|Friday, April 05, 2002
By Robin Wallace
Playground bullies and prom-night jitters. Lunchroom hijinks and
locker room humiliations.
The necessary stuff of cherished school
memories, or traumas best left behind in the hallways of high
Or maybe something else entirely. Maybe they
are completely irrelevant to a happy and fulfilling life.
That's what Ben Kniaz, a 20-year-old American
college student now studying in Italy, would say. Kniaz missed out
on all that because he was schooled entirely at home and says he
didn't miss a thing.
"It was more that I was spared a lot of the
stuff that goes on in high school," Kniaz says from Rome. "I felt
pretty turned off by some of what Id see."
"People say you need to experience it to deal
with it later, but you can just miss out on it and deal with it when
you're more mature. I got to focus on the things I wanted to do and
liked to do," Kniaz says.
Kniaz's gratitude for being spared some of the
more dangerous and corrupting influences of school life may be why
anywhere from 850,000 to more than a million children are being
homeschooled in the United States now.
Legal in all 50 states since the 1980s,
homeschooling has often been criticized as a paranoid practice of
right-wing religious fanatics that stunts children's emotional
But as that first generation of homeschoolers
settles into young adulthood, the criticism is proving unfounded. If
anything, some experts say, the homeschoolers are proving to be
better prepared for adulthood than their traditionally schooled
Self-Reliant and Focused
||Ben Kniaz, 20, runs the Web site
www.apricotpie.com as a forum for other homeschoolers.
Many homeschooled young adults say that being
freed from the rigidity and conformity of high school allowed them
to explore their individuality, creativity and independence.
"My parents felt that elementary school was
traumatic for an intelligent child and that in high school, you
don't really learn anything," explains Aletheia Price, a 19-year-old
sophomore at Thomas Aquinas College in Orange County, Calif., who
was schooled entirely at home until age 15.
"I think a lot of this stuff [about high
school] is mythology, that maybe we've got a whole lot of falsehoods
associated with schooling," says J. Gary Knowles, a University of
Toronto researcher who has extensively interviewed adults who were
homeschooled. "We have all these weird rites of passage that are
deemed important and many are quite dysfunctional."
Knowles has found homeschoolers to be more
self-reliant and focused.
"They're able to move into adulthood with a
much better sense of self and have a very good sense as to what they
want to do," he said.
If he has any concerns, they are about
socialization. Children schooled within a rigid social view may not
be well equipped to live in a diverse culture, he says.
"They may have had very little exposure to the
cultural complexities of society, to a range of ideas," Knowles
says. "I am very concerned about families with very narrow views on
what is appropriate preparation for citizenship."
Overall, though, Knowles has found homeschooled
adults to be no more or less engaged socially or politically than
those with traditional educations.
To get past the socialization issue, many
homeschooling families join with homeschooling groups in their area
or turn to town athletic programs, scouting and other youth groups.
"Your peers are not the people the same age as
you, they are people who share your interests," insists Patrick
Farenga, a consultant with Holt Associates, a homeschooling advocacy
Or as Knowles put it: "Where did we ever get
the idea that 2,000 13-year-olds were the ideal people with which to
socialize other 13-year-olds?"
Curiously absent from homeschoolers as a group
is something many presumed to be a part of every childhood
youthful angst and alienation. The burning desire to isolate and
separate themselves from their parents just doesnt seem to be
there, researchers say.
Kniaz, for example, recalls fondly enjoying
two-hour conversations with his father every night, and both he and
Price describe close, honest relationships with their parents and
"Alienation between generations is a product of
schooling," says Knowles. "There's no reason for teen-agers to be
Kniaz said his parents gave him choices, so he
never felt under their thumb. "I always felt that I was in charge of
my life with my parents guiding me," he says. "I never felt anything
was being hammered down my throat."
"That problem was sort of solved itself because
[my parents] turned me loose when I was 16," says Price, who began
taking college courses and studying her self-designed curriculum at
the library at that age. "I was out of the house all day."
Price's initiative is not uncommon. Many
homeschooled teens supplement their education with community college
classes, taking over the direction of their education much earlier
than other kids their age. Whether that is good or bad remains a
subject of debate.
Knowles has expressed concern that homeschooled
kids are pushed too hard to achieve, and that some are finding
themselves in college much too early. Price and Kniaz, both of whom
attend a traditional university, said dorm life, and the behavior of
some of their classmates and roommates, was jarring at first.
Once over that, though, the homeschoolers seem
to have the discipline and maturity to quickly develop college-level
study habits. They are not as easily distracted and are already
accustomed to taking responsibility for their themselves.
"I wouldn't say homeschoolers are better
educated, but they are better equipped to learn," Knowles says.
Both Kniaz and Price credit their parents for
creating a successful, creative and positive homeschooling
experience, and according to the experts, the main concern about
homeschooling is that some children will be trapped with bad parents
as bad teachers.
"I know some homeschoolers who probably would
have been better off in high school," Kniaz said, perhaps putting it
best. "It all depends on your family."