in their learning strategies and subject matter. One mother called herself a “carschooler” since her family spends so much time travelling to museums, historic districts, and other places where active learning can take place. The article, like most newspaper stories on homeschooling, is very positive about the whole thing.
Kate Tsubata’s “Alaskan Family Shares on Blog” from the October 27, 2008 issue of the Washington Times [available here] describes the homeschooling practices of a Catholic family with five children in Fairbanks, Alaska. The family has a “nature-centered ‘curriculum’…. It it a little unschoolish, a little unit-study, a little Montessori, a little Charlotte Mason, but mostly just us! We call it us-schooling…”
Another article from Kate Tsubata, titled “Au Pair Helps Out with Teaching Kids” and also from the Washington Times (24 October 2008) describes a dual-career couple, both attorneys, who turned to homeschooling when their kindergarten-aged son tuned out to be a school resister. After an evaluation at Johns Hopkins the couple worked out a homeschooling schedule for their two children with the au pair who was living with them.
Chris Joyner’s “Parents Homeschool to Avoid Vaccination Requirements for Children” from the October 22, 2008 issue of USA Today [available here] describes how parents who worry that vaccines could cause autism or weaken their children’s immune systems are turning to homeschooling to avoid having to vaccinate their kids. While news pieces on homeschooling are usually positive, this one worries that the increasing tendency of homeschoolers to avoid vaccinations could put the nation’s public health at risk. It mentions several recent episodes where unvaccinated homeschoolers were responsible for increased incidences of diseases, including an outbreak of measles in May of 2008 in suburban Chicago where 25 of 30 children who contracted the disease were homeschooled. This article has brought the topic to national attention. It was even parodied on a recent Saturday Night Live Weekend Update segment.
Finally, Penelope Green’s “The Anti-Schoolers” from the October 16, 2008 edition of The New York Times [available here] describes a trend among some high-achieving New Yorkers to keep their young children out of the highly competitive preschool and kindergarten programs so popular among the city’s elite. A group of 12 families with children of similar ages get together twice a week for field trips, reading groups, and other activities. One parent cited “a trend toward too much academic pressure too early” as her reason for keeping her children home. Another cited the “distasteful atmosphere of competition,” much preferring “this village of many different ages and many different belief systems who have decided to spend time together.” One of the mothers rejects the notion that she has become a stay-at-home mom, prefering the term “out-in-the-world-mom” given the rich cultural resources available to her children in New York City. Green quotes Mitchell Stevens, author of the excellent 2001 study Kingdom of Children, who thinks these upscale New Yorkers are simply taking the trend toward hyper-parenting to the next level: “an extreme version of bourgeois parenting.”