Because I used to work in the field of education someone asked me, a few days ago, what I thought of homeschooling.
My first reaction is that I am against it. However, it's not a simple question, nor is the answer simple.
I decided to read up on homeschooling. When I searched for books that were critiques of homeschooling on Amazon, I found very few, but I found dozens of books to help the homeschooler and many critiquing public schools. I also searched online to find some pro and con arguments for and against home schooling. I also found lots of websites telling home schoolers how to silence their critics.
I found that there are many reasons people choose to homeschool their children. There are, of course, the ultra-religious who don't want their children mixing with people of different faiths, who want to shelter their children from learning about evolution or other worldly matters. There are also people who want to give their children the opportunity to pursue their own interests and give them quality one-on-one attention. These two opposite ends of the homeschool spectrum want to either keep their children from thinking for themselves or encourage them to think for themselves.
As long as parents can show they are qualified to teach their children, or if they can hire someone to tutor subjects with which they are not qualified or comfortable, I believe they have the right to school their own children. I also believe they have the right to send their children to private (including religious) schools if they wish, as long as tax-payer money isn't being used to support the schools in any way.
Unfortunately tax payer money is used to support religious schools. Depending on the state, tax payers may pay for school buses to private/religious schools, school nurses, books, and other supplies that supposedly do not involve religious teachings. In my experience, nearly everything is taught from a religious point of view in a parochial school.
Taking students from the public school works for and against the schools. Parents of home schoolers still pay taxes to support the schools, yet if their children don't attend the schools, they aren't using the resources. This is to the schools' advantage.
On the other hand, those who can either afford to pay for a private school or afford the time needed for home schooling, are depriving the public schools of valuable resources. The mother that home schools could be volunteering to work with the public school's PTA, being a chaperone on field trips, tutoring students who need extra help with reading. Parents of public school students who must work may not have the time to volunteer for those activities.
Some school activities cost money (such as field trips.) Most schools will cover the cost of those who cannot afford it. But when the richest 10 or 20% of students aren't contributing to the cost of the bus, the fuel, or the museum entrance, a higher percentage of students may need to have their trip funded.
I admit, I had to admire some of the home schoolers. While I often hear parents say they can't wait until school starts so they can get rid of their children, home schoolers have made a commitment to spend all day, every day, with their children and many seem to love it. I know many a parent who would be burned out within a week.
There are, of course, advantages to home schooling. One is that, in most states homeschoolers are required to devote a certain number of days and hours to schooling, but there are no set days or times. If a parent works in, say, construction, s/he can plan a winter vacation while spending some of the summer on learning. Some choose to travel in the spring or fall when rates are lower. Some continue teaching all summer to maintain retention that is often lost over long breaks.
I have been in a position to know the personal cases of about a dozen home-schooled children. Most of the home-schooled children with whom I had significant personal contact were in good to excellent situations. My problem is that 25% of the children I know personally and that were home-schooled were in what I consider to be poor situations.
Student #1: The parents were born-again Christians. The 7th-grade boy who was supposed to be home-schooled rarely got up before noon and I never saw one iota of schooling going on except when the once-a-week math tutor showed up. His parents worked, so they weren't there to school him during the day and were often out in the evenings, too. The boy was very bright and liked to read and surf the internet, so he was able to pass his tests, but (except for math) there was no formal schooling happening. He was hyper-critical of other children his age, well actually of almost everyone.
As they say, the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree. Both parents considered themselves morally superior to almost everyone else. They both considered themselves to be highly-intelligent. They were extremely judgmental and voiced opinions such as "Gays should be exterminated." I once heard one of them refer to a client as "a dirty little atheist." I have to assume they had no idea that I was an atheist, too.
In my opinion, they were the most morally bankrupt people I ever met. They cheated on their taxes, gouged their customers, didn't pay their bills. Their company resumé claimed they worked on projects that former employees worked on before they ever worked for the Born-Again company. Mr. Born-Again claimed a chemistry degree from a large university, yet he could not calculate the area of a room nor teach his son 7th-grade math. In reality, he attended only one semester of college. He was having an affair when in his out-of-town office. Mrs. Born-Again was always on the emotional edge which was exacerbated when she suspected her husband's infidelity.
I have no idea what happened to this boy or family after seventh grade. For his sake, I just hope he didn't turn out to be gay.
Student #2: From a conservative Christian family. This child seemed to have no friends. Maybe once a month, there were other children in his back yard, but usually they were with a woman visiting his mother, not there to see him. He didn't play little league nor was he involved in any other sports teams in the community, nor anything like scouting. Occasionally he rode his bike in the neighborhood alone. I would think other children from his church would have been friends with him, but they were not. Except for his mother, a hand-held video game seemed to be his best friend.
I do believe schooling was going on in the home. His parents were college graduates. Weather permitting, his mother read to him outside, but I have seen him look at a book by himself only once. While she read, he was usually throwing a stick into the air, rolling in the grass, tossing stones into the street. He may have been listening. It was difficult to tell.
Although he seemed to be of normal intelligence, he exhibited very immature behavior, yelping at nothing, beating with a stick on the cover of his sand box. Was 14 too old for a sandbox?
I have had no contact with this boy for several years because his parents moved to another state. However, I foresee this child as having a great deal of difficulty with socialization when he gets to the point that he will be with other students ---or even in the work place. He has been taught all of his life that others ---not of his religion ---are evil at worst, riff-raff at best.
Student #3: This girl had been home-schooled during her elementary years by parents who wanted their daughter to learn at her own pace. When she was placed in a public school in 7th grade, she had a very difficult time adapting. When tests were given, most students completed the tests within 20 or 30 minutes, but everyone had an entire class period (50 minutes) if needed, to complete each test. After 50 minutes, she would be only about half-way through it and would demand more time. Her teachers allowed her to skip the next class to complete the exam, but advised her that, within a few weeks, she needed to complete tests in one class period. I might add, the girl tested highly for intelligence with no learning disabilities.
She told her teachers that, at home, she could take an entire day or a week to complete a test if she wanted to, and thought it was terrible that she was given a time limit. I don't blame the girl; I blame her parents. Why didn't they acclimate their daughter to normal school procedures And didn't they know that no matter what field the girl chooses, she will most likely have to follow a schedule and meet deadlines?
The student also was extremely disruptive and told her teachers that, at home, she could interrupt her mother whenever she pleased. After a month in a public school, her parents decided she wasn't ready and withdrew her.
I might add that pubic schools aren't perfect. There are disruptive students, those who think they are superior to others, some who have problems with socializing and socialization, those who learn more quickly or more slowly than others. Some have difficulty learning at all. And then of course are the bullies, drug addicts and instigators.
Public schools often have a cookie-cutter mentality of conformity, although with new educational methods and cooperative learning, I believe that is slowly changing.
I also know not all public school teachers are good teachers, or even good people. However, schools have oversight. A bad teacher will be found out sooner or later. Homeschoolers have no or very little oversight. It is possible that a parent could be locking a child in a closet or beating the child daily if she doesn't know her lessons, but we would never know.
Megan Holland (see below) says oversight ranges from the strictest state New York, to Alaska where students don't have to be registered, have no requirements, don't have to pass state tests, don't need to report attendance. Some students excel in a learn-at-your-own-pace atmosphere, but a parent in Alaska can simply keep a child at home without teaching anything because there is no oversight. An example was given of a family that taught nothing but the Bible and the father's strict religious interpretations of it.
Robert Kunzman (see below) who found many homes that used creative ways to teach concepts, still finds the lack of oversight troublesome. He gives examples of a homeschooled 12-year-old who didn't know what 3 times 3 equaled. In another situation, a parent constantly berated her child for not grasping certain concepts when it was obvious to Kunzman that the child had a learning disability.
In most public schools, one teacher does not teach all subjects. In the middle school with which I am most familiar, a single student has different teachers for twelve different subjects, plus a few teachers' aids. If the teaching style of one teacher doesn't meet the learning style of the student or if their personalities clash, or if a teacher just isn't a quality educator, the child still has the opportunity to do well in other classes with different teachers.
I suspect homeschoolers are good and bad teachers in about the same ratio as in public schools. The problem is when a bad teacher is a student's only teacher, for every subject and for many years, the child loses. On one website the case of a 9 year old who couldn't read was attributed to a lack of rapor between her an her mother.
There are many reasons why I prefer public schools. First, they represent the diversity of our population and expose children to students from different backgrounds and different life styles. Next, they give students shared experiences ----"Do you remember the time....?" ---the kind of things we share with lifelong friends. We also share the joy or disappointment of sports teams, the high school prom, school picnics, school plays and musical performances. These are the kinds of things that bring us together and keep us together. Public schools give students the opportunity to deal with some of the negatives in life. I wouldn't wish a school bully on anyone, but learning to deal with one will certainly prepare one for a bullying boss or spouse down the road. Public schools give children a chance to spread their wings and become themselves without being tethered to their own family's narrow views of the world.
Homeschoolers deprive public school children of getting to know them and their points of view, which are part of the texture and patchwork of the country.
I know that public schools have their shortcomings. However, most families can work to overcome those by stressing the importance of reading and study at home and providing opportunities to pursue special interests such as sports, science, art, dance, or music.
I am not totally against home schooling. For me, it comes down to the reasons for wanting to keep children at home to learn. If someone is doing it to protect the child from a violent or dangerous school situation or to better his/her educational quality, then I'm fine with homeschooling.
If it is to keep them from meeting students of different religious, ethnic or economic backgrounds, to shield them from differing belief systems, or to present the parents' tunnel vision of the world, then those are bad reasons to homeschool.
I was not homeschooled, but I was sheltered from the diversity of the world to a large degree. When I hit college and discovered that people unlike me, people of other ethnic backgrounds, of differing religious views or no religion at all were wonderful people, I resented the microscopic view to which my parents had confined me. I overheard my mother's side of a phone conversation telling a friend she wished I had never gone to college because I had adopted beliefs and values unlike those of my parents. She would have preferred I stay in a cocoon and never spread my wings. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if I had been homeschooled.
An argument against private schools is that the haves get to attend and have nots are stuck in public schools. But with homeschooling, instead of money, in many cases we are talking about religion. Apparently approximately 2 million students in the U.S. are now homeschooled. A study conducted in Washington, Nevada and Utah found that 98% of parents who homeschool are white, most had some post-secondary education and above average incomes, that 78% of the homeschooling teachers were women, and 91% stated the high importance of religion in their homes. (See Mitchell Stevens below.) It scares me to think that there are hundreds of thousands of young people in the U.S. who believe the earth is 6000 years old, that America is a Christian nation chosen by God, and are preparing for end times rather than looking ahead to advances in technology, science, medicine, diversity, international relations, the humanities, and environmental sciences.
I don't like the way home schooling and private schooling divide us, just the way religion does. In John Power's The Last Catholic in America (a very funny read) the author told how he and his friends would hang outside public schools on Saints' days to tease and provoke public school students because the Catholics had the day off and the public school students did not. What they were really saying was, "Na-na-na-na-na-na. We're better than you are!"
Today, the Religious Right believes that only Christians can be good, moral people. They believe that their own particular brand of Christianity is the one true religion. Everyone else and every other religion are on the road to hell and should be avoided. Homeschooling for religious reasons just exacerbates those notions.
What do you think?
Critics question home-schooling success by Megan Holland
Home Schooling Versus Public Education by Neal Lawrence
Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling by Robert Kunzman, an empathetic, but critical look inside the homes of six homeschooling families.
Millstones & Stumbling Blocks: Understanding Education in Post-Christian America by Bradley E. Heath, perspectives on education from a Christian point of view.
Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversey in the Homeschooling Movement by Mitchell Stevens, a generally balanced but favorable look at homeschooling.