“I’ve never been to school. I grew up homeschooled, stayed homeschooled, never was not homeschooled,” says Billie Eilish, the 18-year-old musician who took home five statues—including ones for album of the year, song of the year, and best new artist—at Sunday’s Grammy Awards.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Eilish told the music magazine Pitchfork last summer that she views traditional K-12 education as the equivalent of being forced to eat vegetables.
I learned how to do math by cooking with my mom…I learned, like, how to build shit from my dad. What I’m saying is I learned shit in life…I feel like when you’re sat down and somebody’s like shoving things in your throat, you’re not gonna want to eat them.
Eilish has been praised for her wildly inventive and idiosyncratic songs and sense of style. Her main collaborator is her older brother Finneas O’Connell, who was also homeschooled and, as her producer and co-writer, shared in her big haul at the Grammys. In a 2014 interview with Your Teen Media about the movie Life Inside Out (written by their mother, Maggie Baird) which was partly inspired by his childhood and in which he appears, O’Connell also gave homeschooling high marks for cultivating individualism.
Being homeschooled is all about self-discovery. It’s something that I’ve really enjoyed and thrived under. I’m not at a high school where I have to base my self-worth off what other people think of me. I have to think, “What would I like to be doing? How would I like to be as a person?” I think that’s an enormously positive thing.
In the same interview, Baird stressed the flexibility of homeschooling for parents and children alike.
Everybody’s always out doing things, traveling, going places, meeting for classes, and organizing field trips. It’s like going to college. You take what you want, where you want it, and you find what you need…Homeschooling allows us to let them do the things that they really love to do and not have a giant academic schedule on top of it.
Patrick O’Connell, the father of Eilish and Finneas, told The New York Times in March 2019 that he and his wife were inspired to try homeschooling by reading about the experience of the ’90s band Hanson:
I was completely swept away by these kids… They were religious Oklahoma home-schooled, but nonetheless. Clearly what had happened was they’d been allowed to pursue the things that they were interested in.
About 3.3 percent of K-12 students are homeschooled, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The total number of homeschooled kids was about 1.7 million, or double the number in 1999. The most common reason for homeschooling is concern over “school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure,” with slightly more than one-third of parents citing such worries. The next two top reasons are dissatisfaction with academics (17 percent) and a desire to provide religious instruction (16 percent).
Homeschooling is one form among many options when it comes to school choice (go to National School Choice Week for more information on the varieties of options available for K-12 students and their parents). According to NCES, the percentage of students attending traditional public schools based on residential assignment has declined from 74 percent in 1999 to 69 percent in 2016, the last year for which full data is available. About 6 million kids attend private schools and 3 million attend public charter schools.