Sunday, May 9, 2010

Book Review: Love in a Time of Homeschooling by Laura Brodie

I am neither a teacher, nor do I have children, so a memoir about a mother homeschooling a child for a year might seem like a weird reading choice for me. However, one of my best friends homeschooled her daughter for a year when schools in her area proved inadequate and another is currently homeschooling her two kids because it fits her lifestyle and educational ideals better. I’ve heard their reasons and experiences and am quite intrigued by the whole subject.

When I was in school, homeschooled kids were considered freaks, and even though my mother was two credits away from a teaching degree and was quite religious, I don’t think homeschooling ever crossed her mind as a viable option. As Brodie says in her book, in the past, most homeschoolers were either ultra-religious and didn’t want their children exposed to secular teachings and temptations or they were anti-establishment hippie types living off the grid. However, these days, more and more people are realizing that traditional education might not serve the learning needs of their children – for whatever reason – and are deciding to homeschool indefinitely or for a short time.

In Brodie’s case, the reason was that her oldest daughter, Julia, just didn’t thrive in an overly structured school environment. Brodie uses the first few chapters of her book to introduce us to Julia and her particular learning challenges. She’s a bright child, but often lost in her own world, and very adverse to change. By the fourth grade, Julia was of the mind that school exists only to torture children and take all the joy out of their lives. Brodie’s evenings were full of tears and frustration as she attempted to force Julia to do her piles of homework, and she realized something needed to change. Brodie thought a year “sabbatical” from traditional schooling in which Julia could learn at her own pace might renew her soul.

To this end, Brodie did a bunch of research into homeschooling by reading a lot of popular books on the subject – and she started noticing that what was missing in the literature on the subject, by and large, were tales of the daily struggles that arise when a parent and child are alone all the time together.

“Among the millions of homeschoolers in America, there must be plenty who have stormy encounters with their children, and who sometimes doubt the efficacy of their teaching. Those people, however, don’t seem to write books. In the homeschooling volumes I encountered, expressions of serious frustration seemed taboo.” p 67.

Brodie definitely fills this void with her very open and honest account of her missteps and frustrations during her homeschooling experiment. And these chapters – both the ones during Brodie’s excited and hopeful pre-homeschooling research and planning and the ones that delve into the specific examples of what worked with Julia and what didn’t - are insightful and surprisingly fascinating.

I was especially struck by the fact that in many US states, the only requirement for homeschooling your children is a high school diploma. The whole exercise is remarkably easy to set-up, which is something that amazes me when I think of Germany’s severe anti-homeschooling stance.

Germany is a society that is considerably more liberal in many ways than the US (naked public sunbathing anyone?) and yet they outlaw homeschooling, levying fines and even prison time on parents who want control over their children’s education. In fact, in legal terms, homeschooling is considered a form of child abuse in Germany. I’m interested in finding out more about why this is.

After reading Brodie’s account, I e-mailed my friend who is currently homeschooling and asked her why she’s doing it. She offered many of the same reasons as Brodie:

- Child can learn at his own pace to avoid boredom at going too slow or frustration at going too fast
- Child can have more "hands-on" learning about various parts of life - going to the zoo, the store, botanica, planting and taking care of a garden daily, etc.
- Parent is able to pick the best curriculum for the child so that child is not exposed to only those subjects that the state mandates.
- Parent is able to teach to child's learning style - tactile, visual, etc. to optimize their learning and pick a curriculum that fits that style (this is something that Brodie only realized in retrospect)

And some that are unique to her own situation:
- Parent is better able to teach them a foreign language by speaking it to them at home (my friend is fluent in French)
- Family can go on vacation / take vacation when we want - when parents need it or the kids need it (Brodie couldn’t do this with two other children in regular school)
- More family time

So there you have it. It’s an interesting subject and Brodie gives a very balanced view of the pros and cons in a style that reads like an engrossing novel. Oh, and it's also the perfect choice for Mother's Day.

LOVE IN A TIME OF HOMESCHOOLING is available in hardcover now. Find out more about it at the author’s website.

What do you think of homeschooling? Would you ever consider it - either for yourself (if you are still in school) or for your kids?


Carla said...

See this is one of the reasons why I love how vastly different peoples tastes in books can be, because this book would never have popped onto my radar. I've always been intrigued by home schooling, maybe because it's not something that is even legal in the UK. We're the same as you guys, if you take time off school, your parents get sent to court and quite possibly prison. It's always fascinated me, because the school curicculum is so set in stone and I sometimes think it doesn't work too well for some children, especially the ones who need more one on one time, or a slower or faster pace of learning. The majority of learning in schools is with visual aids, but they never quite worked for me, so it would've been nice to actually have something different. Though on the downside, I think it's good for children to interact with other children in the classroom environment because it builds healthy and positive relationships with other children their age. And okay, i'm going to stop because i'm wading into water that I can't possibly swin in with my intelligence ha. Fabulous post, I think I may just read this book for the intrigue factor.

Linda said...

Homeschooling was not a viable option for us because we both had to work. I have some friends who homeschool, and they make sure to involve their children in many outside activities: 4H, church activities, etc. As long as they aren't over-sheltering kids - they need exposure to the real world, because soon enough, they'll be out there in it!

Lenore Appelhans said...

Sam - The socialization factor is something a lot of people bring up as a con, and it's why the author says she wouldn't homeschool her middle daughter who enjoyed school for the peer relationships. The daughter she homeschooled, Julia, could take her peers or leave them, so one year off certainly didn't do her any damage in that respect.

I personally thrived in my structured school environment, and would not have liked to have homeschooled..I think. But I asked my husband Daniel, who grew up in Germany, and he said it probably would've been perfect for him. He hated school!

Linda - That's the case with many parents. But all your kids did so well in the public system!

eidolons said...

I homeschool my kids. They love it. And socialization? I find the whole thing funny. At school we were always told to sit down and be quiet - "you're here to learn, not to socialize!" In our lives, the whole world is our classroom.

Joanne ♦ The Book Zombie said...

Here in Canada (well at least in my province) all you need to do is fill out a basic form, outline your intended curriculum, and you're all set to home school.
I chose to home school my oldest when he started junior high because the system in our area is a disaster socially. There are violent kids who teachers spend all their time trying to control while the other kids get neglected, learn nothing, and are subjected to behavior that is unacceptable (in my opinion).
It's understandable that the board of education is trying to provide services to everyone, but it should never put other kids in danger - if kids don't want to go to school, sell/do drugs at school, carry weapons, fight/bully then maybe they shouldn't be there.
Anywhosie, this books sounds terrific! I'd like to read more books about families who home school that are not so religion-focused.

Meghan said...

Homeschooled kids definitely had that freakish reputation when I was in school yet I seem to be coming across a ton of parents in the blogging world who homeschool. I personally wouldn't - I doubt I'd be better at educating my child than a whole group of people who have been trained to do it. And I know I needed the prodding as a very shy kid to socialize at school - no one says my future kids will turn out like me, but I would rather not risk it. I can see why some parents might do it, but I doubt I ever would.

This book does sound interesting though.

Anonymous said...

A) Excellent post. I never would've heard of this book, let alone thought about reading it, but now I think I'll add it to my TBR list.

I understand what parents mean when they say socialization is important, but on the other hand, school definitely is not for all kids. I got spit on and picked on hardcore and went through a suicidal phase because for me, school was hell. Everyone was awful, and the few kids that weren't didn't do anything to stop the others. For a kid, that's her whole world, so yeah. Would've vastly preferred to have been able to stay home and learn there.

B) I love your reviews, but I wonder if you follow Ari at Reading in Color?

Either way, would you possibly consider adding more YA novels by and about people of color? You've got a large enough following to really spread the word about books people might otherwise miss. The hype almost always goes to a certain group of (white) books, and the cycle continues.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Meghan - Before I read this book, I was pretty skeptical about homeschooling, even after hearing good things about it from my friends. But I think Brodie makes a great case for it, at least the short term variation.

Anon - Of course I know Ari. Love her blog! I have been trying to feature more POC lately. I reviewed JUMPED by Rita Williams Garcia last month. I have a couple more coming up soon as well!

Mrs. DeRaps said...

Great, thorough review. I'll have to put this on my TBR list. I am a teacher, so I have a bit of a bias related to this subject. I guess that one of the problems I have with homeschooling is that the experience for children can be as wonderful or horrible as the parents who control it. My (younger) brother and sister were home schooled until they were in middle school. They hated it! And, both had problems adjusting to school when they entered it and both barely graduated.

I don't know what the solution would be to make sure that parents of home schooled children are actually prepared to educate their children. It's an interesting topic and I thank you for bringing it up!

Lenore Appelhans said...

Mrs. De - That's a great point and it seems that many states really don't have that much regulation as to who constitutes a "good" homeschool teacher. And I'm sure some kids really aren't cut out for homeschooling. But on the other hand, many thrive in a homeschool environment. It seems to really depend on the kid.

Staci said...

This book really intrigues me...working in the school system I see many homeschooled children. Many who are on top of the game and many who are lacking essential and important skills. This would be a great book to read!

Miss K said...

I'm very interested in homeschooling and would like to do it one day. I don't consider socialization an issue; there are so many things that kids can get involved in. I would be more concerned about my math-teaching ability!I'll check this out of the library this summer.

Christy (A Good Stopping Point) said...

I am not a teacher or parent either. However, hearing about peers' positive experiences with home schooling, and hearing about all the problems with public schools makes me want to know more about what it would take to home school. I did public school myself, but I think I would have enjoyed home schooling.

bermudaonion said...

I never considered home schooling because we had an only child and I felt he needed the social interaction of school. Having said that, I think it's a personal decision and there is no right answer for everyone. I won this book and should get it soon!

Zibilee said...

When my daughter began struggling in school a few years ago, we did seriously consider homeschooling. We decided against it because I felt as though I wouldn't be able to give her a really well rounded education due to the fact that I am a little undereducated when it comes to the maths and sciences. We also felt that she really needed the social interaction with the other kids a lot. Being a very shy and introverted girl, we were afraid that homeschooling might have some really detrimental effects on her ability to form relationships with other people. In the end, she did pull out of her slump and is doing wonderfully in school now, and has quite a few friends. I definitely think that homeschooling is perfect for some families, I just think that you have to be sure before you make that step.

Janssen said...

I am really excited to read this, since I was homeschooled for about 8 years. Great review.

Mari said...

As a teacher, you can probably imagine that I am pro-school. There are a lot of good schools/teachers amongst the ones that are struggling and taking kids out of them isn't going to help them get any better.

Parents need to get more involded with their schools, volunteer and support the teachers that work very hard to educate a classroom of many students. With Volunteers in the room, the teacher can work in small groups better, with community and parent help- more field trips, gardens and hands on learning can be paid for and planned. Parents also need to get involved with the schools and school boards- share your thoughts on curriculum, etc.

As for the social aspect, what scares me most is the bullying and the peer pressure kids experience. I think this scares a lot of parents actually. But removing kids from this in school is not going to prevent them from experiencing it in college or even in the workplace. Believe me, it even happens amongst teachers. If they bullied in school they will bully as adults.

I am not a mom yet, but soon will be. I will let you know in about 5 years if I change my mind on the subject once my own child is in school, because I do understand why parents would want to keep their kids home

Rebecca said...

Great post! I will definitely look out for this book.

And for another view on homeschooling, definitely check out The Pioneer Woman at

I'm not at all affiliated with PW, but I'm a fan and I've learned so much about homeschooling from The Pioneer Woman herself and her guest bloggers.

I liked public school growing up, and I hope parents continue to support their public school systems, but I also completely support the decision to homeschool. There are so many reasons why it's a better option for some parents, children, and families, and I'm glad to live in a country where it is an option.

Kristen M. said...

I thought about homeschooling for Z because he's a unique little kid but, honestly, I'm not a parent that is cut out for homeschooling! I would do fine with the academics but I'm terrible at keeping to any sort of schedule, I am not great at socializing and I like time to myself! I'm glad I didn't because he loves school and learns so much from the other kids.

Nikki in Niagara said...

I've homeschooled for 18 years.

This year for the very first time my youngest (8/9) who is autistic is going to Catholic school for the mornings and we're homeschooling in the afternoons.

Kathleen said...

I had a work colleague whose wife homeschooled their two children so I heard a lot of stories of their trials and tribulations. His wife found out that it was much harder to educate her children than she thought. Both children ended up missing the social aspects of schools and demanded to be put back into regular school when they became teenagers. I know homeschooling is never something I would try. It is stressful enough just dealing with helping my son with his homework!

Anonymous said...

The home schooling laws in Germany were put in effect by Hitler (maybe someone sooner) as a means of control. There is a successful movement going on right now to change those laws.

Meg @ write meg! said...

Really enjoyed your review!

Hate to say it, but you're spot on: where I'm from, the kids were homeschooled were really... awkward. Weird. Socially uncomfortable. Many of the kids I knew who joined us at the local high school had never gone to a "regular" school and they were just... unusual.

But that didn't make them bad, of course, or less than worthwhile. It just took some coaxing to get them to open up and not feel nervous or intimidated to speak up.

I wouldn't say that I'd never consider homeschooling my kids in the future, though it definitely wouldn't be my first choice. The social aspects of school -- and the rituals, experiences -- are really important to a kid's development, I think. I know there are other ways to provide them with a social outlet, but... I just don't see how a homeschooling environment could ever totally replicate that. (Though homeschooling has its own advantages, of course!)

Lenore Appelhans said...

Just thought you all might find it interesting - I asked a German friend why Germans consider homeschooling child abuse, and she said she thinks that children need to be protected from their parents sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Great post Lenore. I would be curious to see why some countries outlaw it since kids aren't all the same. It seems closed-minded to think that there is only 1 good way to educate children. There are many other ways to "socialize" children - playdates, rec sports, art classes, etc. I think homeschooling helps them relate to not only their peer group, but also to those of various ages. RCS

Lisa said...

I tend to be very skeptical of homeschooling, mainly because I think that people often choose to do it for the wrong reasons. Cutting off your child's access to new people and new ideas is never going to be good for them, in the long run. (Of course, that is not the only reason people decide to homeschool, but it's one of the reasons I see most often.)

I also think that not only is socialization important, but there are so many milestones that kids miss out on. Football games, prom, school pictures, cafeteria lunches, class reunions - all the memories, good and bad, that we share. Plus learning to get along with other people is so important!

An acquaintance of mine is currently homeschooling one of his children, because he was having some real disciplinary problems. I can see it being a good short-term solution, but not the best option in the long run.

An interesting topic and a great review!