WHY EDUCATE AT HOME
One of the most difficult interview questions to answer honestly is: “What’s something you believe to be true, yet very few people agree with you on?” My go-to, hypothetical answer has always been, “That students thrive best when educated at home.” And since home education continues to produce stellar results, the “…yet very few people agree with you on” part of the question has become less and less applicable. Home education, in general, no longer carries the stigma of past decades. In 2018, Business Insider argued that homeschooling could be the “smartest way to teach kids in the 21st century,” citing the successes of home educated students when compared to brick and mortar school kids in college and beyond. Home education was becoming mainstream, or at least less marginal, even before it became ubiquitous during the last months of the 2020 school year.
This is largely due to the fact there has never been a better time in the history of the world to educate at home than right now. I don’t only mean in terms of school closures and social distancing, rather, I’m referring more to the countless opportunities home educators currently have at their disposal. At Kolbe Academy, for example, we have options at every level—K-12—for various types of home education. Options range from pure homeschooling with complete course plans containing step-by-step instructions for parents and students should they need them, or full-service online education with live teachers, or any combination in between, including access to self-paced courses guided by pre-recorded lessons with grading assistance. Never before have there been so many resources to help one obtain a classical education at home.
For most of history, only the very wealthy could afford such an education for their children. Private tutors were sometimes procured, or, in some cases, children were sent to distant lands to study under learned masters. This sort of outsourced education—or, bespoke tutoring as a recent Vanity Fair article calls it—due to the tremendous financial cost, has only normally been accessible to the upper echelons of society. They often pursue the liberal (free) arts (skills), rather than learning a trade or some domestic occupation. And while it is true that any acquisition of knowledge or skill is indeed education, a classical or liberal education, as we think of it today, was for a long time completely out of reach for the vast majority of people.
In this country, public schooling was largely preceded by private education of two broad types: 1) village schools—one-room schoolhouses where a teacher was hired by the families of a community to teach basic skills to the children; 2), especially in the early days of America, children were educated at home by their parents. In both situations, a classical education was the standard by which one was deemed “educated”. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, to name just a few, were educated privately at home. Liberal, that is, freely chosen, education was in the hands of the parents, whether collectively as in the village schools with a teacher who could be voted out, for example, or individually as in the colonial or pioneering homeschools. Although limited in terms of resources when compared with today’s situation, these educational types produced nearly all of the great statesmen and most important figures in America’s early history. However, the free choice to pursue a classical education or not, just like most freedoms, would subsequently come under attack.
The modern invention of compulsory schooling, such as we are all accustomed today, arrived when the Prussian system of education was adopted in the US. This system demanded that children be schooled by the State rather than privately. The homeschooling families and one-room schoolhouses that had served the needs of American children since its founding were gradually and forcibly uncoupled of their duties. The large majority of Americans were compelled to attend the State-run institutions erected in nearly every neighborhood across the nation. There could no longer be any truly “liberal” pursuits once schooling was forced upon students from the outside. Brick and mortar schools were fashioned in the mold of the Industrial Revolution and worked like factories churning out controlled commodities in the place of free-thinking individuals. And this was the new normal for well over a century.
But that is not the end of the story. If the current pandemic has taught us anything about education, it is that these institutional, brick and mortar schools—from local kindergartens to elite universities—are not equipped to adapt and thrive in such a crisis. No amount of funding or training will ever be able to change the fact that brick and mortar schools were made for schooling children outside the home and the family. Therefore, they will never make the necessary adjustments to prosper in home education, which is neither their ultimate goal nor their constitution. They expect to simply make do this coming fall in most cases with a day school/online-hybrid option and will thereafter either return to their natural modus operandi, when they are allowed to do so, or they will perish.
In any case, this presents an untenable situation for many families who depend upon two incomes. Since parents are having to figure out how to adjust to their children learning at home part or full time—possibly giving up work and income that could be attained were the children in school—more and more parents are asking themselves, is there an easier way to do this? And if the children are going to be distance learning anyway, is there a preferable curriculum to the one offered by our school? The situation is obliging parents to take a more active role in the education of their children, and they will likely find better ways of doing it—ways more conducive to the individual families’ needs and values. In the midst of this, what we are now experiencing, I believe, is a return to the pre-public school forms just mentioned. The Coronavirus pandemic has only revealed what has been just below the surface, and this is great news for parents, who are increasingly empowered in the educational choices for their children.
Given our course types at Kolbe, for example, we have much in common with the private village schools, homeschools and the outsourced studies with highly qualified instructors and we have been perfecting this method long before the pandemic. The private village schools, or one-room schoolhouses, are reflected in the new K-6 program, which offers students the chance to learn alongside peers with a qualified teacher guiding the virtual village’s children. Like the village schools of the past, basic skills are entrusted to a knowledgeable teacher who can instruct the children online while the parents attend to their daily duties. This option is ideal for families with one or both of the parents working from home, since there is much flexibility and minimal meeting time required. Not to mention, as with all the home education options, there is no commute to school. Although the children learn in the safety and comfort of their homes, they are taught by teachers who are specifically trained in both the subject matter and the methods of elementary education via distance learning.
Pure homeschooling, it might be said, has changed very little since the days when George Washington was educated as a child. On the other hand, there are as many ways to homeschool effectively as there are children in the world. The only limitations to this option are time and acumen. Today, it may be financially difficult for both or even one of the parents to devote themselves to the planning, instruction, grading, etc. required for a well-rounded home education. Therefore, not everyone is able to pursue this option, but at the same time, it offers flexibility that may allow for the main educator to work part time and earn income. While I am a firm believer that anyone can learn anything, there are certain subjects that just may be out of reach for some. And although I could learn enough about physics to teach my kids’ high school science courses one day, I am again limited in this area by time and acumen. The best education in homeschooling, as I see it, is to teach your children to be self-educators. The risk here, though, is that you don’t have a natural polymath for a child who can round out his or her studies. Yet, the lessons learned are often worth the narrowing tradeoff.
Lastly, through our Jr. high and high school online courses, you can now gain access to teachers who live across the country or perhaps even across the world. You are no longer hedged in geography and thereby forced to send your kids to the teachers who happen to work at the brick and mortar school in your neighborhood. In fact, no brick and mortar school the size of Kolbe Academy could ever maintain such a high caliber faculty, whose members also hold a common set of Catholic values. This would simply be impossible, if geography were an issue. The quality of our instructors, along with the shared values held by all, draws students and parents towards us and towards each other. The online academy was founded to meet this need and is geared towards this end. Online schooling, then, is similar to hiring private tutors who will engage with your child and provide them expert instruction all in the comforts of your home.
THE TIME IS NOW
In conclusion, I would encourage you to give the gift of home education to your children. Of course, there are obstacles and challenges in any worthy endeavor, but you are in a unique position to build upon the pioneering work of generations. The trails that lead to educational success have been blazed by others who traversed the wilderness and established colonies in new orchards. There has never been a better time to decide that the time is now.
Jordan Almanzar teaches both Latin and Greek and serves as the foreign languages’ advisor for Kolbe Academy. He has a Ph.D. in History and Literature of Ancient Christianity from Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen, Germany. He and his wife live in New Hampshire with their five children.