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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Homeschool Graduates Are Amazingly Well-Rounded

Posted by jlwile on December 6, 2010

I got an E-MAIL from a parent asking if I could recommend any physics books to her. It seems that her son, who is currently majoring in physics and piano performance at a state university, asked for physics books for Christmas. In the E-MAIL she noted:

[My son] has said that your [books] have more than prepared him for his science courses at college, and he has done extremely well in the chemistry and physics classes. He has said many times how thankful he was to have used your programs.

While I am always happy to know how well my books have prepared students for studying science at the university level, what struck me about the E-MAIL was how I wasn’t at all surprised by the fact that her son was majoring in physics and piano performance. I would think most people would do a double-take at that duo of majors. However, it didn’t surprise me at all, since homeschool graduates are amazingly well-rounded.

I first noticed this many years ago, when I employed a homeschool graduate to help me with certain research projects. At that time, she was studying genetics at the college she was attending. Despite being a “science geek,” I found that I could have serious, in-depth discussion with her on topics like science, philosophy, Greek literature, opera, classical music, and politics. While I had gained knowledge of those areas over the course of a (then) 40-year lifespan, she was able to challenge me on all those topics (and more) despite being less than half my age.

As my experience with homeschool graduates continued, my appreciation for their diversity increased. I have met an amazing array of college students over the years, and the homeschool graduates stand out as being significantly more well-rounded. This is demonstrated not only in the broad spectrum of their knowledge, but also in what they choose to do once they finish their homeschooling.

Many homeschool graduates go on to college as soon as they are done with their homeschooling. Indeed, an in-depth study of homeschool graduates between the ages of 18 and 24 found that they were significantly more likely to be in college or already have a college degree than the general population of the same age. While at university, many homeschool graduates demonstrate how well-rounded they are by merging degrees that don’t seem to be all that related, such as the physics/piano performance student mentioned above. One homeschool graduate I know ended up getting an M.D. as well as a masters in philosophy. Another got B.A. degrees in both chemistry and art history. Another double-majored in biology and theology. I could go on and on.

Those homeschoolers who are content to have just one major in college often demonstrate how well-rounded they are in other ways. For example, one homeschool graduate I know took a year off in the middle of her college career because she really wanted to serve missionaries in some way. She found a missionary couple who wanted to serve in a region that required an intensive language training program. The intensity of the program would keep them from being able to homeschool their own children. In order to help them, this homeschool graduate took a year off of college, traveled to the country in which these missionaries were serving, and homeschooled their children for them. That way, the couple could complete their necessary training, and this young homeschool graduate could get practical experience in her chosen field: elementary education.

Other homeschool graduates demonstrate their well-roundedness before heading off to college. One of the most inspiring discussions I ever had was with a young lady who had just returned from Monrovia, Liberia. She had graduated homeschool at the age of 17, and she decided that the Lord was calling her to work at a Monrovian orphanage that specialized in arranging adoptions with parents in the Western world. She didn’t have friends who worked there. This wasn’t part of some group trip. In fact, she didn’t know anyone at the orphanage and had no one to arrange her travel. She had learned about it while doing a research paper on foreign adoptions, and she felt called to serve there.

Even though Westerners were warned against traveling to Monrovia at that time, she convinced her parents to let her do what the Lord was leading her to do. So at the ripe old age of 17, she traveled alone to Monrovia and started working at the orphanage. This young lady had truly amazing stories to tell, but the most amazing thing to me about her was the fact that she was willing to follow the call of the Lord, regardless of the danger.

Now these stories are all just anecdotes, and they certainly don’t offer any statistical evidence for the concept that homeschool graduates are more well-rounded than the graduates of public and private schools. My personal experience with graduates from all three educational models, however, tells me that these stories are part of a general trend. In general, I find that homeschoolers are significantly more well-rounded than their peers.

The obvious question, of course, is “Why?” The answer, I think, is that homeschooling encourages students to be very well-rounded. One of the main reasons is simply this: The love of learning is not socialized out of homeschooled students. In most public and private schools, the social pressure pushes students away from learning. The most popular kids are not the ones who study hard and achieve academically. Instead, the good students are usually “rewarded” by their peers by being put on one of the lowest rungs of the social ladder. In homeschooling, it’s quite the opposite. Learning is encouraged not only by your daily contacts (parents and siblings), but also by the other homeschoolers you tend to work with. As a result, homeschooled students retain a love for learning, and that allows them to explore everything that interests them.

Another reason is that homeschooling is incredibly flexible. Because most homeschoolers are not tied to a syllabus, if a homeschooled student is studying history and finds the Hundred Years’ War interesting, he or she can take the time to learn about it in-depth. As the student does this, he or she will learn about all sorts of interesting things from the physics of war machines to the medicine of the day to the politics that drove the war. So what started out as a history assignment might develop into a physics lesson, a biology lesson, or a political science lesson. This kind of student-directed learning tends to emphasize the relatedness of the academic disciplines, which ends up leading to the kinds of students who major in physics and piano performance.

The data have always shown that homeschoolers are academically superior to their peers. My experiences indicate to me that they are also more well-rounded than their peers. Put those two things together, and you have the makings of some amazing future leaders!

Comments

13 Responses to “Homeschool Graduates Are Amazingly Well-Rounded”
  1. josiah says:

    Surely this is only the logical extension of the whole homeschooling argument. If students are taken out of the artificial public school and forced to live, they will be better at all aspects of life. School extracurriculars and balacne schemes can’t possibly compete with the perfectly realistic balance of living. Therefore a thirteen-year-old will discover things while young and flexible that most people don’t discover until they are twenty-three.

    Even though the theory works out, I’m not sure to what extent it is correct. For one thing the kind of parents who are likely to homeschool their kids, while taken from all economic and educational sectors, will tend to be the parents who would encourage their kids to attend chess ballet and rugby clubs and everything in between; even had they not decided to homeschool. They are the sort to institute a measure of home teaching regardless, and whether or not it is official might not be that significant a factor.

    I would also query your definition of rounded; granting that not many people would have the nerve to actually take physics and piano to a degree level (unless they were acclimatised to the idea of such a unified curriculum throughout their school years) there are a great many who are proficient in diverse fields from state and private schools as well.

  2. jlwile says:

    You are quite correct that this is a logical extension of the whole homeschool argument. You are also correct that the parents are a confounding factor in trying to confirm the argument. Indeed, homeschooling parents would be involved in their children’s lives no matter what model of schooling they use. While I do think that studies have done a fairly good job in controlling that confounding variable when it comes to academic performance, I don’t really know of any studies that even assess well-roundedness, much less try to control the parental variable. I am just communicating my experiences.

    I also agree with you that there are lots of people, regardless of schooling, who are proficient in diverse fields. I went to public school, and I am a scientist, actor, piano player, singer, wannabe philosopher, and playwright. However, except for the science part, I would never consider pursuing any of those other interests at the college level, because I am not as proficient in those areas as would be necessary. Someone who is proficient enough in diverse areas to study them at the college level is (in my view) more well-rounded than someone like me who is really proficient in one area and “dabbles” in the others. In my experience, homeschoolers are more likely to fit that description than their peers.

  3. josiah says:

    You report being disillusioned with your students at university, and worried that if these are the future leaders of society society is it serious trouble. Once outside of University many graduates (i.e. professionals) are far from being masters of their craft. They went to Uni purely to get a job purely to make money. A serious hobbyist can easily surpass many professionals in their own field.

    While homeschoolers are not generally among those that leave university with any form of limited understanding of their topic, taking the act of studying at university as a measure of proficiency or even interest in a subject is not valid of itself.

  4. jlwile says:

    Josiah, I think you are missing something here. I certainly agree that many university students are not serious, choose their major for reasons other than proficiency and interest, and often graduate with little proficiency. However, in this case, we are talking about people who are taking more than one major. If one is in university just to “get a degree and get out,” one doesn’t take multiple majors. Furthermore, one major is quite a bit of work for most people. To successfully receive degrees in two quite different fields means at least two things:

    1. You are fairly proficient in at least one if not both of those fields. Otherwise, you would not have the time to successfully complete the necessary work.

    2. You are pretty interested in both fields, as you are willing to deal with the extra work involved.

    These considerations, in my mind, makes multiple majors in diverse fields a reasonable measure of both proficiency and interest.

  5. josiah says:

    Touché.

  6. NoOneKnows says:

    I’m a strong proponent of homeschooling. I feel formal education promotes institutionalization. It concentrates on results, rather than learning. It only tests the skills of students, but does little to develop them. It normalizes student’s thinking with majority and hinders them from reaching exceptional levels.

    OTOH, formal education has few benefits too – students can develop social skills, encourages competitive nature – that may not be fully present in homeschooling.

    PS: These are all my opinions with no statistics or scientific study to back them. But, they are based on my observations of a generation of Indian schooling system. I think US education system also started to follow a similar pattern here.

  7. jlwile says:

    NoOne, I agree that formal education offers benefits that homeschooling does not. However, socialization is definitely not one of them. Indeed, studies indicate that if you use the standard tools of social evaluation (such as the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale), you find that homeschooled students are better socialized than their peers. The socialization that occurs in most formal educational settings is not only unrealistic (when in your adult life will you be cloistered away with people who are all your own age?) but quite negative.

    The benefits of formal education that homeschooling doesn’t offer are centered around intellectual debate. Homeschoolers tend to be rather uniform in their beliefs, so even homeschooling groups offer little in terms of exposing students to a wide range of views. Formal education does a much better job of that. However, in my mind, those benefits are definitely not worth the various negative aspects of formal schooling, and responsible home educators work to try to make sure that their children are exposed to a wide range of views through their reading selections, etc.

  8. josiah says:

    “The benefits of formal education that homeschooling doesn’t offer are centered around intellectual debate.”

    I don’t think that I agree with that point. On the one hand it essentially ignores the demonstrated fact that homeschoolers are more broadly socialized. Removing artificial boundaries on who a student interacts with should lead to exposure to a more diverse idea base.

    At the same time public schools in general are not structured to allow debate. Students are taught to assume that the teacher is always correct. This leads, on the rare occasions that debate is encouraged, to boring shadow debate of quoting Wikipedia or some other source at one another. By contrast the 1 on 1 tuition of HS forces its students to learn to think for themselves, allowing more perceptive probing, questioning and investigation. All most valuable skills in a debate.

    I suspect that more significant advantages of public schooling probably have to do with resources. I know that my greatest weakness even in GCSE chemistry was simply the colours of flame tests etc. The reason was just that we couldn’t get gas taps, Bunsen Burners, and samples of sodium delivered to our house for lessons! Granted that’s partly the result of living as we did in Africa, but I certainly suspect that such shortages affect other HS families as well.

  9. jlwile says:

    Josiah, good point about resources. That’s quite true for several subjects and something I should have mentioned.

    I think you miss my point about debate. I am not talking about debate with the teacher or formalized debate. I am talking about the kinds of discussion that occur when a lot of students are together in one place learning the same thing. When I was in school, most of the intellectually stimulating discussions I had were not in class. They were discussions about class material that happened outside of class. Because it was a school setting, there were LOTS of different points of view.

    While I agree that homeschoolers are more broadly socialized, it is not because they experience different points of view. It’s because they experience people of all ages. However, because they can CHOOSE who they interact with, they tend to interact with people who have very similar points of view, especially on the “big” subjects such as religion and politics.

  10. Kathy says:

    I don’t recall one stimulating discussion in class or outside of class, when I was in public school, not even about religion, politics, or current events. The talk seemed to center around who was going with whom, the next football game or dance, the latest movie, etc. And…I was the class valedictorian! Wonder why I homeschool.

  11. jlwile says:

    Hehe, Kathy. Perhaps we ran in different crowds.

  12. Ben Michael Fournier says:

    I think that homeschooling encourages autodidactic learning whereas public schooling encourages letting a person speak for hours on end while one tries to stay awake. Also, in public school, as well as in college, the emphasis is place upon the completion of busywork rather than the acquirement of knowledge, whereas with autodidacticism – learning a subject independently – the focus is upon actually learning rather than merely upon completing assignments for the sake of grades alone. During my elementary grades, my mom was more involved in my education, but during my high school grades I was on my own. Your chemistry textbook gave me an interest in the subject, which helped me especially since I have Asperger’s syndrome and am able to learn best that which I am interested in. In subjects which are easier to obtain boredom from it helps to be able to put the textbooks down, take a break, and then pick them back up later. In public school and colleges, the arbitrary deadlines require the churning out of assignments regardless of having the time or interest in the subject to be able to study prior to completing assignments. I think that, for me, the primary benefit of homeschooling over public schooling and college is the freedom to actually learn the material of the textbook rather than rush through everything.

  13. jlwile says:

    Ben, thanks so much for your thoughts on this. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to know that my chemistry course actually gave you an INTEREST in the subject! Also, I laughed out loud reading, “public schooling encourages letting a person speak for hours on end while one tries to stay awake.”

    The one thing I would say about “arbitrary deadlines” is that in most fields of adult endeavor, you will be faced with them. Thus, while I do agree that they tend to inhibit learning, one must get used to them at some point.

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