Three Homeschool Fads We Have Abandoned

Public and home educators aren’t as different as they think in respect to fads. They each have their own silver bullet idea that is promised to miraculously pump out perfect test scores and most holy adult children. Experienced educators see through them, and the most experienced can tell stories of the merits and flaws of the fads they walked through. I’d like to explore (and sort of confess) three of them.

Getting your kids ready for graduation is a long journey.

All fads promise perfect graduates. Reality is something different.

All three educational fads carried too much promise to be the cure-all we had hoped. Wendy and I are now into our third decade of home education, and after taking the good and discarding the bad from each of these fads, we look forward with more hope than ever in our home school. I wish the same for you.

Outcome Based Education

This first fad was a public school fad, but homeschoolers can certainly learn from their mistake. I was a public school teacher when we started homeschooling, so this one means a lot to me.

If you were around in the mid-90s, you may remember Outcome Based Education (or OBE, pronounced oh-bee-eee at teachers meetings). It touted itself as a revolutionary idea that would be the great remedy for every low performance problem educators faced. For a time OBE had its day. Another fad soon replaced it, and so goes the cycle of public education fads.

I was an English teacher in the mid-90s and I remember this fad well. Homeschoolers, especially, lobbied against OBE with a vengeance. “Stick to the basics,” was the argument. And the argument had its merit.

However, what’s so wrong with focusing on the outcome?

Wendy and I look back on our 22 years of homeschooling and think that we didn’t focus on the outcome as much as we should have. We want our children to graduate with exceptional skills to help launch them into whatever field or study they aim. The secondary student must have in their scope the outcome of their education. Otherwise, they are merely focused on the process.

Right now we have four high school children, and each of them have transcripts with their outcome (measured in credits) clearly set. We build backward from there, making sure their current studies are geared toward their desired outcome. This is “outcome based education,” just minus the divinity talk about how perfectly perfect this method is.

The students will still need to work hard, we still need to dedicate ourselves to teaching, and we will most certainly not experience perfect results. That’s okay.


“Un”-schooling was the rage among my friends in the 90s, and it was a polarizing time in my life. At work I was the tie-wearing professional teaching OBE. At home I was the hippy unschooling dad abandoning anything that was traditionally “school.”

I look back and wonder, what was I thinking? Maybe that was my problem: I wasn’t. But I sure learned a lot. 

Here is how I now interpret the homeschool fad. We demonized pretty much everything traditional education espoused. Anything resembling a classroom was brushed off, even labeled as perhaps reasons modern education failed. If it looked like a traditional school, you’d get rid of it — desks, schedules, textbooks, etc.

Educational goals (i.e. “outcomes”) were not valued much at all. It was no wonder that unschoolers hated Outcome Based Education. Goals were seen as something that would be met as long as you got rid of traditional education. Why listen to the educational establishment, anyway? Their results were hardly impressive, so their methods must not be either.

To some extent, this fad had both failures and merit. Wendy and I now find ourselves taking the value of both and leaving the rest.

We’ve dropped the idea that education will occur by some magical osmosis. The concept was that if we surrounded our children with all things good, they would bring in a more organic education. We’re all for creating an atmosphere of learning, but there needs to be academic, intentional and (gasp from the unschoolers!) formal instruction.

Today and for the past several years, we have been actively involved with co-ops, clubs, and even schools. With our outcomes in mind for each child, we set up the classes or activities that build their own atmospheres of learning. We feel we dropped the idea that unschooling would be the silver bullet for all our educational woes, but kept the wholesome idea of building a healthy home of learning.

Higher Education

I remember sitting in homeschool conference halls listening to popular speakers dissuade its audience of parents from sending their children to college. The arguments they gave pretty much boiled down to these three:

  1. Many young people lose their faith in college.
  2. College is insanely expensive.
  3. The outcome of a good job is not guaranteed.

Therefore, don’t send your kids to college. This conclusion — not the premises — is where the problem lies.

All young people have struggles with owning their faith, and it just so happens this often occurs in college. This shook me as a parent with our first children, but Wendy and I have grown to expect the very things that we walked through in our life: doubt, skepticism, questioning, etc. These are not inherently bad things, and keeping children from going to college will not magically keep them from these natural developments of life.

College is insanely expensive, but so is not going to college. If a young person wants to enter a professional career of some sort, a diploma will inevitably open up doors for them. It is a merit badge that will lead to opportunities, and once they come up, the diploma will leverage for higher pay. Sure, jobs are slim and there are few guarantees in life, but that’s no reason to remove the stepping stone of college.

I regret entertaining the idea that college isn’t worth the money or effort. Homeschoolers grovel in this idea way too much, and I believe they should abandon it.

Here’s the truth in this: the job market has shifted drastically. There is much to be said about platform building and entrepreneurism that higher education establishments have been slow to adopt, but that doesn’t mean there is no validity in gaining a diploma as part of your own personal career development.

Taking the Good, Rejecting the Bad

How’s this for a pedagogical smorgasbord?…

As for my remaining 12 children at home, college is on their radar as one of the many “outcomes” for an exceptional high school graduation, and we are working to build the atmosphere of learning to that end.

You can see the influence of each of the “fads” in this. Let me break this down for you:

  1. OBE is not the cure-all for our educational outcomes, but we must focus on our outcomes for each student.
  2. Unschooling won’t magically teach to those outcomes, but we must build a healthy atmosphere of learning.
  3. Higher education may not be what it used to be, but it still can be an asset to our children launching into adulthood.

Wendy and I are into our third decade as home educators. I believe there are great years ahead, but we’re letting go of some of the heavier baggage from our early days. If you can learn from our mistakes, than you are wise and we are pleased.

Are there fads that you have abandoned? I bet they have helped make you a more experienced educator, a wiser parent, and even a better person.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Heather Carter

    We tried unschooling; I loved it but it lacked the accountability we all desperately needed. We tried all online schooling. Everyone grew tired of it and several of the kids struggled to learn concepts. We tried traditional homeschooling through textbooks and workbooks and again, the kids just grew tired and bored of it. We are only in our 5th year of homeschooling but it feels the best yet; a mix of all the above 🙂 What will we do next year? We’ll see.

    • Wait till you’re 22nd year. You’ll have it so down pat by then, it’ll be smooth sailing.

      • Tera Joyce

        I hope that is true. It certainly is for raising them (as far as character training and such) and we are on our second round…we have a seven yr gap. But we are back and forth with schooling the oldest two and they have a hard time learning anyway. So I’m thankful for online school they have been amazing this yr so far. But as far as having it down pat… I hope it will be second hand when the littles are in school. Already doing preschool with one and having the older ones home it keeps mom accountable with preschool….who can say no to such a sweet desire to learn. It just warms my heart.

  • Barbi Mulder Schaefer

    About the College point – did you see Matt Walsh’s recent article?

    • Heh, funny. I used to think these things when my twins were 3, too. Walsh gives food for thought (he always does…he’s awesome), but I wouldn’t agree 100%.

  • shawn mathis

    thank you for the thoughtful article. Another radical idea too: homeschooling as such is not a magic bullet

  • Dawn Ayres Lindsey

    Great article and thought provoking and i do remember and know some in every one of those fads. This is our 25th year home schooling and i would not trade one year, one lesson, or one fad for the character building and godly relationships that have developed in my children. Though i and my husband didnt by into them, we still dealt with them. Again, great article.

  • Yvette Moreau

    What I take from this is you and your wife were treating your children’s education as a lab experiment. Some of the guinea pigs got better educations than others. I am sure this will be deleted. However, it is not off topic and does not contain offensive language. It is an honest opinion.