Laignee Barron ’13 is used to answering questions about her previous schooling to new acquaintances. “When I tell people I was home-schooled, I always get the same initial response: ‘Oh.’ It’s either an excited ‘oh,’ like ‘Oh, so am I!’ or it’s, ‘Oh, I’m going to go talk to these other people now.’”
Barron started her education in the Southern California public school system, but her parents withdrew her when she was having trouble reading—they believed this was because she was not receiving enough individual attention from her first grade teacher. She and a number of other students who were having difficulties were advised to take remedial courses and told they could be transferred to a slower track if the problems persisted. Barron’s parents, however, refused to take that risk.
“This situation is indicative of larger problems within the public education system,” Barron said. “Students don’t get the personal attention needed to learn. Home-schooling was a complete reverse of this experience since I received one-on-one attention and got to individualize my program of study tailoring it to my needs and skills.”
At first, Barron’s mother was against educating her daughter at home. But after finding that none of the private schools in the area appealed to her, and reading a book about home-schooling, she warmed up to the idea.
“There are many different kinds of home schooling,” Barron explained. “Often people assume that home-schooled kids sit around and do nothing or are religious zealots. Neither was true for me.”
Home schooling is still largely considered an unusual alternative to traditional forms of primary and secondary education, and there are only about two million home-schooled students in the United States, according to the National Home Education Research Institute.
“People have very set ideas of how they want to perceive home-schooling,” Barron said. “There’s a lot of closed-mindedness, which is frustrating.”
Apart from learning with tutors, home-schooled students often opt to take classes at charter schools, independent schools, and through home school teaching co-ops. Barron’s curriculum included classes at a local private school, and she spent her senior year taking courses full-time at a community college. She also had a number of private tutors, whom she refers to as ‘mentors.’
“I developed amazing relationships [with my tutors],” she said.
For middle school, Barron joined an informal co-op-like program, in which several parents and tutors took turns teaching.
“A lot of people had a horrible middle school experience,” she said. “I had a terrific one.”
She vividly remembers building miniature medieval castles at the behest of a spirited history teacher. The kids in the co-op became an incredibly tight-knit group, and Barron stayed in touch with them after she left.
“They kind of turned into my cousins,” she said. “And they all went on to do really great things.”
Several students in the co-op entered college early, which Barron said is not unusual for home-schooled students.
Barron considers one of the greatest benefits of home-schooling to be its flexibility in shaping an education. She said she looked at public high schools, but felt that they did not offer students a broad enough sense of the world and often held students back.
“You shouldn’t just be doing repetitive U.S. history,” she said. “You should be doing college-level work.”
Barron’s mother advised her to pursue her passions, such as theater and writing, as part of her education.
“She did an amazing job of inspiring me,” Barron said. “Being home schooled definitely changed my outlook on life, and I’m sure I would be a very different person if I had stayed in school.”
Barron, who is a self-described overachiever, had to organize much of her education on her own by going into the community to find mentors who suited her needs. She incorporated practical learning into her curriculum by completing several internships and working at a newspaper.
“One of the things that drives me crazy is the idea that we work less,” Barron said. “I think it depends on the self-motivation of the student, but I spent parts of every summer planning my curriculum with my mom, and I got an inside look at education theory.”
At times, however, Barron became frustrated at having to research everything from textbooks to course plans herself. Another drawback to home schooling is the absence of an advisor to help with the college admissions process.
Since her educational experience did not correspond perfectly to the application’s questions and categories, she had to include plenty of written explanations, course syllabi, supplemental essays, and writing samples.
“I kind of felt bad for the admissions people who had to read it all,” she joked.
According to Senior Dean of Admissions Gregory Pyke, the admissions office does not have a special approach to reading home-schooled students’ applications.
“They receive the same close reading evaluation by the admission deans as all other applicants,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Argus.
From a general pool of 10,000 applications to the University in 2009, Barron was one of 25 home-schooled students to apply, one of two accepted, and the only one to enroll, according to Pyke.
The University became Barron’s top choice after she visited the campus. She found the school’s support of the arts, as well as its open curriculum, particularly appealing.
She has a general idea of what she wants to study—theater and literature—but continues to seek out new subjects, such as Arabic. Looking back on her home schooling, Barron said it required immense self-motivation and discipline, which she anticipates will also be essential to academics at Wesleyan.
“It’s a process of learning about yourself and about what and how you want to learn,” she said. “It’s not easy.”