The ideas expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of The New Courier.

A Homeschool – Public School Comparison from Someone Who’s Experienced Both

By Emily Clayton
October 14, 2021

There are pros and cons to both homeschooling and public schooling. I am constantly asked which is better, but in my experience, there is no better, just different.

When homeschooling I didn’t have many friends outside the family. Instead I developed a very strong relationship with my siblings. This could be seen as a good or bad thing. When homeschooling I did scientific studies in my own backyard, could read my books wherever I wanted, and had unlimited access to my teacher. PE was time spent playing tag or biking with my siblings. Girl scouts, museums, day trips, and hiking were all part of my curriculum, and if I planned my time I could wake up at six in the morning and finish my work before 10am. There was so much more freedom than in the public school system.

Before I was eight I knew I wanted to be a professional artist, astronaut, paleontologist, scientific lab worker, and a stay at home mom. I fed squirrels different foods to see what they preferred, collected squirrel bones, poked squirrel roadkill with sticks to see their anatomy, and played with putting flies in the fridge so they slowed down enough to look at. I drew dragons, read and wrote poetry about bugs, and tried embroidering flowers and sewing stuffed unicorns. I built cardboard forts in the rain and crouched in them to try and understand what it was like to be homeless. I explored, and always wanted to know more.

Nowadays, I still do all these things, though it has been quite a while since I put houseflies in the fridge. The difference is that I’m better at analyzing what I see, spotting experiences to try, and having the coordination to do things. I’m not exploring more than I used to, just doing it differently. My curiosity and exploration may evolve as I go through life, or even disappear during stressed intervals, but if it ever vanished entirely life wouldn’t be worth living.

Homeschooling fostered this curiosity and inquisitiveness in a way that public schooling never did. There was even a time when I looked back on my childhood memories of exploring the backyard and thought that maybe they weren’t real. I thought maybe it was only the rosy lens of childhood looking back at me, and the rest of my life would be a grim affair of trying to survive, get a job to support myself, and not let the world destroy me entirely.

Homeschooling taught me there is nothing childish about stopping to identify a shiny object, or climbing a tree to pick wild grapes, or writing a paper about pigeon-eating catfish, all of which I have done. Curiosity is the desire to seek out the new and unusual things that haven’t yet been discovered, and it can lead to wonderful discoveries, like free grapes in the woods on campus, or finding a vintage silver fork lying around in your art classroom.

On the other hand, I also didn’t learn to write formal essays until public school, and some of my foundational math and grammar skills are a bit shaky. I can write an amazing essay or short story, and I have a wide vocabulary and good understanding of grammar because my curriculum centered around reading books, but if you ask me what a predicate or numerator is I start to get nervous.

Public school guarantees more uniformity, meaning you learn all the basics but you also learn them in a structured way that doesn’t encourage exploration and creativity. Public school fosters more social interaction, but also brings to bear the full judgement of a hundred other kids. School teachers can’t be called on any time you need, but they are experts in their subject which can make ten minutes with a math teacher more effective than an hour with mom. There are positives and negatives about both, but I know personally I will always treasure my homeschooling days.

Quarantine has been an interesting time for me. I don’t mind distance learning, having been homeschooled almost my whole life. In some ways it’s been easier. I don’t have to hear about the virus as often, which is great; the constant worrying doesn’t do me any good. Being at home has actually been quite nice. I’ve been counting my yard work for PE, and we’ve gotten tons done, fixing up the pig pen, getting pigs and rabbits, clearing further into the woods. I miss my friends greatly, but really my biggest fear is that a rise in the number of cases may relegate us to online learning once more.

My freshman year of high school was all online, and it was absolutely miserable. Having been in both the public school system, home learning programs, and online school I can firmly say that online is my least favorite. Online learning is absolutely not homeschooling, and in my opinion is the worst of both worlds. But that…is another essay.