January 6, 2009
A January 4th article on USAToday's website discussed the growth of homeschooling in America as understood by the Department of Education. I spent some time reading through the comments at the bottom of the article. As always, the comments broke out into 2 camps, for homeschooling and against homeschooling. Two pieces of this discussion stuck out in my mind. First, the number of comments from people which hinted at homeschooling being a lazy choice. Second, the way character matters were glossed over as simply an religious issue for evangelical Christians. These types of comments are due to ignorance of what homeschooling involves and why involved parents choose to homeschool, respectively.
I was astounded at the number of comments I have seen that are trying to equate homeschooling with laziness. I am not sure what the commenters think homeschooling is, however it is quite clear that they don't understand it in nature or in practice. It would be MUCH easier for anyone to send their children to school, where they are taught, supervised and fed throughout the day. Many parents who choose to homeschool do so after careful consideration of their choices. Rather than accept a status quo that may not live up to their expectations, they choose to take the responsibility into their own hands (a position that is admirable; personal responsibility is critical to a strong society.) They realize that, in order to do what is right for their family, its value and its lifestyle, they will take the reigns and handle it themselves.
Homeschoolers have taken a serious and critical piece of their children's lives back. They are giving up their own free time and/or career advancement to ensure that their children receive the character education, academic rigor, and life experiences that garner a love for learning and a love for the good. They spend time researching the best curriculum for their children. They have their children involved in extra-curriculars and classes to supplement what they are doing at home. They are creating activities and projects that make the lessons come alive for their children. They are involving other worthy adults in their children's lives as role models, especially as students move into the upper grades. They do all of this and also manage to care for a home, finances, marriages, etc. just like someone who isn't homeschooling. Using the term "lazy" to describe homeschoolers is simply inaccurate.
In addition, religious reasons and moral reason are lumped together quite often when discussing the reasons parents choose to homeschool their children. The research confirms that religious reasons are cited as the top reason for homeschooling (see the National Home Education Research Institute's website here and the National Center for Education Statistics here). Faith is incredibly important. However, the choice to homeschool is typically made based on a combination of factors, all intertwined. Many parents are very concerned with the value system in which their children are being immersed in the public school setting. This can have its base in religion, but it also concerns values that span denominations, such as respect, responsibility, integrity, and even basic safety and civility issues. By any measure and with few exceptions, the school systems are not creating the best environment for academic rigor, strong character, or the joy of learning for its own sake. By their nature, the schools also cannot provide the personalized educational experience that a parent can. There are simply too many children and too few adult role models. A more thorough analysis of the "whys" of homeschooling could provide information not just for those who homeschool, but for pointing the schools in a more positive direction, as well.
One point before I close, basic freedoms are the very foundation this country was founded on. Parents are entitled to choose the best education possible for their children. They may find that in their local public schools which has excellent teachers (and there are some excellent teachers out there), they may find it in a private education that grows their child's faith, or they may find it in the one-on-one educational setting that emphasizes family and in-depth study that is homeschooling. These decisions must be made at the family level.
Not everyone needs to choose homeschooling. The message here is that it is a choice, and one usually made after careful considerations and often made at some personal sacrifice. Parents choose to take back this responsibility for many reasons, and analyzing those reasons at a more granular level may give the school system some ideas on how to make their own service more effective and meaningful. Government oversight does not equate with educational excellence. I encourage anyone interested in homeschooling for themselves, or simply out of curiosity, to do their homework and form a learned opinion of what homeschooling brings to table of education.