Why Homeschooling Might Be the Best Option for Your Child

A homeschooling parent responds to the article ‘Is Homeschooling a Good Choice for Your Children?‘ which laid out challenges and issues with homeschooling, with some his own experiences and research about homeschooling.

By Yonason Lubin – Chicago, Illinois

A rabbi in my community published an opinion piece about home-schooling on Anash.org. Since it took a negative view on the subject, and since I’m a home-schooling father in the very same city where that piece was written, I thought I should respond.

First of all, I do not want anyone to read this response as an attack no him. I know him and respect him. This is a response to what he wrote: it was incorrect. To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that its conclusion was incorrect – though that is true – but rather that it appeared to be based upon unsupported assumptions that are simply not true.

Its premise appeared to be that home-schooling was bad – or that, at the very least, it might sometimes be good but that such cases were “few and far between.” It doesn’t explain what that means, which is a problem. The independent research on homes-schooling shows that home-schooled students tend to score better on standardized tests than others, and outperform others in subsequent schooling.

This continues into the professional world.  It shows that home-schoolers tend to be happier, more adjusted, and more emotionally mature than students who attend conventional schools. Home-schoolers tend to be more creative, both entrepreneurially and in terms of simple problem-solving, than other students.

So by what metric are the successes “few and far between”?

The piece seems to have 3 major bones of contention, which might shed light on what was meant by the suggestion that home-schooling is unideal.

1.) There are few internet curricula in the Jewish world that are truly effective.
2.) “What about socialization”?!
3.) The time and educational commitment in home-schooling is challenging and unrealistic.

The first point of contention, that there are few complete Jewish home-school options online, relies upon the unsupported claim that most home-school families use online curricula in which the major learning is between a student and their computer, or is so highly structured that parents are largely uninvolved. This is simply unrealistic. As the piece argues in the latter half, the time-commitment for home-schooling parents is huge. That’s because the major learning is between parent and child, at least during the earlier years before students learn how to research independently. It is true that there are very few complete turn-it-on-and-leave-the-room curricula out there for Jewish subjects. 

There are more options than there used to be (and the claim that there are “absolutely no online curricula” is just false), but, truth be told, I don’t know much about those. We don’t use them. The world of home-school oriented textbooks and workbooks, even Jewish textbooks and workbooks, is light-years ahead of where it was just ten and twenty years ago. There are complete Biblical Hebrew curricula, Tanach curricula, Mishnayos curricula, Jewish history curricula, etc., some of which my family uses in teaching children.

The article specifically bemoans the lack of a “step-by-step Kriah curriculum,” but those exist as well – and saying as the step-by-step method in most schools is simple repetition, there’s certainly nothing inherently better about conventional school when it comes to Kriah.

The next one, socialization, I phrased hyperbolically in my above bullet-point of it. That’s because within the home-school community, this claim has reached meme status. We always know when someone writing about home-schooling is totally uninformed when they trot this out.

Here’s why. When my family first considered home-schooling, one of my first concerns was “what about socialization?” That made me pretty identical to every other potential home-schooler out there. Once you’re a long-standing citizen of the planet of home-schoolers, you know that this concern is very silly. We socialize dogs, not people. The artificial environment of conventional school doesn’t teach socialization. In fact, for most of the day, socialization in conventional schools is not allowed. There are artificial socialization times (lunch and recess) built into the day. But if someone told you that school is about socialization, they would be wrong, and embarrassingly so. 

My kids blossomed socially after we took them out of school. This is pretty typical among home-schoolers. Today, all of my children have extremely active social lives, and it is precisely because they weren’t told “here are the 10 people you are permitted to be friends with for approximately 45 minutes per week day.” They are better able to relate to new situations, socially and otherwise, because “socialization” wasn’t forced on them awkwardly by a conventional school. I have heard many people remark that its easy to spot a home-schooler: they’re the ones who can look you in the eye when they shake your hand for the first time. 

Finally, the last point appears to be that the structure of the conventional school day is more conducive to learning than home-school, and that even online schools preserve this structure in a way that is superior to homeschooling. The piece takes it as a given that the structure of conventional schools is a feature, not a bug. But this assumption does not rest on solid ground. Life is not scheduled into 9 separate 45-minute blocks of time. School is.

One of the advantages of home-school is that, through one-on-one teaching, school doesn’t have to be quite so regimented (insert a lecture about the Prussian model of schooling producing American drones for the last century right here). For each individual student, most of the minutes of conventional class are wasted. A student waits to be called upon (or dreads being called upon) once or twice during a class period, then they’re free to resume vegetating in place. In home school, a lot of that wasted time just goes away. Students in home-school situations typically have much shorter classes during which much more is accomplished.

This creates amazing opportunities. Younger kids, obviously, use that time for play. But as students get older, they use that time to explore other areas and learn other skills. As they get even older, this process becomes independent: my kids actively search out things to learn, and then learn them independently. This has included, in my house, coding, robotics, Latin, Spanish, world history, creative writing, photography, poetry, the history of fashion, the complete writings of Meam Loez, the history of the treatment of women and women’s issues in Judaism, cooking and baking, advanced mathematics and number theory, and I’m sure many other things I can’t remember.

The article is right that it takes a phenomenal time commitment from a home-schooling parent. There’s no question about that (and this is why the first point was so demonstrably mistaken). Its not a 9-5 job. It’s a 24/7 job. In fact, it’s the only job in the Jewish religion that is allowed to be a 24/7 job, as opposed to a 24/6 job. For that reason, it isn’t for everyone.

Unlike conventional schools’ acolytes and missionaries, we aren’t trying to convert everyone. But the fear that some attempt to instill is a little overblown. Most grown adults can teach 5th grade anything. The truth is that most grown adults could teach 8th grade anything. Being good at it is something else, but if the question is simple mastery of the concepts, if you’re an adult and couldn’t teach an 8th grade math class, the inability to teach home-schooling isn’t the biggest problem in your life.

The real academic challenges begin in high school. But guess what – and this is crazy, I know – most home-school students are amazingly independent by the time they get into those higher grades. As mature students, they don’t wait to hear a lecture. They open the book and learn. And as a home-schooling teacher, you learn with them. There’s always the option to supplement with a tutor, or an online program. But home-schooling offers most students not only the fundamental building blocks of being an educated adult, but the independence and intellectual curiosity to truly grow and mature, sans the cynicism that I learned so well in conventional school.

Like most awesome things, it isn’t a panacea. It’s hard and grueling, and offers no promises, just like conventional school. But if the goal of home-schooling is to create happy, well-adjusted, and mature critical thinkers, home-schooling can be and frequently is superior to conventional schools.

If the author of the piece had consulted with home-schooling families before writing it, it may have better addressed the advantages and disadvantages of home-schooling. Instead, the piece appeared to be based upon the author’s untested assumptions – many of which were simply incorrect. 

Discussion
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  1. I’m a junior high student and I’d just like to put a quick thought in here. First, there are rights and wrongs in both articles. Social life is a huge part of school, and so is the environment. I could never learn properly without both of the above. It also depends on which school alot. Learning around a table is also very much more effective than in desks but the class and teacher are still very important, and there are pros and cons about a classroom and a dining room table. Also, many high-schoolers will learn alone, even though not homeschooled. Anyway, thanks for the insight, and I hope to hear more on this subject.

    1. You are amazingly articulate for a junior high student. I would encourage you to continue writing as your prose are at the level of an adult.

  2. I like your points and your article.
    However, adding in the following line was an act of pure self sabotage…

    “Most grown adults can teach 5th grade anything. The truth is that most grown adults could teach 8th grade anything.”

    Nevertheless your points still stand..

    1. Thank you for your article.

      What both articles have not addressed is that some parents are homeschooling because their child is suffering in school and sometimes even refuse to go to school. I have a friend who noticed early on that school was not a good match for her kids. She chose homeschooling because they were struggling emotionally and academically in a mainstream school environment. Twelve years later, It’s amazing to see her kids (her oldest is 19 years old) look so happy and well adjusted and have such good middos. I can just imagine how jaded and crushed they would have been if they went to school. She recognized that they had a different learning style and were more sensitive kids.

      If our schools connect better with kids and teach in a more creative and systematic way, we would have more kids in school. Schools have made huge strides but it’s still not enough for many of today’s kids.

  3. In most schools, boys learn gemoro from at least 5th grade and up (in better schools they start in 4th grade, and possibly even 3rd). Are most parent qualified to teach gemoro?

  4. With all due respect, but the following comment does not belong on a website meant for Anash, and is supposed to be on a higher standard.

    “This has included, in my house, coding, robotics, Latin, Spanish, world history, creative writing, photography, poetry, the history of fashion, the complete writings of Meam Loez, the history of the treatment of women and women’s issues in Judaism, cooking and baking, advanced mathematics and number theory, and I’m sure many other things I can’t remember.”

  5. An important point that was missed in this discussion. Everyone has what to give and what to learn from. We all benefit from many teachers and role models as they each inspire us in their unique way. When being homeschooled, a child isn’t exposed to teachers and many role models. Especially in the tradition of how Torah is meant to be taught which is from teacher to student going all the way back to Moshe Rabeinu. Correct תורה שבעל פה is now written but is not meant to replace the role of teachers in Torah learning where possible.

    In addition, the article focuses a lot on career and worldly benefits which are important but misses many values that are important in Torah and Chassidus. Namely learning how to be part of a Tzibur. Learning how to daven Shachris, Mincha and Maariv on a daily basis and special days with a minyan and with a Chayus. Learning how to learn with a chavrusah and to look out for a peer. How to sit by a farbrengen, and the many stories you get to hear from chassidim from yesterday and remarkable personalities that your teachers gained inspiration from. These are very difficult to replicate in a homeschool environment.

    And lastly, how many times did the Rebbe write to people the tremendous Brochos and Siyata Dishmaya that comes from being in an institution of the Rebbe. He looks after his students and invests special Kochos in them. Ultimately Chinuch is a partnership between parents and teachers. They each have to work together and compliment each other. Sending to a Cheder doesn’t replace the Chinuch that is meant to take place at home either. And of course there are exceptions to every rule and each parent should consult with their guides, Mashpia, and Rov when their child can’t thrive in a school environment.

    1. > Especially in the tradition of how Torah is meant to be taught which is from teacher to student going all the way back to Moshe Rabeinu.

      The parent is the teacher in home-school. The pasuk says הגדת לבנך, not לתלמדך. Chedarim, like standardized education in general, are fairly new concepts in Judaism like in the rest of the world.

      > In addition, the article focuses a lot on career and worldly benefits which are important but misses many values that are important in Torah and Chassidus. Namely learning how to be part of a Tzibur.

      The same could be said of shlichus in general (and, evidently, an emerging home-school program for shluchim is what provided the impetus for the first article which I responded to here). A home-school within a Jewish community provides the same opportunities. Literally everything that is mentioned from the beginning of this paragraph to the end (davening, learning chassidus, chavrusa, etc.) is something that is available outside of school; and other than davening, most of those are more available outside of school than inside of school.

      > how many times did the Rebbe write to people the tremendous Brochos and Siyata Dishmaya that comes from being in an institution of the Rebbe.

      Thank G, my home-school is an institution of the Rebbe.

  6. Here are the Rebbe’s own words on this subject:

    “In order for chinuch to be effective, we rely on each other; for not everyone is capable of teaching and educating their own children. So in addition to the chinuch that parents impress on their children, a teacher is needed to perfect their education…

    “…And this is in addition to the main point; successful chinuch happens when a child is educated together with other children his age, not when he is educated alone…Torah must be learned specifically ‘bichaburah’ – in a group.”

    Toras Menachem – 13 Elul 5742, p. 2168. (Free Translation)

    1. Imagine my surprise when it turned out the sicha didn’t actually say this, and that it’s conclusion was quite different from on what was implied here.

  7. Sometimes there isn’t a choice. Sometimes kids need to be homeschooled.
    Otherwise, it does a huge disservice to cut a child off from normative society and human interaction.

    You can chuckle at the “meme” about socialization but it’s the number one question for a reason.
    From an adults perspective, homeschooled kids might come across as mature and well adjusted, but to the child themselves, they know they are the weird homeschooled kid that doesn’t understand social cues.
    I’ve been that kid. As have all my siblings. From the outside we look like success stories (and we would never say a negative word publicly about the way we were raised because our parents meant well) but there’s a very, very difficult life path for a child who’s parents chose to raise them in alternative way.

    Yes, there are some pros academically, but also cons. You learn to research and be self sufficient and can pursue interests, but you are also limited by your parents weaknesses and don’t have much opportunity to learn from others.

    There also aren’t enough adult mentors around in a homeschooled kid’s life. They grow up with their parents being everything all wrapped up and in one and the parents get overwhelmed and drained from being everything to their kids. This is a huge, huge issue that I’ve experienced myself and I’ve heard echoed from many fellow homeschooled kids that have now grown up.

    Parents take pride in how well their kids are doing academically and show them off as accomplishments. We become extensions of our parents, a testament to how wonderful and dedicated they are. But no one sees the pressure that puts on the entire family unit and the damage that happens when the parents start slacking off due to burn out but expect the children to perform even better to keep up the image.

    Yeah, we do well on tests and know how to give a firm handshake with eye contact. But it’s no way to raise a child if you have a choice in the matter.

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