Why would homeschoolers want to participate in the public schools?

Many homeschoolers do not want or need services from the public schools - that's why they're homeschooling! Here are some thoughts on why homeschoolers should advocate for the opportunity for services, whether or not they choose to use them.

First, it's important to point out that the question "Should homeschoolers be allowed to participate in the public schools?" is quite different than the question "Should homeschoolers choose to participate in the public schools?" I'd give it a "yes" and a "maybe, in most cases probably not". Most homeschoolers do not want or need services from their school district. Nonetheless, there are situations where participation is a sensible choice.

  • Folks homeschool for many different reasons. It may be a choice based on religious beliefs, educational philosophy, a child's special needs, the flexibility of the homeschooling lifestyle, etc. Depending on why a family chooses homeschooling in the first place, participation may or may not be compatible with this choice.
    Some homeschoolers have very negative feelings about the public schools (often based on their experiences), other homeschoolers have generally positive feelings about the school, although they believe that homeschooling is a better choice for their child at this time.
    It is not uncommon for a family to have one or more homeschooled children, as well as one or more children in public or private school.
  • In some cases, the reasons why a child is homeschooled may be of a temporary nature. If the family anticipates that the child is likely to return to school, they may want to provide some continuity through participation in some of the activities that the child enjoyed while attending school.
  • In some cases, the parent has been running an activity (coaching a sports team, running a club, whatever) in the school their kids attend, and (for various reasons) continues to do so once they decide to homeschool their kids. Naturally, their kids continue to participate in the activity.
  • In the case of sports, a homeschooled child may have been playing soccer or football or basketball in a public league for many years, but when they reach middle school these teams stop, and the other kids generally go on to play on their school's team. The school's team is then "the only game in town." A homeschooled kid may want to continue to play, and to play with their old teammates, by joining the school's team. (In some cases a homeschooler may be able to play on a private school's team.)
  • In some cases, there is an equivalent homeschool activity available, but it may not be suitable for all homeschoolers. For example, in some areas many homeschool activites have a Christian component - these activities may be deemed unsuitable by families who are not Christian.
  • In some cases, the child has special needs of one sort or another that are difficult/expensive/impossible to meet elsewhere. These cases are often quite unique. Homeschooling gives the parent a lot more flexibility with the child's educational program, but they may still need or want some specialized services from the school district. This can apply to kids with a formal label and IEP, both special ed and gifted, or to kids with less-easy-to-label needs. It is these folks I'm most concerned about when I read stuff written by homeschoolers about how it will hurt homeschoolers if some of our kids get services. Parents of special needs kids, labeled or not, can use all the help they can get, and we should support that!

When homeschoolers argue against participation (Home Education Magazine has published a bunch of articles like this), there are generally two concerns:

  • If homeschoolers participate in the schools, they may get entangled in more oversight - for example, one homeschool mom reports her son's "grades" to the school weekly in order to meet the sports eligibility requirement that they have a "C" average in order to play.
  • When homeschoolers avoid the school's activities, they are motivated to create activities within the homeschooling community.
    This makes sense, but there are of course situations where this is not feasible. Developing, for example, a sports team would require a bunch of homeschooled kids of the right age who had compatible schedules and lived not too far from each other and had roughly comparable skill in the sport, and a knowledgable coach, and a place to practice, and schools who were willing to play against the team, and a mom who had the time to arrange all of this! This would require a lot of parental energy to create from scratch! As homeschooling grows, more activities for homeschoolers will be created, but we can't always wait around for this to happen.

Bottom line - kids are all different, and parents can be trusted to make sensible choices to meet their kids needs - sometimes we just need a little help!