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Some people do not like what their kids will experience in public schools, so they educate them at home. Is this good or bad?

First, I must admit that I have some bias here. I come from a long line of schoolteachers. Most of my family…my mother, and most of my brothers and sisters and their spouses have been involved in the teaching or administration of public schools.

Can an amateur teach a child all the things that they will learn in public schools? I suppose it is possible. Do all home-schoolers meet this requirement? I cannot see how they could. Public school teachers are college-trained professionals who have devoted their lives to the education of young people. How could a parent who has not received this intensive and specialized training perform as well?

How many parents have the skills, knowledge and inclination to devote six hours a day to the education of their child? How many can competently teach English grammar, world and US history, science, math from grade school arithmetic through algebra, geometry and trigonometry…biology, chemistry, physics…and don’t forget music and art. I honestly do not know ANYBODY capable of doing all of that.

There are some who think that they can. John Holt (1923-1985) was the preeminent advocate of home schooling. He had no professional training in education, but he published a book entitled How Children Fail which criticized traditional schools. The book was based on a theory he had developed as a teacher and an observer of children and education; that the academic failure of schoolchildren was caused by pressure placed on children in schools.

Holt said: “…the human animal is a learning animal; we like to learn; we are good at it; we don’t need to be shown how or made to do it. What kills the processes are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate it or control it.” Holt later said, in 1980, “I want to make it clear that I don’t see homeschooling as some kind of answer to badness of schools. I think that the home is the proper base for the exploration of the world which we call learning or education. Home would be the best base no matter how good the schools were.”

Public, or even private schools take children from the security of their home environment, and place them in a classroom of their peers, where they are challenged to perform and compete. They must learn to deal with arrogant, rude, even threatening behavior of their classmates. This “socialization” is an important part of the learning process that they cannot acquire in their home. Although it can sometimes be unpleasant or traumatic, it is part of life, and something they will have to deal with as adults. Is it too early in their lives to begin this part of their education? I do not think so.

Children in public schools learn to participate in group activities, like band and chorus, group games and team sports. These interactions with other students are an important experience they miss if they are home-schooled.

The reason most people home-school their children is religious. Public schools expose children to ideas that conflict with faith-based beliefs, and some devoutly religious people do not want their kids to be “infected” by those ideas. By keeping them sequestered at home, they insulate them from exposure to ideas that might challenge their faith.

Parents have a right to brainwash their children. For the first five years of their lives, children are prisoners of their parents’ beliefs. After that, most go to public school, and are exposed to different ideas. Their parents are still the major influence in their lives, but once they start school, most kids begin to understand that there are people who don’t agree with their parents on everything, especially religion and politics! Most will retain their parents’ religious beliefs, but some may not, and that’s where home-schooling comes in. If parents can retain total control over their children until they are adults, they have a better chance of keeping them “in the fold.”

The question is: SHOULD parents have this right? Most of the people who do homeschooling are devoutly religious. They would be the first to lecture about the “rights” of the fetus, as opposed to the mother, in abortion decisions. And yet, once the child is born, those same people claim that parents have the right to determine everything for the child…including what they are allowed to think and learn. The same people who claim that, at conception, a person is created, are comfortable treating their child as a cipher, a nonentity to be browbeaten, brainwashed and intimidated into their religious beliefs once they are born.

[To supplement this, I have included some stats below – JP]

Motivations regarded most important for homeschooling among parents in 2007. Source: 1.5 Million Homeschooled Students in the United States in 2007 Issue Brief from Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. December 2008. NCES 2009–030 By Mikael Häggström (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

However, in a study done by Dr. Brian D. Ray, President of the National Home Education Research Institute, 7,306 participants were asked why they homeschool, and their responses were as follows:

  • 79.5% Believed they could give their child a better education at home
  • 76.7% Religious Reasons
  • 73.5% To teach their children particular values and beliefs
  • 69.2% To develop character/morality
  • 66.7% Object to what school teaches
  • 56.1% Poor learning environment in school

Ray has produced several studies that support homeschooling, but is not in the most obective of positions!

There is evidence of a maths gap. Although there is research to show that homeschoolers in general fare better (based on Ray’s work), there is a huge scope for dodgy data. I would like to know whether this is like for like (what sort of children are homeschooled, and is this compared to like children within the system?). Indeed, are there particular sorts of children who would benefit in homeschooling, and those who would benefit in regular schooling? Are there areas where they suffer (eg science)?

In short, there seems to have been a self-selection bias in research, since it relies on volunteer data. Here is an advocation group for homeschooling admitting as much:

A variety of studies of homeschooled students’ academic performance have conclusively shown that homeschooled students can succeed academically. However, there have been no studies of homeschooled students’ academic performance that have used representative samples rather than recruiting volunteer participants. Further, study participants are inevitably from wealthier, better educated, more intact families, meaning that they likely would have scored well above average regardless of the educational option their parents chose for them. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics suggests that the homeschool population is significantly more diverse than the samples commonly used in studies of homeschool achievement, meaning that these studies likely miss whole swaths of homeschoolers. What these studies show is that homeschooled children in wealthier, better educated families with driven and motivated parents (the sort that would volunteer for studies of their children’s academic performance) tend to score well above the public score average, as should be expected. They do not show that homeschooled children as a whole score above average or that educational neglect does not occur in homeschooling settings.

The data we have on homeschoolers’ academic achievement also suggests that homeschoolers tend to do comparatively better in reading and worse in mathematics, suggesting a need for more effective and thorough education in STEM fields, and that structured homeschool environments may be more conducive to student learning (or at least the sort of student measured on tests) than unstructured homeschool environments. The data also suggests that homeschool graduates who attend college perform well or above average but that homeschool graduates are less likely to attend college than graduates of conventional schools. For more, see Academic Achievement.

More research is needed on both the extent of educational neglect in homeschool settings and the most effective ways to combat it and protect homeschooled children’s interest in receiving a basic education.

In fact, Love, Joy, Feminism here at Patheos has an excellent article on this, and takes Ray’s research to task. This is well worth a read.

An interesting synopsis (though lacking citations) of homsechooling as viewed by, and in terms of, US colleges can be found here.

Bert Bigelow is a trained engineer who pursued a career in software design. Now retired, he enjoys writing short essays on many subjects but mainly focuses on politics and religion and the intersection...