Families shared a number of forces that drove them away from public and private schools. Some were exhausted by the glitchy mayhem of remote learning. Other BFHES families pulled their children from schools after they overheard how teachers spoke to their children, admonishing students who didn’t maintain eye contact or keep cameras on.
For parents unhappy with Covid-era education, homeschooling could seem like a respite from struggling public and private schools and an opportunity to reclaim a part in their kids’ learning. Ali-Coleman points out that the pandemic was the catalyst that pushed parents to seriously consider what they really wanted their kids’ educations to look like, the roles they wanted to play as parents, and the options they had outside the default educational institutions.
This is where online homeschool communities like BFHES come in: Virtual communities make alternative forms of schooling, like homeschooling and pandemic pods, more accessible for more parents looking outside the neighborhood school. If researching how to start a homeschool is as easy as a Google search, then finding a group of similar-minded families for support and advice is just a few more clicks away.
Online communities based on cultural and racial groups have been key to attracting and informing families who don’t fit the white, isolationist homeschooler stereotype. BFHES hosts free virtual skill-share workshops on topics like homeschooling children with special needs or managing homeschooling while earning an income. The stories on the Facebook page turn the nebulousness of homeschooling into something more tangible. If this family that looks like me can make it work, why can’t I?
If Covid-19 was the publicist for homeschooling, then the internet is the connecting force that binds longtime homeschoolers and the new crop of wired, inspired parents. And if the stereotype of homeschoolers is white, reclusive, and conservative-to-cultish, the online communities that grew over the course of the pandemic constitute a far more diverse, modern rebuttal.
The One-Room Schoolhouse of the Future
Technology hasn’t just helped a more diverse set of parents start to homeschool—it has given parents a curricular blank canvas, free from the parameters of institutionalized education. “There is absolutely no one way that folks are homeschooling,” Ali-Coleman says. “And what parents are finding is this level of flexibility that doesn’t exist within these traditional school settings.”
Homeschooling regulations vary across states. Texas requires teaching only reading, math, spelling and grammar, and “good citizenship.” Parents don’t need to keep records of their children’s learning. In Massachusetts, a state with more rigid rules around homeschooling, a parent must submit annual notices of intent to homeschool, a written plan for approval by the district, and proof of learning progress, which might include progress reports, dated work samples, or standardized tests.
But when it comes to actually deciding how to allot each hour in a child’s learning day, parents are pretty much given carte blanche. This could be a barrier for parents considering homeschooling: Building a curriculum from scratch can be daunting, especially when you multiply the effort for each kid. But especially in the extremely online Covid era, curriculum resources are as bottomless as the internet itself. Parents describe their homegrown curriculum design the way one might rattle off a cocktail recipe: practice worksheets from ABCMouse.com, videos from TED Talks for Kids, and a few minutes of the Happy Learning YouTube channel, for garnish.
The expansiveness of online resources, combined with offline, parent-led activities, lets parents more closely tailor their kids’ learning time to their own values. Cheryl Vanderpool, a new homeschooling parent in the Atlanta area, is using OutSchool.com to help her sons learn Tagalog. Tagalog classes weren’t offered at the private school they attended before; now she can use tech and the flexibility of homeschooling to give her sons a stronger connection to their Filipino heritage. “I like the idea of presenting material to my kids that’s not necessarily the colonized experience,” says Vanderpool.
If anything, it’s the abundance, not the lack, of homeschool resources that parents might find overwhelming. Online homeschool communities are helpful here, too. While Google can serve up an infinitude of worksheets and websites and YouTube videos, resources vetted by other parents can help families narrow down their options. Vanderpool is part of an Asian American homeschoolers Facebook group, which shares resources on children’s books and organizes co-op–style classes that connect families across the country.