Ask most parents these days what they think of when they hear the term homeschooling, and their descriptions will probably align with one of the following statements:
“Homeschoolers? You mean those faith-based fundamentalists dwelling in flyover country who ignore little things, like science and facts?”
“Homeschoolers? You mean those radical commune-dwelling hippies taking their counterculture lifestyle to the next level?”
At first glance, you’ll probably find these to be (intentionally) extreme and oversimplified stereotypes. However, they do touch on some surprising commonalities. For example, both present homeschooling to be a primarily rural and isolated activity conducted by a fringe element, and the antithesis of a proper, modern education. This may have been the case in homeschooling’s early days; however, it is not by any means an accurate description of the current homeschooling reality.
The percentage of families who homeschool in the USA has grown over the past several decades to somewhere around 3%. While it is relatively small compared to that of families who choose a public school education, we are still talking about millions of children across the country. Many of these homeschooling families are no longer on the farm or in the woods, but living and learning in diverse locations, including urban neighborhoods in most large American cities. As for the divide between the two groups: While the majority of homeschooling families in the USA are doing so out of ‘religious’ or ‘faith-based’ motivations, the percentage of ‘secular’ families opting in to homeschooling is no longer a fringe group, but a sizable minority that is growing.
With regard to motivation, most secular parents, when asked why they chose homeschooling, will provide answers that touch on one or both of the following: ‘Control’ and ‘Choice’:
Homeschooling parents want to have more of a say in terms of what and how their children study. They may want their learner to follow a more classical educational route, or an unschooled one. For many of these parents, it is just as important for their children to learn how to think, as opposed to being taught what to think.
Parents want to provide their children with a wide variety of educational options – if a student wants to learn about X subject, it’s more likely their parent will be able to find either a curriculum, or a tutor/teacher, that can provide instruction in that subject. Allowing their child’s interests to guide and motivate their learning, for many parents, curiosity, when combined with a drive to learn, is the key to a successful education.
To these parents, the traditional model of rigid curriculum and scheduling offered by a public school education is just incapable of offering their children a flexible, individualized and tailored education. Many parents also realize that they can’t do it all when it comes to educating their homeschooled child. For example, a homeschooling parent who is by training an engineer may be able to work with their student on math and science based subjects, but uncomfortable teaching them in areas such as history, literature, or essay writing. Conversely, a marketing professional may not be comfortable with teaching their homeschooled student trigonometry or calculus. And while these parents may be able to take advantage of online resources (such as Khan Academy videos, for example), they still want their student to benefit from a pedagogical experience based on interaction and personal attention.
A number of educational cooperatives and programs have gone online with course offerings that help fill this gap. While many of these programs subscribe to a set curriculum, or require their students to identify with a particular religious ideology or faith, Open Tent Academy is unique in that it truly is an ‘open tent’ – a homeschooling program where courses are offered covering a wide variety of subjects. Parents can opt for one course or a full curriculum. All are presented in an environment where all students – regardless of background, gender, religious belief (or lack thereof), and ethnicity – can participate and work together on an equal footing. Our goal is to get students to think – we want them to ponder, analyze, and draw their own conclusions – all under the guidance of their families and our instructors. To this end, we provide a framework of live, virtual, and interactive classes – filled with discussion and open ended questions. We want them to think.
Jonathan Meola, co-founder and instructor at Open Tent Academy, attended the University of Miami, where he earned his B.A., and returned several years later to earn a graduate certification in Applied Quality Management, while helping to manage executive graduate degree programs for their business and engineering schools.
Professionally, Jonathan has worked as a technical consultant, managing enterprise software implementation projects for companies such as AT&T, Boeing, Discovery, Honda, Nestle, and several Federal agencies across the United States, and also worked on projects in Canada, Israel, and Mexico. He also has developed curricula for corporate training, and led sessions as an instructor on many occasions. Today, he resides with Eva in a small town outside of Jerusalem. Jonathan has three children, all of whom were homeschooled at one time or another. In his spare time, he loves traveling, reading, photography, analyzing politics, NCAA college football (Go Canes!), and cinema.
Other blog posts by Jonathan: