The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Is Home Schooling the Answer?

on January 18, 2016

My son, Alan, has been a big help to me ever since I started this blog.  After getting me through the technical stuff he moved on to alerting me about worthwhile articles on education.  Early this morning, he sent me one about home schooling from the New York Times, on line, which I wouldn’t have seen until tomorrow when it appears in print.

The Times article focuses on Rachel Papo, a professional photographer who is married and has young children of her own.  She and her family moved from New York City to a rural New York town in 2010.  There she had a first hand experience with home-schooled children, their parents, the environment, and the children’s daily activities.  They opened her mind and made her a believer. Below, in today’s post, I will quote sections of the article that focus on what Papo saw and her reactions, leaving out other information about Papo, and adding some of my own experiences as a school principal with home schooled children and their parents.

A few years ago in a cafe they frequented, Rachel Papo and her husband met a waitress and her 5-year-old daughter, True. “The child was vibrant, extremely special,” Papo remembers.  She was quite impressed and asked the mother about her child.

“She told me she’s homeschooled,” Papo said, meaning that True didn’t attend a traditional school, but instead, learned at home. “I literally didn’t know it existed. When I heard about it, I thought it was really strange, a really odd thing.  How can these kids be normal if they’re not part of the mainstream?” I wondered

On their first visit to their home, True changed Papo’s mind.

“I went to her home and there was a whole world there for me to photograph,” said Papo.  “She was incredible. She showed me everything in her house, everything around her house. I was running around after her. She had so much energy and life to her.”

Papo came to learn that many people choose homeschooling for religious reasons. But among those she met, people’s reasons were entirely their own.

“Each one was completely different than the other, and each had different reasons and approaches,” she said. “A lot were extremely educated. Some are certified teachers; some are world travelers. The children were really pretty remarkable.”

Some of the children kept a schedule, but some were more flexible. Some worked on the family farm, some studied in groups with other home schoolers. Many spent their days out in nature, learning about trees, plants and animals, or designed a curriculum around their own interests.

Her mind opened as she met more home-schooled children and learned how full and deliberate their days could be. While the days sometimes moved slower, every moment was a chance to learn — whether they were feeding ducks, baking cookies or reading books.


Clearly Papo’s experience as she describes it does not cover the wide differences in home-schooling in America.  It shows one environment and its culture in which a particular group of parents and children are thriving.  It is not, in my opinion, typical.

Over several years as an elementary school principal I met only a few children who had been home schooled and their parents. Although I was never invited to observe the home-schooling those children experienced, I did see some of the results and got information from the children and their parents about how it was conducted.

My school in Wisconsin was in an upper middle class section of Madison, the state capital. During my 13 years there only one child left to be home-schooled, and that was because her mother felt she was too young to go on to middle school.  Instead, the mother planned a year of cultural experiences at home, around the city, and in other states. The next year the girl started middle school, and from what I heard, was doing quite well.

Later, I became the principal of a school in a rural area of Oregon where some people traveled to work in a city, others farmed or worked for local businesses, some were retired, and a few were unemployed.  Along with mostly substantial well-kept houses there was a trailer park and patches of old, decaying buildings.  During my tenure only two children left to be home schooled–both for religious reasons– but I was told that there were some others in the community who had left earlier or never attended our school and were being home-schooled.  Eventually, two of those children who had been home-schooled did enroll in our school and remained with us until they graduated.

From the parents of the returning children I heard the same story with only small variations: they couldn’t manage the job of teaching and their children weren’t learning or behaving well at home.  When those kids came to us they were behind both academically and socially.  Our teachers had to work with them as if they were handicapped. But in fact their only true handicaps were the lack of school and social experience.

Another boy’s situation stands out in my memory.  For two years in a row he started school with us, stayed a few weeks, and then his mother pulled him out to be home-schooled.  At first I didn’t understand what was going on, but then one of the teachers explained it to me.  All home-schooled kids in Oregon had to take the same yearly tests as the ones studying at school.  And, if they did not do well on the test, they were required to re-enroll in school.  But since there was no rule that they had to stay, this boy’s mother had kept him in school for only a short time  each year and then pulled him out again.  He was never with us long enough for us to get to know him, his educational needs, or his learning progress.

What I hope readers have seen in this comparison between Rachel Papo’s view of home schooling and mine is that it all depends on the parents’ knowledge, skills, and behavior and the local culture.  Home-schooling works when the people and the place are the right fit. It fails miserably when one or both are not.



















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