Editorial Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on August 15, 2016.
Edited by Wende Benner, HA Editorial Staff.
Meme features picture of Simone Biles with this text: But how will homeschooled kids ever compete in the real world?
Pretty well, I guess.
Speaking as a homeschool alumna, this meme is disrespectful to homeschool alumni—including Simone Biles—for a multitude of reasons. And yet, it’s being shared by homeschool parents across Facebook as a way to show how awesome and amazing homeschooling is. For years now, I and other alumni have been calling attention to problems in the homeschool world—children left unprepared, young adults struggling—and for years we’ve been poo-pooed and talked over by homeschool parents who would prefer to share self-righteous memes like the one above than to talk about the actual issues homeschool alumni face. You know what? I’m not letting this one slide.
First of all, Simone Biles—pictured in the above meme—didn’t want to be homeschooled. Not only that, when she actually was homeschooled—a decision she cried over—she hated it. That’s right, she hated being homeschooled.
First, look at this excerpt from an article:
To advance to the elite level and be on that cover, [Simone Biles would] have to be homeschooled, Nellie told her. There would be no prom, no after-school activities, no hanging with classmates. The decision was hers. After a weekend of crying, she told her parents she would do it. ‘I was just so lonely all the time,’ Simone says. ‘I missed, like, all my friends at school and stuff. But I mean, in the end, it worked out.’
Next, watch this excerpt from an interview.
Can you see how holding Biles up as the poster-child of homeschool success might be a bad idea? Biles was homeschooled because she had to be to compete at an Olympic level in her sport, not because she wanted to be homeschooled and not because she liked being homeschooled. Indeed, Biles “hated” being homeschooled and missed her active social life and the experiences her peers had in public high school. If she hadn’t been an Olympic-quality athlete, she never would have been homeschooled.
There’s another issue, too. Biles isn’t competing in “the real world” mentioned in the meme. She’s competing in the Olympics. Only a very small fraction of athletes make it to the Olympics, and their shelf life tends to be short—most gymnasts don’t attend the Olympics more than twice, if that. I’m as proud of Biles’ success as everyone else! I’ve watched her incredible floor routine with my jaw hanging open more than once this week. She’s amazing. But when people ask whether homeschool graduates will be able to compete in “the real world” they’re not talking about Olympics—and when 99.99% of homeschool graduates enter “the real world” they’re entering a very very different world from that currently occupied by Simone Biles.
I was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. I have many friends who were also homeschooled. I know homeschool alumni who went to MIT, and homeschool alumni who have struggled with homelessness. I know homeschool alumni who are earning good, stable incomes, and homeschool alumni who are jumping from minimum wage job to minimum wage job trying to find something that works. I know homeschool alumni who have gone on to graduate school, and homeschool alumni who have struggled with applications to community college. I know homeschool alumni who hate academic learning, after years of filling out mindless worksheets at the kitchen table, and homeschool alumni who thrive on academic learning, having grown up with innovative, rich academic experiences.
When it comes to homeschool alumni, there is no one result. Pointing to specific homeschool success stories while ignoring homeschool alumni who are in jail, struggling with addiction, or homeless is incredibly disrespectful to those alumni. It’s also disrespectful to homeschool alumni struggling to pay for community college, desperately afraid they’re going to be fired from yet another minimum wage job, or barely staving off eviction and fearful about what their future looks like without the most basic of educational qualifications, not to mention an extreme feeling of social otherness and, in too many cases, oft-lurking depression.
Are there individuals who attended public school who experience all of the above? Absolutely! But we acknowledge that. We admit that our public schools are failing some children, and that some schools are failing more children than others. We don’t point to prominent successful individuals who graduated from public schools—Hillary Clinton, or Steve Jobs—and act like this proves something. Instead, we admit that experiences vary, and we put in hard work to improve the experiences of public school students who are being left behind.
Can homeschooling work? Yes. Can homeschooling fail? Yes! Does Simone Biles’ Olympic success tell us anything about the “real world” success of homeschoolers as a group? Absolutely not. It has now been almost four decades since the beginning of the modern homeschool movement in the late 1970s. What do actually we know about homeschooling? A lot, and almost nothing.
We know that homeschooled children can succeed, but we don’t know how homeschooled students score academically on average, and there are to-date no studies on homeschool outcomes that use random samples rather than recruiting volunteers. We know that homeschooled students score slightly better than public school students on the SAT, particularly in reading, but we also know that a surprisingly small number of homeschooled students actually take the SAT—less than 10%. Studies of homeschooled students’ college performance are mixed, some showing higher GPAs and some showing more ambiguity, but even studies with positive findings point to other concerning statistics—there are fewer homeschool alumni in college than there ought to be, and they are less likely than other students to pursue STEM fields than other students. There’s a math gap. There’s also a gendered achievement gap. And there’s a lot we still don’t know.
But homeschooling parents don’t want to talk about any of this. They’d rather talk about Simone Biles. And on some level, who wouldn’t? Celebrating a success story is far more pleasant than putting in the real work necessary to ensure that students don’t fall under the radar and disappear, only to surface later with deficient educations and a future full of dead ends. As for me, I’m here for the students who have no one rooting for them. I stand with my fellow homeschool alumni, and I’m not giving up.