The Philosophy and Public Policy of Homeschooling

I’m learning to ignore most of the anti-homeschooling stuff floating around out there on the internet. After all, you can find most any opinion expressed on the internet. (Really, if you can find a group for homeschooled fans of Hanson, what could be missing?)

But SwitchedOn Mom mentioned an article recently published in Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly, an academic journal published at the University of Maryland. It’s not so much the “academic” that gets me het up (though I confess, as a former academic I can’t believe what can get published!) as the “public policy” part. When a law professor in the DC area puts “public policy” and “homeschool” together, I pay a little more attention.

The article is “The Harms of Homeschooling,” by Robin West, who purports to identify specific harms of “unregulated homeschooling” and proposes regulatory solutions. I was angered enough to pound out my objections to her call for more homeschooling oversight earlier today. I also shared my annoyance with my family–Violet laughed aloud, especially when I quoted from the section suggestion that children need a break from “intense” family love in the “safe haven” with a teacher who values the child as a learner and actively curious person. (Still not over it, I see.)

Forgive me, this is long, and parts refer to the original article. I don’t quote because then it would be even longer:

Harm #1 – Potential Concealment of Child Abuse
Given that abused children fly under the radar in schools all the time, I am not sure how adding “regulation” to homeschool would help. The idea that homeschooled children would not be seen by other adults, family, neighbors, church members, etc.—as implied by West’s suggestion that school is “the one forum in which their abuse may be identified”—is nonsensical.

But I will grant that Harm #1 is the most compelling she’s got. It would be more compelling if it seemed at all plausible that government officials would be making visits to private homes for no reason other than the family’s intent to homeschool. Social services can’t handle the caseload they have now, and yet they are going to go check up on homeschoolers? And the average citizen is going to welcome government inspections of his/her home? I consider myself pretty liberal, but that would not be something I would tolerate for a second. (Not to imply that being liberal means you would tolerate government inspection of your home just because you plan to homeschool.)

Harm #2 – Public Health Risk as Children Miss Immunization Requirements
Absurd – any family can opt out of immunizations whether they choose public school or homeschool. Further regulation of homeschool would serve no purpose.

Harm #3 – Parents’ Love, or something
Uh, this one is so bizarre I don’t even know how to address it (see p. 9 of the pdf). I do notice that West herself couldn’t come up with a way to phrase this as a harm. What is it, “being loved too intensely by parents?” Besides, “Harm 3” has nothing to do with regulation of homeschool. Regulation of homeschool wouldn’t address this alleged “harm” at all. Only banning homeschool would do it—odd that West brings it up at all if she is sincere in her claim that she’s only going after “unregulated homeschooling.” Harm #3: completely irrelevant to homeschool regulation.

Harm #4 – Political Indoctrination by Parents
Again, totally unclear what kind of state regulation would prevent parents of either homeschoolers or public/private school children from thoroughly indoctrinating their children in their own political beliefs. I don’t even try to do it, and my kids sound like tiny DailyKos bloggers sometimes. I agree, that is really unfortunate, but in a free society I’m not sure what the alternative is. Harm #4: just like harm #3 – totally irrelevant to homeschool regulation.

Harm #5 – Authoritarian Parenting Stunts Children’s Ethical Development
This is a harm of growing up in an authoritarian household, not of homeschooling. Bad parenting is not, thank goodness, illegal. My homeschooling needs to be monitored because there are authoritarian parents? Regulation would address the problem of authoritarian parents? Authoritarian parenting ought to be monitored through in-home visits by the state? Hmmm, no.

Harm #6 – Educational Harm
Oh lord, prove it! Oh but wait, you can’t! I know there are great schools and great teachers, but come on. If my homeschooled children are not learning according to some state standards, then the state gets to intervene. But if my children are not learning in school because the state is providing a subpar education, I can only intervene if I do it the way the state—which has already failed us in this hypothetical situation—says so?

I am satisfied with the way we do it in MN. We promise to do yearly testing, we promise to have the results of yearly testing available should the district ask for it, and we promise to take action if testing reveals that the child isn’t meeting certain benchmarks. We don’t promise to send them to school or allow home visits, just to take further action. I don’t have to send in test results, I just have to keep them around. I can do that.

If public schools are doing such a mediocre job of educating poor students now, why is regulation going to help poor “trailer park” residents do any better than their counterparts in school? I know we have statistics to show how well that’s going.

Harm #7 – Perpetuating Economic Disadvantages
This one doesn’t make much sense either. Most homeschoolers have above average incomes, yet the “hardcore” of the movement is considerably poorer than average? How does this make mathematical sense? Unless you define “hardcore” simply as “the people who bug me the most.” Her argument here is not about money, it is about lifestyle. Look, I am not really a fan of many of these extreme religious movements either, but it seems to me that unless they are breaking the law they ought not be subject to state regulation, nor should I be subject to state regulation because they exist. Most of that paragraph seems to be about weird cultural stereotypes, not the cycle of poverty. And by all means, if you come across a family living on a tarp in a field, Fundamentalist or not, press them with all the state intervention you can.

Frankly, as much as it frightens me that some children are growing up on a steady diet of Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin, it scares me much more to think that government intervention is being proposed as a solution to that problem. Good lord – what happens when the pendulum swings and being an Olbermann/Michael Moore fan makes you suspect in the eyes of the state?

It’s not that I don’t care about those kids (at home or in public school) who are abused or illiterate – or forced to become Republican — I just fail to see how “regulation” will achieve the stated aims. This is just another badly informed anti-homeschool rant masquerading as a serious public policy proposal.

And what does the author mean regulation, anyway?

Curricular review? My state has chosen the worst-reviewed math curriculum out there. How are they supposed to help me? And if the state-approved curriculum is so great, why isn’t it working better for public school students?

Periodic visits? In what fairy tale land is my beleaguered school district going to send me someone to help with college and career counseling? I couldn’t get them to help me get school right when we were actually enrolled. And when the government starts inspecting families with no probable cause, you will hear me out on the streets protesting with a bullhorn. Luckily, I can’t see where the state would get the money, personnel, or time to do such a thing.

Periodic testing? I can be OK with that, at least as my state has it set up. It is minimally invasive. And what’s going to happen if the state doesn’t like my results? Oh right . . .

Forced enrollment for those who fail to comply: So, if I don’t use state-approved curriculum or focus on state-specified content, I have to send my child back to school, even if by other measures they are thriving at home. If my child does not learn at the standard pace, I have to send them back to school, where not learning at a standard pace will be an even larger problem. If they don’t catch up, do they get to come back home? Doesn’t make sense. If my child had a learning problem, why should I be forced to send her to an institution that has already proven that it is not meeting minimal educational goals for fully half of its students?

For other responses, see Tammy Takashi at Just Enough and Nothing More, Crunchy Mama at The Diosa Dotada Endeavor, Razzed, and Milton Gaither at Homeschooling Research Notes.

I know, it seems pointless to get all riled up about yet another homeschooling opponent. But the yawning gap between the seriousness of the publication outlet and the super-badness of the argument–not to mention that whole “public policy” angle–really set me off!


Filed under In the News, Socialization, Why Homeschool?

19 responses to “The Philosophy and Public Policy of Homeschooling

  1. Awesome post! Thanks for taking a Ginzu knife to her arguments. It takes a village….

  2. bah. I can not be bothered wasting my precious limited energy on people like that anymore. I’m sorry she got to you, I’ll bet if she actually MET some homeschoolers she wouldn’t be able to write such an article.

  3. Wonderful replies to another round of nonsense. I have to stop by more often. 🙂

  4. One of the best ways to make a point is through humor, and this article does it!

    I laughed at the periodic visits proposal in which a highly knowledgeable school bureaucrat will discuss colleges and careers. I can just imagine a school bureaucrat visiting my home thinking that he can expand the horizons for my children. What’s more likely to happen is that he’ll get a lecture from my twelve-year-old.

    By the way, all this career and college counseling is available on-line for free. Sorry to burst your bubble West, but no bureaucrat is needed!

  5. Great rebuttal! I was also most baffled by her argument about “intense” parental love. I certainly had some teachers who really cared about me as I went through school, but the idea of a public school as a safe haven is beyond laughable to me.

  6. MoCo Mom

    Great response. I don’t homeschool but am concerned with these issues. Wish I’d had this great online community when my kids were wee.

  7. Pingback: Robin West’s controversial anti-homeschooling article “The Harms of Homeschooling” « A Tings Thinking Corner

  8. Cheryl

    This is the best rebuttal I’ve seen so far: humorous, clear, fairly succinct. Thank you for tacking this and doing it so well.

    We’re homeschoolers who happen to be Christian and conservative.

  9. Don’t blame you one bit for getting riled up. Thanks for giving me enough detail to avoid reading it myself and keeping my blood pressure under control.

    Thankfully there is very little evidence that actual policy makers read academic journals much less go out and do things based on the content of one article.

    My cynical view is that “evidence based policy making” is a fairy tale. If it really existed, criminal justice policy would be significantly different for starters.

  10. Awesome post Shaun! Thank you for taking the time to do this.

  11. Pingback: Just a Little Data « Red Sea School

  12. Pingback: Does Homeschooling Need More Regulation? « The "More" Child

  13. Forte

    You didn’t just take a Ginsu knife to her so-called arguments– Honey, you took them apart with a laser scalpel!

  14. lapazfarm

    Excellent rebuttal. I simply do not have the energy for these battles any more but am so thankful to those of you who do. Keep up the good work!

  15. I love this write-up. I think you did a much better job than I at tackling this. Too many absurdities in the West article to leave it be, eh?

  16. MB

    I loved all you had to say and I’m a conservative Christian ;). I also wrote about this before actually reading your article. Should have left it to you…yours is much better!

    I just wanted to add though that my family is being under the radar by my school district, which also is in MN, and they have yet to tell me that my kid needs to go to public school. My daughter is being tested for autism and they have been nothing but respectful of the fact that I do homeschool. They even told me that I did a good thing by homeschooling her. So all this bashing public schools and bashing homeschools is so stupid. The sad thing is that there are a lot of people looking for information and they will read this article, which I refer to as “garbage” (he he). You are right on the money with the things you say! Great post.

  17. Pingback: Education needs an education « Under the Rubble

  18. Aminhotep Presents

    Most of the morality based arguments made against homeschooling could easily be leveled against public school:
    -Authoritarian Public School Stunts Children’s Ethical Development
    -Potential Concealment of Child Abuse
    -Political Indoctrination by Public School
    -Perpetuating Economic Disadvantages
    -Public Health Risk as Children are incubated in Public Schools

    It makes you wonder what exactly it is about homeschooling that the government doesnt like. Maybe they don t like the competition.

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