Developing Strong Self-Concepts
My observation of hundreds of home-educated children has shown that children who have the freedom to venture into sophisticated social situations at their own speed develop an inner confidence and a sense of control that are often absent in those whose development follows someone else's timetable. Nurtured by supportive interaction with parents who respect them, these children are able to make sense of the world by experiencing it in increasingly larger, more adventuresome bites.
In contrast to this, school attendance can have a devastatingly negative effect on self- concept. One group of American researchers reported that 80% of students entering school feel good about themselves. But by grade five, only 20% have kept that feeling of positive self worth. By the time they are seniors in high school, according to this report, only 5% still have positive self worth (3).
Critics picture home educated children as social outcasts due to an over-protected, insulated childhood. But this is far from the reality; these children often have contact with a wider variety of people than if they were in school. They meet and interact on a regular and personal basis with people from all walks of life, seeing examples of all facets of the adult world without losing any sense of the child world. Because they're not segregated in a school building all day, their lives can be full and integrated into the everyday life of their community.
Home educated students are also often actively involved with both older and younger children on a day-to-day basis. Modem North American schools don't provide this age mixing; instead they segregate children into "age ghettos".
Developmental and social psychologist Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University has noted that young children can greatly benefit from the modeling and reinforcement that results from relationships with older children. However, he laments the lack of such opportunities in the education systems of the western world. He goes so far as to state that such age segregation creates culturally deprived children who are robbed of their humanity (4).
Another observation I have made of home educated children is that they are often relatively ignorant of social game-playing skills-- refreshingly innocent of the type of manipulative and power-oriented social interaction which is so pervasive in our society. They are products of a process of positive socialization that may well lead them to experience a personally soul-satisfying and socially constructive adulthood.
If students are to be free to pursue their chosen career paths, they must obviously possess the appropriate academic tools. In most instances, the home-based learning experience results in high academic standing, with many previously home educated students attaining excellent secondary school marks and receiving university scholarships. The advantages of one-to-one instruction, the time and space to make meaning of the world, and the lack of pressure to perform, all contribute to academic progress often beyond that of peers in the school system (5).
In addition, the active learning process inherent in home-based education helps foster a number of positive related attitudes and skills. Our rapidly moving, information- based society badly needs people who know how to find facts rather than memorize them, and who know how to cope with change in creative ways. For this reason, most home education families stress the process of learning and ensure that their students develop the self-reliant skills which will allow them to cope easily with a conditional and shifting body of facts. Self educated people treat education as a self generated, on-going process that continues throughout life, rather than as a narrowly defined activity happening to someone between the ages of five and twenty.
The protection of the love of learning and of creativity-as well as the development of problem solving and research skills-sometimes transcends the specific facts that are to be learned. Home-based educators recognize the fragility of these qualities and that they can be easily destroyed by the coercive teaching of topics in which children are not interested or are not yet ready to study. They also recognize that facts and skills are more easily retained when learned in a context relevant to a child's daily life experience.