The Case Against Homeschooling – A Response

This is a response to a blog entry entitle The Case Against Homeschooling.

For the record, so you can try to determine where my bias might lie, my wife and I decided two years ago to homeschool our children. We have a list of reasons, but our primary reasons were as follows:

  1. We were concerned that our child was no longer being taught once she reached grade proficiency. This would not have been a big issue if we saw an indication they were focusing on other children around April or May. But we saw the trend to have her read or play rather than learn starting around December. Having five months worth of learning essentially pissed away was a big issue for us. And, we were in what was considered one of the best schools in our county.
  2. We did not feel they were taking her peanut allergy seriously enough. For those not aware, peanuts are a very serious allergy. While anecdotal in nature, my mother was taken to the hospital on at least one occasion due to incidental inclusion of peanuts. One of the main complications from a peanut allergy is anaphylaxis, or a constriction of the throat, which compromises breathing.

The article listed 10 items the author felt made a case against homeschooling. I have copied the blog entry, in toto, with my comments added. The original is in red and my comments are in green.

Homeschooling: great for self-aggrandizing, society-phobic mother…… but not quite so good for the kid.

I tend to discount any argument that begins with an ad hominem, as any argument based on a logical fallacy is a fallacious argument. Wink Giving benefit of the doubt that you are going to attempt to make a case against homeschooling, and by proxy homeschoolers, I will avoid “flipping the bozo bit” at this point in time.

In forums, the ad hominem is generally a sign that the person presenting the argument has lost and is resorting to name-calling. Considering your stated education level, you might want to consider the use of logical fallacy in any follow up post.

Here are my top ten reasons why homeschooling parents are doing the wrong thing:

10. “You were totally home schooled” is an insult college kids use when mocking the geeky kid in the dorm (whether or not the offender was home schooled or not). And… say what you will… but it doesn’t feel nice to be considered an outsider, a natural outcropping of being homeschooled.

This item makes a hasty generalization. There is an underlying assumption that homeschooled children, as a rule, are not socialized, making “geekhood” a “natural outcropping” of their schooling. As the author has shown disdain for homeschooling (item #5), I would question how many homeschooled children the author has queried to make this assumption. I would argue we are dealing with a biased sample, which is another logical fallacy.

In my experience, this is not the case. While homeschooled students do not get day-to-day socialization with public school children, homeschooled children do participate in a wide variety of activities. As an example, my own children have the following activities throughout the year:

  • Girl scout troops
  • Dance and gymnastics
  • Church groups
  • Various camps – This year, we have church camp, cancer survivor/sibling camp amongst others

Other homeschooled parents have children that participate in organized sports, either through city leagues or through umbrella school programs.

But, destroying the underlying assumption that homeschooled children are not socialized (which you use in other items in your list) is not sufficient to completely destroy the point. There is also the underlying assumption that parents should shield their children from anything that might get them mocked. While I risk making a slippery slope argument here, it is impossible to shield your children from all mockery. And, I would state, that an attempt to do so would reduce the richness that makes life worth living.

Imagine if we stopped our children from taking music, as they might be mocked as band geeks. Or if we stopped them from engaging in computers, as they might be called computer geeks. Or, going to the more base nature of man, imagine if we stopped our minority children from attending any activity in which some child might call out a racial slur.

If increasing my child’s likelihood of excelling at life means they might be called names by crass people, then it is a risk worth taking. Schooling, even college, lasts for such a short time that it should not be a major factor in any decision about schooling, homeschooling or otherwise. it would be better to mitigate the risk by adding activities than to put a child in public school merely so they can avoid being called a “geek”.

9. Call me old-fashioned, but a students’ classroom shouldn’t also be where they eat Fruit Loops and meat loaf (not at the same time I hope). It also shouldn’t be where the family gathers to watch American Idol or to play Wii. Students–from little ones to teens–deserve a learning-focused place to study. In modern society, we call them schools.

If the case is being made that a student should not learn in a building where lunch is served or there are activities other than learning, then all schools, including traditional schools, are being argued against, as lunch, phys ed, computer labs and playgrounds exist in every school in the nation. If the case is that students should not eat or play in the same room they learn in, the author is once again using a biased sample.

Most, if not all, of the credible homeschool sources suggest homeschooling in a separate space from the living or dining room. And while not every parent I know has the luxury of setting aside a separate room, a great majority of parents I know do have a separate space for homeschooling, even if it is a specific side of a room that is used for other activities. Even when this is not the case, the child has a separate time for learning that does not involve eating or playing Wii, even by siblings who have completed their daily learning activities.

8. Homeschooling is selfish. According to this article in USA Today, students who get homeschooled are increasingly from wealthy and well-educated families. To take these (I’m assuming) high achieving students out of our schools is a disservice to our less fortunate public school kids. Poorer students with less literate parents are more reliant on peer support and motivation, and they  greatly benefit from the focus and commitment of their richer and higher achieving classmates.

The underlying assumption here is highly educated students have a big impact on those less fortunate. According to studies, this is possible, but only when the school engages in peer learning activities. Conversely, there are many studies that show parental involvement is a much greater factor in success of the student, as it helps in the areas that make the biggest impact (according to the review Family, School, and Community Influences on Children’s Learning):

  1. Standards and Expectations
  2. Structure
  3. Opportunity to learn
  4. Support
  5. Climate/Relationships
  6. Modeling

In my own experience, my children are currently above grade level in every subject. My oldest is reading 3 grade levels above her current grade and is a grade or two above her level in every other subject. Even if I were to take the argument at face value, I wonder if it would be wise to have her live up to less than her full potential for the “good of the many”. As the assumption is only fully valid in learning environments that include student collaboration (which is more common at college level than grade school level), I question whether removing my child is selfish at all.

Furthermore, the decision to homeschool requires a huge sacrifice on the part of the parent. While the action might be selfish to others (not established), it is certainly not selfish when viewed in the light of economic and time sacrifices necessary to properly homeschool one’s own children.

7. God hates homeschooling. The study, done by the National Center for Education Statistics, notes that the most common reason parents gave as the most important was a desire to provide religious or moral instruction. To the homeschooling Believers out there, didn’t God say “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”? Didn’t he command, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me”? From my side, to take your faithful children out of schools is to miss an opportunity to spread the grace, power and beauty of the Lord to the common people. (Personally I’m agnostic, but I’m just saying…)

According to the 2003 study (Homeschooling in the United States, 2003. table 4), the most common reason for homeschooling was “concern about environment of other schools”, with 85.4% of respondents stating this reason. Religious reasons was number 2, with 72.3%, followed closely by "dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools". The most important reason in this study was “concern about environment of other schools”, at 31.2%, with religious or moral instruction at 29.8%. While religious/moral reasons were a concern, they were not, as you have stated, “the most common reason”.

According to the 1999 study (Homeschooling in the United States, 1999, table 4 – p11), the most common reason for homeschooling was  “can give a child better education at home), with 48.9% of respondents stating this reason. Religious reasons was not even close at 38.4%. Even including the standard error, religious/moral reasons cannot be stated as “the most common reason”.

I am not sure why you stated religious/moral training was the most common reason, as it is not supported by the studies. I would assume a bit of ignorance on your part, as the other option is you willfully ignored the facts to make your point.

6. Homeschooling parent/teachers are arrogant to the point of lunacy. For real! My qualifications to teach English include a double major in English and education, two master’s degrees (education and journalism), a student teaching semester and multiple internship terms, real world experience as a writer, and years in the classroom dealing with different learning styles. So, first of all, homeschooling parent, you think you can teach English as well as me? Well, maybe you can. I’ll give you that. But there’s no way that you can teach English as well as me, and biology as well as a trained professional, and history… and Spanish… and art… and counsel for college as well as a school’s guidance counselor… and… and…

The fallacy here is known as argumentum ad verecundiam, or an appeal to authority. While credentials are useful in determining a person’s qualifications to perform an action, they do not mean that the person is particularly good at performing the action.

There is also three unproven underlying assumptions:

  1. One must be an expert in every subject he teaches.
  2. Homeschool teachers do not have access to experts
  3. Public school has experts teaching in subjects.

I will cover each of these assumptions in order.

On assumption #1: In general, homeschooling is focused on curriculums that encourage students learning to teach themselves. While there is a lot of hands on learning in the early years, the student becomes more independent over time. The parent, like any other teacher, must prepare for lessons, to be able to properly grade the assignments. But, most homeschoolers use some form of formalized curriculum, especially in subjects where they are not an expert.

On assumption #2: I have already covered this a bit in the last paragraph. The curriculums used by most homeschoolers are formalized and created by experts. Many of the curriculums used in homeschooling are also used in traditional schools, although the layout of the lessons is different due to difference in environment and teaching methods (homeschooling is one-on-one, while traditional school contains more lecture time).

On assumption #3: While professors in colleges are required to be experts in the field they teach, the legal requirements for grade school are generally focused more on education coursework than expertise in their field. I can name many cases, locally, where the teacher has a strong interest in the subject rather than formalized teaching. As such, your argument runs against you on the grade level, at least in some cases..

5. As a teacher, homeschooling kind of pisses me off. (That’s good enough for #5.)

This sounds more like your problem than an argument, as it is an appeal to emotion, at best.

4. Homeschooling could breed intolerance, and maybe even racism. Unless the student is being homeschooled at the  MTV Real World house, there’s probably only one race/sexuality/background in the room. How can a young person learn to appreciate other cultures if he or she doesn’t live among them?

There are two assumptions here

  1. Homeschooled students do not participate in other activities – covered in my repsonse to the second point
  2. Traditionally schooled children are more well-rounded

On point #2: While it is true public school children do come in contact with more races and sexual orientations, this does not mean they become more tolerant or less racist. Racism is still a huge problem in our traditional schools, as is intolerance. The one potential benefit to traditional schools, in this regard, is the students are more readily subject to public punishment for expressing racism or intolerance. The word “public” is very important in my last statement.

My experience, however, has been that my children’s activities in her homeschooling career have the same racial mixture as they did in their public school career. This may not be true for all parts of the country, however.

3. And don’t give me this “they still participate in activities with public school kids” garbage. Socialization in our grand multi-cultural experiment we call America is a process that takes more than an hour a day, a few times a week. Homeschooling, undoubtedly, leaves the child unprepared socially.

I will agree with you that this is just a few hours a week for most homeschooled children, but you have provided no evidence that this leaves a child “unprepared socially”. In fact, there are numerous studies showing that homeschooled children, despite only a “few hours” of socialization, "gained the necessary skills, knowledge, and attitudes needed to function in society…at a rate similar to that of conventionally schooled children". In fact, one study of adults who had been homeschooled found their “socialization was often better than that of their [traditionally] schooled peers”.

2. Homeschooling parents are arrogant, Part 2. According to Henry Cate, who runs the Why Homeschool blog, many highly educated, high-income parents are “probably people who are a little bit more comfortable in taking risks” in choosing a college or line of work. “The attributes that facilitate that might also facilitate them being more comfortable with home-schooling.”

More comfortable taking risks with their child’s education? Gamble on, I don’t know, the Superbowl, not your child’s future.

We all take risks in life. Not all of the risks involve gambling; the majority, in fact, are reasoned, calculated risks.

When one examines homeschooling versus public education, the numbers show that homeschooled children do as well, if not better, in nearly every metric used to grade differences.

1.  And finally… have you met someone homeschooled? Not to hate, but they do tend to be pretty geeky***.

*** Please see the comments for thoughts on the word ‘geeky.’ But, in general, to be geeky connotes a certain inability to integrate and communicate in diverse social situations. Which, I would argue, is a likely result of being educated in an environment without peers. It’s hard to get by in such a diverse world as ours! And the more people you can hang out with the more likely you are to succeed, both in work life and real life.

I have found there are homeschool geeks, as well as traditionally schooled geeks. Barring some study that shows a higher level of geekiness in homeschooled children, I will take this point for what it is worth: Nothing.

One last note, to those homeschooling parents out there: it’s clear from the number and passion of your responses that TeacherRevised is missing an important voice in the teaching community. If any of you are interesting in writing for us, send me an email: I would love to have you as part of our conversation.

Based on your rant here, I am not sure you really want to hear a homeschool parents voice. If you would really like to hear one, I have given you my email so you can respond. Hopefully your response will be better researched and thought out than this long-winded ad hominem. If you want a conversation, I would entertain it. If you want to make me a butt of a joke, as you seem to have attempted here, I would rather bow out.

Overall, homeschooling is working. So well that more and more states are opening public school facilities to homeschoolers to help in the education of these children. So well that more and more colleges are not only allowing homeschooled students to join their ranks, but are seeking them out. So well that more and more parents are turning to homeschooling as an option (estimated 850,000 in the 1999 study, 1.1 million in the 2003 study and 1.5 by 2007 – perhaps double by the time the numbers are calculated for 2009).

While I respect the author’s zeal for traditional education, there is no evidence shown that any of the assertions made in the “case” are correct and the liberal use of logical fallacy makes me wonder whether this was truly an attempt to make a point or merely a chance to rant against something the author did not like.

Peace and Grace,

Twitter: @gbworld


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