Ashley Lynn ’05 was not schooled. She was “unschooled.”
In elementary school, Lynn’s days were happily free from homework, books and teacher’s dirty looks. She did what she wanted, when she wanted. And she still got into Yale.
While many Yale students hail from America’s Andovers and Exeters, other Yalies are part of an unusual group: the homeschooled. Yale’s small population of homeschooled students come from diverse educational backgrounds. But for the most part, they made the transition to institutional education with few difficulties, and they say their backgrounds have proven useful in Yale’s rigorous academic environment.
“[Admissions officers] generally consider homeschooled kids to be more self-disciplined and academically motivated, which is generally rightly true,” homeschool graduate Benny Goldberg ’07 said.
Yale parents’ rationales for withdrawing their children from conventional schools vary from family to family. Some families prefer to educate their children at home for religious reasons, while others dislike the prevailing examination-centered approach to public education. Most homeschooled Yale students, however, said their families opted to keep their kids home because of dissatisfaction with local education.
Goldberg, who was homeschooled with his sister Miriam Goldberg ’05 throughout primary and secondary school, said his parents simply did not agree with the goals local schools emphasized.
“My sister was going to go to middle school, and they found that most of the middle schools had the primary object of self-esteem and sports, and not academics,” he said. “My parents wanted our education to be focused on academics.”
Parental concerns are not always the main impetus to choose homeschooling.
Lynn, who did not attend conventional schools from second to ninth grade, said she made the decision for herself.
“I hated my school basically,” Lynn said. “My parents were fine with me going to school, but I was impossible to please. They thought that if I didn’t go for a couple of weeks, I would get bored, but it just never really happened.”
Perhaps the most extreme form of homeschooling is what is termed “unschooling,” in which parents strive to avoid any sort of “coercion” in their children’s educations. Children are expected to take the initiative to choose what they would like to learn and when.
Some people say unschooling can lead to poor results, but Lynn attests she is a successful product of unschooling, which allowed her to steer the course of her own education. At first, Lynn said, she was overwhelmed with the freedom.
“The first thing that happened was that I got out of school, and I was like, ‘I don’t have to do anything.’ And I didn’t do anything for two years,” she said.
Although many such students come from situations in which their parents were their primary day-to-day instructors, homeschooling exists in a multitude of forms. Some home schoolers follow highly regimented schedules, and others adhere to less stringent programs of study. But many homeschooled Yalies agree that they enjoyed a greater degree of flexibility in their schedules.
“A lot of days were like, you do math, and then afterward we could do whatever we wanted,” said Whitney Sparks ’07, who was homeschooled until the eighth grade.
And though many home schoolers stray from the established educational route, most eventually rejoin their peers in conventional schooling, often for high school.
Lynn finished her unschooling and went on to a regular high school.
“I think it was a combination of wanting to be a normal teenager and wanting to have a yearbook,” Lynn said. “The transition was not that hard. I was surprised at how little people picked up between second and ninth grade, allegedly social skills, but I never felt left behind.”
Rarer are those like Goldberg, who continued homeschooling until he enrolled in college. Goldberg said he decided not to switch to conventional schooling because he had become very comfortable with the informalities that learning at home provided.
“The prospect of waking up at 6:30 a.m. every day frightened me,” he said. “The prospect of deadlines also frightened me.”
His transition to Yale was largely a smooth one, he said, but he did encounter his share of speed bumps adjusting to deadlines, daily routines and social situations.
“I’m going through the kinds of things that people go through in high school, from an older perspective,” he said. “Like trying alcohol for the first time, relationships, friendships gone awry — I’m just having a little bit of a learning process now.”
Homeschooled Yalies agree their experiences have shaped the way they approach academics, even at Yale.
As a result of her background, Sparks said she holds herself much more responsible for her learning.
“It gives you an extreme amount of self-confidence. You know what you’re doing, people treat you like an adult, and people treat you like you are responsible,” she said.
But no matter what advantages homeschooling confers, Goldberg warned that it is not for everyone.
“I don’t think that I was necessarily the strongest candidate for homeschooling because I wasn’t actually self-disciplined,” he said. “In retrospect, I think I might have preferred regular schooling. It would have been much more active socially.”
On the other hand, Sparks said all families should consider homeschooling or at least the questions it raises about the current state of our educational system.
“The key part of homeschooling is parents taking responsibility for their children,” she said. “What’s bad about reading and learning? Why do we teach our kids it’s something to be afraid of?”