An eight-year-old Anna Buck performs an experiment around evaporation during her time being homeschooled. While it’s not the right choice for all, she says, it’s a good option for plenty of people, and she’s glad it was the choice made for her.

Carihi Mirror: Examining the value of homeschooling

Mirror contributor Anna Buck was homeschooled until Grade 10. Is she happy about that now?

Anna Buck

Carihi Mirror

From my first educational moments to my tenth year in school, I was homeschooled, and although only 2,200 BC students or so are enrolled in homeschooling each year, my parents’ decision to make me one of those students was one of the best choices anyone has ever made for me.

It was a wonderful experience in and of itself, but it also made way for one of the best choices I’ve ever made – to enter Carihi and the public school system for the first time in Grade 10.

Both of these choices were influential in my character today for their own reasons, and I’m so happy that my education has panned out this way. However, one of the biggest factors I had to adjust to when I became a Carihi student was the stigma surrounding homeschooling.

I’d seen plenty of negative responses to “I’m homeschooled” before, of course, mostly when other students would challenge me. Kids I met on the playground in elementary school would ask me outrageous questions that they couldn’t possibly know the answer to, but posed in order to make me feel inferior. These cases would end in a stand-off where both of us would say “I have the answer in my head, but I don’t want to tell you because you’re rude.” I led a controversial life back then. But things have changed a lot now that I can recognize nuance in the ways I’m acted towards before and after the “big reveal.”

In one of my first meetings with a school counsellor, back when I was only considering joining the public school system, the program through which I was homeschooled was referred to as “the enemy” within the first ten minutes. Many people are shocked upon finding out I was taught at home, blurting out things like “but you seem so well socialized!” I feel like a puppy more than a graduating student. And oftentimes they’ll scoff and simply say “I don’t believe in homeschooling.” Oh, so now it isn’t real?

So where’s the stigma coming from? I won’t lie, homeschooling isn’t best option for everyone. Parents remove their kids from public school because they want to learn at their own pace or they don’t do well in social setting, among countless other personal reasons. Don’t get me wrong, these are valid reasons to keep a child home in many cases. However, the problem arises when those reasons become excuses, or when a parents don’t foster an educational life for their students. They don’t have to make them stick to a public school routine of forced learning, memorization, and regurgitation of facts; my mum didn’t do that to me. However, my mother still encouraged learning in our home in ways other than sitting me down before a book to fill out worksheets every day. Many parents don’t do this, and that is when homeschooling is ultimately unhelpful for the kid.

The big concern among non-homeschoolers, however, is the issue of what is commonly known as the “S question;” that is, the question of whether or not a homeschooled child receives proper socialization.

A 1995 survey from Maralee Mayberry (University of South Florida), J. Gary Knowles (University of Toronto), Brian Ray, Ph.D., and Stacey E. Marlow found that 92 per cent of public school superintendents believe homeschooled students to be inadequately socialized.

A 1993 study of public schoolers’ parents showed that 61% of those studied believed homeschooled children were isolated, and one parent even described the “majority” of homeschooled students as “socially handicapped.” There is, however, little available recent concrete evidence supporting such claims. A 1997 study by researcher Brian Ray found that homeschoolers were involved in an average of 5.2 “extra-curricular” activities per week. The same research showed that 13 per cent of homeschoolers in this sample were less likely to spend time with people outside their own families than public school children. Therefore, although it is wrong to assume that all homeschooled kids are “isolated,” it is also incorrect to suggest that every child – homeschooled or not – participates in a large number of social engagements.

Enrolment in public schools saw a general decline across Canada from 2000-01 to 2014-15. Meanwhile, enrolment in homeschooling saw a steady increase. Homeschooling remains the least popular means of education for Canadian students, but has still grown in almost every province, both in absolute enrolment in homeschooling itself, and in homeschooling’s share of total provincial enrolment. In the 2014-15 school year Manitoba held the highest proportion of homeschooled kids at 1.5 per cent. Seven other provinces had recorded rates of less than 1 per cent that year, while still experiencing an incline in the popularity of homeschooling.

Although the increase in homeschool enrolment is not extreme so far, as the educational method becomes more mainstream, I expect total enrolment to continue rising in the future.

A 2018 article from Business Insider magazine calls homeschooling the potential “smartest way to teach kids in the 21st century.” The American article cites a 2009 study showing that approximately 67 per cent of homeschoolers would graduate from post-secondary school, while among public school students the proportion was only 59 per cent. A 2009 study by Michael Cogan from the University of St. Thomas also shows that homeschooled students held a consistently higher high school GPA, and suggested that they tend to receive higher marks on standardized tests than public or private schoolers.

Carihi teachers Robert Telford and Bobbi Smith have homeschooled their two kids from day one. Their decision came from a variety of reasons, including their subscription to attachment parenting.

“We were wanting to socialize our kids, especially in the younger years, with us more so than with peers,” Telford says. Historically, he adds, socializing children at home more than outside the family has been normal for thousands of years.

The family doesn’t keep to a strict day-to-day schedule.

“We unschool. They follow what they’re interested in and it allows their curiosity to flourish.”

Alongside the desire to socialize their kids at home, the family was financially able to homeschool, and Bobbi was willing to stay home with their kids for the majority of their early education.

If it wasn’t going to work, they said, they were prepared to have them attend public school, and their plan is still to transition them in grade nine, “probably for a half day, then full time for grade ten and the start of the credit system,” Bobbi says.

Frazer Smith, another senior teacher at Carihi, has also kept his children at home for their education so far.

“Initially it was a romanticized idea that my wife had because she was homeschooled when [her family] lived in logging camps,” he says. “I’ve always been worried about the social aspect… but lots of the time they spend [with other homeschoolers] they’re getting lots of interaction.”

“At first I was a little apprehensive, but ultimately the biggest thing that we’ve noticed is that our children are little individuals, they’re very creative in the way they think, and they’re getting that very concentrated time with the person that’s educating them. And that’s invaluable.”

Like many “unschoolers,” my own experience with homeschooling was unique in the amount of time I spent, well, anywhere but at home. I was always outside, on a bike or, for many years from the age of eight, on a horse. If I wasn’t riding either of those vehicles I was working at the barn, or playing with our dog in the yard, or dancing or something. Little of my time was spent being forcibly sat at the kitchen table rattling off math problems or dates in history. I was terrified to start at Carihi because I thought that the latter fact would cause my performance to tank.

However, my mother actually did me a great service in not forcing work from me, because it taught me to work for myself. I sat down at Carihi with the ability to be responsible for using my time and materials and for focusing on the things I knew were important, and the ability to communicate with teachers and students alike. I was never chained to a desk for seven hours a day and forced to spit out facts. I was allowed to find interests and explore them, I was allowed to ask questions, and I was allowed to get distracted.

And every day those allowances are proven more invaluable.

Carihi Mirror