By Jonathan Olsen
NOTE: This was originally written as an argumentative paper for my English 101 class.
The names Frank Lloyd Wright, Ansel Adams, Robert Frost, Bethany Hamilton, Tim Tebow, and Christopher Paolini are recognizable to many people. But what do an architect, photographer, poet, surfer, football player, and author have in common? They all were homeschooled! Homeschooling, also known as home education, is often met with skepticism. This viewpoint results from non-homeschoolers having incorrect information about what home education is really like. Homeschool families have been subjected to criticism, ridicule, and suspicion. Yet homeschooling “has grown from nearly extinct in the United States in the 1970s to now about 2 million school-age students” (Ray, “NHERI”). This fact raises the question, why has home education increased in popularity despite being so controversial? Families homeschool their children for various reasons. One homeschool curriculum publisher observed, “there are generally three types of homeschoolers: those who do so for religious reasons; the ‘free spirits’ who oppose a regimented public school system; and the ‘accidental homeschoolers’ who find their children do not thrive in a traditional school environment” (Burgess). Critics of home education believe that homeschoolers are unsocialized, uneducated, and unable to contribute to society. On the contrary, homeschooling is a valid educational option that produces graduates who are socially responsible, well-educated, and productive citizens.
The first and most common objection to homeschooling is that homeschooled children are not properly socialized. Many critics think that homeschool graduates will be unable to relate to others due to growing up without any social interaction. Suggesting that schools are the best place to learn social skills, “One of the guiding principles of state-provided education is that everyone, irrespective of income/wealth, religious or non-religious affiliation, race or gender, ability or disability, has … the opportunity to make social advances as a direct result of that educational benefit” (Merry 500). Since home educated students bypass the public school system, it is thought that they will not gain the social benefit of learning about tolerance, equality, and respect. The assumption is made that homeschool children never have an opportunity to meet people of different cultures, religious beliefs, social backgrounds, or economic status. Thus, the underlying concern is that homeschoolers will not know how to act within a diverse society.
Response to Objection #1
In reality, homeschoolers are far from being social misfits. Homeschooling is often inaccurately portrayed as a stereotypical image of children sitting in isolation at home where they spend every day filling in workbooks. Conversely, socialization is actually enhanced by home education which “routinely occurs outside of schools. Indeed, homeschoolers frequently remind their critics that schooling and education are not the same; there are many sites of education that facilitate learning, discovery and growth, including libraries, sites of business and the outdoors” (Merry 505). Home educated students are able to develop social skills such as communication and teamwork through participation in clubs, classes, park days, sports leagues, scouting troops, music lessons, church groups, volunteer service, and travel experiences. Since homeschoolers spend much of their time exploring the real world rather than being required to remain inside a classroom all day, they have plenty of opportunities to meet people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Likewise, because homeschoolers are not limited to interacting only with classmates their own age, they learn to socialize with people of all ages.
In school, students are surrounded by peers of a similar age, grade, and socio-economic status. A philosophy of education professor in the social and behavioral science faculty at the University of Amsterdam points out, “The difference ‘exposure to diverse ideas and people’ is supposed to make is, we suspect, little more than a quaint idea far removed from the actual experience of most children who attend schools” (Merry 512). For example, neither elite private schools nor inner city public schools are likely to have a very socially diverse cross-section of students. But within the homeschool community, “homeschooler demographics are increasingly reflecting the growing diversity of the broader society in the United States” (Gaither). A study of homeschool graduates shows that they are active and involved in their communities, with 71% participating in an ongoing community service activity and 88% belonging to a group or organization (Ray, “Homeschooling”). These statistics confirm that homeschoolers have no problem associating with others and do not hesitate to mingle with the general population.
Socialization in school is not as beneficial as many people claim it to be. Frequent reports of bullying, violence, and lack of manners and morals are evidence of unfavorable behavior. Since home educated children are not exposed to the negative socialization that occurs in schools, they become better adjusted socially than students from conventional classrooms. Freedom from peer dependency encourages confidence and independent thinking, which in turn helps homeschoolers develop a stronger self-concept than their public schooled counterparts. A well-known homeschool advocate wrote, “Most children who learn without school, or who go only when they want to, grow up with a much stronger sense of their own dignity and worth, and therefore, with much less need to despise and hate others” (Holt). As a result of being unaffected by the cliquish attitudes so common in schools, homeschool students are likely to gain a wider variety of friends from different walks of life, and to get along with adults and children of all ages. Moreover, because homeschooled children are closely monitored by their parents, they are less inclined to develop harmful habits related to alcohol, drugs, and other risky behavior. Thus, homeschoolers tend to be responsible members of society.
A second frequent objection to homeschooling is that parents are not as qualified or well-equipped as professional educators. Those opposed to home education argue that parents who want to instruct their own children should be required to hold teaching certificates. The critics doubt that a stay-at-home mother without a college degree and specialized training in education can satisfactorily teach any school subjects. Homeschool opponents also question whether parents can provide what schools have to offer in the way of textbooks, laboratory equipment, class variety, counselors, after-school clubs, sports and other extracurricular activities. The National Education Association, a professional teacher’s union, enacted a resolution stating that “home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience” (Smith). The conclusion is made that homeschooled students will not receive a quality education like public or private schooled children do, leaving the homeschoolers at a distinct disadvantage.
Response to Objection #2
On the other hand, many parents choose to homeschool their children because they believe that they can provide an excellent education at home. Educators have long known that parental involvement is imperative for school achievement. Even the National Education Association, one of the most outspoken opponents of homeschooling, states: “Parent, family, and community involvement in education correlates with higher academic performance” (NEA). Obviously, homeschool students have the advantage in this regard because parents and family members are personally involved in their education. Some homeschool groups hold co-op classes in which parents share their areas of expertise in science, music, history, etc., or bring in guest instructors to teach certain subjects such as physical education. Homeschooling parents can also enlist the help of tutors or choose from the many self-teaching computer programs, DVDs, and online resources. In the local community, additional resources that are available include libraries, museums, historical sites, and nature centers. Beyond that, the whole world can be a classroom for gaining knowledge and experience.
Evidence shows that the specific skills needed for teaching can be open to question. In 2007, the Home School Legal Defense Association commissioned Dr. Brian D. Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute to conduct a nationwide survey of homeschooling in America. The study found that homeschoolers scored 34-39 percentile points higher than the norm on standardized achievement tests “whether or not parents were teacher-certified” (Ray, “Homeschool”). Ironically, a National Center for Education Statistics survey of high school teachers during the 2007-2008 school year found that “fewer than half of chemistry and physics teachers majored in those subjects, and a quarter of math teachers don’t hold math degrees. The problem extends to history, where less than two thirds of teachers hold a history degree” (Koebler). So even in schools, students are being taught by teachers who do not have any subject area expertise and are teaching subjects that they are not technically qualified to teach. But teaching involves more than simply instilling information into numerous students’ minds. A commitment to assisting each student become the best that he or she can be should be the main goal of education.
Homeschool parents “are eschewing the status quo and finding innovative ways to advance the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth of their children” (Smith). After identifying each child’s learning styles, strengths and weaknesses, a curriculum can be custom-tailored for the individual student instead of using a one-size-fits-all pattern. The homeschooled child is allowed to learn things when he or she is ready, rather than being forced to study certain subjects at the times specified in a school schedule. This flexibility makes the learning process more meaningful to the student, resulting in better retention of the material. Homeschoolers also learn how to search for information and find answers on their own. They are free to engage in creative activities while focusing on their interests and cultivating their special talents. A homeschool education is advantageous, as it creates lifelong learners who truly enjoy learning. When these inquisitive students become adults, they will have developed the ability to find out what they need to know in order to learn any subject, solve problems, and take on the challenges of life.
A third objection to homeschooling is the idea that alternate forms of education are harmful to society. Homeschool opponents claim that in a democracy, it is important for all citizens to receive a similar education so that everyone will be on an equal level with a shared set of knowledge and values. They maintain that the public school system provides a common foundation of basic and fundamental experiences that build our cohesiveness as a nation. One notable example is Germany, where “German laws forbid parents from educating their children at home in almost all cases, citing society’s interest in avoiding closed-off ‘parallel societies’” (“Home-School”). In the U.S., an English professor who teaches his own children at home disclosed, “I have spoken with more than a few professors who say that home schooling is dangerous: It is a threat to public education, it is anti-feminist, it isolates children, it is a form of religious fanaticism, it is a means of avoiding diversity, and — most withering of all — it is an instrument of ideological conservatism” (Pannapacker). Those who find fault with homeschooling seem to think that it undercuts democratic solidarity and contributes to social inequality.
Response to Objection #3
But alternative educational philosophies, such as homeschooling, are actually beneficial for the overall public good. According to an article titled “Restricted Liberty, Parental Choice and Homeschooling,” there are two things that should be noted. “First, the claim that shared school attendance fosters greater social cohesion has never been convincingly demonstrated, notwithstanding repeated claims to the contrary. Second, social cohesion must be balanced against… the equally important aim of facilitating the liberties of its citizens to pursue life projects that enhance their personal wellbeing” (Merry 507). The public school system is designed to teach a mass number of students using a common core of knowledge, and then evaluate them by standardized testing. In contrast to the cookie-cutter approach to education, homeschoolers are free to study whatever and whenever they choose. Children should be viewed as human beings, not robots. Forcing different individuals to fit into same-shaped molds is not a healthy model for a fulfilling life.
The nation’s highest court concluded a long time ago that education is open to parental choice. In a 1925 U.S. Supreme Court case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, it was ruled that parents have the right to direct the education of their children and the state does not have the power to “standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only” (Kunzman 77). Consider the basic premise of public schools: children are taken away from their families, classified and segregated by age and ability, and forced to submit to the will of the group. Is such a strict institutional setting really the best context for learning about democracy? “Some theorists — both within and outside the liberal tradition — argue that other civic contexts and affiliations (religious institutions, community organizations, and the like) are more effective sites for developing the skills and virtues of democratic citizenship” (Kunzman 86). The freedom to homeschool is a basic right in a civil society.
Over the years, the idea has been set forth that the development of good and capable citizens who are willing and able to participate in a democracy is in the best interest of the state. A recent study of homeschool families reveals that rather than neglecting their obligation to society, “the diversity of curriculum and worldview in their home schools positively impacts the common good” by increasing the overall diversity of ideas (Anthony 1). Homeschooling empowers children to think for themselves instead of simply following directions, which helps them to come up with new and creative ideas. Because free minds think better than minds that are stifled, the virtues of democratic citizenship are actually promoted more through learning in freedom than in a compulsory school setting. Throughout history, where there has been greater individual liberty, there has been faster human progress. Home education helps strengthen a democracy by contributing innovative and insightful citizens.
Homeschooling is an effective educational alternative that produces citizens who are socially responsible, well-educated, and productive. Children are naturally interested in exploring the world around them. Given the multitude of resources available today, they can independently discover their passions and strengths while developing into self-motivated lifelong learners. Many kinds of home education curricula and methods are available to suit different needs and learning styles, allowing homeschool students to be educated in a safe and supportive family environment. But far from being sheltered from the rest of society, homeschoolers are not afraid to interact with others. Homeschool families themselves are a diverse group, and their diversity of ideas contributes to the public good. By the time a homeschooled child reaches adulthood, he or she will be an informed, responsible, and active member of the community. The main purpose of home education is parents doing what they believe is best for their children, while encouraging them to think for themselves and preparing them to take on the challenges of life.
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—. “Homeschooling Grows Up.” Home School Legal Defense Association. 2003. <https://www.hslda.org/research/ray2003>
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