With the breakout of the coronavirus pandemic, schools have wisely been shut down for the foreseeable future. The timeline of a return to school is unclear, and with new social distancing protocols, it is questionable if schools will even look the same once they are reopened.
In these unprecedented times, some parents have turned to homeschooling to keep their kids intellectually stimulated and to avoid a stall in their educational progress. While homeschooling has undeniably been stigmatized by modern society, perhaps this need to explore alternative modes of education will help break down common misconceptions and lead to greater open-mindedness about the ways we teach our kids.
Contrary to popular belief, our current education model of school-based classrooms divided by age is relatively new. An understanding of the history of the current education system is critical for evaluating its modern-day applicability
The educational documentary, “Most Likely to Succeed”, outlines how the modern North American school system was borne out of the industrial revolution. In 1843, Massachusetts politician and educator Horace Mann was influenced by a new model of education that he observed while on a trip to Prussia. In the wake of various Prussian wars, Prussian society had experienced numerous cultural revolutions, including a transformation of its education system. Their educational revolution led to a system that favored a stricter organizational structure, designed to foster obedience to authority figures and prepare youth for factory jobs.
Influenced by what he saw, Mann returned to the United States and sought to implement elements of this more systematized philosophy into American education. This is largely considered to have been a driving factor of the development of the school-based educational model to which we are accustomed today.
All this is to say, the modern education system as we know it is both relatively new in the context of human civilization, yet at the same time is ironically outdated, heavily influenced by the times of the Industrial Revolution when it was developed.
As coronavirus causes us to refrain from our regular routines and structures, it is incumbent upon us to capitalize on this time to seek creative options and be openminded to older and newer perspectives of how society can run. The education system is the perfect institution for such reflection and analysis.
Entrepreneur marketer Josh Steimle has spoken publicly about his experience homeschooling his kids and has articulately debunked some of the circulating myths. As he explains it, home school can take shape in a wide range of ways. On one extreme, there is the concept of “unschooling”, in which parents provide their kids with educational resources but then leave them to learn and explore without any set schedule or curriculum. On the other end of the spectrum, there is “schooling at home”, a more formalized version of schooling which is in many ways similar to a typical classroom but just conducted in the home setting as opposed to a school.
And in between lies a variety of diverse homeschooling methods. In some models, parents schedule a few hours of formal teaching per day, with a syllabus co-designed by parents and kids. Some homeschooling families join forces and conduct joint classes to lessen the burden on parents and to provide further socialization opportunities for their kids. Self-directed learning is another format, in which there are no formal classes, but learning is worked into kids’ particular hobbies and interests. Such self-directed learning can lead to heightened independence, confidence and perhaps a greater entrepreneurial spirit than is fostered by our current education system.
Perhaps the greatest stigma is that kids who are homeschooled are socially isolated and thus become socially awkward. But homeschooled kids have plenty of opportunity for socialization. They often interact and collaborate with other homeschooled kids and become involved in a host of extracurricular activities.
Some fear that universities will frown upon their kids if they are homeschooled. Yet homeschooled kids have actually been shown to score higher on standardized tests, and some universities, including most Ivey League schools, have been known to actively recruit for homeschooled kids, acknowledging some of the advantages that such an education can offer.
This is not all to preach that homeschooling will become the educational model of the future. Homeschooling may be well-suited to some and ill-advised for others. Many factors are at play, including parental resources and individual student learning styles and personalities. But at the very least, perhaps these trying times can allow for a re-evaluation of our education system, amongst other social structures, and usher in an openness to fresh perspectives.