by Rosemary Ward Laberee
Homeschooling is an educational choice often misunderstood and much aligned. It is the
favorite whipping boy of the main stream media’s education coverage. This essay parses
the misguided efforts of a new organization which has goals of promoting more oversight
in homeschools and which naively hopes to guard against bad parenting – an ever present
iniquity found disproportionately more often in families who send their children to school
than in families who do not.
It was with great interest that I read The Washington Post Magazine’s article, by Lisa Grace Lednicer, on this new enterprise – The Center for Home Education Policy.
Greater Home Education Monitoring (March 2, 2017)
The young people who run this organization were homeschooled and their goal is to help those who do not like the homeschool life their parents have designed for them. The Center for Home Education Policy wants to help young men and women “escape” their homeschools, and, rather presumptuously, will offer some basic life skills support in the process.
Sarah Hunt and Carmen Green are rather accomplished young people (Rhodes Scholar candidate and Georgetown Law). They have an outstanding command of the king’s English, did well at college, and clearly know how to get a job done. This puts them head and shoulders above most of their brick-and-mortar-schooled peers. They are not poster children for some backwoods, Bible-thumping, slop-‘dem-hogs-or-else kind of parenting. I bet that the parents of these enterprising young adults are exceedingly proud of them, as well they should be.
The goal of The Center for Home Education is more government regulation of home education, but as this essay will point out, there are errors and omissions in their petition.
The most obvious problem is this: The Center for Home Education Policy zooms in on fundamentalist Christianity as a culprit while ignoring other forms of religion-motivated, segregating, educational options. This is troubling. If The Center for Home Education Policy truly cares about the isolating and rigid circumstances which can be found in extremely religious homes, and if they care about how hard it is for the young lives trapped there, then it would definitely need to put a wide-angle lens on the camera. Christians are not the only home educators out there. What about the solitariness of Amish children? What of the detachment of children in conservative, orthodox Judaism? Finally, what about the confinement, oppression and degradation of young Muslim girls? These cultures represent huge homeschool communities – why doesn’t the Center for Home Education Policy “go there”?
I think it is because they would not feel comfortable stomping around the sacred grounds of a culture they do not know, even if it does have practices which offend their sensibilities. Maybe they have more respect for the rituals of these religious cultures than for their own? Regardless, their approach to helping home educated youth seems biased. They appear to be on a targeted witch hunt, and it robs their goals of integrity and sincerity.
On the claims of abuse and starvation in these fundamentalist homes, it is imperative to point out the difference between families who are truant and families who home educate. Truant families do not send kids to school. Neither do they homeschool. They do nothing at all because they are bad people. Legislating home education will do nothing at all to save kids from bad parents and creating a police state where kids are checked up on regularly steps into a very menacing space. The corruption in large governmental, bureaucratic departments which aim to “help children” is legendary. Relying on any agency to verify the integrity of a homeschool (against whose standards?) has a distinctly Orwelian stench. Bad people who fail to send their kids to school ALWAYS claim to be homeschooling. Hunt and Green have erroneously conflated these two groups.
Think. How many public-school kids suffer at the hands of bad parents? Tragically, too many to count. Why don’t we blame public education for this? Why don’t we seek some oversight in these families? If a few of the 1.8 million homeschool kids are mistreated in their homes, this is a terrible thing. But here is a much worse statistic – thousands and thousands of kids, who are not homeschooled, are mistreated in their homes each year. Thousands of kids who attend public schools are victims of abuse. Kids who attend public school are also much more likely to be murdered – while AT the school. Child abuse is ghastly and heart-breaking and for the sake of those victims, I think we should interpret the data correctly.
Hunt and Green explain that many kids who were homeschooled in isolating circumstances need very basic life skills training and academic remediation as well. I have caught one or two rare glimpses of this, so I do not disagree entirely. But it is very disingenuous to suggest that this is common in home education. It is not common. It is rare. It is, however, very common to meet a middle schooler who attends a public school and who still cannot read. Of the young people who fill our prisons and who drop out of high school or college, the overwhelming majority went to a public school. (That is a very scary outcome.) Now, THIS looks like a good space to occupy if you want to make a real difference to the kids.
You see, the question that does need an answer is this: Why are so many young people who come out of our nation’s public schools not prepared for college, for life, and for self-sufficiency? Here is a problem that needs a solution, but it is not a problem generally found in homeschool homes.
More importantly, today’s headlines have revealed how public school students are narrowly formed around a bubble of progressive, politically-correct, left-of-center orthodoxy. The shocking events on our nation’s college campuses show us how very intolerant and viciously protective that isolating piece of society can be. (Here, I am referring to the isolation which public education molds.)
Now – take a look at the Nation’s Report Card
THIS is terrifying. None of the kids represented in these statistics were home educated. This is a crisis, a tragedy, and a terrible injustice. On a GRAND scale. How can one point fingers at a very few ill-prepared homeschool children, when an entire nation is facing an academic extinction event brought to us compliments of ….no, not home education…. but that wondrous alternative known as public education? The author of this article, Lisa Grace Lednicer, showed neither the Nation’s Report Card nor the Homeschool Report Card. Such an omission is not cool.
The numbers and the research speak volumes. This is why I think that The Center for Home Education Policy is a solution in search of a problem. Home education builds better citizens.
The problem is public education.
In the Washington Post article, Sarah Hunt explains that some homeschoolers do not even know what the SAT is. The direct opposite has been my experience. I have heard the same things, year in and year out, from homeschool teens who take the SAT or ACT. Homeschooled teens come away shocked at how oblivious the other students are about these tests. During the test breaks they listen to bewildered comments from the school kids, many of whom do not even know why they are there. These public school students are shocked to find out that the test is 3.5 hours long. They are shocked to learn that they must write an essay. They are shocked to learn that they must know Geometry to do the math portion. My own four kids (each took SAT 2 to 3 times in total) were flabbergasted at how unskilled and vulnerable these kids seemed. And they felt pity for them.
As someone who consults with parents during the college application process – parents of homeschoolers as well as parents of public school students – I can tell you that there is a huge difference between the two. Homeschool parents are much more aware of the requirements for graduation and the criteria for admission to college. For many homeschool families, the proof of the pudding arrives during the first year in college. This is when homeschool kids truly shine. Colleges are eager to have them and they thrive, while many of their public schooled peers do not.
I think that Hunt and Green have focused on the wrong data. To illustrate this point – imagine you are in a room where there are 100 young people who were very poorly educated and who come from wacky families. Now, imagine that 5 of them were home educated. How can you hope to be taken seriously when your take-away from this is that more regulation is needed in home education, when the real problem is in the BIG numbers … the 95 other people? It does not make sense.
The timing of this article and, indeed, the timing of the whole “homeschool monitoring” message is suspicious, given the present political climate. There is an elephant in the room, which may be the real reason for the howls for “home education monitoring”. It is this – the inevitable a la carte approach to education. If the US moves toward a voucher model for education then home education will grow even more. So, best to start the bleating and barking for more controls now, right?
I wish The Center for Home Education Policy well but remain convinced that they are a solution in search of a problem. I hope they turn their well-formed minds to the real problems in education, where they might rescue countless children lost in an intellectual and cultural wasteland.