Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews has a short piece up today on the growing phenomenon of “emergency homeschooling” or, as he calls it, the “kiddie sabbatical.” He thinks more and more parents are taking their children out of school and teaching them at home for specific, short-term periods of time. There are lots of reasons parents might take such a step:

Your kid is being bullied. A hurricane has wiped out your city. This year’s classroom teacher is not a good fit. Your spouse gets a sudden transfer. So you teach the child for awhile.

A recent book, Laura Brodie’s Love in a Time of Homeschooling: A Mother and Daughter’s Uncommon Year, is the story of just such a sabbatical. The novelist took her “dreamy daughter” Julia out of a regimented school in Lexington, Virginia, for a year. As Mathews details,

Julia was less entranced with the idea. but accepted on these terms: no after school academic work except reading an hour every day and writing one page in a journal, anything she wanted. Freedom of choice in writing appealed to the independent-minded child, but I laughed when Brodie revealed that Julia was initially relieved to return to the regular school because the teachers there did not demand nearly as many writing assignments as her mother, who made daily writing-across-the-curriculum the centerpiece of their year. 

Many parents might wish to do the same thing—try homeschooling as a short-term experiment—but worry that they’ll set their child back a year. Mathews says not to worry:

Did Brodie fail to teach something important? It turns out that is hard to do. She learned a secret of elementary school known to most homeschoolers. Just keep the kid progressing in math, and she will do fine. In the regular schools, all the other subjects are pretty much the same every year. 

Culture leader The New York Times hasn’t given the book, which came out last month, any ink yet. Which is too bad, because it sounds like just the thing to convince a greater proportion of the population that homeschooling isn’t something only for Bible-believing Christians, a stereotype that seems to be getting weaker each year. And the book shows that, as Mathews does a good job of explaining, homeschooling doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing. Our education system has become so rigid that it doesn’t leave much room for experimentation. As I argued in a post a number of weeks back, there’s no reason to think education should be a one-size-fits-all prospect. Mathews suggests it might not be one-size-fits-all-times, either. Parents might want to be open to more flexibility in how they provide an education for their children. It’s striking that in authoritarian Malaysia, there are only about 500 families in the country that homeschool.