Those of you who read this blog regularly know I’m not a big fan of homeschooling. It’s not that I’m not aware that it can be done without isolating or indoctrinating kids, it’s not that I don’t know it can produce well-educated and confident kids, it’s just that I’ve seen the problems, the huge problems, it can cause, the problematic ideologies it can shelter.
Over the holidays, I spent some time at my parents’ home and I looked around the curriculum my siblings are using, curious to remember what I had studied growing up. As I looked at my siblings’ textbooks, I was reminded of how often, how very often, homeschooling is used to indoctrinate rather than to educate.
Their science curriculum is young earth creationist (creationism literally comes into every chapter) and teaches a straw man version of evolution only to show how it’s wrong.
Their history curriculum was created by pseudohistorian David Barton, who has no academic training in history whatsoever.
Their economics and government textbook proclaims explicitly – explicitly - that God is a Republican.
Their literature curriculum was authored by Douglas Wilson, a slavery-apologist and giant of the Christian Patriarchy movement.
I understand the importance of freedom. I understand the importance of allowing for dissent and differences in belief. But the problem is that homeschooling – at least when unregulated, as in the state where I grew up – allows parents to teach their children whatever they see fit. There are no checks and balances, no quality controls or requirements, and to many children are robbed of an accurate education at the hands of their parents’ “freedom.”
Homeschool parents in states like the one where I grew up could teach their children that the world began two hundred years ago and all history textbooks lie, or that the earth is flat, or that 2 plus 2 equals five, and no one would stop them.
Now sure, my parents could send my siblings to public school while at home still teaching them creationism, David Barton’s pseudohistory, or that God is a Republican, but in that case my siblings would also have access to other perspectives and other information. If my siblings were sent to public school but still taught creationism at home, at least they would still be exposed to an accurate representation of the theory of evolution, and the same with being exposed to an accurate view of history, a comparatively balanced understanding of government and economics, etc. Homeschooling, in contrast, allows my parents to completely control my siblings’ education and the information they receive.
I think what you see here is a point of conflict between parents’ rights and children’s rights. Do parents have the right to teach their children whatever they see fit, completely controlling their education, or do children have the right to an accurate education?
If you believe that parents should be able to completely control everything about their children’s lives until they are 18, teaching and training and disciplining them however they see fit, then unregulated homeschooling is no problem. In contrast, if you believe that children do have rights and that parents’ ability to do whatever they like with their children should be curtailed in order to protect those rights, then unregulated homeschooling is a problem.
I honestly think that it’s this divide that makes any discussion of homeschool regulation so difficult. Those who believe that parents have complete rights over their children and those who believe that children have rights that require placing some limits on parental rights will simply never see eye to eye. In fact, they often can’t even seem to communicate because they have such different starting points.
Conservative Christian homeschool organizations like the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) avidly oppose the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and ardently and constantly trumpet the importance of parents’ rights. In fact, HSLDA is one of the organizationspushing for aparents’ rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Similarly, HSLDA opposes any homeschool regulation whatsoever. When you have a perspective like HSLDA’s – believing that parents’ right to control their children’s education is absolute and total – it’s hard to ever compromise or find middle ground.
I don’t think it’s either practical or a good idea to ban homeschooling—I don’t think our public school system is high quality enough to justify doing so, and I also don’t think that’s consistent with the value we place on freedom and individualism in the United States. I do, however, think that homeschooling needs to be regulated in at least some fashion because I believe that children have the right to an accurate and decent education. Compulsory education laws were passed a hundred years ago to guarantee every child a good education. States that allow homeschooling without regulation have effectively undone those laws.
I don’t pretend to have the answers. I don’t know what kind of homeschool regulation would be best or even if better regulation would actually ensure that every homeschooled child received an accurate and decent education. All I know that it is really hard to watch my siblings being taught pseudoscience, pseudohistory, and pseudogovernment, and pseudoeconomics, to watch my parents teaching my siblings ideology rather than simply educating them.