This is an article I published in the national teacher journal Educational Leadership in 1994, nearly 20 years old. Back then the article helped set the tone between the homeschool movement and a cautious status quo. I have some thoughts about where we’re at now (more on that another day), but for today, enjoy this article on Why Parents Choose Home Schooling.
Home schooling neither isolates children nor harms their academic growth; it does, however, come close to the true definition of education: the passing down of culture.
So, where do your children go to school?”
Of all the casual questions one teacher could ask another, this one always puts butterflies in my stomach.
“Well, uh, my wife and I tutor them,” I say. Then I try to change the subject—but never quickly enough.
“Tutored?” they say, squinting their nose and ruffling their brows “You mean home schooled?”
These situations never fail to begin an hour-long discussion on why we home school our children. This should not surprise me, though. Home schooling is unusual and a bit radical. It is natural for educators—or anyone for that matter—to question a practice that is so lightly researched.
Ten years ago there were roughly 15,000 home schools nationally; today, according to the U.S. Department of Education, there are 350,000. Hundreds of national magazines and newspapers, numerous home-school curriculum distributors, and countless numbers of networks and contact groups address home-school issues.
As a public school teacher myself, I asked many questions and read much before I decided to school my children at home. And I believe that choice has been the best decision I have made for their education.
Lately, many in the educational community have attacked the home-school community with little regard for the harm they do to families and the education of children. For example, a recent federal bill required all school teachers—home-school and private school teachers, too—to be certified in every disciplinary area. Under this bill, even though I have a diploma and certificate to teach secondary English, I would not be able to teach my grade-school children. If it hadn’t been for the quick and loud uprising of America’s home schoolers, this bill would have passed and home schooling would be illegal.
Generally, parents choose to home school their children for social, academic, family, and/or religious reasons. As for me, many educators are surprised to hear that academic reasons influenced me most.
In public schools, socialization techniques, such as classroom management, peer grouping, and extracurricular activities, take much time and effort. But must children learn such basic life skills as working together, sharing, and showing respect for others through formalized classroom experiences? Critics charge that home-schooled children will be socially handicapped and unable to adapt to real-life interaction when older; the fact is, however, that these children have many opportunities to interact with peers. In Growing without Schooling, Pat Farenga writes:
Certainly group experiences are a big part of education, and home schoolers have plenty of them. Home schoolers write to us about how they form or join writing clubs, book discussion groups, and local home-schooling support groups. Home schoolers also take part in school sports teams and music groups, as well as the many public and private group activities our communities provide…. Home schoolers can and do experience other people and cultures without going to school (1993).
Of course, not all socialization is good for a child. For example, some social activity leads to experiences with drugs, alcohol, tobacco, harassment, premarital sex, guns, and violence. The positive side of socialization—sharing, respect, communication, getting along, and relating to others—can be wonderfully fulfilled in a home-school setting. As Raymond S. Moore, a leader in the home-school movement, says:
Parents and educators usually talk about sociability, but neglect to differentiate the kind of sociability they prefer. The child who feels needed, wanted, and depended on at home, sharing responsibilities and chores, is much more likely to develop a sense of self-worth and a stable value system—which is the basic ingredient for a positive sociability. In contrast is the negative sociability that develops when a child surrenders to his peers (1992).
Those who believe in the home-school philosophy also think that six to eight hours of extra social and community activities after school and weekends is a bit much. Science says it’s a bit much, too. Behavioral psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner (1970) concluded that “meaningful human contact” is best accomplished in environments where few people are around. Any teacher will agree that the smaller the class size, the more learning takes place. In a survey concerning positive self-concept, John Wesley Taylor (1986) found that half of 224 home-schooled children scored above the 90th percentile, and only 10 percent were below the national average. True social development takes place in the home, not in the schools.
Shouldn’t educational experts be trusted with the academic training of our students? How is it possible for parents— especially parents with little or no postsecondary education—to teach children every discipline? Even with my bachelor of science degree in English, how can I be qualified to teach math or science to my 2nd and 4th grade children?
If these assumptions were true, home-school kids would not be some of the most successful people in society. William Blake, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, Benjamin Franklin, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale, Charlie Chaplin, the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, and Andrew Carnegie were all famous home-schooled students.
The assumption that home-school parents are not expert enough to teach is based on a faulty definition of education. Education is not necessarily teaching what the teacher knows, or training students in a particular skill. Separating disciplines from other disciplines—as if English had nothing to do with math, and science had nothing to do with civics—is grossly misrepresenting what education really is: the passing on of a culture.
A wise saying goes: “A good teacher teaches himself out of a job.” When I teach English, I am not merely teaching my students what I learned in college. I am teaching children to love literature and to passionately engage in the language arts. I integrate all disciplines—history, science, social studies, math—into my lessons. Real life is interdisciplinary; to teach otherwise would not be teaching our culture.
Few professionals would disagree that one-to-one tutoring creates an atmosphere that is healthy, productive, and conducive to a student’s academic success. That’s why I often say I tutor my children, rather than home school them.
Educational philosophy today supports the concept that education is more than rote learning. For example, outcome-based education recognizes that students need to develop at their own pace, whole language integrates all disciplines, and modern Montessori methods emphasize the need for individual attention and assessment. Home schooling accomplishes all of these. Students have both the freedom to pursue their natural desires and the attention needed to develop the ways of thinking that come more difficult to them. Pat Farenga says, “Children, like adults, need time to be alone to think, to muse, to read freely, to daydream, to be creative, to form a self independent of the barrage of mass culture” (1993). While granting students this time in traditional schools has always been a struggle, that is not true of home schools.
Critics of home schools claim that we shelter our children from the real world. Home-school parents sometimes accuse public schools of stealing children from the home and their parents. Neither is a mature argument, and neither is true.
No other factor in life, however, will have more of an impact on a child than family background. Every teacher knows that a student having problems at home most likely will not produce in class and that students with wholesome, functional families are usually the exceptional students. Home-school parents see the family as superior to any other institution in society. When the educational institution threatens the family, these parents tend to choose to educate their children at home.
To say public schools undermine the family is just as alarmist as saying home schools will ruin the education of our children. Yet, many in education today devalue the importance of the family. Schools have redefined family values and, in some cases, ridiculed the cultural beliefs of the students and their parents. For example, many home-school parents choose to take their children out of school because of the school’s teachings on sensitive issues like premarital sex, same-sex relationships, questioning of authority, and secular religion.
Religion is a major part of the American culture, but public schools fail to take religion seriously. Fear of church and state laws keep schools from even mentioning the influence of religion in American life. History and civics textbooks never mention the religious faiths of important leaders. Martin Luther King Jr. is rarely named with his title of reverend. That John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic president, Albert Einstein was a Jew, and the Abolitionists were led by evangelical Christians are facts ignored. And textbooks rarely describe the influence that religion may have had on these great achievers.
Instead of working side-by-side with the religious establishment, the educational establishment has attempted to strangle religion’s influence. Instead of recognizing religion as part of our culture, many have fought hard in the courts to make religion illegal in the classroom.
Everyone recognizes that public schooling has it place. Home schooling, too, is a healthy educational choice. Parents who have the dedication to do it should have every right to choose it.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1970). Two Worlds of Childhood. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Farenga, P. (1993). “How to Get an Education at Home.” In The Exhausted School, edited by G. T. Gatto. New York: The Oxford Village Press.
Moore, R. S. (1992). “Research and Common Sense: Therapies for Our Homes and Schools.” Teachers College Record 84, 2: 366.
Taylor, J. W. (1986). “Self-Concept in Home-Schooling Children.” Doctoral diss., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.