Academic journal article Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly

The Harms of Homeschooling

Academic journal article Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly

The Harms of Homeschooling

Article excerpt

Over the last thirty years, "homeschooling"--teaching one's children at home rather than entrusting their education to either a public or private school--has virtually exploded: around ten thousand children were homeschooled in the early eighties; today, over two million children are being educated at home. There are now more children being homeschooled than are enrolled in charter and voucher schools combined. Of course, there have always been some parents, both religious and secular, who have homeschooled since the advent of public schools and compulsory attendance laws in the middle of the nineteenth century. For a hundred and fifty years, parents of special needs children, parents in isolated parts of the country who live far from any public schoolhouse, as well as a smattering of parents of circus performers, professional athletes, and child stage actors have homeschooled their children, and exemptions in the various states' compulsory attendance laws have explicitly allowed them to do so.

The explosion in homeschooling of the last quarter century, however, is a different phenomenon altogether. The majority of homeschoolers today, and by quite amargin, are devout, fundamentalist Protestants. And, of the hundreds of thousands of fundamentalist Protestant parents who in the past two decades have pulled their children from public schooling, the majority have done so not because their kids have special needs, or because they live too far from a schoolhouse, but rather because they do not approve of the public schools' secularity, their liberalism, their humanism, their feministmodes of socialization, and in some cases, of the schools' very existence. Because they disapprove, they choose to educate their children at home, in accordance with their own traditions and by their own religious lights.

They do so, furthermore, with little or no oversight from public school officials, who in some states need not even be notified of the parents' intent to homeschool. Because of lax or no regulation, in most of the country parents who homeschool now have virtually unfettered authority to decide what subjects to teach, what curriculum materials to use, and how much, or how little, of each day will be devoted to education. In most (but not all) states, testing is optional, and in almost all states, the parent-teachers need not be certified or otherwise qualified to teach. In other words, in much of the country, if you want to keep your kids home from school, or just never send them in the first place, you can. If you want to teach them from nothing but the Bible, you can. If they want to skateboard all day, and you choose to let them, you can.

As late as the late 1970s, these massive withdrawals from the public schools that have become so common place over the past thirty years would have been illegal, everywhere, and regardless of the parents' motivations. Dating from the mid 19th century, with the advent of mandatory attendance laws, until three quarters of the way through the 20th, it was a crime to keep one's children home from school, and it did not matter in the slightest whether it was religion or some other felt conviction that was at the heart of the decision to do so. Parents who did so were criminals, and their kids were truants. Where homeschooling was allowed, for the rural out-posters, the special needs children, the circus performers and the stage kids, the homeschooling was heavily regulated: the children were tested annually, their parent-teachers or tutors had to be certified or otherwise deemed qualified by the state, courses and hours were specified, and the curricula were subject to approval and review by state authorities.

Compare that with today's legal landscape. In 2009, thousands of parents who keep their kids home and don't tell a soul are well within the bounds of the law. Their children are not truants; they're "homeschooled." Parents in many states have full authority, free of all state oversight, to determine the content of their children's education; in states with some remaining regulations, enforcement is lax or non-existent. …

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