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Once upon a time, homeschooling was considered to be primarily the domain of conservative Christian families who rejected the largely secularized curricula found in most public and private schools. But homeschoolers are now becoming increasingly diverse, and the motivations parents cite for choosing to homeschool extend far beyond questions of religion.
Today, a demographically wide variety of people homeschool. There are Christians, Mormons, and atheists; conservatives, libertarians, and liberals; low-, middle-, and high-income families; white, black, Hispanic, and Asian families; parents with PhDs, GEDs, and no high-school diplomas.
Racial, Ethnic, and Cultural Diversity
Since its inception, the stereotypical profile of the homeschooling family has been white families belonging to the middle and upper classes. Today, however, the racial and ethnic composition of homeschoolers is vastly and rapidly changing.
Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, a surging number of African American and Latino families were choosing to educate their children at home. The pandemic has only accelerated that trend. About 41% of homeschool families are non-white minorities.
In addition to health considerations relating to the coronavirus, minority families who are homeschooling point to a wide array of motives for rejecting traditional education. These include concerns over the quality of the education provided in public and private schools, fears of systemic inequities and racial biases in the American education system, and a perceived lack of academic opportunities for children in traditional education.
Besides the increasing racial and ethnic diversity in this niche, homeschooling is also proving to be a popular option for students and families who are seeking a more individualized learning experience.
For example, teens who are homeschooled may enjoy a wider range of curricular options than their counterparts educated outside the home. Students who are interested in STEM and who may be preparing for a career in coding or engineering, for instance, may be able to access more science and technology courses in their homeschool environment than would be possible in campus-based education.
In addition, students who have special learning needs are increasingly turning to homeschooling because of the flexibility the niche offers. For instance, an estimated 1 in 54 children can be categorized as neurodiverse, which can encompass a wide spectrum of diagnoses, including dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or autism.
Given the diversity and the fluidity of students’ individual learning needs, traditional school systems, no matter how large or well-funded, are often simply unprepared to provide every student with the quality of education they deserve.
Parents of children with diverse learning needs, however, are increasingly turning to homeschooling not simply because the platform can so readily be tailored to students’ unique requirements, but also because, in meeting those needs, the homeschool environment is uniquely equipped to help these students excel. And that means that families of special needs students are increasingly choosing to homeschool because the environment enables them to go further, faster than would likely be possible in an on-campus environment.
Most importantly, through such individualized education, tailored both to the needs and to the interests of the learner, students are no longer being compelled to conform to the curriculum nor are they consigned to submit to an educator who must “teach to the middle.” Rather, they are gifted with a learning experience as unique and diverse as they are. The education program is compelled to accommodate the student rather than the student being compelled to accommodate the system.
Online Learning Communities
In addition to the increasing representation of minority and special needs students in the homeschooling niche, the environment has also been increasingly diversified through the proliferation of online learning communities. This has dramatically expanded the learning options available to homeschooling families.
For example, learning technologies, such as the online whiteboard, have made it easier than ever before for homeschooling families to come together in the virtual learning environment. These online learning communities enable parents to support one another in selecting and delivering curricula. Homeschool family members, for instance, who have a particular skill set or area of expertise may offer classes and tutoring to students in the virtual homeschool group.
The emergence of these online homeschool communities has enabled not just the diversification of the learner population, but also the diversification of homeschool education itself. And that means that students and families, through such experiences, are transforming the dynamics of teaching and learning.
Through such diversified educational practice, students begin to recognize all persons as potential teachers, families are liberated from the constraints of traditional learning methods, and the classroom expands beyond the confines of the schoolroom, wherever it may be.
Homeschooling is nothing new. In fact, the practice hearkens back to the dawn of the nation. In the modern era of on-campus education, however, homeschool came to be strongly identified with conservative Christian families. But that stereotype is quickly fading, given the growing diversity of the homeschool environment. The number of Black, Asian, and Latino families choosing to homeschool is rapidly rising, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic. In addition, students with diverse learning needs and interests are increasingly turning to home-based learning. Perhaps best of all, the proliferation and evolution of online education technologies are innovating the ways that homeschool education occurs, meaning that homeschooling itself is as diverse as the students it serves.