This past weekend, I spoke at the Sioux Empire Christian Home Educators (SECHE) convention. It was a small convention, but it was well-organized and full of enthusiasm. While I can understand the draw that large conventions have (lots of speakers, all manner of curriculum and resources in the vendor hall, etc.), there are a lot of advantages to small conventions as well. I got to spend a lot of time with each individual who wanted to speak with me personally, and there was plenty of time in each session for everyone to have their questions answered. The “personal touch” that is available at smaller conventions simply can’t be experienced at the larger ones.
I gave a total of five talks at the convention, including Homeschooling: Discovering How and Why It Works. In that talk, I give lots of statistics regarding students who are educated at home. For example, I discuss the Rudner study, which found that at every grade level, the average homeschooled student scored better on standardized tests than the average privately-schooled student, who in turn scored better than the average publicly-schooled student. It also shows that the average publicly-schooled student lags farther and farther behind the the older he or she gets. From an academic standpoint, then, it is more important to avoid public school in the junior high and high school years than it is in the elementary years.
In addition, I show Rudner’s comparison between students who are homeschooled every year of their K-12 education and those who are homeschooled for only some of those years. While there is no difference (on average) between the two groups in the elementary years, by the time the students are in junior high and high school, those who did not stay in homeschool lag behind those who are homeschooled every year. To me, this indicates that homeschoolers make the most academic gains in the junior high and high school years. I like the Rudner study, because the author was initially a skeptic of home education, thinking that home educators were a bunch of “conservative nuts.”
After I discuss the data related to homeschooled students, I switch to the data related to homeschool graduates. I show several studies that clearly demonstrate that homeschool graduates excel at the university level compared to their publicly- and privately-schooled peers (see here, here, and here, for example). This led to a very interesting question from an audience member.
A homeschooling father asked (I am paraphrasing here): “How do you account for the fact that homeschoolers who leave homeschool in junior high and high school experience educational losses, but when they leave homeschool for college they experience educational gains?” I thought that was a good question, but I have to point out that the comparison is not really valid. After all, the Rudner study showed that when compared to homeschooled students, the students who go junior high or high school have educational losses. The studies about homeschool graduates simply compared homeschool graduates at university to their non-homeschooled peers. They didn’t compare homeschool graduates at university to homeschool graduates who were continuing their education at home. That would be a hard study to do for a variety of reasons.
However, I do think the question is still a good one, because I think it is (in general) not a good idea for a student to leave homeschool to go to a high school, but I think it is an excellent idea for a homeschool graduate to leave home to go to a college or university. Why? I think maturity is the key. When a student is starting high school, he or she is not very mature. As a result, the student is very easily distracted in a school setting. The opposite gender, peer pressure, sports, and all manner of other nonacademic pursuits make it very hard for the student to concentrate on what he or she is learning.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that the opposite gender, peer group, sports, and all those other things should be avoided in high school. I just think that in schools, they are overemphasized. The students spend far too much time dealing with such distractions, to the detriment of their studies. In a homeschool environment, such distractions should be available to the student, but they should be heavily supervised by the parents and should not become a big part of the “academic day.” That way, the student can mature both academically and socially in a balanced way.
Once students get through those high school years, they have matured a bit. They have a better idea of what they want to do for the rest of their lives, and more importantly, they have a better idea of what’s important in life. As a result, when they go on to college, they are less likely to be distracted by all the other aspects of school life. In addition, the peer group to which they are exposed is (on average) a bit more mature than the one in high school. Obviously, there will still be the partiers and the boozers on almost any campus, but in general, they aren’t as popular or as common as they are in high school, so they are more easily avoided.
Now, of course, if maturity is the key, that should tell homeschooling parents something. Whether or not your child attends university, and when your child attends university, should not be decided based on your child’s age or educational status. Just because your child is 18 or has finished high school, that’s no reason to automatically send him or her to university. Instead, your child’s maturity and goals should determine that. Your child will be more easily distracted at university if he or she is immature and/or has no serious reason for being there.
Please realize that maturity and a reason to be there still won’t guarantee your student will avoid distractions at university! They will just make it easier for the student to avoid such things. Of course, the way to make them even more likely to avoid distraction is to make sure they have a peer group that is focused on important things. I strongly encourage everyone who sends their children to university (public or private) to make sure they are plugged into an on-campus Christian fellowship group like Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ, etc. I know that I would not have grown nearly as much (spiritually or academically) had it not been for my Intervarsity group at the University of Rochester!