Homeschooling Rehashed

My post on the problems of homeschooling generated a good number of comments, and some of them were slightly critical of what I said. Some, too, made some good points. So I thought I’d take a minute to respond to some of these comments. I have divided the comments into seven main points, and given each a summary title for the sake of clarity.

1. I know many homeschoolers who do it very well

Incidentally, my son’s home school support group includes vegetarians, environmentalists, Jewish, atheist, Christian, gay rights activists, those in favor of legalizing marijuana and those against it, all in a big mish mash of American political/religious opinions. And they way they pair up would often surprise you, as they all seem to defy stereotyping. All of their parents chose home schooling as the most nurturing, freestyle option of education, and all of these teens are well-educated and involved in their communities. I know for a fact that there are plenty of other home school types out there, but don’t lump as all into the mix with them.

While I tried to say in every step of my post that not all homeschool families have the problems I was outlining, I may not have done a very good job at making the distinction, so thank you for trying to set that right! You are correct that there is a wide variety of homeschoolers who homeschool for a wide variety of reasons. Since leaving my parents’, I have met atheist, Quaker, and pagan homeschoolers, as well as Christians homeschooling for non-religious reasons. And you are right, many of them do a wonderful job. But this does not change the fact that homeschooling is perfectly suited to be a cover for abuse, and that this abuse does go on.

2. Only a small minority of homeschool families are abusers

I say “some” homeschooling families abuse because that is a provable fact. I personally agree with it because when I homeschooled my son, we were involved in activities with a variety of secular and religious homeschooling groups, as well as private and public schools (educational providers in our area have a very cooperative attitude). I saw no abuse; nada. We were not involved in a fundamentalist group, they were really not a huge presence compared to the others, and I would not presume to know what went on in their ranks, but they were a small minority of homeschoolers here. NOT “most.”

I’d like to point out that just because you saw no abuse does not mean it was not occurring. Some of this may come down to the definition of abuse: I would contend here that even families following Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull beliefs that appear to be happy and do educate their children are creating future problems that may not yet be apparent. You might have run across some of these and not known it. Additionally, as you point out, you were never involved in a fundamentalist group. Remember that the homeschoolers who are a real problem are the ones who are most likely not to be in the kind of groups you would be in.

But you are right that it is misleading to label all homeschoolers as abusers (and I was not trying to do that). So let’s see if we can find some numbers. I think the problem is those who homeschool for religious reasons, these families are homeschooling specifically in order to isolate their children from the world and control what their children learn. It’s hard to tell what percentage of homeschoolers this is true for, of course. In 2007 36% of homeschool parents said that their number one reason for homeschooling was to provide religious or moral instruction, and an additional 47% listed this as a secondary reason. This indicates that at least a third of homeschooling families homeschool specifically for religious reasons. So yes, I suppose that would be not “most.” Nevertheless, a third of the total two million kids homeschooled is still a lot of kids and clearly not an incidental problem.

Another problem, of course, is that religious homeschoolers (ie those homeschooling for religious reasons) appear to have an inordinate amount of control over the information of the homeschool movement through HSLDA and their control of most local homeschool conventions. This control needs to be challenged by those more mainstream homeschoolers who homeschool for non-religious reasons.

3. The homeschoolers I knew were all assessed by the state

All — yes ALL — the homeschooling families I associated with had their children assessed, used standardized testing, and were in favor of government intervention in abuse cases.

Good! I wish all homeschoolers were like that! The homeschoolers we really need to worry about are the ones who do not have their children assessed and are against any sort of state intrusion. And remember, many states today have literally zero homeschool regulations.

4. Homeschooling is not the problem – bad parents are the problem

Home schooling is not the problem. Bad parenting is the problem.

I never intended to say homeschooling was the problem. Rather, homeschooling enables abuse by allowing parents to isolate their children and control what they learn. Homeschooling is an extremely useful tool in the hands of parents who want to isolate their children and mis-educate them, and it allows them to do so.

BUT, since home schooling is parent-run, bad parenting in a home school becomes an educational issue. Every child has the right to access to an adequate education in this country. In fact, we as a society demand they take advantage of that opportunity 180 days a year from the ages of six to sixteen. So society does have a vested interest in the education of even home-schooled students.

Exactly. Children have a right to education, and we as a society need to make sure that they have access to that education. This extends to students who are homeschooled.

My opinion: annual portfolio reviews, annual health exams, annual testing- I have no problem with any of these options. I have nothing to hide, and as long as evaluators don’t approach their job with an anti-home school bias, no one doing a good job has anything to fear.

Again, exactly. Many states currently have no homeschooling regulation at all, and that needs to change. If we regulate homeschooling, by requiring the kinds of things you mention, we can reduce its potential to serve as a tool for parents who tend toward abuse.

5. We can’t limit freedoms just because there is some abuse

“I do sometimes wonder if allowing homeschooling is worth the abuse that takes place in its name.” It’s hard to watch, isn’t it? But that’s the burden of freedom in this country. If you think about it, it’s really the freedom of religion that allows these cultic patriarchal practices that is at fault, rather than the freedom to homeschool.

If we value our freedom, we don’t want to start taking them away. What we usually do in this country is set up systems to monitor it. I agree that parents should have the freedom to educate their child in whatever manner they deem best, but the bad actions of a few in this regard have probably now made it necessary to enact some restrictions and controls on that freedom. Preserve the freedom to homeschool (and it is a WONDERFUL educational option for many, many students) while protecting our children. JMO ; ).

You have an excellent point. We don’t take away the freedom to drive just because cars are dangerous, and we don’t take away the freedom to own guns just because they can kill people. But we don’t let just anyone drive a car or own a gun, either. We regulate them. Exactly.

6. Don’t forget parents’ rights

I agree that parents should have the freedom to educate their child in whatever manner they deem best, but the bad actions of a few in this regard have probably now made it necessary to enact some restrictions and controls on that freedom.

I actually don’t think that parents have the freedom to educate their children however they like, and given the rest of your sentence I don’t think you do either. Parents don’t have the right to educate their child in whatever manner they deem best because the child also has a right to an adequate education. There has to be a balance there, and I think that homeschooling needs to be regulated in order to make sure that that balance exists, and that children are not deprived of their right to an education.

Everyone should be free to pursue the lifestyle for their family that they choose- but they can’t deny their children’s civil rights in the process.

Right. Technically people are free to live however they want in this country – but they can’t interfere with other people’s rights in order to do so, and that includes children’s rights to things like physical safety, medical care, and an education. So if we let parents homeschool, we need to simultaneously regulate them in order to ensure that the child’s rights are not violated.

7. Ideas for the future

I would like to see a future with far more cooperation and movement between home schooled and public schooled populations.

I agree. I think it would be great if homeschooled students could take classes in public schools and be involved in public school sports, and in some areas of the country, this is already taking place.

Liberty, I agree that HSLDA is a large part of the problem with regulation. They are masters at slick public relations and had brochures and information at every “new to homeschooling” meeting I attended, secular or christian. Like other slick advertisers, they portray a worst-case scenario as common or probable, and appeal to our pride in country and freedom to get members. All — yes ALL — the homeschooling families I associated with had their children assessed, used standardized testing, and were in favor of government intervention in abuse cases. So I believe in the absence of HSLDA fear-mongering, they would support regulation also (in fact, most believe it already exists). I’m beginning to think the best strategy toward that end is a counterattack against HSLDA by noted conservative Christians… if any of them have the balls. ; )

Sounds good to me! Go ahead, mount the attack!

Conclusions

I am not calling for making homeschooling illegal, both because that is impractical in today’s political climate and because I have seen families who do do it well. I would, however, make four points: First, we need to be aware that homeschooling is perfectly suited to be a cover for abuse. Second, we need to discuss realistic ways to regulate homeschooling in order to ensure that every child gets the education he or she deserves. Third, I think that even in families who do not abuse homeschooling, children can grow up feeling different from their peers in unpleasant ways. And fourth, I think we need to return the focus to the public schools rather than abandoning them.

First, we need to be aware that homeschooling directly contributes to abuse by giving parents the ability to isolate children and mis-educate their children. Yes, the problem is bad parents, but the problem is also that homeschooling allows this abuse to take place. Homeschooling is perfectly suited for families who want to isolate their children from the world and mis-educate them, and it is therefore very attractive to them. Homeschooling is like a gun or a car – it can be beneficial but it is also dangerous. I think too often homeschoolers refuse to admit this, seeing it only as some sort of panacea. This is a problem. We need to admit that there are these intrinsic potential problems with homeschooling before we can work to solve them through better regulation.

Second, we need to come up with regulatory solutions to the potential problems of homeschooling without limiting the freedoms of families who homeschool well. I like the idea of having parents apply to homeschool the same way parents apply to adopt (after all, they’re essentially proposing to start a school). Parents who don’t check out (either have no education or clearly have the potential to abuse) would be denied a homeschooling “license.” Some sort of licencing requirement like this would even work out to the benefit of homeschoolers, because when they prepare to send their children to college or into the job market they have the benefit of graduating from a “licensed” homeschool, which would indicate that the parents do know what they’re doing. Of course, we would need to make sure that the licensing requirements were realistic and not arbitrary. Regardless of the sort of regulations settled upon, someone needs to start this conversation going, because the status quo in many states today is a problem.

Third, I believe that even parents who homeschool their children for reasons that are not religious are depriving their children of the chance to be normal. These children will never have a first day of kindergarten, etc. The cultural background that every other child has, these children will not have. Now of course, this will vary – many homeschoolers are involved in sports and learn about pop culture like other kids. I’m not saying that this means people shouldn’t homeschool or that homeschooling automatically messes kids up. I’m just pointing out that homeschool parents deprive their children of the chance to be normal without the children really being able to consent, and the children may someday regret this.

Fourth and finally, the public schools are not the evil places many homeschool advocates would have us think they are. We need to return the focus to improving the public schools, rather than urging the exodus of dedicated parents out of the public school system. Parents can support and work to improve their local schools much more effectively within the school system than without. You don’t like how the public schools are working? You think there are safety problems or that the subject matter isn’t rigorous enough or that the children spend too much time on worksheets and not enough time learning through doing? Talk to the principal, your children’s teachers, the school board. Heck, run for school board! It seems to me that homeschooling robs the public school system of the dedicated parents it crucially needs, sapping it of support, and I’m not actually the only one who has said that.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Anne

    “Third, I believe that even parents who homeschool their children for reasons that are not religious are depriving their children of the chance to be normal.” That statement honestly makes me sick. So much time is wasted in public school trying to be “normal” when in fact no such state actually exists. In fact, public school hardly resembles any kind of normal life at all, once you graduate and enter the adult world.

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