With schools across the country shut down, millions of parents have discovered the considerable joys and challenges of homeschooling. This has made our betters in media and academia extremely nervous. What if a sizable portion of these parents decide that they quite prefer teaching their own kids? What if they never send their offspring back into the government’s education factories? They — our betters, I mean — may lose their hold on an entire generation of children. And that would be a great tragedy. For them, anyway.
A recent article in the Washington Post was forthright about these fears. “Homeschooling during the coronavirus will set back a generation of children,” the editorial claimed. Harvard Law School is holding a “summit” to discuss this problem. The summit, led by “experts,” will focus especially on “educational deprivation and child maltreatment that too often occur under the guise of homeschooling, in a legal environment of minimal or no oversight.” Naturally, the summit experts have suggestions on “legal reforms” to help remedy this problem.
To get an idea of what this “legal reform” might look like, at least in the fevered dreams of Harvard professors, we need only look to an article just published in Harvard Magazine titled “The Risks Of Homeschooling,” and accompanied by an unintentionally ironic picture of a homeschooled child locked in a prison made of books while all of the public schooled children frolic and play outside. In reality, of course, it is the public schooled child who is chained to a desk in a government building for 8 hours a day while homeschooled children are free to go outdoors whenever they please.
The picture may be a hilariously poor representation of homeschooling, but it is a spot-on representation of the article, which time and time again confuses the problems of public school with the problems of homeschool. The piece extensively quotes Elizabeth Bartholet, who we are told is the “public interest professor of law and faculty director of the Law School’s Child Advocacy Program.” Bartholet advocates an outright ban on the dangerous practice of educating your own child, for reasons that are both illogical and morally absurd. Let’s take a look at them.
- Bartholet worries that the “unregulated regime” of homeschooling might allow parents who “don’t read or write” to tragically mishandle their children’s education. As evidence of this problem, she points to a memoir written by a woman who was homeschooled by survivalists in Idaho.
If Bartholet has actual evidence that any significant, or even insignificant, percentage of homeschool parents are illiterate, she will need to do better then presenting a single anecdote. We are not all Idahoan survivalists, after all. I dare say a sizable majority of us do not fit that description. Besides, two can play the anecdote game. As a public schooled person, I could, for example, tell you about the geography teacher I had in tenth grade who didn’t know Georgia is the name of both a state and a country. Or the Spanish teacher in seventh grade who was rather hampered in her Spanish-teaching duties by the fact that she evidently didn’t know Spanish. For every story about dumb and neglectful homeschool parents, I could dig up ten about dumb and neglectful public school teachers.
But if we’re going beyond mere anecdotes to compare the relative quality of homeschool and public school education, homeschool still comes out looking pretty good. Homeschoolers tend to perform better than the national average on both the SAT and the ACT. Granted, standardized tests are not a good way to measure these things but that in itself is another argument against public school, as the entire system is structured around these tests. The point is that homeschool kids can beat public school kids at their own game. And this is a fact that makes the Elizabeth Bartholets of the world hate homeschool even more.
Putting standardized tests to the side, all we need to do is take a look around our society — a society which is largely the product of the public school system — to see how effective that system has been. For by their fruits we shall know them, according to a certain hugely influential book that homeschool kids have the advantage of being allowed to study. Surveys and studies show that most American adults are downright ignoramuses in subjects such as civics, geography, and math, for example. It wouldn’t be rational to lay the blame for all of this entirely at the feet of our public school system, but it also wouldn’t be rational to survey this landscape of ignorance and stupidity and conclude that the education system is doing a bang up job.
2. Bartholet warns that many homeschool families are “driven by conservative Christian beliefs,” and that “some of these parents are ‘extreme religious ideologues’ who question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy.”
Her fears, in this case, are partially justified. It is indeed true that many homeschool parents have committed the crime of believing in Christianity. But then all educators in all educational environments have underlying beliefs. As for the notion that homeschool parents “promote female subservience and white supremacy,” this is nothing but ridiculous fear mongering with no evidentiary basis whatsoever. Bartholet’s research into homeschooling appears to consist of reading Daily Kos and Jezebel. Her claim about homeschool parents “questioning science” needs further qualification. Does she mean actual science, or the kind of “science” they teach in public school these days; the kind that says girls have penises and boys get pregnant? As a homeschool parent, let me be the first to admit that I do certainly question that.
3. Her final argument against homeschooling is that some homeschool parents might abuse their children. She explains that most public school teachers are “mandated reporters” who can “alert authorities to evidence of child abuse or neglect.” If a child doesn’t go to school, the argument goes, there won’t be anyone to save him from harm.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that it utterly fails to account for the abuse that happens in public school. A study commissioned by the Department of Education found that a full 10 percent of children in public school are victims of sexual misconduct by teachers and staff. And that’s to say nothing of the many thousands of children who have been sexually abused at school by other students. Comparing this to the rate of child abuse at home — and even comparing sexual abuse at school to sexual abuse and every other kind of abuse at home — it seems apparent that a child is more likely to suffer abuse at school than at home. So, yes, an abused child who is homeschooled will not be rescued from his situation by a vigilant teacher. That is a tragedy. But there are many more children who are not abused at home and then are abused at school, which means that schools more often play the role of abuser than protector.
On top of all of this, public school also offers bullying, suicide, drug abuse, alcoholism, social ostracization, and peer pressure. Indeed, when you consider the myriad dangers of public school, and the deleterious effect it so often has, and the generally abysmal job it has done of educating our children, you may begin to think that homeschool should be mandated rather than banned. I’m not sure I would go that far, but I could make a much more persuasive argument in that direction than the one that Harvard Magazine has put forward.