Thursday, February 23, 2012

Homeschooling and working

I have long been fascinated by homeschooling. I wrote my senior thesis on the topic in college (basically on the legal framework; you don't want to read it, it wasn't any good). As I started researching gifted education later, I learned that a very high percentage of families of highly gifted children homeschool. If you can't get a good accommodation in school then homeschooling winds up being the fall back option. When I wrote Genius Denied with Jan and Bob Davidson, we noted that about half the families of their Young Scholars homeschool at some point.

I don't have the personality to homeschool my own kids, and I don't think I would have been a good homeschooled student myself, but I'm intrigued by the parallels to the way I work. I pursue new knowledge as I have reason to do so (usually because I'm writing about it). I work at my own pace on longer projects (books; when a deadline in 12 months out, you have to self-pace). My schedule is my own as long as I get the work done. I don't commute to an office every day at a certain time to do certain things just because it's 9 a.m., and homeschooled students don't either.

I'm pretty sure that a lot more people will be working the way I work in 20 years. So the question becomes, is homeschooling the best way to prepare for the workforce two decades hence? That's the thesis Penelope Trunk (gadfly blogger and serial entrepreneur) has proposed over at her blog's section on homeschooling:

"Gen Z will have an education that is practical. College is widely seen as worth far less than its price tag in most cases. Graduate school is an anachronism, now seen by many (including the Chronicle of Higher Education) as a babysitting service for adults. So I started thinking, if Gen X ers – the parents of Gen Z – are not buying into the education system, then what will happen? The answer is that Gen Z will be homeschooled much more frequently than any generation before them, and Generation Z will understand how to synthesize data, self-direct learning, and ask the kinds of questions that make or break companies. The portion of Generation Z that gets the old-fashioned, classroom-based education, will end up being unprepared to compete."

Of course, homeschooling requires something from the parent that many didn't necessarily plan on doing: being a teacher (or at least an education facilitator). The traditional model of homeschooling is that mom stays home with the kids to teach them, rather than building a traditional career. A tiny number of families hire governesses, and thus can homeschool as two-career couples, but this is a small number.

But as people are working in different ways, this is opening up new options, and I've been coming across a few more mothers (or fathers) who work while homeschooling, often in a freelance or entrepreneurial fashion. Trunk, for instance, has her blogs. Modern Mrs. Darcy is another homeschooling working mom, as is Catherine at A Spirited Mind. I'd love to find more examples (and I've written about a few readers from Gifted Exchange as well). As technology opens up more options, we may see more families trying this different way of educating their children, which may change the workforce in more ways than we can currently see.


Jo in OKC said...

My D was in middle school when we homeschooled her, so she was old enough to be home by herself sometimes.

Her father teaches full-time at a community college. His job isn't an 8-5 job, so he could be home some during the day.

I work in IT and can work from home part-time.

We basically worked it where I was home sometimes and he was home sometimes and she was by herself sometimes.

Reality didn't match the ideal because my agreement on standard days or hours fell through because of a project I was working on (it required more in-person meetings than estimated).

We were more supervisors than instructors. We helped her schedule, helped her over rough spots, etc. She did some online/correspondence classes and just worked through things on her own.

I don't mean for anyone to think that she was left academically alone. She was dancing in the ballet Romeo and Juliet one year and so we read the play, mostly together so that I could point out innuendo she would miss and when they were fencing with words as well as with swords. There were other things we did together, too, but it certainly wasn't a teacher-student or tutor-student relationship.

Penelope Trunk said...

Hi, Laura. Thanks for the shout out.

Lisa Nielsen - a NYC school administrator and one of the people who convinced me to homeschool my kids - has a great ebook about how parents work and homeschool at the same time. I think you'll like it:

Laura, I have really enjoyed your last two books. Well, actually, I loved your money one and my husband loved your time one. But anyway, I'm sure you'd bring a ton to the discussion of homeschooling. So I hope it's the topic of your next book!


Debbie said...

I could relate to Jo's comments. I homeschooled my twice exceptional 7th grader last year and it was tough. I teach K half a day 4 days a week and my husband, who teaches at the University could go in late most mornings so he was alone for just a couple of hours, but everything looks better on paper than it works out in reality. We had a great year academically and he learned to push through things that were hard, instead of just waiting for me to come home and help. I would do it again, if necessary, but we did opt to put him back in public school this year, and to our amazement, he is getting the accommodations that he needs, with NO fuss from the school!

Anonymous said...

Working mom of a homeschooled child. For us, we had to grind through public and private school until the child was old enough to stay home alone. Now 16, my child goes to college part-time and an academic online high school the rest of the time. There are a number of us for whom hanging around the house is not an option and the school refuses to accommodate because the child aces all the standardized tests and thus needs no further attention.

Kristen | The Frugal Girl said...

I homeschool and work part-time. In the past, I've taught piano students and homeschooled, and I currently homeschool while maintaining my blogs and working for my church as the music director.

Jen said...

We just started homeschooling our 2e son in January. Some days are better than others; the best days are the ones where I get out of his way. I had just started a new job and had to leave it three months later to homeschool. Things went that far south that fast. So now I'm trying to cobble together freelance work from home gigs. Not remotely ideal, but it's what we need to do at this time.

Catherine said...

I think as more people are able to work flexibly, more people can homeschool (or more who want to homeschool can also go back to work). If you need people to talk to who work and homeschool for an article or book I could send you lots of contacts. I would guess about half of the homeschool families I know have two parents working.

Kathy said...


I like the article. I work as a physician and my husband is an engineer. He works from home, and we have to creatively schedule the kids schooling. They do a lot of independent things during the day. It works well for us and is a ton easier than trying to get any accommodations from the schools. I know another family where both parents are professors and they successfully do it too.

Anonymous said...

I left my career when I noticed my children could not get what they needed We had tried private and public school and my girls were waiting most of the day for discipline issues or for others to catch up. they started to hate learning. Now that we homeschool we learn more and explore. I love sitting with my two and would not want life any other way. My girls are 9 and 6. They just did excellent at the Science Fair and can hold great conversations with adults. I think they will be better in the workforce than the traditional student.

Melissa said...

Thanks for the article! I am so glad that there is something out there on homeschooling and working. I work full time and my husb works part time, both away from the home. We looked into homeschooling as our first son has extra chromosomes and didn't like the idea of putting our special needs child (who was not talking/communicating at the time) in the care of strangers all day. We now have 4 kids (ages 11, 9, 3 and 1) and we work opposite schedules so we can be there for the kids. Neither of us work weekends so we do get family time, but obviously it can be tough. But it works - and for how ever long it does work,we plan on keeping it up! :)