Edited since I guess it is a little silly to expect people to follow a link to a disclaimer.
Disclaimer: This post is written as a presentation of my view for my husband and posted here for the amusement of any who may happen to read my blog. We are both Catholics, so that factors into my arguments in a way which it would not if they were intended to convince a more general audience. Also, since both of us were homeschooled, all jabs at homeschoolers should be taken as joking self-deprecation and nothing else.
For this discussion “homschooling” refers to parents taking over the academic education of their children without the use of schools. It does not include hybrid methods of schooling such as those in which a group of parents report to the government that they are “homeschooling” but are running what is in effect a non-accredited private school where the children are taught by a various adults in the group and outside teachers.
Above all, it is not a critique of any particular homeschooling family. Many parents choose to homeschool because they want the very best education for their children and do not see any better option. While I cannot be glad that they are in such situations, I do commend them for doing the best that they can.
This post takes the form of “anti-homeschooling” rather than “pro-public or private schools” because we do not yet know what our future will hold. If my husband is right that homeschooling is inherently good, then the best thing for me to do would be to start learning how to teach. If I am right that homeschooling is inherently less than ideal, then the best thing for us to do is to factor in the presence of great schools as we choose where to live and work.
My experience is not at the center of this post, but it is nothing less than entirely valid, because my experience shaped me, and has thus shaped whether I would be a good homeschooling parent. Please remember, this post is about whether we should homeschool, not about whether you should homeschool.
When parents entirely take over the academic education of their children it means two things:
1. Children receive less academically since they are being taught by fewer people with fewer resources.
- Unless the parent was educated as a teacher they are, by definition, missing out on the teacher’s training which should rightfully aid the child’s learning.
- Teacher-student fights are mixed with parent-child fights, and both relationships suffer.
- If the child’s learning style does not match up with the parent’s teaching style then it is not simply a matter of switching classes or hoping for a better teacher next year.
- Family life may become a competition with academic life: the birth of a new baby suddenly not only means tired parents, it also means no school teacher.
2. Parents have less time and energy to dedicate to their primary purpose of the spiritual education of their children.
- When parents are required to fill the role of primary academic educators, they must devote less energy toward parenting in the fullest sense. Homeschool parents may claim that this is not a zero-sum game, but I have seen how homeschooling mothers relate to their children during evenings and weekends, and it is different from the parenting of mothers who have the assistance of good schools. It requires significant effort to provide a solid academic education, and parents have a finite amount of time and stamina.
- Parenting large families obviously presents a special problem in this area. It is one thing to both parent and educate three children who are close in age. It is quite another to deal with many children who are years apart with widely differing needs.
When skeptics question homeschooling they often bring up socialization. And they are right to do so. Unfortunately, they tend to focus on whether the child has friends or is socially awkward. As far as I can tell, this should not be a concern. Children are likely to pick up their parents’ social adeptness (or lack thereof) regardless of their school situation.
There is another aspect of socialization which is far more concerning for homeschooled children. What homeschoolers miss is the sort of socialization which trains one to be a happy and productive member of our society. Extreme speakers at homeschool conferences talk about how our public school system was based off the German system which turns free-spirits into zombies who produce for the government. They are on to something. The traditional classroom environment trains students to thrive as stable adults who work with other stable adults. This means that they may be less likely to come up with cool crazy ideas which improve the world. It also means that they are able to be happy and content in our culture.
I personally know many young adults who were homeschooled. The only ones I know who are
are stay-at-home mothers. Everyone else is lacking at least one of the three. This often means that they are amazing people who contribute great things to the world, but it is not a sacrifice which I am willing to deliberately make on my child’s behalf. I would much rather such a person be the result of some strong personality and fluke of the system than a typical result of the fact that they were not socialized to function well in our culture.
Time and the problem of electronics verses human teachers
I want to be actively involved in my children’s education. But how much time do you honestly think the average homeschooling parent spends on each child each day?
When I began to baby-sit for families in a wealthy neighborhood I was shocked. What I had seen as the normal amount of time dedicated to teaching for “homeschooling” was the same attention which the privileged families gave to their children in addition to the child’s time in school. After school, children played outside before working on homework with the help of the parent or babysitter. “Screen time” was limited to a half-hour reward, even if it was an educational program. Parents took time to accompany their children on fieldtrips, and filled weekends with both fun and educational activities and outings.
Homeschoolers often argue that homeschooling is superior because there are fewer students competing for the attention of one teacher. And then they turn to video and computer programs to educate their children. I would rather have my child in a classroom with many other students and a human teacher than by himself or herself in front of a computer. If the children are ultimately getting the same amount of parental teaching, then it is simply a question of how the other hours are filled. And it is difficult for me to believe that a good school could not fill the hours with something better than learning software and videos of teachers.
The limited knowledge and passion of parents
Prior to going to college it was entirely certain that I knew less than my mother did from her k-12 education. This is clearly not a good thing to have happen for multiple generations, and is especially problematic in the situations where the children homeschool “through college” before going on to homeschool their own children.
Parents say that they love homeschooling because they “get to learn alongside the children.” I say “I would like for my child to learn from someone who already knows.”
Parents are great at transmitting their academic passions, but it is important that students also be exposed to teachers who have additional passions. Children should not be limited to loving what their parents love, and should ideally have many wonderful role-models who can teach them the delight of all the subjects.
Why should parents trust themselves to impart a love for physics to their children when it is not one of the parents passions? How much better it would be to give the child a chance to learn from someone who has chosen teach the subject because they love it.
“Love is the most powerful thing, and no teacher will ever love your children as much as you will.”
True, but I do not need teachers to love my children as much as I love; I need them to help my child academically. Just like I do not need the pediatrician to love the child as much as I love, I need her to help my child physically. Healthy love does not want to be everything for the child; it wants the child to have the best of everything.
What culture has ever thought it was a good idea to leave their most valuable children (sons of the elite) to be educated by only their mothers until adulthood? I cannot think of any. This either means that homeschooling failed to teach me about these cultures, or it means that no one other than current homeschoolers has ever thought this was a good way to educate. Mothers are supposed to be able to be mothers. They are not supposed to have to teach their children everything
Interaction with other students
Who are we kidding? Siblings are not the same. Children should get plenty of time with their siblings as a part of daily life and that interaction should be allowed to have a different quality than the interaction with peers in the classroom.
There can never be sufficient regulation of homeschooling. It is not the government’s place to intrude on the choices of parents’ to the extent required to have sufficient regulation to protect homeschooled students from severely inferior academic preparation for adult life. When children are in school there are many people involved in both shaping the academic situation and insuring that academics are taught in a reasonably balanced way. There are no such protections in homeschooling, and so it naturally fosters dysfunction.
One of my parents’ friends left the Church and joined started attending a Protestant church which was “homeschool friendly” because of a fight with the priest over sacramental preparation. The priest allowed the homeschool families to complete First Communion education at home, but he had specific requirements which were similar to what was taught in all regular religious education classes. But this woman had gotten used to doing things her own way and decided that meant she needed to leave the Catholic Church so that she could exercise her right to educate her children without restrictions in all areas.
She was obviously prone to extremes, but I have no doubt that my personality is just as warped in other ways. And there is something about stepping into one’s own little educational world that facilitates irrational parenting decisions for those who already struggle.
The same freedom which makes homeschooling great for children with ADHD or particular academic gifting also makes it so that learning disabilities can go undiagnosed and untreated, and that teens know little about the subjects which disinterest them. If a homeschooled teenager hates academics, then it is very easy for parents to “let things slide.” If the same teen delights in learning, then it is far too tempting for the parent to remove academics as punishment. And that is simply sick.
People did not understand Elizabeth Esther, but she described it so very well. My natural tendency is not toward safe, it is toward crazy. And I would love to have the structure of a normal school system to keep me in check and protect my children from a very warped education.
Next up: Josh’s pro-homeschooling response, and then our answers to your questions. You are welcome to help Josh out by chiming in with comments about how very wrong I am.
- Anti-Homeschooling: Philosophy
- I am thankful 3/28/2010