One of the most fascinating things about the American homeschooling movement is the incredible range of people it has brought together. Indeed, the early stereotypes of homeschooling families, which were not entirely off the mark, were that the parents were either fundamentalist Christians or radical leftist hippies. The homeschooling population has grown, though, and so has its breadth. While each of these groups still makes up a significant fraction of homeschoolers, many do not fit into either. Because of this great variation in politics, religion, and other ideas, the pros and cons of homeschooling vary from family to family.
Like Inflatable_Monk, I am a high school senior who has been homeschooled for several years. By pointing out some of our differences of opinion, I hope to illustrate the range of philosophies encompassed by the homeschooling movement.
Fundamental Reasons for Homeschooling
Inflatable_Monk quotes a statistic stating that over 75% of homeschooling families hold religious beliefs.* I suspect that this statistic should be significantly higher, as the vast majority of Americans hold some variety of religious belief. However, this is a moot point, as data more pertinant to the question of how religion affects Americans' decision to homeschool is available. According to a 1999 U.S. Department of Education survey of parents, 38% of homeschooled students are homeschooled "for religious reasons." This was the second most popular response. 49% of parents said that their reason for homeschooling their kids was a "better education at home," 26% cited a "poor learning environment at school," 17% cited "family reasons," 15% said they wanted their kids to "develop character/morality," and 12% "object to what school teaches." (Participants were allowed to select more than one answer.) These results suggest that Americans homeschool primarily for academic reasons and secondarily for religious and ethical reasons.
Many of the reasons people homeschool, both academic and religious, stem from wanting to choose ones own curricula. Families who homeschool for religious reasons often do so to avoid materials dealing with biological evolution, secularism, and religions other than their own. Many homeschooling families, both religious and secular, use materials provided by public school districts or by umbrella schools, but others cobble together their own programs of study. The unschooling movement, in particular, is based upon the idea of not forcing school textbooks and organized classes upon students. Unschooled students follow their own interests, which are often varied enough to provide a decently well-rounded education. (The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn is an excellent resource for teenage unschoolers and parents, and a good starting place for those interested in the general philosophy of the liberal wing of the homeschooling movement as well.)
"What About Socialization?"
When I tell someone I've just met that I'm a homeschooler, the most frequent questions I am asked is "What about socialization?" Most homeschoolers are so used to being asked this question that we come up with neat, prepackaged answers to respond with. Here's mine:
It hasn't really been a problem for me. I'm part of a local homeschooling organization, and have a number of friends through that. I also have friends who go to school—well, they're in college now, mostly—that I've met both through school, when I went to school, and through homeschooled friends. And I have friends through work, too.
At the point I usually pause, as the person I'm talking to often has another question of some sort or other. My point, though, is that I have friends of a variety of ages, many of whom I've met in the same ways adults meet friends. I personally am a fairly stereotypical introvert (not shy, exactly, but generally calm and reserved), but I know homeschoolers who range from slightly more introverted than myself to extremely gregarious and outgoing. As suggested in my self-quotation above, most homeschoolers take part in group activities, volunteer work, and part-time jobs which serve social purposes.
Homeschooling and College
Homeschooling and getting into a good college are not at all mutually exclusive. A number of books have been written on this subject, so a short summary will of course leave out much. Even so, here it is: There are basically two ways to homeschool through high school in the United States. One involves homeschooling independently and then getting a GED. The other involves working with an organization: either the local public school system (a few offer help to homeschoolers, but be careful when working with them if you don't want to be forced into their curriculum), a charter school, or a private school such as Clonlara School, which can award a standard private school diploma. Clonlara in particular is widely utilized by homeschoolers because their program does not require the completion of any particular curriculum, although they do have requirements of certain numbers of hours of work in each subject.
Once one is on a path to obtain a diploma, college applications work in much the same way that they do for public school students: one takes tests, such as the SAT or ACT, and puts together applications to schools. Some colleges have special requirements for homeschoolers, such as extra tests, essays, and interviews, but such requirements are typically modest. The University of Michigan, which requires an astounding six SAT II tests, is the exception of those I have looked at. Oberlin College, where I received early decision admission, generally simply turns its recommendations for public school students, such as visiting for an interview, into requirements for homeschooled students. In addition to required material, I sent in a portfolio of my essay writing, web design work, and pictures of me teaching physics to other homeschoolers. I suggest putting this sort of extra effort into a college one is truly interested in, as without grades such a thing forms a big portion of what the school knows about you.
I'd like to end this writeup with Inflatable_Monk's wonderful "school/company" entry from his home node: Home, The Wonderful World of Experience. To me, that's what homeschooling is all about.
*In fact his source, a Utah Home Education Association webpage, states that "over 75% attend religious services." This is a much higher percentage than the 40% of all Americans who attend such services regularly, but that may be in part because homeschoolers especially appreciate the social aspect of churches and other religious communities.
Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream (http://www.fraserinstitute.ca/admin/books/files/homeschool.pdf)
Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2000 Section 1: Population (http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/statab/sec01.pdf)