The Diploma Dilemma

March 23, 2021 Updated: March 23, 2021

In 1821, the first public high school was established in the United States. Since then, the pursuit of the high school diploma has been a primary goal for most Americans. Earning the accolade is celebrated as a major milestone. Parents not only anticipate their child’s graduation but expect it—complete with pomp and circumstance, cap and gown, and pecuniary gifts at the graduation party.

The diploma’s magical appeal to parents is undeniable. High school graduation is seen as the doorway to all the opportunities of adulthood. Without a diploma, who would be able to attend college or get any job at all, right? Through the typical high school route, millions of teens launch to become the doctors, lawyers, plumbers, and farmers of the next generation.

In 2000, when my husband and I began our family, we never gave a thought to home education and took it for granted that all our children would, of course, graduate from our local high school because that was all we knew.

As we saw the effects of public school education on our peers and family members, our perspectives about what our priorities were regarding our kids began to change. Our confusion stemmed from the trade-offs that came with the diploma, including loss of family values, drug use, premarital sex, and declining academic standards we saw in public schools. I will never forget the shock of our family members as we announced our decision. We would school at home.

Early Years

During those early years, other mothers were tied down by a school schedule and school activities while I juggled teaching at home and motherhood. These things weren’t as life altering as I had anticipated, so we started our crazy journey happily, but never far from my mind was that ever-nearing, much-feared obstacle—no diploma. Sometimes, while nursing my younger children in the night, the thought would almost strike panic in my heart. The busy days and the joys of being with my children drove the fears away. I heard anecdotes of home-educated people as successful adults doing amazing things. Surely, the diploma wasn’t as essential as I had heard.

Reading aloud was a large part of our homeschooling days, and while sharing stories, histories, biographies, and historical fictions with my kids, I found myself amazed at education throughout the ages coming alive. I saw in my mind’s eye people such as Benjamin Franklin, Nathaniel Bowditch, and George Washington Carver doing amazing things without a diploma.

As my kid’s primary teacher, I decided I should immerse myself in educational philosophy and learned through Charlotte Mason, Dorothy Sayers, and Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn about the true classical education. Often, I was amazed at what I hadn’t learned in public school. My education had been a scope and sequence type that provided the bread and butter, but this new way was giving me and my kids the lobster, prime rib, and oysters Rockefeller of the educational menu.

Launching Young Adults Into Life

As my oldest reached junior high, she began looking at options for her adult life. Her goals were set but made with flexibility in mind. From child to child, according to academic ability and readiness, we have slowly but surely progressed.

There are as many ways to launch a home-educated student as can be imagined. We had friends who had sent their child to a four-year university without a high school diploma. It turns out that at her chosen school, good scores on a college entry test were all that was necessary. My husband had also become an administrator at a community college in the area. He began to see homeschooled students begin classes with a placement exam and without the need for a diploma. This has been the route our oldest two students have taken.

We also saw young entrepreneurs begin businesses such as taking over family farms, becoming real estate agents, and cosmetologists. Some of these students even ended their homeschool journey with graduation ceremonies put on by groups of parents. We were slowly learning how to launch these young adults into life with home education as an asset, not an obstacle.

Now we have two students in college, but I can easily remember the days of uneasiness when I imagined my grown children in the great big world without diplomas. Just the other day, one of my daughters, a student at a four-year college in Kentucky, called and said, “Mom, I see how well prepared I am for my classes because you taught us how to read great books.”

My secondborn has been able to pursue music because of homeschooling and was told by her mentor that she could audition “for any school she wants” because of her talent level. My husband and I feel no need to change course or worry about life without a diploma for our younger children.

These days are radically different than those 20 years ago when my husband and I first decided to homeschool. Now the very fabric of traditional values is being torn apart starting at the local primary school. Never would I have dreamed that the history of our nation would be canceled, the sex of my children questioned, or the label of racist be stamped on so many children’s heads just because of their skin color.

Many of these changes are placing conservative public school teachers and administrators in a crisis. No longer would their main task be to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic but progressive ideologies.

As a beacon of hope, I want to hold out our homeschooling story to those who may be scared to leave public school. It turns out that the dilemma isn’t the absence of the diploma, but what your student inadvertently is indoctrinated into with one.

Tricia Fowler is a Christian homeschooling momma in the Midwest. She currently spends much of her time teaching math, feeding sourdough, and helping with whatever is in season on the hobby farm she shares with her husband and seven children.