Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. (Psalm 127:1)
Picture this scene. A semi-truck has just T-boned a school bus, and the big yellow bus is lying on its side. It’s not a pretty sight. Amazingly, all the children escape the wreckage unscathed. After the children are reunited with their parents, the families return home to recover from the shock. School officials and families are shaken but relieved that everyone is safe.
Thankfully, this was a hypothetical accident. But another such incident, on a much larger scale, has shaken parents and the educational system to their core. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a disruption of epic proportions, interfering with public and private education, health care, government services, businesses large and small, churches, travel, sports, entertainment, international trade, and more.
Let’s take a closer look at the pandemic’s effects on childhood education, something on which families in America and around the world place a high value.
What just happened?
Right now, there are roughly 60 million students in grades K–12 across America. Prior to March 2020, here’s how the demographics looked in round numbers: About 51 million students (85%) attended public schools, 6 million students (10%) were enrolled in private schools, and just under 3 million students (5%) were being educated at home. Then, in the month of March, shelter-at-home orders were issued in all fifty states. This resulted in a “mandatory trial run” of homeschooling for nearly every family in the country.
Not long ago, homeschoolers were a minority group, a remnant of sorts, an independent lot. Now almost every child has experienced some form of homeschooling, distance learning, or school-at-home. Ironically, when COVID-19 hit, the U.S. government closed the public schools, sent the students home, and mandated that children be taught at home.
And it all happened so quickly. One day Tom Hanks surprised everyone by announcing that he and his wife, Rita Wilson, had contracted the virus, and within twenty-four to forty-eight hours, March Madness was canceled, professional sports leagues suspended play, movie theaters and other businesses were shuttered, college classes went online, and parents found themselves trying to figure out how to work from home while teaching their kids math, science, and history.
How does this affect colleges and universities?
Many colleges and universities were in deep financial straits after enrollments had declined for the eighth consecutive year. But with students and parents rethinking their plans for the upcoming fall semester, some experts are projecting that schools will see an immediate drop in enrollment of 15 percent or more. And it’s very possible that half of all colleges will be out of business within ten years.
Times were hard for higher education before the arrival of the coronavirus. The recent admissions bribery scandal was just one reason questions were being raised concerning schools’ reliance on standardized tests in the application-and-acceptance process. These questions have prompted some big-name schools to rethink the importance of such tests. Indeed, the University of California system has announced that they plan to drop the SAT and ACT as an admissions requirement.
All this is indicative of something more than mere winds of change. What we are seeing is more like a sledgehammer in the hands of a demolition crew.
How will K–12 education change?
What about K–12 education? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released guidelines for schools that choose to reopen anytime soon. The list includes mandatory wearing of face masks, desks placed six feet apart, no more meals in the cafeteria, no sharing of any items, and closing the playgrounds. It’s hard enough to get adults to abide by these kind of rules; I can’t imagine anyone thinks this is realistic for school-aged kids.
Take note that these guidelines are meant to address the health issue only; they do nothing to confront long-standing academic issues. In fact, these guidelines make learning more difficult, more unnatural, more institutionalized.
Read what Trends concluded in its March 2020 issue:
The numbers are clear, many schools do little more than “warehouse kids” and try to protect them from each other. Even in the best ones, too little time is devoted to critical thinking and too much to transport, structured activities and “state-defined indoctrination.” While the vested interests will continue to defend the status quo, this crisis, for the first time, exposes serious problems with an antiquated model whose time has long passed.
Meanwhile, parents are now finding out how much of what happens in public and private schools is highly inefficient and involves kids wasting time on mindless activities.
Still, some parents can’t wait to send their kids back to school this fall. But put yourself in the shoes of your child for a moment. Given the new restrictions and regimentation, many students are likely to grow more frustrated with school than ever.
How many families will choose to homeschool this fall?
When families suddenly found themselves homeschooling this spring, some parents understandably went looking for support and guidance. Many new and existing online groups stepped up to provide a helping hand and point people in the right direction.
Perhaps inevitably, parents were surveyed as to whether they would allow their kids to return to classrooms in the fall. Surprisingly, 22% to 30% of parents said they were seriously thinking of continuing to homeschool in the new school year. A more recent poll has reported that 41% of parents are more likely to educate their children at home come September.
Get out your calculator, and let’s run some numbers. If 41% of the 57 million students who attended public or private school in the U.S. last year were to be taught at home this fall, that would result in 23 million new homeschool students. The homeschool population would explode from 3 million to 26 million in a single year. Talk about going viral!
If only half that number were to continue learning at home, the homeschool population in America would grow by a factor of five. Even if just a small percentage of parents decide to keep this thing going, there will be a huge spike in the number of homeschool students.
Why would families choose to continue homeschooling?
Why would families decide of their own free will to keep their kids home this fall? For one thing, it is entirely possible that some schools won’t reopen, which would make it tough for parents to do anything other than keep their kids home.
Then there’s the USA Today/Ipsos poll in which one in five teachers say they are unlikely to return to work even if their schools reopen! This would leave a huge void. Fewer teachers likely means more crowded classrooms, even as schools attempt to enforce social distancing guidelines. This conundrum alone will make it hard for some parents to justify sending their kids back to school.
Of course, health concerns will be near the top of a list of reasons to continue homeschooling. Also, if one or both parents have lost their jobs, then private school may no longer be a viable option.
It’s been my experience that the reason most people start to homeschool is not the same reason they continue. COVID-19 forced schools to close, but I suspect many families will continue to homeschool for much different reasons. When our family started homeschooling twenty-five years ago, it was never something we had planned on doing. And the reasons we persevered those first few years were much different from the reason we started. By year four, we had committed to this lifestyle and never looked back, again for a whole new set of reasons.
What has surprised many parents is that, after the initial shock of the forced quarantine, being home together has proved to be less stressful than they expected. Kids are actually happier! Parents are finding it’s possible to be available for their children while still being highly productive for their employers. Until recently, exhaustion ruled the home as being “busy” was a cultural badge of honor. As the pace of life has slowed down and families spend more time together, people have started asking how they can hang on to this newfound quality of life.
Family bonds are being strengthened, priorities are changing, and paradigms are shifting as parents discover firsthand what’s actually possible—and what really matters.
What are some other positives that people have discovered about homeschooling?
Your family probably wasn’t prepared for teaching the kids at home, but you were willing to protect your children and provide a safe place for them to learn and be loved. Now that you’ve got a few months of real-life experience, consider some of the other advantages of homeschooling:
- Home is the safest place for kids.
- Home is the healthiest place for kids.
- Homeschooling saves hours of time each day (no lines, etc.).
- It strengthens family relationships.
- Home provides a more natural context for learning than sitting at a desk in a room with no windows.
- Kids generally love being home and prefer asking mom or dad questions. In other words, kids are natural homeschoolers.
- Students can get the rest needed for their young and growing bodies.
- It saves taxpayers an average of $11,762 per child per year.
- It lowers your family’s carbon footprint compared to public or private school.
- Homeschooling helps kids fall in love with learning.
- It allows time for self-directed projects and independent learning.
- Parents are able to direct the child’s education.
- Teaching can easily be supplemented with online classes, tutoring, and (eventually) group studies with other homeschoolers.
- Homeschooling allows for flexibility.
- Parents are able to adapt quickly and change course as needed.
- It’s less disruptive in the face of a crisis (family, health, relocation, etc.)
- Parents are free to instill their values in their children.
- Home education is individualized and customizable.
- Kids aren’t forced to struggle with a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching.
- There are no bells signaling an arbitrary start or end of learning.
- The family is in charge of its schedule and calendar.
I highly recommend you make a list of your own. Write down anything and everything that comes to mind as to why homeschooling just might be the wisest choice for your kids and your family.
Why is it time for a change?
COVID-19 exposed just one of the public school system’s weaknesses—namely, that spending several hours a day in an enclosed space with a large group of people is not a good idea when a deadly virus is being passed around.
The fact is, the public school system has been broken for years. Many educators, parents, and government officials recognize this but have chosen to ignore it and look the other way. When something is broken, it needs to be fixed—especially when it threatens the health, safety, and future of our children. Unfortunately, the new CDC guidelines don’t address the many ways that public schools have failed our kids.
Here’s another way to look at the situation. The public school’s sales pitch is “We will teach your kid so you don’t have to.” Private schools whisper a variation of this message in your other ear: “We’ll teach your kid better so you don’t have to. But it will cost tens of thousands of dollars per kid per year.” Both pitches seem rather empty, void of purpose and meaning.
Here’s how I would pitch homeschooling: “You can enjoy a vibrant relationship with your children while guarding their hearts, stimulating their minds, and protecting their bodies.” Of course, the cost is that you do the directing and/or teaching. A year ago, you might have said that kind of sacrifice isn’t worth it. Now that you’ve experienced homeschooling firsthand, however, you might think differently.
Perhaps you’ve come to realize that spending a large portion of the day together is surprisingly enjoyable, positive, and yes, educational. Home education may come with a few bumps and bruises, but in the grand scheme of things, you now see the possibilities and the potential rewards.
Beware, however. As with any big decision, you might find yourself getting cold feet as summer is coming to an end and a new school year is fast approaching. When your friends send their kids back to school this fall and you start to feel the peer pressure mounting, you will likely be tempted to rejoin the masses. When this happens, call a supportive friend and share your concerns. But first, pull out your list and remind yourself of all the reasons you planned to keep homeschooling.
No apologies here. I’m a homeschool advocate. And I believe you should do this thing called homeschooling. There are too many reasons why it is the best choice for your kids. Plus, these days there is a plethora of high-quality curricula, co-ops, online academies, conferences, blogs, and resources available to help you. Therefore, I can also say the following with absolute confidence: You can do this.
Take a deep breath, exhale, relax, and feel the freedom. If there was ever a time to homeschool, it is now.
Here are some events and resources to get you through the summer, prepare you to start a new homeschool year this August or September, and keep you going if you hit a wall or second guess the decision after a few weeks.
- Read an encouraging devotional, e-book, or article at the Homeschool-101.com blog
- Listen to an episode of the Let’s Talk Homeschool podcast
- Watch the recording of the May 28 Apologia curriculum overview
- Attend the “Joy of Homeschooling” online conference this July 14
- Listen to Rachael Carman give a keynote address at the NCHE conference August 6-8
- Attend the free Evening of Real Refreshment online August 13
- Sign up for the Counter Culture Character series, which starts this fall
- Attend the Real Refreshment Retreat online this Oct. 9-10
Walking by faith and enjoying the homeschooling adventure of a lifetime!
© 2020 Davis Carman
Davis is the president of Apologia Educational Ministries, the #1 publisher of Creation-based science and Bible curriculum. He is the author of five illustrated children’s books designed to help parents instill a biblical worldview in the hearts and minds of their preschoolers. He believes that if there was ever a time to homeschool, it is now! You can hear more of what he has to say at the Let’s Talk Homeschool Podcast.