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I’m Home—for School

Dispelling the Stereotypes



Veteran homeschoolers Claire Fraise and her brother, Tristan, both take responsibility for their studies.

Photos by Scot Mullin

Socially awkward, religious zealot, from a family of 22 kids. If these are some of the notions that come to mind when you hear the word homeschooler, you are in for a surprise.

As a homeschooler myself, I am regularly confronted with these stereotypes. The moment I drop the h-bomb, I am inundated with questions like: Do you have any friends? Do you have a mental condition that prevents you from going to a regular school? Do you work in your pajamas? I find myself having to explain that a) I am not afflicted with any condition, b) I am perfectly capable of functioning socially, thank you very much, and c) I do work in my pajamas and it is amazing. 

My friends are gifted singers, nationally ranked athletes, and Ivy League students. Some can make microwave guns (as in, guns that shoot itty-bitty microwaves, not the boxes we zap our food in). My friends take on big projects, inspire change, and fight to better the world. Sure, some do fit the stereotypes. But the majority of homeschoolers I know are kind, genuine, and family-oriented people who have simply realized that they’re not comfortable in the one-size-fits-all model of traditional schools, and have decided to follow their own path. 

Families homeschool for many reasons. Some seek traditionally academic co-ops that mimic a high-achieving private school’s milieu; some feel that local university and online classes provide the rigor that their children crave. Others choose to homeschool because of social anxiety, professional schedules, learning disabilities, or just the desire to design their own curricula. 

I started homeschooling in fourth grade because I hated the repetitive, mind-numbing busywork that is the base of the common-core curriculum. My mother, a Montessori educator, fostered my and my brother’s love of learning by encouraging us to take on big projects in our areas of passion. Over the past four years, I started a non-profit company, published my first novel, and read everything I could get my hands on (from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to Greg Ip’s The Little Book of Economics).

Toby Kahn, a sixth-grade Wilton resident, claims that homeschooling revitalized his love of learning. “In school, I was unhappy and bored,” he says. “I need to be challenged. I like going deep into subjects and regular school didn’t let me do that.” 

His mom, Cindy, pulled him out three years ago when she saw his love for learning begin to wane. Despite her initial nervousness, she was determined to create a challenging and nurturing environment in her home that would foster her child’s natural curiosity. “My decision to homeschool stemmed from my passion for progressive education,” Cindy explains. 

“Since I started homeschooling,” Toby says, “I’ve been more in touch with myself. I like the extra freedom it gives me to devote to my interests, and that it lets me build deep bonds with others.” When asked to reveal his least favorite aspect of homeschooling, he smiles. “You get lots of family time,” he says, “which, I guess, is both a pro and a con.”

Haven Hunt, 14, has been homeschooling for seven years. Her family is traditionally academic. Her parents are strong believers in the power of a well-rounded education. “I study the same subjects I would take in school, only with less stress and more sleep,” she says.

Haven is involved in a variety of activities such as sports, debate, and Model United Nations. Like college-bound students across the country, she also takes standardized tests. “Homeschooling makes it easy to prepare for my APs and SATs because I can choose how and when to study,” she says.

It is difficult for her to pinpoint specific freedoms that homeschooling has given her because it has affected everything she does. This spring, she realized a longtime dream by rescuing and training a wild mustang, something that would have been difficult to do if she were in a traditional school. “The best things about homeschooling are small but mean a lot for my mental health,” she says. “I get to sleep in, go outside, and do what I love. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

I think my mother expressed it best when she compared the educational process to water running down a mountain. When allowed to flow naturally, it explores the nooks of the terrain before it finds its true path. In the same way, propelled by independent thoughts, homeschoolers grow into authentic, self-actualized, and self-motivated people who are well equipped to navigate not only college, but the world.

1,770,000 students are home­shcooled in the U.S.—that’s 3.4% of the school-age population. 


HOME-SCHOOL MYTHS

Unsocialized
Nope. One of the advantages of homeschooling is that kids can handpick their friends. Also, because students aren’t divided by age or grade, homeschoolers are equally comfortable interacting with peers, younger kids, and adults.

Not “normal”
Most students choose to be homeschooled because of the freedom it allows them to follow personal passions and to directly control their education.

Super-religious
It depends on the family. Some are, many aren’t.

Hard to get into a good college
Untrue. Some colleges actively recruit homeschoolers. In the words of a Dartmouth College admissions officer, “The applications from homeschoolers I’ve come across are outstanding. Homeschoolers have a distinct advantage because of the individualized instruction they’ve received.”

Sheltered
Wrong again. Students spend less time stuck in classrooms and have more opportunities to engage with peers, adults, and industry professionals.

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