Comparing Homeschoolers with Public Schoolers

A few weeks ago I was talking—more accurately, moaning–to my husband about our second-grader’s lackluster progress in math. I’m not really sure what to try next, or if we just need to stick with what we’re doing, so I was just kind of thinking out loud about my options. My husband, because he likes to know these kinds of things (geeks like data, you know) asked how David’s progress would compare to that of school children his own age. So I did what any rational, confident homeschooling mom would do when faced with such an innocuous question: I freaked out.

There is one thing in this world that makes me absolutely bonkers, in ways that I can’t even begin to describe (because you would then understand how truly insane I am, and we don’t want that to happen). I hate, hate, hate being asked questions to which I do not know the answer. It makes me furious!

And the truth is, I don’t know. I haven’t even the first clue how my precious son would stack up against other children his own age. I suspect he’s thoroughly average. But I do not know. So I muttered something about shoving kids into boxes and spent the rest of the evening slamming doors and throwing shoes. My husband is probably still completely in the dark as to why. (This post ought to clear that up for him, at least.)

How could I not know, though? I’m as American as apple pie! I love to quantify things! In our metrics-driven society, you don’t really even exist if you don’t know how you stack up against others. The pediatrician gives you charts for height, weight, and head size. The state requires standardized tests to ensure that all children know their proper place in the academic pecking order. We run races and take IQ tests and get into bragging contests on the playground about how many songs 3 year old Sally knows by heart. We are obsessed with statistics about our food, polls about our political situation, and averages in baseball. We Americans love numbers and tests and comparisons so much that I wonder if we even know how to breathe without looking at the next guy to see how he’s doing it.

In fact, I like comparisons. I compare heads of lettuce at the grocery store. I compare curricula. I spend a ridiculous amount of time comparing prices. But I do not compare children. In fact, I don’t spend much time worrying about what other people are doing, thinking, driving, or wearing, either. It is pointless and counter-productive.

But I did start to wonder where other kids are in their studies, after my husband asked me, so I looked it up on the internet. My son appears to have an appropriate knowledge base for a child his age in most things. If we were to take him to school tomorrow (you know, ‘cause Hell froze over), he’d have the worst handwriting in the classroom, and be slightly behind in math. His reading would be far ahead of much older kids, though, and the school would have a very difficult time teaching him because of the disparity. Like his mother, he is gifted in some things, and struggles with others.

It doesn’t seem fair to just use the school’s standards, though. Let’s use mine for a minute! If you were to bring a school child to my homeschool, she’d have a heck of a time explaining the relationship between Charles the Hammer and the Moors of Spain (hint: they weren’t friends), and she certainly wouldn’t be able to explain as much about botany as my son. Nor could a school child likely recite as many poems or make as many origami figures. The schools just aren’t doing it the same way we are, so there’s no way to compare. It’s apples and oranges.

My son’s differences from publicly schooled children are not due to my being a terrible math teacher and a great history teacher. The difference is because home education allows a child to learn in his own way, and my son’s way is very different than that required by a classroom teacher in order to keep 20 to 30 kids all close to the same level and trudging forward at a reasonable pace. My son would be left behind in some things, and bored out of his mind in others. In fact, I think most children who are in public school end up with this problem. Schools cater to the average, but nobody is truly average.

Now that I’ve done that small amount of comparing, I think I’m going to go back to doing what homeschool moms everywhere already know is best: I’m just going to teach my child the next thing he needs to learn and let the chips fall where they may. I think that will work out just fine.


  1. OMGosh – hilarious! truly hilarious [notice the true part:)]

  2. So true! I love love love this post. We’re not cookie cutter, conveyor belt, push them through to ace the test so the school gets more money mentality. Fortunately, there are some great teachers out there…and parents who are able to help many of those children who are above and below…but, the issues in our society scream of the disaster we have created in our school system that was truly only created to educate those in true povery who did not have the opportunity to either attend a high level boarding school with mentors…or have parents/tutors at home.

  3. Are you sure I didn’t write this article? Sounds just like our family. Thanks for writing it all down so concisely. Check the link for my take on the exact same thing–kids who are advanced in some subjects and behind in others. That’s where mine were when we pulled them out of public school four years ago.

  4. You’re on to something here. Maybe instead of comparing homeschoolers to public schoolers using their standards, we should compare public schoolers to homeschoolers using our standards.