Sunday, July 2, 2006

Have you ever skipped ahead in a book or a movie to see the ending, just to know if you want to continue? As home-schoolers, wouldn’t it be nice to skip ahead to see what a home-school graduate takes away from the experience?

Jim and Susan Erskine of Canmer, Ky., are 13-year veterans of home-schooling who have long been involved in Web sites and publishing for home-schooling families. They noticed there were few resources available in which a variety of home-school graduates gave their candid reflections on what they gained — or regretted — about their education.

The Erskines sent out a questionnaire and received responses from more than 200 graduates. The answers “blew us away,” Mr. Erskinesays. The resulting book, “Straight Talk to Parents & Teens from Homeschool Graduates,” was produced as an e-book, downloadable from the Internet for $4.95 (

This book gives a good sense of the impact home-schooling has on one’s long-term life experience. Divided into sections of advice to teens, to parents, and “what I would have done differently,” the comments give a pretty good sense of the strengths and weaknesses of various choices.

Most of the responses indicated the graduates value their educational experience, and feel they were well-prepared for college, travel, work and family. Several regretted being lazy, procrastinating on work, or not pushing themselves to take certain subjects more seriously. They were divided on the issue of “basics versus free exploration”; some wished they had focused more on algebra or grammar; others wished they had spent more time on study outside the prescribed curriculum.

What was conspicuously absent was any sense of resentment or negative feeling toward parents. It seems that by and large, home-school graduates feel connected to their families, and appreciate the work and effort made by their parents to prepare them for life. Many expressed deep respect for their parents — and other parents — for making the effort to educate their children personally.

Areas where the respondents felt they would have benefited are clearly mentioned, nonetheless. Readers may find their own home-schooling style dissected a bit, and see that certain habits may not be helpful: being either too permissive or too structured, having an “us against them” attitude toward others, or seeing it as a competition.

Good, solid advice from the graduates is helpful for families making choices about foreign language studies, math and science courses, opportunities for travel or community involvement or extracurricular activities.

The book does not advocate any particular curriculum or method; if anything, the graduates’ comments refer more to the process of the education rather than the source of the materials. Some pointed out the need for parents to be flexible about changing textbooks or other resources when the student’s learning style was not being served. Certain comments suggested alternative study methods, audio recordings or discussion-based instruction.

Many of the respondents refer to faith, Scripture or a religious framework when discussing their education. While this may reinforce the stereotype that links home-schooling with devout religious adherence, it nevertheless represents a significant force in the switch to home education for so many.

Raising a family is not easy, and religious faith is a strong source of guidance and values for parents striving to navigate through the challenges of life. It takes a strong commitment to educate children at home, and such strength is often the result of strong convictions about faith, excellence or governance.

This book offers a glimpse at how home-schooling affects students over time, and in a wide variety of circumstances: college, career, relationships and citizenship.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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