Photographer Rachel Papo moved to upstate New York in 2010. In the early days in her new inhabitance, Rachel noticed many of the local kids were homeschooled kids. This led to an idea, a Kickstarter, and now, a pending book.
As criticism of the U.S. education system grows among parents, so does the appeal of homeschooling. Shortly after moving to Woodstock, New York, in 2010, I began to photograph a small number of families living in the region who follow this path. While much of the discussion about the subject tends to revolve around parents and their beliefs, I chose to focus particularly on the lives and routines of the children, in an attempt to capture their spirit, and the meaning of growing up outside the conventional four classroom walls.
What was the inspiration behind the photos of homeschooled kids?
In 2010, after my first child was born, I left Brooklyn NY and moved to Woodstock in Upstate New York, in search of a quieter lifestyle. I soon met a variety of people living in the area, one of them a mother of a 5 year-old girl who was homeschooled. I thought it was an individual case of alternative lifestyle and it intrigued me, so I decided to explore the topic photographically.
Soon I discovered that it was a common practice not only in the area, but countrywide. My first reaction was that I want to find out who these children are: what is unique about them and what it means to grow up without the restriction of the four classroom walls.
Rachel was nice enough to answer a couple questions about her project, the photos, and the way of life in her new hometown.
Do you homeschool? Would you consider it after taking the pics?
I do not homeschool, though my two children are still too young for that (ages 5 and 2). Both my husband and I have busy careers, so homeschooling is not an option for us at this point. However, after spending all this time with the families and children I learned to appreciate the practice. I think that when you spend so much time with your children during these developmental years, both sides gain something very special — a connection that others, who do not homeschool, may never experience.
Is there one photo you found to be the most “telling” of home schooling?
I keep on going through the photos trying to decide which is most representative of the story. Although I like and connect to many of them, the one that I always come back to is “Homework” which is the cover image on my Kickstarter book campaign. It sums up everything about my experience with the children I met. It speaks of quiet, maturity and simplicity.
Did you get to talk to the kids? How did they feel about being home schooled? Would they even realize the difference since they probably never went to a real school?
The children were all extremely intelligent. Their knowledge was not only academic, but extended to many other fields, such as farming, cooking, hunting, wood-working, etc. — all things that were part of their family’s daily lives. They are all aware of public schools but don’t seem to mind not being part of it. They have their own community and scheduled activities with other groups of homeschooled children in the area.