Prior to the establishment of the public school system in the 1840s, children in North Carolina were taught at home, usually by either parent or by a governess. With the introduction of a public system, however, home instruction virtually disappeared. But not totally.
In 1985, for the first time since education entered the public domain, educating students at home became legal. That year, 381 families in the state opted to do so.
In 1988, key legislation was passed that made it more favorable for home schools to operate in North Carolina, and the first year it passed, the number of home schools jumped 32 percent from the year before to 1,380. In the 1990s, detractors dismissed homeschooling as a passing fad. They were wrong.
In the intervening 38 years, homeschooling has increased every year in N.C., including a 10 percent jump last year. Today, the North Carolina Department of Non-Public Education recognizes 74,653 schools with 118,268 students across the state. The numbers are conservative, however, since parents and schools aren’t required to register children under the age of 7. North Carolinians for Home Education, a homeschooling advocacy group, puts the number closer to 190,000 students.
In Bladen County last year, 248 home schools operated, up 15.9 percent from the year before. A state-wide average of 2.5 students per home school means approximately 620 students in Bladen County receive their education at home.
Despite its increasing popularity, and perhaps due to its naturally private composition, many people remain in the dark about its true nature.
“There is always the common idea that homeschooled kids aren’t ‘socialized’ or prepared to enter society because of their ‘lack of socialization’ during the school day. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Michelle Galyean, who has five children ranging from sixth grade to college, all of them products of homeschooling. “I would put my kids, all five of them, against another kid in any social situation at any time. The only thing that my kids might not understand is how to function in a closed classroom with 28 of their same-aged peers for the duration of a school day. But, what does this teach them?
“In no other aspect of life will they be asked to function in only a set perimeter of same-aged humans. My children can hold intellectual conversations maintaining eye contact with members of our legislative branch, help to teach a preschooler his letters and numbers, carry on a conversation with the grocery store check-out attendant, listen attentively and glean knowledge from past experience of senior citizens, and stand up in front of hundreds of people to explain their convictions and how they have seen God move on their behalf in making Him known.
“I think there is a horrible stereotype of homeschoolers being inept compared to their public or private school peers in the area of socialization. This is probably the biggest farce, and definitely the biggest joke, among homeschoolers nationwide.”
Homeschooling mom Heather Norton agrees.
“People ask me about socialization — that’s the main thing I hear,” she said. “My (fourth-grade) daughter carries on conversations with 70-year old women while I’m getting my teeth cleaned. What people are calling ‘socialization’ is just what they’re comfortable with and what they think it should look like.”
“It’s been very hurtful when people tell me my daughter’s going to be different,” Norton added. “I feel like this community just doesn’t have an understanding of what home school is like.”
Homeschool graduate and North Greenville University student Katie Galyean knows what it’s like from the inside.
“Socially, (college) has been a bit different, but not in a negative or positive way,” said Katie of her transition. “It is just different. I think a lot of the new experiences I have had are the same ones that any other student, homeschooled or not, would have. You are all the time meeting new people from new places that present new ideas to you.
“I have come to realize that socialization does not really come from the way you attain your high school diploma, but the experiences you have along the way. Those experiences may or may not come from an academic environment.”
Many homeschoolers take advantage of co-ops, groups of homeschoolers that get together for a variety of activities. Some may gather to do chemistry labs together, or go on field trips, or have play dates. Some do clubs or academic classes. Co-ops differ in size, ranging from a few families getting together sporadically to organized groups like C.H.A.R.M. (Christian Homeschool Association of Rocky Mount), which is pushing 200 families with almost 1,000 students. The group has sports, a yearbook, field trips, academic classes, play dates, a newsletter, events like trick-or-treating, book swaps/sales, support groups, a mentoring program, and clubs, all run by homeschool parents.
In one such co-op, Classical Conversations, for example, students from the Wilmington area meet at a church in graded groups. During the week, they work at home on their common assignments in literature, math, history, etc. and come together at the end of the week to deliver a history presentation to their peers, or go over math lessons together, or participate in Socratic dialogue. They go over each subject, similar to a six- or seven-hour public or private school day.
“As far as academics go, the transition from home school to college was almost seamless for me,” said Katie. “I give all the credit for that to my parents. In (Classical Conversations) for the high school students, there is a lot of classroom interaction, and the workload is college level. I’ve told many people that I have often felt over prepared for college academically.”
That academic freedom is, for many, the draw to homeschooling.
“To me, the purpose in homeschooling is freedom to learn and explore when not confined,” said Norton. “Every single thing we do now becomes a learning opportunity. Before, I was too busy to stop and take time to teach, like in cooking — I would just go ahead and do it. Now, it’s an eye opener that this is opportunity to show them and help them learn. Homeschooling is an out-of-the-box learning opportunity.
“My first year, I tried to recreate the public school classroom in my home, and it wasn’t working. It was the reason I pulled my daughter out in the first place, so I asked myself why I was trying to recreate that at home. Once I truly realized that I had the freedom to do what was best for my child, and it could be anything, it was a light bulb moment. It’s made the biggest difference. She wants to learn now and sometimes doesn’t want to stop doing her work, because she can do it at her own pace.”
Norton also said homeschooling isn’t for everyone, because some children, like her son, need the structure provided by organized education. But for others, the freedom to teach what a child is interested in at the time of their interest, to teach on their individual level and at their own pace, not “wasting time” during the school day, is liberating.
Parents aren’t the only ones that enjoy home education.
“Our kids all love homeschooling,” said Michelle. “They are discovering how much easier college is for them than many of their peers, because they have been taught to learn, not just to regurgitate answers, but to truly learn the material. They love the freedom of learning their multiplication tables on the couch, cuddled up with mama. They appreciate being able to take a spur-of-the-moment field trip to that cool exhibit in town. Homeschooling is an honor. And they know it.”
“After the first year homeschooling my daughter, my son kept telling me he wanted to be homeschooled, so we tried it with him too,” said Norton. “Now they both tell me they don’t want to do anything else.”
“If anything, graduating and my experiences afterward have done nothing but solidify my opnion that homeschool is the best choice out there,” said Katie. “I’m definitely planning to homeschool any children I might have.”
Home education in N.C. reached another historic milestone in 2015, when, for the first time, the public schools got involved. In the N.C. Virtual Academy, students stay at home and work on assignments given by certified state employees using online or material textbooks provided at no cost. Once a week, they log on to a live lesson for each subject. A Virtual Academy teacher’s “class” may consist of 30 students around the state — a free education provided by the state but at home.
“It’s definitely not for everyone,” said Norton. “The student has to be motivated to work at their own pace, but it allows a parent to work a full-time job, and it’s a good is good way to start for people who are nervous about homeschooling. But key is, once you start, you really do see you can do it on your own, and do it better.”
She added, “My one regret with homeschooling is that I didn’t do it from the beginning.”
“The whole purpose of education is to know God and make Him known,” said Michelle. “Homeschooling fits the bill for us better than other avenues of education in that we are able to address every issue, as it arises, in light of Him and His goodness. All subjects — geography, history, Latin, logic, mathematics to name a few — all point back to Him. You can see Him in everything. Life skills, disagreements, hurt emotions, finances, home management, career choices — those all point back to Him. It is our job as parents to five of the most magnificent human beings ever created to teach them and model for them what living for Him during all of these life events looks like. When we know Him, we automatically lift Him up. And when we lift Him up, He draws more unto Himself. That’s the real purpose of life, and homeschooling provides us with a beautiful route to do this alongside of our kids.”
Anyone interested in homeschooling or developing a co-op in Bladen County may call Chrysta Carroll at 910-991-166o or email [email protected]