I consider myself fortunate to be one of the few people in America, and perhaps in the world, to have attended the three major kinds of schools: public school, private school, and homeschool.
It all started around at age four, when my parents enrolled me in preschool at our church. I remember looking at all the books on the classroom bookshelf. They fascinated me. Some of them had words, which I couldn’t read!
Mom picked me up from preschool one day, and I remember making this statement to her: “Mom, I want to learn how to read.”
So, Mom started teaching me how to read when I was four years old. Evidently I made great progress, even though I don’t remember all the details. Instead of enrolling me in kindergarten, she started teaching me first-grade material at home. That meant I started “real school” one year before my friends did. And so my educational journey began.
In this article, I’m chronicling my educational experiences in American schools. This is subjective, and by no means comprehensive. I know others have had far different experiences from my own. Yet I try to be objective in my analysis of the pros and cons for each.
I didn’t include any pictures today, because a) I didn’t have any relevant ones on-hand to use, and b) I couldn’t find any good, fair-use ones instead. Also, I think they would distract from the gist of the article, which is to, well, educate. It’s not that pictures aren’t important, but they’re just not always relevant. I’m not going to add photos just for the sake of adding photos.
Now, let me educate you a bit about American education.
I really enjoyed being homeschooled. Even as a young boy, it taught me how to think for myself and depend on only myself for getting work done.
A typical homeschooling day involved Mom going over the previous day’s assignments with me, then teaching me a bit, and then giving me new assignments for the current day. I would then hit the books, solve math problems, write essays, or do whatever I needed to do that day.
Often, I would learn what I needed to learn and get my schoolwork done by noon. I had all afternoon free to do other things: read other books, build LEGOs, or play video games (moderated by Mom, of course). And yet I learned at the same rate as my peers who spent all day in public elementary school. Many times, I learned faster.
In other words, homeschooling allowed Mom to tailor the curriculum and teaching/learning styles to best fit me.
Homeschooling allowed me to learn about things and do projects that my peers in public school didn’t. For example, equipped with a World Book Encyclopedia CD-ROM (this was before Wikipedia was in vogue), I would research ancient Greece and Rome. I would take care of a bonsai tree as part of a report on Japanese culture. And I would start learning Spanish thanks to Rosetta Stone (also on CD-ROM). As part of religious education, I read the Bible cover-to-cover and studied the tenets of other belief systems. I did all these things and more before I was twelve years old.
Another beauty of homeschooling was the flexibility. When my grandfather passed away in May 2008, my mom, brother, and I spent most of the summer living with my grandmother. We had to help her get acclimated to living alone. Homeschooling got put on hold for a bit, but I could continue learning over the summer. (There’s not much else to do in Wichita Falls, TX, when it’s over 100º F outside.) I read Around the World in Eighty Days for the first time, and my first book on how computers worked. (And now I’ve written my own book on computers to help the average Joe and Jane!)
One downside of homeschooling can be the lack of socialization. Some groups of homeschoolers come together every week so their kids can play and learn together, so that helps. Still, homeschooled children get much less socialization than their public-school peers do.
Depending on how you look at it, this could be either good or bad. In my case, because I wasn’t around other kids as much, I learned to think for myself, and I became pretty resistant to peer pressure. Yet that also meant that I was, and probably still am, a social anomaly because I was raised and educated outside of the “normal” social sphere. But hey, I’ll take being unique and authentic over conforming to social norms any day.
Another downside to homeschooling is that parents who homeschool may not have the technical expertise required to teach high-school subjects. For example, my mom could teach me pre-algebra and basic science just fine, but there was no way she would be able to teach me pre-calculus or physics.
Some homeschool groups mitigate this by having a parent, who is an expert in a specific area, teach multiple kids in a class. An example might be a homeschool father, who is an engineer by trade, teaching a calculus class for homeschool kids.
I took homeschool math classes at my local community college. (As an eighth-grader, I felt really sophisticated when I told my friends I took geometry in college!) That helped me tremendously because I had hit a wall trying to learn algebra on my own, and Mom couldn’t help me over the hurdles. It also got me around some more homeschoolers and into a classroom setting, better preparing me to transition into…
Mom homeschooled me and my brother until we finished our eighth- and sixth-grade years, respectively. At that point, our parents decided that we needed more socialization with our peers and teachers more equipped to teach us advanced concepts.
So, we wrapped up schooling at home, each got a diploma for graduating into this next phase of life, and prepared ourselves for the transition.
I remember meeting with the high-school counselor as I prepared to integrate into public high school. He helped me enroll in the classes I needed to take; he also signed me up for a math competency test so I could take advanced geometry instead of algebra (since I’d already taken algebra in my homeschool years).
I also, at Mom’s urging, tried out for the jazz band. I played guitar, had played for a little over a year, and didn’t think I was anywhere near good enough to play in a jazz band. Yet I got the sheet music and started learning etudes so I could try out.
On the last day of school, the summer before my freshman year, Mom drove me up to the school to try out. I walked into the empty band hall with my guitar case in one hand and my cheap Marshall amplifier in the other. I plugged in, got out my music, and played it for the jazz band director.
To my surprise, I passed the audition! Turns out, they didn’t have a guitar player at all, so I made the first (highest) band. And I played in jazz band all four years of high school.
So, I began high school by taking advanced classes, playing in the jazz band, and navigating a school of over 3,000 people. (Everything’s bigger in Texas!) Thankfully, I had a few friends at the school, and I made new friends, so I socialized quickly and found my place.
Public high school gave me opportunities that I would not have had anywhere else. For instance, my friends and I built a website for the 2013 National History Day competition and got to compete nationally in Washington, D.C.! I was also co-president of the school’s Christian organization for a year and a member of the National Honor Society service group.
I also got to explore other interests, such as computer science and German. I found that I was a decent programmer, while learning German awakened an interest in the language—and all languages—that I would never have had if I stuck with Rosetta Stone Spanish at home! I doubt I would ever have learned to program on my own, and I likely never would have thought to learn German on my own, either. (I had the choice of Spanish, French, German, or Latin. I opted for German because I am 1/8th German—my great-great-grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Wittenberg.)
I took mostly advanced classes (called Advanced Placement, or AP) in high school, which helped prepare me for the rigors of college. They also allowed me greater freedom of study than the “regular” classes would have. In that respect, public school wasn’t too different from home school—just a different environment.
Of course, there were several things I didn’t like about public school. For one, when I did have to take a “regular” class, I was usually bored. The teachers had to teach well below my learning capacity. This was because the material had to be easy enough for the other students to learn and pass the class.
This is part of the fallacious idea in many American public schools that kids just need to pass tests and move up to the next grade and out of the school system. The blame often rests on the teacher’s shoulders if the student isn’t being successful in her class. It’s a shame that it is that way, but it’s true.
Another thing I didn’t like about the public school system was standardized testing. Every spring, we had to take a test mandated by the state of Texas so someone in the Texas Education Agency could plot us out as data points on a chart.
The tests were easy, sure, but annoying. And, unfortunately, teachers had to teach their students not what was important to learn, but what their students needed to know in order to pass the test and make them, the teachers, look good. I didn’t have to deal with this so much in AP classes, but I did experience it a bit. That’s just another way the public school system is messed up.
And finally, I hated the lack of respect that students showed teachers, and the disdain for learning in general. Most kids came to school, did the bare minimum, and left. They had so much more potential, but they were in an environment where all they had to do was get a C to pass and then move on.
Not all kids were like this, and not all were disrespectful, but many were. Again, this wasn’t the case in AP classes very often, but it definitely was in the “regular” classes. And that was one reason I tried to stay in all the AP classes, because I didn’t want to be drug down with that crowd.
That’s not to mention the fights, threats, graffiti, bullying, drug use, and more that went on every day. Thankfully, I stayed away from most of that, but it was in the environment. No wonder people have noticed correlations between how high schools and prisons are constructed.
(My parents and other Baby Boomers will tell you that it was not always that way. If you misbehaved in class or bombed a math test, you either had to deal with the wrath of the principal, the wrath of your father, or both. Rarely was it the teacher’s fault—it was your fault. And, when disciplining misbehavior, both typically had paddles.)
If I sat and thought long enough, I could come up with a dozen more things I liked and disliked about public school, and American public education in general. But these are the main things that come to mind, and they’re enough for the purposes of this article.
And that leads into the typical alternative to public school, which is…
I’ll admit, I don’t have nearly as much experience in private school as I do in public school or in being homeschooled. However, I’ll discuss what I experienced during my limited time there, things I liked, and things I disliked (mostly disliked). Some details come from friends who spent their entire youths in private schools.
Mom enrolled me in some private school classes from second grade through fourth grade, and again in eighth grade. She intended these classes to supplement my homeschool education. I took extracurricular subjects like music, physical education (PE), art, and writing. I also took science and history classes there for a couple years.
What did I like about private school? Well, classes were small, because the school had fewer students than a public school does. That allowed teachers more time to work with students one-on-one—never a bad thing, in my opinion.
I enjoyed my art and music classes. I got exposed early to some of the great artists and composers throughout history, and developed an appreciation for art in general. (How many second-graders learn that Tchaikovsky wrote The Nutcracker or that Van Gogh painted The Starry Night?) I also improved my art skills, though sadly I’ve let them go to the wayside since then!
What did I not like about private school? Mainly the strictness and uniformity. Uniforms, haircut regulations, and so on. Being that it was a Christian prep school, it was very legalistic. Some kids may not mind that, but I did. I liked to wear my hair longer and thicker, and got reprimanded for it a couple times—but I didn’t care. Then again, I don’t care much for legalism, period.
The legalism didn’t prevent bad behavior, either. The boys, who were supposed to be “model young men,” were just as bad as—or worse than—boys in public school. Because it was a smaller school, I was more privy to their antics than I was in high school, where I could choose to associate with a more even-keeled group of guys. One memorable instance involved someone writing nasty words on the bathroom wall, day after day, with their filth… and that’s all I’ll say about that.
Lastly, because the private school was so small, it offered limited extracurricular opportunities or advanced classes. It had no band or orchestra. I could not have studied German in private school, and I don’t think I could have studied computer science, either. Demand was not high enough, and no teachers on staff could teach these subjects.
Looking back on my life, I’m blessed and thankful that I received the education I did. I’m grateful to live in the United States, specifically in the great state of Texas, where parents still have the freedom to decide how their children receive education.
None of these three types of schooling are inherently better than the others. They’re just different. Where one is lacking, another compensates. There is no perfect, or even best, option.
I would not change anything about my education journey. I’m thankful I started out in homeschooling because I learned to be self-reliant, to prioritize, and to work dutifully. I was responsible for my own success, Not the state, not the school, not my friends—just me. Put simply, I learned how to be autodidactic. I learned how to teach myself.
I’m also grateful I got to attend public high school. It afforded me many great opportunities I would not have had if I kept being homeschooled. And, it helped me better prepare for college by taking college-level classes in a high-school environment. I also learned how to help others learn, and effective ways to teach material by tutoring friends.
Private school was all right, and I can see its benefits since it can provide a more focused, higher-caliber, classical-oriented education. I wouldn’t want to go back, though. I can (and have, and did) provide myself a classical education on my own.
How will I educate my future kids? I’m not sure yet. Who knows what the future landscape of education will look like?
What I do know is, I will ensure my kids understand that it’s their responsibility to learn, not the teacher’s responsibility to make them learn. If they attend public school, I will be very involved in school events, as well as ensure that they learn outside the classroom. If they are homeschooled, I will ensure they are learning the things they need to know to prepare them for life in the “real world,” and also spend enough time with other kids so they become well-rounded and sociable.
I almost certainly will not send them to a private school, however. Those are overrated!
Feel free to leave any questions or comments below. I’d like to hear your thoughts, and different perspectives are always good. Thanks for reading!
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