Homeschoolers and homeschooling

Does it seem to anyone else that everyone and their cousin is homeschooling? Back in my high school days I knew one girl who, with the rest of her siblings, was homeschooled. Then in the ninth grade she joined my class. The social aspect was a killer for her for a long while, likely owing to her Baptist fundamentalist upbringing and the lack of regular interaction with her peers. But she had her head screwed on tight and by senior year she had pretty well adjusted. But she had been something of an anomaly.

In the last few years the number of homeschooled children seems to have exploded. I’m not sure to what exactly I’d attribute this. Dissatisfaction with public education? Yeah. Who isn’t? Inability to afford private/parochial education? Ok.

(I realize I may have just insulted a slew of public school teachers and products of the public system who believe that they have provided/have received a good education in the public system. To this I argue that John Dewey, and not necessarily the individual teacher, has actually hindered the education and development of American students according to his broadly accepted philosophy of education. Classical education, on the other hand, actually teaches students how to think. Under the current system, no tax dollars or new teacher initiatives are going to fix the problem. This is a different post altogether.)

My contention, however, is that homeschooling, while beneficial in some situations, is not for everyone. More to the point, not everyone who is homeschooling should be doing so. The task is greater than it sounds, and many of these are not up to the task. I’m currently aware of about eight families who currently profess to be homeschooling. Of these, four of them (accounting for 10 children) seem more to be using it as a convenience–“we can do so much more together as a family”–while their children fall behind their peers, both socially and educationally; one of these families egregiously so: “Sarah” is going on 11 and she can’t read.

One of the problems is that the qualifications for a parent or guardian to homeschool can be extremely loose. These vary from State to State, but even as loose as they are, they mean even less in the absence of enforcement. Observe:

In the State of Illinois, for example:

  • Specific Home School Statutes: None
  • Alternative Statutes Allowing for Home Schools: None
  • If contacted by state school officials, home schoolers must respond. They could submit a “statement of assurance” form to the local school district for the purposes of verifying that their childrens’ private education is providing instruction as required by Section 26-1 of the Illinois State Statutes.
  • The statement of assurance process, however, is voluntary and not required by law. Parents who decide to submit a statement of assurance should be aware of the fact that this form often has illegitimate points. Therefore, parents should modify this form by omitting or removing non-required sections.
  • A typed and signed letter stating that the children are taught the appropriate branches of education and in the English language, is probably better. Send it Certified mail, keep a copy and the receipt in your child’s school file.
  • The statement of assurance form has often been exchanged for the non-public school registration form. On this form there is now the option to check if you are homeschooling. This is still voluntary.
  • State Accreditation or State Recognition of Private Schools: Not required by statute.
  • Private (Home) School Visitations: Not required by statute.

The State of Washington, as another example, seems to have tighter policies, but check out who may homeschool there. A homeschooling parent must only meet one of the following criteria:

  • Have earned 45 quarter units of college level credit.
  • Attend a Parent Qualifying Course. This is highly recommended even if you are already qualified to homeschool.
  • Work with a certified teacher who meets with your student on the average of an hour a week.
  • Be deemed sufficiently qualified to provide home-based instruction by the superintendent of your local school district.

It’s simply too easy to qualify and slip through the cracks. I’ve seen it in my own State. Homeschooling may indeed be beneficial and appropriate in some situations, but it is not the silver bullet answer to the socio-educational conundrum that faces many parents today. Not everyone has the appropriate skills and resources. There are certainly other issues from case to case.

This is not a blanket condemnation of homeschooling. Indeed, it’s something that my wife (a licensed K-12 educator) and I have considered for our children. And yet I wonder if we are up to such a task. If it is to be undertaken, in any situation, it had ought to be under sound advice, realistic assessment of needs and abilities, and with excellence as a goal.

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8 Responses to Homeschoolers and homeschooling

  1. Spunky says:

    In a free society you have to allow that some people will mess up and not homeschool their children effectively. But the alternative cure, that being increased government regulation is far worse than the disease. I wrote a post recently on this very issue. You may find it informative about how some homeschoolers define our freedom.

    http://spunkyhomeschool.blogspot.com/2006/07/little-of-this-and-that.html

  2. Sean says:

    I think, considering the importance of our parochial schools in the history of the LCMS, we should continue to support our Lutheran Schools. Where they are bad, we should work to fix them. Where they are good, we should promote them even more surely. Saying they are lost and we’re pulling out of them is nearly the same thing as pulling out of Lutheranism for something better, either a “new” church, or something like the EO. I learned bad theology and good theology at my Lutheran School experiences… and I still turned out good. Good parents home school AND send their kids to public or private schools. It’s just good parenting to be involved in your child’s learning process. You don’t have to do it all just to be a good parent.

  3. A says:

    Good post. I have a couple of comments. On the one hand (I do not advocate the following position, it simply MUST be stated owing to the type of government that we have) who says that anyone has the right to tell me what I have to do with my children? If I want to homeschool them (which I don’t) then, as an American citizen, I have the right to do that how and where and when I please. Even though it is a bad system, the mandate for public education comes from the people, which is the government in our democratic republic. I think that this is what Spunky is driving at. Inside of our system I have to agree with her on the legality of the whole thing, (or lack of legality). Where I think that we disagree is that she thinks that this democratic republic with an essentially hands off government is a good thing, I do not. Someone, sometime, somewhere finally convinced me that people, left to thier own devices, will not come up with what is best, and so a re-reading of the Scriptures and Luther, and the Confessions on thi spoint has led me to believe that this democratic republic certainly does not fit any Biblical or historically Christian view of government. (Before you get red with rage and write me off, find a coherent argument from the Scriptures stating that God promises anyone life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It ain’t there, never was there, nor ever will be there. The issue of the “founding fathers” being Christians is a not unrelated topic).
    That being said, the majority of homeschoolers I have run into are so-called Christian Fundamentalists who are retreating from the world. They don’t want thier kids to learn about evolution. They don’t want thier kids to know that homosexual people exist. They don’t want thier children to be exposed to the wide world. In short, the homeschoolers I have met (who perhaps do not represent all home schoolers) are preparing thier children for failure in the world where, much to thier own chagrin, they must live thier lives. This does not apply to all people who home school, just those who I have met and spoken with. I don’t think this is even remotely good. Beside the social and educational concerns that you raise, OSC, which I quite agree with, there is the notion that Christians are called to radical engagement of the world, not retreat from it. Biblical examples abound – Paul at the Areopagus, Jesus with the wrong crowd all the time, missions to the Gentiles, Pauline teaching on how Christians act, the call to care for the very least, the entire gospel fabric woven in human language, in human space and time, much of it borrowing from forms of the day, the very fact that God became man, etc. The homeschooling thing strikes me as a sort of moastic movement, oddly enough, mostly advanced by those who don’t consider Roman Catholics Christians.

  4. A says:

    sorry – moastic=monastic.

  5. OSC says:

    I appreciate the comments. I have read Spunky’s post on the issue, but I’m not convinced. Not to be snarky, but in a free society I don’t have to do anything.

    The government sets up regulations in this society to ensure that the society might continue. For example, without a driver’s license it is not permitted that one operate a vehicle. Is this excessive? After all, it’s your car, right? To which one might argue that your car is there to be operated among the general populace. To which I would argue that the homeschooled student is also expected to operate with and among the general populace. Seeking to maintain that homeschooled children are actually educated and trained for life now and later life is addressing a generally commonly-held societal concern.

    In regard to a’s comment, I generally agree. Liberal democracy and capitalism are not divinely-ordained systems, and in fact, they fly in the face of much of Scripture. Of course “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

    I likewise do not really sympathize with what I might term the “pious flight” from society. In this age and yet not of this age is a difficult stance to maintain, yet it is that place where we have been placed by virtue of our baptisms.

    More specifically directed to the issue of the homeschooling boom, I am likewise not convinced that standardized testing is all that helpful. But I would like to know that Johnny’s parents are somehow being held to account for Johnny’s being taught what he needs to be taught to be a productive member of society–one of my own children’s fellows.

  6. Whey Lay says:

    Interesting post, always a touchy area to stray into. Personally my wife and I thought we would like to homeschool, but realized that even though we could teach our kids many basics, some things like music were beyond us. Ultimately we elect to keep them home during kindergarden and send them to our Lutheran dayschool starting at 1st grade. I have taught each one myself to read before going to school and then watched them loose that reading level during the first year, very disappointing. Your primary concern seems to be with children being homeschooled and slipping thru the cracks and not getting educated. This is valid, but I would ask you to balance that percentage with the number in public schools statewide that are slipping through the cracks, far more disturbing but more easily overlooked, after all the state tried and couldn’t do it, so no one person is to blame, but a parent who keeps their kid home and neglects proper instruction, now we have a person thats accountable (and should be). All I’m saying is that people (myself included) get more excercised over a parent failing than we do with the system’s continued failures, it’s probably just human nature, but still not right.
    I too have noticed that the number of families homeschooling have jumped in our area, most seem to be Baptist also. I wonder what the dynamic we are seeing there is. Catholics and Lutherans have long had established schools, and likewise I feel are less likely to be involved in homeschooling, at least for religious concerns. Baptists (I’m musing now)on the other hand felt that they could control the local school as needed to teach their kids. Some older Lutheran writers (Schaller) commented that American Calvinist always disregarded their childrens religious instruction until the age of accountability and baptism. If this were true it may account for the lack of long established Baptist dayschools. Now with 21st century secularism reigning in public schools, many American Protastants have few place to turn. I’m rambling far afield of your post, sorry, but would like any follow ups if you have’m.

  7. OSC says:

    Actually, I agree very much. I’m not a fan of the American educational system. Like I said in the original post, I believe that John Dewey’s ideas, upon which the system is based, are fundamentally flawed. It leads to the general dumbening (a la Homer Simpson) of students.

    The more I’ve read, the bigger fan of classical education I become. It provides students with the tools actually to test the merits of ideas and to think. The American educational system is not geared to teach this skill. Students acquire information, call it knowledge, but they tend not to apply sound thinking to that information.

    Unfortunately, there tends to be a stereotype that goes “classical education = academic elitism.” I’d argue that no matter what station in life one occupies, a classical education would prove invaluable. If that can be done in the home, great. If it needs to be done in a formalized setting, great.

    To get back to your comment, I agree that there is a wholesale failure of the system. I’d love to know how to address that. Yet I would rather see a child go through that failed system and come out with some education rather than to be “homeschooled” and learn next to nothing due to parental permissiveness and educational inaction.

    My dream would be that Lutheran schools everywhere, across the entire K-12 spectrum, fill the niche of affordable classical education. Having taught in a Lutheran city school, I think it would be especially phenomenal to introduce it in that setting.

    And of course, my original point is that if parents choose to homeschool, please emphasize the “school” part over the “home” part.

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