Friday, June 08, 2007

Should Homeschooling Be Regulated?

There's been a great deal of discussion about the paper written by Kimberly Yuracko of Northwestern University, in which she advocates in favor of significant government regulation of homeschooling. She particularly wants to see homeschooling regulated in order to prevent "Christian fundamentalist" parents from "shielding" their children from the liberal values being taught in the schools - all for the good of the nation, of course. For an excerpt from the introduction to her paper (all that has been released to this point), see this blog entry from the "Christian Alliance for Progress."

This paper ignores one critically important reason why more questions have not been raised about constitutional issues surrounding homeschooling - because the Supreme Court has already spoken to this issue, many years ago, and declared that the right to direct the education of children belongs exclusively to their parents. I hate to disappoint Ms. Yuracko or the author of this blog, but parents do have the right to determine how their children will be educated.

I've been involved in the homeschooling movement for about 37 years, ever since my mother taught me to read at home when I was four years old. I attended virtually every schooling option you can imagine, from public to private to homeschooling to a small classroom with a tutor. During my high school years, I completed the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's independent study program (in 3 years instead of the usual 4, giving me the opportunity to pursue my college education my senior year - something that is routinely done in schools today but was unheard of in 1982). Since then I have helped many parents begin or improve their homeschools, have educated both my own children at home, and have taught in a homeschool enrichment program through a local public school system.

Based on my rather significant experience with homeschooling and homeschoolers, I believe Ms. Yuracko is wrong to divide homeschooling parents into "two distinct movements." Of course, that kind of artificial distinction is possible - some homeschoolers are Christians, some are not - but the truth is that reasons for homeschooling are almost as many as the people who do it. It is undoubtedly true that SOME homeschoolers do it to shelter their children. Possibly a few even do it "to shield their children from liberal values of sex equality, gender role fluidity and critical rationality," though among the hundreds I've met, I have never met one who did. MOST homeschoolers, however, do NOT homeschool in order to shield their children from any of these things. In fact, many believe their children will learn "critical rationality" much more thoroughly at home than in the public school system.

Certainly many Christian homeschoolers would include, among the multiple reasons they homeschool, their desire to teach their children what they believe and why. But most homeschoolers do homeschool for MANY reasons, teaching their beliefs being only ONE of those. And most secular homeschoolers also want to teach their children what they believe, though what they teach would undoubtedly be different from what a Christian homeschooler would teach.

So why DO people homeschool? As I've said above, for MANY reasons. I personally began homeschooling my daughter because when I started looking at preschools, when she was 3 1/2, I realized she already knew everything they were teaching even at the kindergarten level. I saw no sense in subjecting my daughter to two years of stagnation when I could teach her at home, and help her continue to be excited about learning. We started then, and each year as I looked at the school system, I realized she was moving farther beyond her peers. She'll be starting sixth grade in the fall. She took the sixth-grade Iowa tests this spring, and her test scores show her in the 98th percentile among sixth-graders (she was in fifth grade). I would do my daughter a grave disservice putting her in any middle school in the country at this point.

Am I what Ms. Yuracko would call a "Christian fundamentalist"? I'm quite sure I am. Do I homeschool in order to shield my children from liberal values? Most definitely NOT! I homeschool in order to give my children the best education I possibly can. I homeschool in order to allow both my gifted daughters to soar. I homeschool because I hate textbooks, written by committees and dispensing controlled amounts of information in tiny bits and in the driest way imaginable, and love real books, full of adventure and interest as well as truth. I homeschool in order to protect them from the dangers of apathy, drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity, and murderous lunatics with automatic rifles who invade even tiny Amish communities and remote mountain villages. And yes, I homeschool in order to teach my children what I believe and value and why I do.

And most homeschoolers I know, both Christian and secular - and I know hundreds, including those from both groups - homeschool for these reasons and literally dozens of others. The Supreme Court has stated clearly that the United States Constitution gives me the right to educate my children as I see fit; Ms. Yuracko's paper does not change that, and I hope it never will.


Alasandra said...

Great post.

Kathy said...

Great post. I agree. I'm not a Christian fundamentalist by any means, but I am a conservative with a strong belief that children should have childhoods...childhoods that don't include lessons on condom use, alternative lifestyles, or "bad touches." I homeschool because I want my kids to have a great education, because I want them to be family-based, not peer dependent, and because I'd like them to spend time learning Latin instead of "cultural consciousness" or whatever silly fluff courses they're teaching now.

The people who want to regulate homeschooling (and everything else, it seems) seem to share a basic misconception: that the child is the property of the state, and that parents raise their kids subject to the permission of the governement. (See: Germany) Let's pray we keep a Supreme Court that disagrees.

Meli said...

I do not understand how it can be helpful to regulate homeschoolers.

Public school teachers complain vehemently about the enormous amounts of paperwork they are subjected to, and how it limits their actual ability to teach. They are some of the most regulated people on the planet.

Yet the results of all this regulation are abysmal--poor school performance, children abused and bullied regularly (not in all classrooms, of course, but in far, far too many), bullying, on and on.

Homeschoolers surpass public school kids on almost every conceivable measure, from academics to social skills.

(I can just see it, "We're sorry, Mrs. Jones, but your son scored under 20th percentile on his standardized tests. We obviously cannot teach him very well, so we will pay for a private school, instead, or you will need to homeschool him.")

Until public schools are able to get their house in order, what can possibly be the good of adding regulatory burdens to homeschoolers?

Marcy Muser said...

Alasandra: Thank you!

Kathy: I wouldn't define myself as a fundamentalist, but I'm conservative enough that I suspect Ms. Yuracko would. And I agree - kids deserve the opportunity to be kids, to have a touch of innocence at least for a few years. I'll get to the tough stuff - in fact, my older daughter is almost 11 and we are definitely discussing some of that already - but I don't see why early elementary-age kids need to carry all that baggage around. We adults live with so much stress ourselves; and yet we pile more and more on our poor little guys. That can't be healthy for them. And I share your frustration with the idea that the child belongs to the state - neither the Bible nor our Constitution support that claim.

Meli: Excellent point about the relationship between regulation and quality of education. You are so right!

Sebastian said...

Nice review of why you really homeschool. I just came across the Yuracko article. I wish I could say that I thought this would be laughed off as poor logic, inadequate research and bad law. Unfortunately, I think there is a sizable part of the population who think that homeschoolers really should be regulated.
I need to go over the article again, but I don't see that she did any comparison of highly regulated states vs low regulation states. To my knowledge, the homeschoolers in states like PA aren't higher performing than those in Alaska or Indiana.