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Educational experiences

March 21st, 2004 · 1 Comment

Dean Esmay today wrote out some of his random thoughts about education, and in the process, made a great case for homeschooling (excerpts):

As to what would have made school better for me, even as a child: a lot more time to explore on my own would have helped enormously. In my last couple of years of High School, by incredible good fortune I wound up in a special school where about half my day was spent in activities where I basically had free reign to explore, with only occasional interference from teachers. I absolutely thrived in that environment as a teenager, and would likely have thrived on it at much earlier ages.

Indeed, let me be perfectly clear: I am not saying that I was an advanced student who needed more challenging material. At times this may have been true. But at least as often–I’d say most often–the real problem was that I simply learn better by exploring on my own. Give me the book, let me read it, let me read related materials outside the text, let me ask the occasional question, but otherwise, please leave me alone. I have always worked best this way.

I get told fairly often that I am a very smart person, but I suspect that I’m not all that smart. I believe I am merely a very effective daydreamer and woolgatherer. This is as much a weakness as a strength, really. But it certainly makes the traditional classroom an exercise in frustration for me, for, with the exception of subjects where you have to physically do something (mix chemicals, dissect things, build things), a classroom is almost invariably a waste of my time.

I’m a rebellious think-for-yourself person, I daydream a lot, I am impatient at having things explained that I don’t need explained, and I almost invariably prefer prefer self-directed study. I believe I’ve been this way since I was a child, and that school has always been miserable for me as a result.

I am currently running honors-level grades even though I hate every moment I spend in the classroom, and can’t wait to escape.

These desires for freedom, self-direction and individualized/personalized study are values Ted and I share. I can remember all too clearly how bored I felt in the classroom, and I also remember being told that I couldn’t go beyond workbook D in fourth grade. I ended up going to a private school, the result of our family’s frustration with the public school system. Ted and I used to argue about public versus private school when we were first dating. Now, so far, we have chosen homeschooling for our five-year-old daughter.

These decisions parents make and how colleges view homeschoolers are described in this article Schoolhouse Rocked in today’s Boston Globe (via Dowbrigade). This piece also makes a good case for homeschooling.

No longer just for the religious fundamentalists, home schooling has gone main stream, especially in Massachusetts. It’s estimated that as many as 20,000 children here have abandoned test-crazy public schools and high-priced private schools for the comfort of the living room couch. But most surprising of all is that Harvard, BU, Brown, and other colleges are welcoming home-schoolers like all other students.


Some homeschoolers are driven by a deep mistrust of public schools and a lack of confidence in those schools’ ability to meet the specific needs of individual children – particularly those at the gifted or special-needs ends of the educational spectrum. Some fear for children’s safety against the backdrop of school shootings and violence. Others retreat from schools too focused on the MCAS tests. Many, like Carey, who refer to themselves as “unschoolers,” are guided by the belief that children know best and should be empowered to follow their own educational bliss, be it nuclear physics, beekeeping, drama, or war reenactments. And many see school – with its assemblies, discipline problems, and busywork – as a waste of time, time that could be spent learning rather than waiting.

Dean – and commenters – point out that many have found success without a degree. The same point is made in an editorial in today’s Seattle Times A Matter of Degrees :

Through 2012, only three of the 10 fastest-growing occupations in this country will be those that require some form of higher education, while the rest of these will be in less-sophisticated, relatively low-paying fields, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Witnessing so many of those close to me achieve success without the aid of a college degree, while watching a number of my college-educated peers cling to the bottom rung of the corporate ladder, has made me really question a degree’s value.

The reality of ever-increasing tuition, with the ever-declining promise of a tangible return, is quite discouraging.


But the skills and intellect so valued in college graduates also exist in many individuals who have opted out of the higher-education route. This crowd consists of countless equally intelligent and motivated people.

Many have flourished in our society, despite their lack of a college degree, including such prominent examples as billionaires Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Steve Jobs. At least one in six of Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans never earned a college degree.

A more down-to-earth figure shows that one-quarter of individuals earning at least $100,000 annually do not have a degree, according to the Consumer Information Center.

So it’s intriguing to me that homeschoolers who opt out of the system for the first thirteen years of education choose apply to universities. I know that not all kids apply to college, homeschooled or not. The fact that Ivy League Colleges are accepting homeschoolers isn’t necessarily validation or absolute proof of success. I’d still believe in homeschooling even if Harvard rejected it. As the editorial above mentions, the future value of a college degree is questionable. I wonder what will have changed by the time our children are eighteen. But I do believe that what I learned and experienced in college went beyond the bachelor’s degree, the square of paper I received at the end of my time. And it does reassure me to know that teaching my girls at home isn’t closing a door for them in the future.

Tags: homeschool

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Katherine // Mar 22, 2004 at 7:03 am

    We are definitely planning for our kids to go to college. We homeschool them at the moment. We want them to go to college for the experience of it – it’s a great and fun time of life, making deep friendships as you live in close community, exploring yourself as a young adult, doing wild and crazy things, and, oh, yes, a degree can be very helpful too.