How we see ourselves and how others perceive us can be very different. That's one of the lessons from a recent survey by Ellison Research that looked at public attitudes toward various education options.
On a five-point scale regarding the overall quality of education, public school received a 3 and homeschooling a 3.14. According to Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, one of the surprises of the study "was the fact that homeschooling is becoming more of an accepted form of education in the U.S."
Count the Home School Legal Defense Association as one group that is not surprised. HSLDA has more than 80,000 member families and is the largest organization in the homeschool community. We have seen tremendous growth and development of homeschooling over the past 10 years. Two million children are being homeschooled in the United States; every kind of curriculum is available online; and numerous homeschool support groups and co-ops make homeschooling much easier than it was just 10 years ago. It should be gratifying for all homeschoolers to see that this sample of the general public acknowledged the educational value of a home-based education.
Though the debate over the quality of homeschool education has largely been settled, the Ellison survey showed a significant disparity on the question, "Which is most likely to prepare students for life after graduation?" On this question, 42 percent chose public school and just 6 percent chose homeschooling.
Mr. Sellers described this result as a "bit of a head-scratcher." How could people see public schools and homeschools as essentially equal regarding the overall quality of education but also think public schools best prepare students for life?
Perhaps the respondents were viewing homeschooling as isolating, discouraging interaction with the world. This is a myth. Homeschooling is not, as the name may suggest, confined to the home, but is a practical education based in the real world. Life in the adult world is full of diverse people and is largely unrelated to the peer-segregated environment of an institutional school. Being outside the institutional school environment speeds up the maturing process, thus preparing the homeschooler sooner and better for the adult world.
This is borne out by a 2004 study, "Homeschooling Grows Up," which was designed to find out how homeschool graduates are faring in society. Commissioned by HSLDA, this study surveyed more than 7,000 homeschool graduates, and the results showed they were more involved with their communities than the average public school student and also were found in all types of employment.
Homeschool students have many opportunities to learn in the "real world," the place where we spend most of our lives, and do not see themselves as socially unprepared. In fact, just the opposite is true. Homeschoolers have myriad options when it comes to extracurricular activities. They go on field trips, socialize among homeschool support groups and participate in sports leagues.
HSLDA is confident that with the passage of time, more people will come to understand the wisdom of preparation for life through homeschooling. An estimated 100,000 students graduate from homeschooling every year. As more people meet well-educated and socially prepared homeschoolers, the attitudes toward homeschooling will continue to improve and perception will be brought closer to reality.
Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association.