By the time Meredith Warshaw 79 of Newton, MA, saw her son Keith finish third grade, both of them felt miserable. Keith excelled in math and science but struggled in writing and foreign languages. His school day stretched into long periods of boredom, while he sat through math and science instruction at too low a level, or frustration, while he strove to complete his writing and language lessons. At home, Keith and his mom argued over homework. And Warshaw found that Keiths school wasnt able to give him the extra instruction he needed. She had heard about homeschooling from other parents of gifted and special-needs children but was skeptical about her ability to handle the logistics as a single mother. As fourth grade loomed, Warshaw investigated other schools for Keith without success. It was the end of August, and we had no idea what we were going to do, she says. We had to do something, so I said, I guess were homeschooling him.
Warshaw is part of a growing population of parents in the United States opting to teach their children at home. Its an educational insurgency that dates back to the 1960s, when Raymond Moore and John Holt began advocating homeschooling, each for his own reasons. Moore, a former Seventh-Day Adventist missionary, saw homeschooling as a way to maintain Christian values during the educational process. Holt, a teacher and author, advocated school reform and appealed to the countercultural left. Separately, both men influenced a movement that becomes more popular with each passing year. The numbers are sketchy because data collection methods vary, but the U.S. Department of Education estimates that as far back as 1983, as many as 125,000 kids were being homeschooled. By 2003, that number had grown to 1.1 million, according to the latest figures from the National Center for Education Statistics.
With its high-powered curriculum, MIT seems an unlikely place to attract or produce homeschoolers. But in fact it does both. Anecdotal evidence from alumni gatherings, online forums, and articles from the Alumni Association indicates a growing interest in homeschooling among MIT graduates with families of their own. In addition, the number of homeschooled students applying to MIT has nearly doubled since 2001, with several admitted each year. Their parents reasons for eschewing traditional education vary, but they include concern about schools values and safety standards, the prevalence of drugs, the quality of teaching, and the lack of resources for children with health problems or special learning needs. Alumni who opt to take the leap quickly learn about the many resources available from national and local organizations to help them with curricula, legal questions, and support. Still, there are plenty of misconceptions about home-based education. Stereotypes abound and challenges arise, but MITs characteristic self-starters have the traits that make for good homeschoolers, and they are pursuing alternative education their own way.