When some teens get up in the morning to go to school, they head right for their computer or their kitchen table.
Homeschooling is growing quickly, with nearly 1.1 million students studying at home last year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education. That numbers has grown by almost a third since 1999.
Even television has on occasion portrayed homeschoolers or homeschooled graduates. Free-spirited and fun-loving Dharma from the sitcom “Dharma and Greg” was homeschooled.
The WB portrayed homeschoolers in a different light. Its shortlived summer sitcom, “The O’Keefees,” angered many homeschooling families as it perpetuated stereotypes that homeschoolers have been working to dispel.
Unlike the “O’Keefee” family, real homeschoolers are breaking boundaries.
Options for homeschoolers are growing. Homeschoolers can choose their own curriculum from catalogs, not use any curriculum, attend virtual schools or enroll in correspondence schools.
Virtual schools and correspondence schools are becoming increasingly popular — and not just among homeschoolers.
At least 17 states have high schools that are offering classes online for both homeschoolers and those who attend traditional schools.
High school for 16-year-old Travis Green of Lake City, Florida consists of attending Florida Virtual School (FLVS) via his computer.
Green homeschooled from first grade until ninth grade, when he and his parents felt he needed a classroom environment to prepare him for college. FLVS is accredited and has students enrolled from across the nation.
“I find for many students that virtual learning is very effective for them. I think the type of student today is changing and often the traditional classroom may not be the answer for all students with their lives on the go,” said Bonne Sutherland, a teacher from FLVS.
Sutherland said she likes “teaching this way because I feel I get to know the student more closely with our interaction being one-on-one.”
Online learning may not be for everyone since it takes self-discipline and self-motivation to complete Internet courses.
Keystone National High School, an accredited school from Pennsylvania, offers its students the option to take courses online or by mail correspondence. Like FLVS, Keystone is accredited but Keystone offers a high school diploma, which FLVS currently does not.
Keystone Biology and Life Science teacher Lori Auten said, “A student that has been homeschooled (and receives a diploma) shows the world that they are self-motivated and don’t require someone to push them through a course. Homeschooled individuals also show they can work with a deadline and this looks great on a resume.”
Auten said there is a downside in teaching homeschoolers.
“As a teacher, I feel cheated because I don’t really know my students,” she said. “I have no idea what they look like or how their game went last night. I find it difficult to build rapport.”
Green is quick to point out the pros and cons of homeschooling.
“In my opinion the pros far outweigh the cons,” he said. “The biggest advantage to homeschooling is its efficiency. The single biggest con to homeschooling, especially from a teenage viewpoint, is that you might not get to see your friends very often.”
Does that mean homeschooled or virtually schooled teens aren’t getting enough socialization?
“While this certainly wouldn’t cause anyone to be socially underdeveloped, I do know firsthand how important teenagers consider their friends,” Green said.
“Fortunately, this drawback can be easily avoided with the help of homeschool co-op groups, which are basically associations of like-minded homeschool families,” he said.
Canadian freelance writer Steve Martens doesn’t agree.
“Too many, although far from all, homeschooling parents do so for reasons I find unconscionable: keeping their kids from evolution, sex education, or anything that might lead them to think for themselves rather than accept what their parents think,” he said.
Martens, who does not have children, said he’s “mildly against homeschooling” and “not a homeschool advocate.”
There are two sides to every story.
Like Martens, there are many anti-homeschoolers who continually try to raise the standards on homeschooled students.
Georgia colleges are reported to be the least friendly of colleges in the United States and have more stipulations on homeschooled students than students from traditional schools. Georgia colleges often ask for higher SAT or ACT scores and ask for extra SAT II subject tests.
But in general, the level of discrimination against homeschoolers has greatly receded in recent years.
Colleges don’t look at students who say they homeschool with blank stares and most colleges have a set policy for homeschoolers.
Education continues to take many different avenues.
Homeschooling is just one of them.
Jessica Burkhart is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.
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