Peter and I briefly toyed with describing the next few years of Neil’s education as “a classical education at home” or “going to a very exclusive private school.” We just wanted to separate ourselves from the unfortunate conception of homeschooling as forcing our child to be cloistered away from all society with only a Bible as text, with homemade clothes and a bad haircut. Certainly, we got enough flak from some people indicating that’s what they thought we were going to be doing to Neil for the next few years, and we were (and are) both sick and tired of having to explain that no, Neil would be taught with a neo-classical curriculum, primarily because he’s so academically precocious most public and private school systems can’t serve him correctly. And yes, it’s ok that I don’t have a teacher’s degree; I’m registered with the State of California Department of Education as a private school, which is supportive of homeschooling. Until and unless they tell me otherwise, what I’m doing is legal.
As it turns out, anyone and everyone could see through our euphemism, and no matter what we called it, their conception of homeschooling remained intact. They either thought it was a ruse for anti-social Bible-thumpers (or something even more nefarious); or recognized it as an option for the very bright and/or individualistic. And as it turned out, at least around here, their opinion about homeschooling runs almost exactly on generational lines.
Those of our parents’ age and slightly younger think homeschooling is an out for freaks and weirdos, and no one in their right mind could opt for it. On the other hand, you have to realize they (and probably even most of their older children) went to different schools, with different values, and different curriculum. Back in the day, there wasn’t much support or even information about homeschooling, and as a result almost the only people who opted for it were people who were on the fringe, and connected to a non-mainstream community. I respect these early homeschoolers, because it certainly took a lot of courage to be pioneers, but back in the 60s and 70s, the California public school curriculum was closer than today’s to my own curriculum, and it was still acceptable to pull out the brightest children and put them into separate, more-accelerated classes.
On the other hand, my own peers are surprisingly knowledgeable about homeschooling and its various facets, even though most of them have opted into (and are happy with) the public schools or the private school of their choice. As I found out, many of them have had personal encounters with homeschooling, either in the form of people in their community who homeschool, or even having been homeschooled for a brief period in their own education. They are hip to the news stories about homeschoolers who win national competition after national competition, be in the National Spelling Bee, The Geometry Bee, Math Counts, the Odyssey Connection and so on. If they knew Neil, they understood my reasons for homeschooling instantly. For them, homeschooling was one of several reasonable educational option they considered, and, even though they opted against it personally, it wasn’t odd. And I can understand their choice to stick with an educational institution, too. After all, when classroom education is good, it can be very, very good, especially for a child who needs peer motivation and challenge.
So even as I find acceptance among many more people than I expected, it continues to be frustrating with people who think homeschooling is for weirdos only. Peter envisions the day when even more people will homeschool. Once there are more of us, especially with students like Neil (smart and social), the mainstream perception will change, and we won’t have to explain our methods and reasons for homeschooling to those who don’t understand and don’t want to accept it.