Friday, August 17, 2007

Do Homeschooled Kids Have Wings?

In an editorial in today's USA Today, founder Al Neuharth wrote that "Parents should give school-age kids wings." (HT: Alasandra) Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Most of us are familiar with the old quote, ""There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings," and most of us agree with it.

But Neuharth takes the idea further. When he talks about "giving kids wings," he apparently believes homeschooling parents refuse to do that. Look at this quote from his editorial:
My concern about our educational system is for those who aren't part of it — these home-schooled:
* An estimated 1.7 million to 2.5 million will be taught at home by a parent this year.
* They are tied to their mother's apron strings or father's bootstraps.
Not letting kids try out their own wings after we've provided the right roots will disadvantage them later in life.

Wow! Does Mr. Neuharth really think the several million homeschooled kids throughout the country are ALL still "tied to their mother's apron strings or father's bootstraps"? Does he really believe we should send our 5- and 6-year-olds to spend 8 1/2 hours - 1/3 of their days - in an environment we rarely even witness, let alone are able to impact in any significant way? And can he actually think that if we don't think that's such a great idea, we will therefore keep them tied to our apron strings for the rest of their lives?

There are some of us who believe that the process of releasing our children ought to be gradual, to be done only when they have a solid foundation - "the right roots." There are some of us who believe the first five years of a child's life are a bit short to sink their roots deeply. Even for a tree, the process of building solid roots takes many years; it can't be accomplished overnight. How much more true is that for a child? There's a reason our country keeps parents accountable for their kids' actions until they are at least 18 - because we recognize children aren't adults until then. They need time to sink deep roots. Homeschooling facilitates that.

Once the roots are firmly established, THEN we encourage our children to fly. We give them opportunities, first with plenty of parental involvement, and then gradually weaning them to their own direction. Just like a gardener, we gradually release the stakes that support them, one at a time, not all at once. So when they do leave home (for swim team, for camp, or for college), we don't worry as much, because we know their roots have gone deep. These are not shallow-rooted trees that will tip over in the first big windstorm; they are solid, mature oak trees that will stand against the worst weather.

My older daughter is 11. I am even now giving her more and more control. She decides what she will wear and what she will have for lunch - and she has made her own lunches most of the time since she was about 8. (She can do that, you see, because she's at home all day. She's not limited to what I pack in her lunch or what the school serves that day.). She does her own laundry (at her request). She chooses most of her own clothes (with some guidance from me). She chooses her own friends (though I still exercise considerable guidance because this is a more difficult decision than what to have for lunch or what clothes to wear - as she gets older, she will have more control). She chooses her extracurricular activities, whether gymnastics or swimming or band or whatever, and has since she was 5 or 6. This school year, while I give her the assignments, she decides what her day will look like, as long as she gets her assignments done. (What school child has that kind of freedom?) She could go to school if she wanted to - she recognizes that homeschooling gives her far more freedom and more control over her day. In the meantime, I am confident in the decisions she's making, as I watch her continue to make wise choices. I believe by the time she's ready to leave home, she will not only have solid roots, but strong, fully developed wings as well. While I will miss her, I'm looking forward to that day, to watching her soar on her own.

I hate to disagree with you, Mr. Neuharth, but I'm convinced you are badly mistaken in this assessment of homeschoolers (how many homeschooling families do you know, anyway?). I very much want my children to fly. I just don't believe that pushing them out of the nest before they have their flight feathers is going to do anything but land them on the sidewalk for the neighbor's cat to feast on.


Melinda S. said...

Great stuff!!!

I like you you take his analogy and extend it, showing how your perspective meets his analogy better than the author's own.

Alasandra said...

Thanks for linking to my blog. I love your post on the topic, and am linking to it.

Kimmer said...

I do sometimes wonder if a homeschool parent is more likely to "helicopter." We do have more control over our kids' lives than otherwise, though that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Really love that last line, though, about the cat. Very apt visual!

Marcy Muser said...

Thank you for the link in your blog! :)

Marcy Muser said...


I recognize the "helicoptering" you're talking about. But I know a lot of homeschoolers, and I know of few or none who've graduated who have had great difficulty leaving home. In fact, it seems to me kids from public schools are a lot more likely to have trouble when they leave - as in fact the editorial in USA Today hints when he says,

>>Parentitis has shifted to older students. It's most pronounced for those sending a son or daughter off to college. Or those worried that the junior or senior year in high school won't provide the springboard to get into a college of their choice.<<

Thanks for visiting and for your kind words.

Marcy Muser said...


Thanks! I'm glad you liked it, Sis!

Melinda S. said...

I posted on the "little" forum for others to read this, and they all liked it, and all also said, "SEND IT TO THE EDITOR!!!" :)

(I don't know if USA Today publishes such letters, but at least, it might get somebody's attention up there.)

Wendy said...


JJ Ross said...

And homeschool helicoptering is better parenting than running kids over with a Mack truck licensed to Congress. . .

This morning I found some wonderful remarks about children learning in real freedom from the author of 1936's Newberry Medal-winning book for kids, "Roller Skates" and related them to this old man's old way of looking at School, to show he really has no excuse. Some folks were enlightened even in 1936!

southerngirlmusings said...

Great response and thanks for sharing. I really liked the picture created with the last line.

Homeschooled child said...

Thank you for this rebuttal! I think you had a well-thought out reply. Homeschooled children are unnecessarily trashed in his article.. We've got to put a stop to this kind of uninformed thought in our country! Thank you.

Rebecca said...

Linking to you, yet again. I'd give you a Thinking Blogger Award, but Dana beat me to it.

jugglingpaynes said...

I hope you copied this to Mr. Neuharth, he needs to read it. I especially like how you point out that your own daughter has the option of going to school if she wants. I also offer this freedom to my children. I don't think a helicopter parent would give such a choice. The thing is, they enjoy the freedom to sleep late, to explore their world at their pace, and to spend massive amounts of time in the local library.
And when they are excited about their new found knowledge, I'm always there to hear them talk about it. I don't even make them raise their hand.
Excellent post. Lots of food for thought.

Marcy Muser said...

Melinda and Jugglingpaynes,

I'll see what I can find out about sending this to the editor. I had heard somewhere that they limited comments on the website to 25 words or less (!), but maybe there's another way to get my message read.

Thanks for the encouragement.

Marcy Muser said...


Thank you!

Marcy Muser said...


Thanks for the link to the Roller Skates author's thoughts. I have a copy of Roller Skates sitting on my shelf. Sounds like it's time for a new read-aloud at our house!

Marcy Muser said...


Thanks for the kind words! I, too, think Mr. Neuharth was rather unfair to you - and to my own children, who seem quite independent, thank you very much! :)

Marcy Muser said...


Thanks so much for the support.