Not back to school camp, a place for unschoolers
March 30, 2011 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Not Back To School Camp is a place where unschooled teenagers (previously, 2) can go to meet, teach, and learn from other unschoolers. Despite doubts and criticism, unschoolers and homeschoolers are making their way to college

More African-Americans are homeschooling and though the numbers are shaky, it appears as if homeschooling is increasing across America and more parents are becoming interested in things like homeschool co-ops.
posted by ejfox (24 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I seem to recall a fair number of home-schoolers making it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. I was really outraged when CA tried to ban home-schooling a few years back, although I can see why some people would want that.
posted by MattMangels at 1:42 PM on March 30, 2011

The summer camp I went to and eventually worked at was very similar to those portrayed in the video. My time there had a profound impact on me.

I am reminded of Grant Colfax - "The Goat Boy" Grant was raised in a cabin in the woods of Northern California in the early 1970s. Home schooled, he was admitted to Harvard in 1983. He was called the "Goat Boy" in the national media at the time. He's now a doctor and director of HIV prevention and research at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Two of his three brothers subsequently went to Harvard. His parents (David and Micki Colfax) wrote a book about their experiences called 'Hard Times in Paradise.' Their other book: 'Homeschooling for Excellence.'

Homeschoolers Are at Home at Harvard.
posted by ericb at 2:11 PM on March 30, 2011

"Homeschooling gained national media attention in the 1980's when David and Micki's oldest son, Grant Colfax, was homeschooled into Harvard. National headlines read 'Goat-Boy Goes to Harvard.' Long before Harvard, the Colfaxes embarked on a life-changing adventure by moving to a remote area of Northern California where together they built a house, farm and several businesses. Grant, the 'Goat-Boy' who started a goat-raising business to help support the family, also created a great learning environment. Grant went on to graduate from Harvard University and then Harvard Medical School. All together, the Colfax brothers attended Harvard, Yale and Harvard Law School."*
posted by ericb at 2:14 PM on March 30, 2011

Diamonds in the Rough -- "The Colfax Boys Had No Formal Schooling—Until Harvard."
posted by ericb at 2:16 PM on March 30, 2011

Worked for me.
posted by aychedee at 2:16 PM on March 30, 2011

I find homeschooling (and okay, unschooling, whatever) a little unsettling when places like Patrick Henry College appear to be grooming homeschooled evangelicals for prominent futures in the Republican party. Maybe this is uninformed of me, but thinking about homeschooled kids systematically being placed into positions of influence over society just underscores the fundamental antisocialness of homeschooling.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:20 PM on March 30, 2011

Patrick Henry College

The New Yorker: God and Country -- "A college that trains young Christians to be politicians."

Previous FPPs:
Patrick Henry, where getting laid requires a 9-page letter.

God's Next Army - a documentation about an evangelical College.
posted by ericb at 2:33 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mrs. Deadmessenger (who is African-American) and I homeschooled our daughter for five school years, from the fourth through eighth grades. It was the best decision we ever made. Our local public school was a failing disaster with an administration indifferent to anything but order and discipline, and we HAD to get her out of there. I could fill a book with what our family experienced while homeschooling, but here are a few things we noticed:

The vast majority of homeschooling families in the United States are doing so not out of concern for their children's education, but instead to protect their children from what is perceived to be a harmful secular message in the public schools. For this reason, if you're a homeschooling family in the United States, you should expect that most people (both homeschooling and not) will believe you are an ultra-fundamentalist Christian, and act towards you accordingly. If you (like us) are not Christian, you may have trouble finding a homeschooling group in your area that will accept you. Also, it can be difficult to find school books and other educational materials without an explicit Christian message.

If you're considering homeschooling, you should also understand that any teachers or school administrators in your social circle will probably react to your decision with a great deal of hostility, and you will more than likely lose most of those people as friends.

Socialization is almost never a problem, unless parents make it a problem. Our daughter had more time to socialize with her peers as a homeschooler than she did when she was in public school. Dance class, taekwondo, art class - all of those were fantastic out-of-the-home opportunities for her to meet and socialize other kids her age. We've met more than our share of homeschoolers with grave socialization problems, but those were ALWAYS the kids whose parents were so petrified of what they might hear in the outside world they never let them out of the house.

Going back to a public school environment can be tough. School bureaucracies will NOT make it easy for you. One example: Our daughter had to take a placement test for high school on less than 24 hours notice at 8AM a testing center 40 miles away, that her 8th grade peers got to take on several months' notice, in midmorning, in the school they attended every day. Also, one school administrator we spoke to when enrolling her in high school was adamant that she would have to start over again with the 4th grade, since she had been "truant" since that time. (one call to our school district cleared this problem up, incidentally)

Not every family should homeschool. Some parents aren't cut out for it, and nor is every kid. One of our daughters' friends is 16 and can barely read, and I put the blame directly on her parents' shoulders for that. (of course, there are more than a few kids in my daughter's high school who've been public-schooled for 12 years and are functionally illiterate, so this isn't something unique to homeschooling, either.)

I don't get "unschooling". I can't see how it could possibly work, especially in the lower grades. I don't think I've ever met an "unschooling" family, so I can't really say for sure, though.

Homeschooling isn't without its problems, nor is it some kind of educational panacea. But for us, it was fantastic, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
posted by deadmessenger at 2:37 PM on March 30, 2011 [24 favorites]

dixiecupdrinking: So it would be somehow better if they were grooming traditionally-schooled evangelicals for prominent futures in the Republican party?

I think your problem isn't with homeschooling, it's with nutball evangelicals -- which is reasonable, since having a bunch of nutball non-secularists actively trying to infiltrate and subvert secular institutions like the government is, well, problematic. But I'm not sure why the fact that they're homeschooled makes it any worse.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:43 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

I am a past attendee of NBTSC, and was unschooled from 11-18. Hi, I'm totally unsocialized and a raging Pentecostal douche!*

dixiecupdrinking, the vast majority of homeschoolers who are doing so for non-religious reasons *are* socialized. Very few of us spend all of our time glued into a book with parents looming over playing teacher archetype. The vast majority of folks I knew who homeschooled, even in a more traditional school-at-home sense did things outside of the home- music, dance, etc. The very nature of being a human being in general society prevents most homeschoolers from being ivory tower'd from a very early age.

*May be utterly untrue. May actually be a fairly well-socialized irreligious UU church attendee who's too social for her own good.
posted by Hwin at 2:45 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was homeschooled until high school and have had a great college experience. Homeschoolers are very diverse. There are militant atheist homeschoolers as well as creationist homeschoolers. Most homeschoolers are in between. They are normal kids who hang out with normal kids (though a more age diverse group, which may prevent bullying) and have normal hobbies that allow them to socialize. I did swim team, choir, art class, guitar...we were never bored.
posted by melissam at 3:01 PM on March 30, 2011

My next door neighbor runs this. When she moved to the neighborhood, I did not know this, or know of this group.

We were hosting a backyard summer gathering for all of our neighbors, and, while talking to her, I asked her which school her adopted child (very cute) would be attending.

Wrong question in this sitch.
posted by Danf at 3:06 PM on March 30, 2011

Wow, thanks for posting this. I REALLY loved the kids in the video. They all seemed so fresh and so unjaded. I hope more people become aware of the existence of this place and that that leads to a little more racial diversity in the future. It seems like a cool, positive, accepting place for kids to be themselves.
posted by marsha56 at 3:19 PM on March 30, 2011

I can't help but wonder if the kind of parents who make homeschooling successful are the kind of parents - engaged, active parents with a genuine drive to help their children flourish and develop - who would have successful children in any environment.

Extraordinary parents have extraordinary children. I can't help but feel that pointing to those very successful people as if it were illustrative of the movement is problematic.

I do not have children, but I have immediate family members who were homeschooled. They were not outliers.
posted by winna at 4:34 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I get that the numbers bear out that the majority of homeschoolers are evangelicals, but I have never met one. I'm trying to think of all the homeschooling families I know. There are four families, with a total of ten children. (Two of the moms and one of the dads are ex public school teachers, for whatever that's worth.) One family is composed of churchgoers, but they are Democrats who use birth control, so not really fringy hard right psychochristians. One family is Buddhist, one is pagan, and one is interfaith, kind of, a non practicing Catholic married to a non practicing Conservative Jew.

I guess what I'm saying is that I've only met hippie homeschoolers. I know the denim jumper wearing homeschoolers exist, but I think people act like they are the only kind when they aren't.
posted by Leta at 4:43 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

We've had about a dozen homeschooled kids come into my undergraduate department in the past few years. They are sometimes better educated, but more importantly, they're almost always better socialized than the public school kids. They know how to carry on a conversation about something substantive, they're very self-directed, and they understand how to take criticism (as a rubric for improvement, not as an expression of some sort of personal antipathy!). Their personal religious or political persuasions have never been an issue. If they're representative of a broader trend, I'm all for it.
posted by philokalia at 4:50 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was homeschooled until my senior year of high school.

It's funny, that feels like a confession. I seriously thought for a while about whether I wanted to have that fact connected to my username. But I had a great experience, being the child of the kind of parents winna talked about: they were super-engaged parents and were also enthusiastic lifelong self-educators, who were worried that the (rural, public) school system would beat the love of learning out of their kids. My brother and I had friends and activities outside the home; I started taking community college classes at fourteen. When I decided I wanted to attend high school, my parents actually moved the family to a town with one of the best public schools in the state, where I immediately found a great group of friends (all, perhaps unsurprisingly, the children of university professors). I think I'm pretty happily social and academically successful, and my brother is even more so. I deeply appreciate the time, energy, and sacrifices it took for my parents to, essentially, both become full-time educators, and I'm so glad for my own sake that they made the choice they did.

My reticence to come out of the homeschooling closet lies in the response I always get when I do, often months or years into a friendship: "You're so normal!" Always. Something like 95% of the time people say that, and I always sort of giggle and thank them, because they mean it as a compliment. When people think of homeschoolers, they almost always think of creationists, or kids who were pulled out of the school system for social problems (who may in fact be doing better at home, but are often very unhappy and poorly adjusted before they ever become homeschoolers). And the thing is, most of the homeschooled kids I knew growing up fell into one of those two camps. When I hear the word "homeschooler," I think of them, not me.

Ironically, homeschooling probably left me less cynical about the public school system than I would otherwise have been. I'm certainly more optimistic about it than my parents are. I never had to survive bullying, and the kind of people that I've bonded with in late high school, college, and graduate school are, sort of obviously, school-system success stories. Their parents were essentially like mine: ultra-engaged and serious about their kids' educations.

tl;dr: what winna said.
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:33 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

you're a kitty!, I'm a homeschooling mom, and recently a friendly acquaintance I like a lot, who is a grad student in some education-related field at the local university, asked me if I'd talk to her about homeschooling. "Because I've always thought homeschoolers were so weird, and that's what everybody at school says, but you're not weird."

There is also a majority of Christian homeschoolers where I am. Friends of mine who want their homeschooled kids to participate in organized sports or music, or who want to do co-op classes, have had to make peace with doing it with the Christian types. They're very well-organized; secular homeschoolers, at least around here, tend not to be. The secular types tend to do field trips and park days together, but not so much organized activities or academics.
posted by not that girl at 6:09 PM on March 30, 2011

Ah, I'd missed this thread. I guess this is why people in the bullying thread are talking about homeschooling. Anyway, if anyone wants to know how not to do homeschool, see my notes there.
posted by limeonaire at 7:17 PM on March 30, 2011

I am not homeschooled or unschooled, but I know several people who are and who went to NBTSC. They are all some of the most intelligent and kind people I've met, and I'm honored to count them among my friends.

If and when I decide to adopt a child, I just might go the unschooling route.
posted by spitefulcrow at 10:36 PM on March 30, 2011

winna I think the basic idea behind unschooling is that all CHILDREN will be extraordinary if they aren't constantly trying to fit into the ordinary box that is most public schools. The parents are just facilitators for a child's natural desire to learn strict unschooling.

I looove John Holt and his thoughts on what a school really is and that's why I find unschooling so interesting. The handful of children I know who are being unschooled and the slightly larger group of unschooled adults I know are all pretty awesome. I think the most common thread is that they all have the ability to self-regulate and judge their own work that exceeds that of their conventionally schooled peers.

I think it's because without grades or class rankings the only questions you can ask yourself are: Am I happy with this? Can I do it better? Do I care to do it better?

I am TERRIBLE at asking myself those questions and will stop working on something once I get an A. I'm working on it but it's something public school really beat into me that I have trouble getting away from. I wonder if those unschoolers in college are doing better, higher level work with less stress because they both know what they care to care about and know what their absolute best work looks like, without anyone having to tell them.
posted by Saminal at 12:47 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Deadmessenger: "If you (like us) are not Christian, you may have trouble finding a homeschooling group in your area that will accept you. Also, it can be difficult to find school books and other educational materials without an explicit Christian message. "

This resource list from HS Freethinkers clarifies what's what with homeschool curriculum materials from larger US specialist publishers. Some come from the religious fringe, but many don't. There are plenty of resources around nowadays for secular HS families who want a more structured approach - much more than there used to be, even 10 years ago.

Unschool and structure aren't an either-or thing regardless (at least in the families I know) - a mix seems to be the rule, rather than the exception. Most of the unschoolers I know weren't really "radical unschoolers" - and their history of mixing methods and motivating themselves to learn has served them very well in college, in general.

(First post, so please forgive me if I somehow make Mefi explode. )
posted by Wylla at 3:27 AM on March 31, 2011 [6 favorites]

Despite the tiny shrieks from Radical Unschoolers* at the far end of the continuum, most homeschooling families incorporate unschooling philosophy and practice as needed and as much as individual kids (and parents) can handle. IME, most homeschooling families (unless you're way churchy and even, dare I say, patriarchal) are not capable of maintaining a strictly school-at-home homeschooling experience without giving up. Textbooks, class periods, and even most assignments in public schools exist strictly in the interests of keeping herds of children placated and busy. Kids rebel, parents soon see the absurdity of non-individualized education, and running your home like a school can be a big drag.

Over the five years we homeschooled our boy, he gradually became more and more unschooled as time went on, though this year he attended high school as a personal choice. (With social success, but a bit of initial panic over the idea of busy-work.) Yes, finding community was tough, but even in our little town, it doesn't only consist of fundamentalists. In fact, I would say that I had to confront my own assumptions and expectations about what it meant for them to be religious homeschoolers. Stereotypes on both sides are rampant, and you can find that some of those ultra-religious types are more liberal-minded (though they might not call it that) than you would think. I came to think of them as crunchy-christians.

*Radical Unschooling is a faction of unschooling that is rather strictly doctrinaire about their philosophy, and delving into the backbiting and purist sensibilities in their online world, or even in person--I'm looking at you Sandra Dodd--can be a depressing entrée to the uninitiated. The leadership is *not* a very friendly group, and gets pretty snipey if you call what you do unschooling and don't let your kid eat junk food til they burst or play video games for 20 hours at a stretch if they want.
posted by RedEmma at 2:29 PM on March 31, 2011

Here in Australia the majority of home schoolers traditionally have been lefty hippies. In the last decade or so there has been an upswing in conservative Christians taking their kids out of school.
This is largely because historically there have been inexpensive faith based private schools, so there are affordable mainstream options for the religious, and homeschoolers need to follow a pretty comprehensive curriculum anyway, and get an approval from the state board of education to homeschool.
I think that increased visibility of US conservative homeschoolers, and amplified culture wars (thanks America) has been the driver to change.
posted by bystander at 1:30 AM on April 1, 2011

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