The Problem with Home Schooling

I talked with a woman about her adult son who was struggling to get through college—at the age of 27.  Maybe she was talking to me because she knew I had a doctorate in Education and had taught at the college-level for several years. She insisted that her son’s problem had nothing to do with his intelligence or work ethic.

“Then what do you think is wrong?”  I asked her.

“Oh, I just don’t know!” she sighed.  “I guess it could have something to do with home-schooling him.  I mean I gave him independence and let him work on projects at his own pace.  Isn’t that the way it should be?  Encourage children to engage in what interests them for as long as they want?”

“So you’re telling me maybe part of the reason he’s failing his college class is that he isn’t ‘timely’ or ‘efficient?’”  She didn’t respond to my question, perhaps because finding the cause of her son’s college problems didn’t solve them.

I felt her pain, but knew her primary reason for home-schooling had little to do with independence or having her child work at his own pace, and more to do with making sure he had a Christian-based education.  I squelched the urge to lecture her on a significant issue related to home schooling often tucked under the label “socialization.”

Most parents interpret socialization to mean having their children interact with other children so they can learn social skills; but the word has a much broader context.

Socialization also includes peer review, learning how to meet expectations of others whether in a college classroom setting, or with an employer at a job.  Ideally, it would be wonderful to operate independent of other people’s values and time tables.  But life isn’t like that.

Horace Mann in 1838 understood the benefits of having children leave the shelter of their homes to mix with a variety of other children in a less managed and protected environment: the public school classroom.  Mann, considered the father of the American public education system, had a list of life skills he thought children should be taught including: promptness in attendance and the ability to “organize the time accorded.”

In his day though, Mann was most concerned about the disparity between children’s education in the upper and lower classes.  His objective was to see that all children were educated equally in a democratic society.  He believed religious institutions by their very nature, were exclusive, and served only to further segregate and fragment our population.  By advocating that education for American children be universal, nonsectarian (not defined by religious or political groups), and free, Mann hoped to support fairness and the ideas America was founded on.  He fought for the establishment of a tax-supported, public education system for elementary-aged students.

I realize there are several good reasons parents home-school their children.

Some would argue religious and/or moral education should be a part of a child’s everyday educational experience.  Other parents have children who must be schooled in a more protected, familiar environment due to emotional/behavioral issues.  And today, on-line education in the comfort of a child’s own living room is often more convenient, time-saving, and cost-effective.

But with our culture wars, our polarized political spectrum, and attempts made by the current Department of Education to entrench these divisions even deeper by using tax dollars to support sectarian private and for-profit charter schools, public education seems an answer.

Public education is a glue like none other that binds and holds our democracy together, despite our many different religious, ethnic, and cultural identities.

My husband tells a story about riding the school bus in the 1960’s with Ernie (whose blue jeans were often patched), the Arellano kids (whose parents were born in Mexico), and the daughters of the biggest and richest landowner in the valley.  Everyone rode the same bus and went to the same school.  He says it was great.  In our attempts to protect and nurture our children, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that they eventually must live in the broader culture.  Horace Mann understood this fact and I for one, am grateful he did.