There are compelling reasons to believe that homeschooling is more likely to produce original and innovative thinkers than conventional classroom-based education.
Some of the greatest scientists and inventors were either homeschooled or self-taught. Michael Faraday received a rudimentary education in Sunday school, but taught himself science by reading the books he encountered as an apprentice bookbinder. Inventors Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell were homeschooled. Others such as Joseph Henry, first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and I.I. Rabi, winner of a Nobel Prize in physics, acquired their love of science by exploring libraries on their own.
The case for homeschooling is vigorously debated. Most parents homeschool their children for one of three reasons: they are dissatisfied with their local schools, they want to incorporate their religious beliefs, or they are convinced they can provide their children with a superior education. Roughly 1.3 million students (less than 3% of school-age children) are currently homeschooled in the U.S.
Opponents of homeschooling raise several objections. Some claim that most parents are not qualified to teach their children. However, studies show that homeschoolers perform well above average on standardized tests. Given that, many opponents focus on other concerns, the most common of which is that homeschooled children fail to acquire “socialization” skills.
Opponents tend to overlook important facts. Homeschool parents tend not to rely on classroom-style teaching; they prefer that their children learn through self study. Most children do not homeschool in isolation; there are homeschooling groups in many communities and homeschoolers often participate in classes and other educational activities outside the home.
The Education Establishment is quick to point out that its mission is not to stuff children’s heads full of “static facts” but to give them the skills they need to become “life-long learners.” Ironically, it’s homeschoolers who must learn to be self-motivated and to study independently, while children in classrooms are often fed the same material at the same pace.
If fostering creativity is a key goal of education, then we must reconsider some basic assumptions. We tend to believe that public schools are necessary to ensuring universal education—but is that true? The British philosopher John Stuart Mill argued in his essay On Liberty that government-run schools are neither necessary nor advisable. He predicted they would devolve into indoctrination centers, which by nature serve to stifle creativity.
Classroom-style learning may help some students and hinder others. In general, the pace of learning is adjusted to serve the majority of students. While well-intentioned, the slogan “Let no child be left behind” often means in practice “Let no child get too far ahead.”
Classrooms not only encourage group learning, they encourage group thinking. That is not always a bad thing; many employers are looking for people who work well with others. But group thinking tends to promote sameness and discourage contrarian ideas. The point is not that we should abolish classroom learning, but that we should remember its limitations and make selective use of it.
Homeschooling is not right for all parents and all children. People have different education goals and needs. But homeschooling is an important alternative, particularly for parents who want their children to learn how to study and think independently, and for children who would benefit more from opportunities to explore their own interests at their own pace.
There is certainly a time and place for sailing in formation. But to be creative, an individual must be free to chart his or her own course.