I’ve been asked to expand on my ideas about homeschooling from another thread on one of Mike Duran’s posts. I didn’t comment there too much because it’s a subject I have gotten into rants on in the past, and usually felt bad after about. So I’ll put down here. It’s also a fairly unpopular thing to be anti-homeschooling among Christians, especially if you hope to write children’s books.
I’m against homeschooling as a concept for many reasons. I am calling this a theoretical argument because I don’t have the resources or time currently to collate or link to hard data, and there are issues with doing so. To be honest, I wish at times I had an academic degree so I could actually get the data, and present it as a formal study, but that’s not happening. These are my arguments against it, in handy numbered form.
1. There is no objective data on how well it works.
The main source of data about homeschooling tends to be the HSLDA, an organization devoted to encouraging it and defending it legally. The problem with this is that they have no reason to show objective data, as they are an advocacy group all about making sure it remains legal, if not championing it energetically.
This wouldn’t be an issue if not for the lack of data on the ground. Requirements about homeschooling vary from state to state, but there really isn’t any attempt to track or collect data on how well the kids are educated. Usually the public face of homeschooling tends to focus on the kids who succeed, and the parents who are enthusiastic about it. This leads to selection bias, and the “Lake Wobegon effect:” somehow all homeschooling kids are above average children who only excel in it.
Selection bias happens because homeschooling especially is tied up with parenting. To say you stopped homeschooling, or that homeschooling might have serious issues to it, is often taken as a personal attack on the mother (and rarely, the father.) This makes it hard to get a baseline of data to really evaluate it, especially since so many other issues, like race, family structure, parental education level, and other things would play a part.
This is important because it ties in to how effective the education really is. A wealthy family with parental involvement may do as well or even better in a public school, and the education may actually be inferior. The child’s own intelligence may be responsible for overcoming the faults of the model. Without data, we are just experimenting on kids, and it’s a little dangerous.
I’m going to need to tread carefully with this, so I’ll try and keep it specific. Maybe sub-points will be the best way to do so.
A. Teacher and Parent are Two Different Things.
Homeschooling socialization has a problem because of this. Your parent loves you, acts subjectively towards you, has to live with you and put up with you twenty-four hours in the day, and is bound to you intimately.
A teacher is none of this. He is there solely to educate you, and to maintain order in the classroom. He may choose to befriend the child, but in a way which always keeps in mind a certain status. He will not change himself or the lessons for the child unless with good reason, and the child not only knows this, but is often harshly disciplined if he tries to cheat or pressure the teacher otherwise. Since he can go home at the end of each day, suspend the kid from showing up, or worse, his relationship is different.
When the teaching authority is conflated with the parent, this creates a mentality which often struggles some when encountering an actual teacher or boss in real life. Often this happens in college, but sometimes earlier. The kid also acts in ways that add parental authority to something it shouldn’t. Relating to authority can be made substantially more difficult in my opinion because of this.
B. The Need for a Child’s Own Identity.
There’s a lot of caveats to this. By this I mean children need some measure of separation from their parents and their ideas in order to build their own identity. Public or Private school does this by giving the child a sphere where he exists as himself, in the same way many of us have careers. We all instinctively feel that we need some form of separation; this is why working under a parent, spouse, or relative often has many hazards to the average person, and the “family business” is often rebelled against or accepted grudgingly.
I am aware many homeschoolers do try their best to mitigate this through extra-curricular activities. But these are still parent-selected, and bear a lot of the imprint of parental authority. The type of activity, the type of other children associated with, and other factors still retain that kind of control which in my opinion makes it hard to assert their own identity.
C. Isolation and Selection
This would be less of an issue if it weren’t happening across society as a whole. There’s an aspect of serendipity to public and private schooling which can’t be thrown away. A recognition of the fact that we can’t entirely engineer the world to always be safe and to our best wishes.
By homeschooling, the child may be safer, but I’m not sure how robust. There’s a whole subset of experience that you can’t just learn from books. There are things you have to deal with in a class, like personality conflicts, bullying, group dynamics, unfairness, and the unexpected. The trend in society is to isolate people, and then over time they self-select into less robust and more brittle forms.
Confusion of authorities, lack of identity, and brittleness are the three aspects of socialization I worry about when it comes to homeschooling.
3. The Isolated Society
I’m going to make this the final point for now. I wrote something cryptically about the public aspects of education, and I’ll try to flesh it out.
Why, instead of homeschooling, not private school? I know there are realistic reasons:
-none in the area
-denominational and faith issues, etc.
What I mean is, why aren’t we investing or building into the proper, public expressions we want rather than isolation? When we go to church as Christians, we have to admit that usually it doesn’t do a stellar job of it in many ways. The teaching may not be the best, the congregation may not be, and the worship can be sub par. But would anyone argue except sheepishly that it’s better instead to worship privately in your own house, even as a small cell church?
While I do think isolation can be a proper response to certain things, I don’t think we are at the point where it is preferable to the alternatives. The average school is nowhere near as bad as people make it out to be, and there’s really very few children who excel at academics enough where they’d be crippled in your average suburban school.
In a way, it’s like the post where I mentioned this. We argue often that Christian fiction should reflect the real world more, and the isolation of the Christian fiction market has produced a stifling form of art outside of real life experiences. This is a result of a Christian culture that has isolated itself from the world beyond the normal means necessary. In a way, homeschooling is like this reaction, because it overreacts to the problem (a secular culture that is at odds with religious faith) by doing something that can lead to cultural harm or enervation (withdrawing into a small, tightly knit subculture and amplifying differences.) The long term effects of this are unknown, but trouble me.
I have other issues, but this is long enough as it is. I’m not sure what will happen with subsequent generations, if homeschooling takes off even more as an idea. Families historically have taken on the burden of educating their children, but usually only to impart the family trade. This is a new experiment, and I wonder what will happen if it continues.