Letting Go of Educationally Ineffective Schooling Paradigms

By Dr. Douglas J. Pietersma

It is difficult for some families who have removed their children from institutionalized  schools to disentangle themselves from the paradigms that have permeated “education” for more than a century. This can even be the case for those who have never sent their children to school, yet they have these schooling paradigms seared into their memories from their own childhood. 

Many of these ineffectual processes can and should be disassociated from home education because they are futile and potentially counterproductive in bringing about true education. Because they are not conducive to education, I call them “educationally ineffective schooling paradigms,” or EISPs. When they are not set aside, frustration often ensues, and this is evident in social media threads where such issues are addressed. 

So, what are some of these EISPs, and how can we break free from the urge to include them in our home-learning environment? 

Here is what homeschoolers can do to decouple themselves from institutional schooling processes, which might be useful in traditional classroom environments (or have become part of the cumbersome bureaucracy of the system) but are unnecessary in homeschooling. These include but are not limited to grade levels, concepts of ahead/behind at age, and peer-group socialization. 

Grade Levels 

Grade levels, which didn’t exist before 1848,1 are divisions of academic material that aid the administration of institutionalized schooling but are not necessary for true education. Given the variety of student learning styles,2to expect a group of students to all proceed at the same pace in academic learning is detrimental to those who learn differently, leaving behind some and provoking apathy in others.3 

Home educators can avoid the EISP of grade levels by assessing each child’s abilities, challenges, and God-given interests to determine where to start in each subject area, establish at what speed they should move forward, and even decide when a particular subject may no longer be necessary. As an example, my special-needs son is simultaneously working through material from three different grade levels. Similarly, my now graduated daughter finished algebra and geometry, but instead of moving on to higher-level math, she focused on business math and personal finance, as she was on an entrepreneurial track rather than a college preparatory track. 

Ahead or Behind 

Another concept, closely related to grade levels is the idea of being ahead or behind. The question is, ahead or behind what? Schools need to measure progress, and they generally  do this through a regimen of standardized testing. Barna reported that, according to these assessments, most publicly schooled children are at least one grade-level behind.4 The objective of these evaluations is often to grade the school on the academic progress to secure (or maintain) certain funding streams from the state or federal government. The attachment of funding also leads schools to teach to the test, which very well might improve scores without any discernable increase in student knowledge.

To quote Nicki Truesdell, “There is no such thing as ‘behind’ in homeschooling.”5 Home educating families can avoid this EISP by taking each child from where they are, in any  given subject, and moving forward at the student’s own pace without trying to keep all subjects on a predetermined level. This may mean having a student working at different levels simultaneously or even have an older child at a “lower” level of instruction or a  younger child at a “higher” level of instruction in a particular subject area. 

Peer-Group Socialization 

For pragmatic reasons of administration, institutionalized schools must group students by  age and capability. Since compulsory schooling resulted in near-universal attendance by the 1970s,6the prevailing assumption became that proper socialization was developed in these  peer-groups, which Burkard and O’Keeffe call “the most unnatural social construct  imaginable.”7 Anyone who has home educated for even a short period has likely  encountered the “What about socialization?” question. 

I have written before that socialization is a non-issue for most home educators.8 Not only is  peer-group socialization not ideal,9 but much evidence exists that it is detrimental to proper  social development.10 Few places outside of institutional school segregate people by age and intellect. Where they are segregated, they often do not need to be, such as in church  ministry, which has been shown to be detrimental to faith development.11 


There are many other EISPs, but these cannot be fully addressed in such a short article. Among others, these include such concepts as pushing students through a predetermined  curriculum in a pre-set timeframe, keeping to an established timeframe for academic work,  conforming to state-mandated curricular content, and checking off specific academic classes to determine the culmination of studies. Suffice it to say, the more EISPs home educators  can identify and avoid, the more effective home education can be. 


1. Anderson, C. M. (2016). Education is discipleship: So who’s really discipling your kids? Phoenix, AZ: For It Is Written Ministries. p. 84  

2. d’Escoto, D., & d’Escoto, K. (2007). The little book of big reasons to homeschool.  Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group. p. 14  

3. Ibid. p. 17  

4. Barna, G. (2003). Transforming children into spiritual champions. Ventura, CA: Regal  Books. p. 19  

5. Truesdell, N. (2020). Anyone can homeschool: Overcoming obstacles to home education.  ISBN-10: 9798675326532. pp. 187–88  

6. d’Escoto, D., & d’Escoto, K. (2007). The little book of big reasons to homeschool.  Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group. pp. 8–9  

7. Burkard, T., & O’Keeffe, D. (2005). Homeschooling: The case against compulsory school  attendance laws. In B. S. Cooper (Ed.), Home schooling in full view: A reader. Greenwich,  CT: Information Age. p. 237  

8. Pietersma, D. (2022). Beating a Dead Horse: Why Socialization is an Insignificant Issue  for Homeschooling. Home School Researcher 37(4). pp. 11–13.  

9. Anderson, C. M. (2016). Education is discipleship: So who’s really discipling your kids? Phoenix, AZ: For It Is Written Ministries. p. 107  

10. Rushdoony, R. J. (1963). The messianic character of American education. Nutley, NJ:  Craig Press. P. 109; Wayne, I. (2017). Education: Does God have an opinion: A biblical  apologetic for Christian education & homeschooling. Green Forest, AR: Master Books. p. 38  11. Baucham, V. (2007). Family driven faith: Doing what it takes to raise sons and  daughters who walk with God. Wheaton, IL: Crossway. p. 180–81

About Douglas 

Dr. Douglas J. Pietersma is a research associate with the non-profit National Home  Education Research Institute (, and the editor of NHERI’s peer-reviewed Home  School Researcher journal. He is also director of a homeschool cooperative ministry in  Cheyenne, Wyoming. Dr. Pietersma has two children, one a K–12 homeschool graduate and  another who is a special-needs high school student. He is available for consulting or  speaking engagements on Christian education and homeschooling. Questions can be  directed to Dr. Pietersma at [email protected] or 307-214-6164. Copyright 2023, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the  Author. Originally appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the  trade publication for homeschool moms. Read The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine free at, or download the free reader apps at for mobile  devices. Read the STORY of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine and how it came to be.

Do you like what you are reading? Like and follow Homeschool Roster on Facebook.

Get updates and keep up with Tennessee homeschool news. Subscribe to Homeschool Roster.

Check out upcoming Homeschool Roster field trips and events.