Real Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Teach Their Children at Home (a review)
Karen M. Gibson
Real Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Teach Their Children at Home
By Rhonda Barfield
©2002 Fireside (Simon & Schuster)
In Real Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Make It Work, author Rhonda Barfield presents twenty-one fascinating snapshots of the diversity of present-day home education. If you have ever felt as though you were the only single-parent homeschooler, or the only African-American homeschool parent, or the only blind homeschool parent, or the only ____ (you fill in the blank), then this is the book for you. In the Introduction, Ms. Barfield states, “A homeschooler myself, I imagined that most home-school life-styles were similar to my own. Not so. In interviewing families all across the country, I have been astonished to discover a variety of life-styles and teaching philosophies that are just about as diverse as you can get.”
Real-Life Homeschooling is not a how-to-manual. It is a collection of twenty-one stories illustrating diversity in the homeschool community in the areas of geography, family life-style, philosophy and world view, methods of teaching, and goals desired. As Ms. Barfield explains,” Real-Life Home-schooling does not present a balanced, demographically accurate picture of homeschoolers. Rather than keep the stories rigidly balanced to certain percentages, my goal in writing this book has been simply to profile an interesting assortment of people.”
The book uses the same format to introduce the reader to each family, beginning with a photo and some personal information (age of children, state and city of residence, etc.). The author of each story also provides a listing of their favorite resources, the best and worst advice they received when they began to homeschool, and a favorite quote. Then the reader is given an in-depth view of the family’s daily life and homeschooling structure, their educational beliefs and philosophies, and how their home education journey has progressed since the beginning.
Some of the diversity represented in this book includes:
- 3 single-child families and 2 families with eleven children each, with the rest of the 16 families falling somewhere in between
- 1 family with the blind mother being the main homeschooling parent
- 1 family with a Down’s Syndrome child
- 1 family homeschooling in Kwajalein Island in the South Pacific Ocean and 1 family in the Alaska Back Country
- Families where the adults are on school boards and/or where children are involved with clases/activities with the local public school and then families where the decision was made to have no involvement with the public schools
- 1 parent who was arrested for homeschooling when the family first began to homeschool
- Philosophies run from very structured and/or religious curriculum-based learning to relaxed and child-led
- Several religions are represented, as are nationalities
- Family units include single parent, adopted children, grandchildren
On of my favorite stories is that of Angie Y’s family in Missouri, the chapter titled “Christian Americans of African Descent.” Even though I live in the South amidst a fairly high African-American population, it is not often that I meet African-American home-schoolers and I was encouraged to read the reasoning behind this family’s decision to homeschool. “Home-schooling is an effective way to undo a significant amount of the damage that’s happened to our culture in the last hundred years,” Angie Y. says. “To knit families together again, to reestablish learning as a life-long exercise, and to steep children in the word and ways of God. For the nation, the change is critical. For African Americans, it is imperative!”
Refreshingly, several authors were quite honest about their hesitations or regrets concerning home education and sometimes even perceived drawbacks to home education. One chapter, written by Jennifer B.-N., tells of a family whose educational philosophy was unschooling. They felt they could best teach their daughter by their own examples and so they left their conventional jobs to pursue their own passions. As a result, life had sometimes been difficult, paychecks uncertain. Her chapter relates “The family doesn’t use a curriculum, per se, relying more on activities and discussion to facilitate learning. … Unschooling has not been exactly what Jennifer expected. ‘It isn’t a constant state of obvious learning as I expected.’ "
If you enjoy learning about why and how families home educate, then you will enjoy reading this book. Realizing there is such diversity in home education is encouraging, since I believe it is this very diversity that will enable us to continue to attract new recruits to join the ranks of the home education community. As a quote by Margaret Mead says, which is given as a family’s favorite in this book, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Real Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Make It Work presents us with just such a group of thoughtful, committed people.
Copyright July 2002
Originally published in the July/August 2002 issue of HELM (Home Education Learning Magazine)