Homeschooling on the Left and the Right: beyond public and Christian schools
Last week’s issue of The Economist includes a brief report on the phenomenal growth of homeschooling in the past thirty years in the United States. According to the report, approximately 2 million children are currently being homeschooled, roughly the same number as are attending charter schools.
Homeschooling is one of those issues on which folks on the right and the left often find more in common with each other than they do with those in the middle.
Although home schooling started on the counter-cultural left, the conservative right has done most to promote it, abandoning public schools for being too secular and providing no moral framework. Today the ranks of home-schoolers are overwhelmingly Christian, and 78% of parents attend church frequently….
Home schooling is not exclusively white and Christian. In 2007 a report found that Muslim children were one of the fastest-growing groups; black-home schoolers are around 4% of the total and comprised 61,000 children. The super-wealthy, and parents who must move around a lot, are also taking up home schooling in increasing numbers because of its flexibility.
In certain Christian circles homeschooling has actually sparked significant opposition because it is viewed as a threat to Christian schools. Some Dutch Reformed communities, for instance, have gone so far as to refuse ecclesiastical office to parents who homeschool their children. In fact, while the movement in general owes much to Christian skepticism towards developments in public schools, many homeschooling parents are just as motivated by their frustration with Christian schools. As far as they are concerned, many of these schools are neither as Christian as they claim, nor do they offer anything like the rigorous education the parents are seeking.
How do homeschoolers do?
Academically, home-schooled children seem to do well; they enter higher education in proportions similar to those who are conventionally educated, and score as well or better on college entrance exams. Nor, on the evidence of Mr Murphy’s book, are they socially backward: most seem confident, assured and well-adjusted. They also have fewer behavioural problems.
It is also the case that in many instances public schools have been far more cooperative with homeschoolers than have Christian schools.
Public schools can do little but co-operate these days, and most offer access to school facilities, websites, books and other materials. Some even allow home-schoolers to take specialist courses—allowing the school to tap into a portion of public financing they would otherwise lose entirely.
Flexible cooperation between public schools, charter schools, Christian schools and “home schools,” each of which may be a legitimate option for parents under varying circumstances, seems sensible to me. The United States stands to benefit from the decentralization and democratization of education, both because of what this does for competition and educational improvement and because of the pluralistic solution it offers in a nation that has thus far found that the only possible way to be post-Protestant is to be thoroughly secular. We don’t all have to do this the same way.