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9 Things Homeschoolers Need to Unlearn

Homeschooling is not about replicating public education at home.

You may be familiar with Thomas Edison’s aphorism about his challenges inventing the lightbulb. Faced with setback upon setback, Edison famously quipped, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Edison’s saying highlights the interrelation between learning and unlearning. Learning something new often entails unlearning something old.

This is certainly true of homeschooling. We set out on our homeschooling journey with all manner of plans and ideas. However, as we gain experience, we divest ourselves of notions we find to be false or unpractical. In today’s article, let’s review nine things homeschooling families come to unlearn over time.

1. “School is primarily about academics”

While academics are a major component of education, homeschooling helps you realize that education is just as much about character formation as academics. We homeschool not merely to teach subject matter, but to raise a certain kind of child: balanced, thoughtful, well-mannered, and diligent. As Catholics, faith formation is also a huge part of our homeschooling plans. If you are coming from institutional schooling, you may need to recalibrate your thinking to see homeschooling as formation of the whole person and not just academics.

2. “Finish the textbook!”

“We have to finish the textbook by May!” Too often curricula is planned around the textbook, with “finishing the book” as the end goal. While this is sometimes important (say, in a literature course where children are reading a novel), this is seldom the case with textbooks. “Finishing the textbook” is an arbitrary goal you impose upon yourself due to equating “finishing the book” with completing a course. It is a bias carried over from public schooling where you got one textbook for each school year per subject. We need not feel bound to that structure. You can go through a textbook at your own pace!

3. “You need a textbook”

Speaking of textbooks, you don’t really need a textbook at all. Textbooks are used in institutional schools because they make it easy to standardize a curriculum (i.e., make sure all students are reading the same thing, progressing at a similar pace). However, there is no reason you need this standardization in your homeschool. There’s no reason you need any textbook at all. Sometimes concepts are best taught through multiple smaller books, primary documents, biographies, online presentations, and/or in-person lectures. There is certainly nothing wrong with textbooks (after all, I have made a living out of writing them!), but you may want to divest yourself of the notion that a class must be structured around a textbook.

4. “School is your full-time job”

This is something parents often tell children to keep them centered on their studies. “Remember, your full-time job is your schooling. That’s what you need to focus on.” Where did we get this idea? We all agree that education is important, but why do we assume it must take up most of a child’s time? Does the science even support the idea that children should spend most of their time on school? Again, this bias is imported from public school, where—factoring in transportation to and from school—a child tends to be away from home for 8 hours, comparable to an adult’s work day. However, school should not be anybody’s “full-time job,” let alone a child’s. One thing you learn as a homeschooler is that children actually require much less time on schoolwork than you may have thought.

5. “Stay on track”

In public school, children are advanced to higher levels of study using the grade system; i.e., someone who has covered such-and-such concepts within a given time is advanced to the next grade. This is being “on track.” Someone who has not mastered the same concepts is “behind.” It would be best to unlearn this whole concept of “on track” versus “behind.” The only pacing you need to know is to move forward when your child has mastered the concept and is ready for the next level.

6. “Online education is inferior”

For a long time there was skepticism in the educational world about the efficacy of online education. At best, it was considered a supplement to brick and mortar education. Online-only educators were scarcely considered teachers. I can’t tell you how often someone, upon hearing I was a teacher, would ask where I taught. When I explained that I teach online, they would generally say, “Oh.” And inside that Oh would be an implied, “Ah, so you’re not really a teacher.” However, when you enter the homeschooling world, you come to realize there are tons of fabulous online educational resources that can not only supplement conventional education, but be an integral part of it.

7. “Homeschooling is mom’s job”

It is generally true that homeschooling tends to work best when you have a stay-at-home parent, which is usually the mother. However, this should never equate to homeschooling being “just mom’s responsibility.” Homeschooling should be a familial venture with everyone playing a part, including fathers! So if you think homeschooling is just mom’s job, unlearn that as quickly as you can. Work on ways to integrate dad into the homeschool picture as well. This way everybody is on the same page and there is a true sense of family-effort about the whole endeavor.

8. “Grades are all that matter”

It is well-known that public schools adopt a “teach to the test” mentality that places excessive importance on standardized test scores. It’s easy for this way of thinking to seep into your homeschool if you don’t make intentional effort to unlearn it. Grades are important, but not as the be all end all of academics. Grades are ultimately a barometer, a unit of measurement. They are used to assess what a child knows and what they still require help with. Grades are tools, not goals in and of themselves. The goal is mastering the content; grades merely help you understand how close your child is to mastering it.

9. “But socialization!”

Socialization is the classic canard that opponents of homeschooling always go back to—the fear that homeschooled kids are somehow missing out on the important socialization opportunities that public school kids get. Homeschooling means unlearning public school concepts of socialization. We all agree that socialization is important, but where did we get the idea that adequate socialization entails locking kids up for six hours a day in a room with thirty other kids of their exact age group? How did we come to expect such specific, bizarre criteria for what constitutes socialization? Homeschooling means unlearning popular narratives about socialization.

I’m sure there are more we could mention. What about you? What did you have to unlearn as a homeschooler? Let us know in our Catholic Homeschool Connections Community.

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