Which of the following do you recommend: homeschooling (online) or the US public school system, and why?

My daughters on the verge of 2 years old and I have another one on the way. I’m wary about sending them to public school, because I personally didn’t learn a lot (a bit too easy) and it didn’t really help socially. While I know there are pros and cons to both, what are your point of views?

Written Apr 18

free to learn

Wow … you are way ahead of the game!

 

First of all … relax. You have plenty of time to figure things out and, who knows, the playing field may change significantly by school time.

Until that day comes, you have quite a bit of homework to do.

Your first assignment: What are your goals for your children? What do you want them to achieve as a result of their education?

Second assignment: What are the strengths and weaknesses of each child? How do they interact with others? Are they social, or not? Gifted? Any learning difficulties, etc?

Third assignment (and this question is just a start): What are the strengths and weaknesses of different educational choices, and how well do they fit each of your children?

The good thing is that you have several years to complete your assignments, before you make any decisions.


Now it’s time for me to answer your question.

But first, a digression.

There’s a body of research that suggests we should not begin to formally educate our children until they are older. Some studies indicate that it can actually provide negative performance outcomes. The consensus seems to be about age seven. Several European countries, including Sweden and Poland, do not require schooling until age seven.

Other researchers believe that it is far more important (and natural) to encourage our children to play during their formative years. Dr. Peter Gray has a lot to say about this, but we’ll talk some more about him later.

So, don’t be in a big rush to start your kids on the education hamster wheel. Anyway, back to our story.

Deciding on a specific curriculum greatly depends on the answers to the above assignments. In fact, it is entirely possible that each of your children will require a completely different approach.

Your question asks us to compare online versus traditional schooling. There are two major considerations for this comparison. The first is the adequacy of the curriculum, and that mostly depends on the classes that are chosen (both online and traditional). I have read no research that indicates online teaching is better than traditional. Ultimately, your children need to do the work to understand the concepts, and to demonstrate mastery. Whichever method is chosen will require someone to ensure they are “getting” the material. My view, from a curricular perspective, is that this is a toss-up. Either option could provide a really good, or really bad, education.

The second major consideration is the learning style and, in my view, this incorporates the degree of social activities and interaction required. Online learning tends to be more isolated. A classroom environment is more likely to foster group interaction. However, once again, each situation is different, so you have to be careful. My view on this one is mixed. Some kids thrive in a social environment, while others prefer to work in isolation. (It happens that our daughter prefers relative isolation – a large classroom is a bad environment for her. We also have friends whose homeschooled children have chosen to return to traditional school).

Therefore, your answer is … it depends.


But that’s just the beginning. You forgot to ask some other important questions.

For example … what other learning opportunities exist, other than online or traditional education?

And it turns out, there are lots of choices available. Here’s an excerpt from one of my other answers:

  • Unschooling. The interests of the child guide the focus of the learning.

  • Democratic schools (such as the Sudbury school system). The interests of the students guide the curriculum, but this occurs in a community environment.

  • Homeschooling, with the parents (or family members) as the teacher.

  • Homeschooling, with instruction guided by tutors.

  • Online education.

    • This also has its own spectrum, which ranges from selection of individual courses, to a complete curriculum. Online classes are available from grade school to graduate level.

  • Co-op classes – where homeschool families share responsibility for teaching.

  • Umbrella schools. These can also occupy a spectrum, but are generally a hybrid which may offer classes (or not). However, the idea of an umbrella school is to provide for administrative support (such as grades, or transcripts).

  • Dual enrollment. Homeschool students generally have the option of attending community college classes (if they meet minimum qualifications).

  • Charter schools. While some of these schools are essentially just regular schools run by businesses using taxpayer funds, others can be formed by parent groups. The specific rules for formation and administration of charter schools are determined by each state.

  • Private (and religious) schools. Privately funded schools.

  • Magnet schools. These are generally operated by the local school district, but with an emphasis on certain academic areas.

  • Traditional schools.

The beauty of homeschooling is that you don’t have to be restricted to one choice … there’s a whole smorgasbord available.


There is one other very important consideration. Some children have special needs, or have specific learning disabilities. While it may be possible, or even desirable, to homeschool, it is also quite possible that a traditional school has better resources available. Once again, carefully consider the alternatives. Traditional school may be the better choice.


Oops! I said I would mention more about Dr. Peter Gray, so here it is.

Peter Gray is a leading advocate and researcher who writes about unschooling. I find myself drawn to the philosophy of unschooling. I always seek to engage my daughter in choices about what, and how, she should learn. I recommend studying the principles, as it may help you clarify the educational goals you seek for your children.

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