Short Term Homeschooling: Why It Worked for One Mom

Jeanne Sager
10


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Homeschooling may call to mind entire families gathered round the dining room table day after day, year after year, but a new trend cropping up among the nearly 2 million American homeschooled kids is turning that vision upside down.

Parents are taking just a year -- or sometimes just a few months -- and pulling their kids out of the public school. Then they're sending them back.

Laura Brodie, an English professor at Virginia's Washington and Lee University, has shared the story of her one year as a homeschooling parent, in a new book Love in a Time of Homeschooling. It's a memoir of the year she pulled then 10-year-old daughter Julia out of public school and away from the rigorous standardized testing regimen of the Virginia education system.

Neither an endorsement nor a disapprobation of public education, it's a story of a parent allowing their child a chance to fall in love with learning for learning's sake. Brodie spoke with The Stir about homeschooling myths and standardized testing as she readied for the book to hit shelves.

You say the perception is that homeschoolers fall into one of two camps -- the uber religious trying to keep their kids from the naughty things that happen in schools or hippies bucking the system. What surprised you?


Laura Brodie and daughter Julia.
Photo from Harper Collins
I was surprised at all the people who were doing it just for a little while. I thought it might be a strange thing to just homeschool your child for one year, but then I met people in my own small town who were doing it the same year as I was.

I shouldn't underestimate the role of conservative Christianity in the homeschooling movement, because the conservatives Christians are definitely the most politically energized bloc. They're probably still the majority, but because the far left and the far right got this going and made it such a plausible option, now all these just public school parents like me can manipulate it to suit our needs.

I think more parents need to realize this is a legal option. If you're not happy, you have a sort of short-term issue you want to fix or you just want to spend a year with your child, you are legally allowed to do this.

You teach at college, you have a PhD, you're well-educated, but did it give you pause that you didn't have early childhood development experience?

No, I didn't think about that very much. I think that 10 years of raising a child gives you a lot of child development experience with that child. If my daughter had had learning disabilities or if she was dyslexic or had grave problems with math, I probably would not have taken her out. I was confident I could homeschool Julia because she was already reading at a very comfortable level.

As long as you're not getting into advanced subjects, a lot of parents can contribute to their children's education.

Julia really got a chance to write during your homeschooling year. How did it work to re-engage her?

When people write, they develop their own ideas and work through their own thoughts. We don't have enough of that in our public schools. It enables someone to come to terms with their own intelligence and what they believe. One of the big reasons I homeschooled was because I wanted to do a year of writing across the curriculum.

You're troubled by Virginia's Standards of Learning standardized testing regime, how does the whole No Child Left Behind issue play into your homeschooling decision?

I think NCLB got the ball rolling in thinking that education can be measured with tests. The testing overdose started with NCLB, and Virginia has taken it farther by wanting to have the testing apply in history and science where NCLB is just English and math.

Obama has not questioned the test score mania which is a grave disappointment. I don't think there's going to be any improvement in the system until we realize kids are a part of the education. I'm not against all standardized tests, but it has come to dominate the public schools.

Writing is an art that is suffering from the testing. There isn't that time to have that one-on-one work with kids on their paragraphs and emphasis on getting them to develop ideas. Everyone is doing less writing and more memorization. Writing quality just suffers more from year to year.

Have you considered pulling your children out of public schools for even a short time?

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