Homeschooling in the 21st Century

Prior to the 1970s in the United States, parents who homeschooled their children often did so with no network of support. With the publication of works by John Holt and Raymond Moore in the late '70s and early '80s, the homeschooling movement had several voices behind which to unify, but curriculum was still basically in the hands of individual parents. The onset of the digital age, though, has begun to change that.

Schooling and the Information Era

Not so long ago, when people wanted to know or validate a fact, they had to look it up in a book. This meant that they'd either have to invest in expensive stacks of encyclopedias (which would often go out of date) or spend a ton of time at the library. Not that there's anything wrong with libraries, of course, but it can be inconvenient to not have information immediately at one's fingertips.

students on computers

When society was given the boon of the Internet, and everything changed. Almost any piece of knowledge you need to know is mere moments away from anyone with a computer or smartphone and a network connection. Many industries have been revolutionized by this new information age, and homeschooling is no exception.

In the digital era, two types of homeschooling exist. More traditional parent-generated (or approved) curricula are now bolstered by the wealth of knowledge the Internet affords. However, the Internet's other strength is communication, and some school districts have begun to take advantage of that by setting up digital schools that students in their district can attend.

Individualized Curricula

Although for some time companies have existed that provide pre-assembled education for homeschool students, it's typically up to parents to pick and choose the precise material studied by their children. Even if they opt to purchase homeschooling materials from a corporation, there's still a degree of customization and individualization involved. The Internet has made it easier than ever for parents to supplement the lessons they choose with additional material, particularly information that may not be in their wheelhouse. In addition, some of those companies that previously sold homeschool material through the mail currently exist online, where they offer a curriculum augmented by digital videos and games designed to entertain as well as inform.

The Internet has also provided parents who homeschool with a network of communication. Though homeschooling pioneer John Holt provided a print forum for parents when he founded Growing Without Schooling magazine in 1977, nothing compares to the immediacy and global reach of the World Wide Web. Parents have formed support groups and informational resources like whyhomeschool.blogspot.com to make the homeschooling journey easier on all parties involved.

school building

Digital School Curricula

It's not just parents who are taking their schooling home. Buoyed perhaps by the massive number of online colleges, or possibly feeling threatened by individualized curriculum, some public school districts have begun to offer Internet classes to their students. For instance, in February 2010 the Clark County, WA newspaper The Columbian reported that some of the region's public schools had created a so-called Virtual Learning Academy, limited to only students in the county. The program is guided by three certified teachers from the district, and students meet weekly with academic coaches in a live setting.

Though the widespread institution of these digital academies is probably a long way off, places like Clark County, WA perhaps point towards the future of education. Critics of homeschooling might see developments like this as legitimizing the movement. If nothing else, all of these advances in homeschooling brought about by technology may be making it easier for parents to decide whether or not they can ably supplant a traditional school education.

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