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Home Issue: School Attendance Incentives Home Schooling

Last Updated: January 13, 2006

Home Schooling: Is home
schooling a viable alternative to
traditional classroom-based
 Pro/Con Article

 Media

 Infographics

 Editorials

 News
Page Tools
 Introduction
 Background
 Supporters Argue
 Opponents Argue
 Conclusion
 Chronology
 By the Numbers
 Spotlights

 Discussion Questions
 Bibliography
 Further Resources
Home schooling provides parents with the opportunity to play a larger role in the education
of their children. Since many parents who home school say they do so for religious reasons,
home schooling allows those parents to teach religious values along with more traditional
subjects like math and science.
Home-schooled children do not experience as much peer interaction as traditionally
schooled children, which can limit their social development. Also, home schooling deprives
children of the type of liberal education one finds in public schools, in which children are
exposed to a broad range of ideas and viewpoints.

Imagine a scenario in which, instead of driving or taking a bus to school each morning,
students simply go to their dining room tables, ready to begin another school day. For an
increasing number of U.S. children and teenagers, that scenario is a reality. Such children
are home schooled, meaning they are educated out of their own homes by their parents or
legal guardians.

Lisa McLean (center) gives her home-schooled children a lesson in the

parts of a flower at her home in Shreveport, La.

Mario Villafuerte/Getty Images

The Education Department estimates that, in 2003, more than one million children were
home schooled in the U.S., up from 850,000 in 1999. Many home-schooling advocates,
however, say that the actual number may be well over two million. Whatever the exact
number, it is clear that more and more parents are, for a variety of reasons, choosing to
eschew formal public or private schooling in favor of an at-home education for their
children. The rise of the home-schooling movement, as its supporters call it, has been "one
of the most significant social trends of the past half century," according to home-schooling
expert Patricia Lines.

The successes of the home-schooling movement have been well-documented. According to

one study, children who were home schooled achieved an average score of 1100 out of a
possible 1600 on the SAT, a popular college-entrance exam, in 2000. By contrast, the
national average that year was roughly 1019. Although some education experts have
described the methodology of that and other such studies as faulty, advocates tout those
statistics as proof that home schooling works.

Home schooling is now legal in all 50 states, with varying regulatory guidelines. But as more
and more families to turn to home schooling as a viable alternative to traditional schools,
opposition to it is also growing. Many critics say that by refusing to expose their children to
a diverse public school environment, parents who home school their children could actually
be stunting their children's social development.

Jeremy Eagle

Is home schooling an effective way to educate children, giving them the freedom to pursue
their interests in a familiar, comfortable setting? Or are home-schooled children missing out
on the learning experiences that can be provided only by interacting with a diverse group of
fellow students?
Advocates maintain that home schooling gives children the freedom to study what they are
most interested in rather than following a rigid, pre-determined curriculum. Some parents
also tout home schooling as a way to teach their children religious values, which they say are
absent from the secular public school system. Supporters contend that home schooling
allows them to play a greater role in the lives of their children, so that they can protect them
from negative peer influences with regard to problems such as drugs and violence. Also,
some backers say that the education provided by U.S. public schools is inadequate.

Critics of home schooling, however, argue that home schooling can have a negative effect on
a child's development by sheltering him or her from the outside world. Unlike traditionally
schooled children, home schoolers are not subject to diverse viewpoints, opponents
maintain; their limited experiences could hinder them as they enter adulthood.
Additionally, some critics say they worry that home schoolers receive subpar educations due
to limited resources and too narrow curricula.

The Rise of Home Schooling

The idea of compulsory classroom schooling is a relatively new one. Although a public
education system began to develop in the U.S. in the mid-1800s, it was not until 1918 that
all states had passed laws requiring children to attend elementary school at least. Lines
notes that universal high-school graduation did not become a realistic expectation until the
middle of the 20th century.

Starting in the late 1950s, some frustrated parents began to speak out against the U.S.
public school system, which they described as overly conservative and inflexible. Critics
drew on the anticurriculum philosophy espoused by the leftist education reformer John
Holt, author of How Children Fail (1964) and How Children Learn (1967). They argued that
children learn better if they are free to pursue their own interests at their own pace. Those
critics formed the first dedicated home-schooling movement in the U.S. At the time, home
schooling was illegal in most states, but beginning in the 1980s, those states with home-
schooling bans began overturning them.

The largely liberal, anticurriculum home-schooling movement received support from an

unlikely group of allies in the mid-1980s: fundamentalist Christians. In contrast to the
initial home-schooling movement, those Christians said U.S. public schools were too liberal
and secular, and argued that parents should be allowed to instill religious values in their
children in a home-school setting. Today, religious fundamentalists constitute the home-
schooling movement's most visible public face. Notable figures such as Sen. Rick Santorum
(R, Pa.), Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R, Colo.) and former U.S. Education Secretary William
Bennett have voiced their support for the religious home-schooling movement.

Due to lobbying done by both factions of the home-schooling movement, the practice is now
legal in all 50 states. (Michigan was the last state to overturn its home-schooling ban, in
1993.) Each state has different legal criteria governing home schooling. Some states require
parents who wish to home school their children to first pass a qualifying test, while other
states merely ask that families submit basic background information to a local education
agency. Several states even allow parents to pull their children from school without ever
informing school officials.

The Home-Schooling Movement

Although many people associate the home-schooling movement with its more conservative
Christian members, in reality there is no easy way to characterize the movement as a whole.
From conservative religious fundamentalists to Holt's liberal anticurriculum adherents and
everything in between, "home schoolers unquestionably comprise every political stripe
imaginable," writes home-schooling advocate Helen Cordes.

Holt's more lenient approach to educating children—which is often referred to as

unschooling, deschooling, eclectic schooling, organic schooling or relaxed home schooling—
has greatly increased in popularity in recent years, according to the National Home
Education Research Institute. Parents who employ that method of home schooling often
allow their children to seek out the subjects that interest them the most and focus on them.
Unschooling tends to create learning environments that are more relaxed than a typical
curriculum-based education. Some critics, however, have argued that unschooling is too
undisciplined, allowing children free reign to indulge even the most frivolous whims.

On the other end of the spectrum are some conservative Christian parents who say they are
angered by the secular nature of U.S. public schools. They say that home schooling their
children gives them the opportunity to impart religious values to their children. Home-
schooling experts say that at least a third of the parents who home school their children
choose to do so for religious reasons. In a sharp contrast to the unschooling movement,
Christian home schooling is often done with a rigid curriculum and a strict disciplinary code
emphasizing parental authority.

The religious home-schooling faction continues to grow in size and influence. The Home
School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), founded in 1983 by Christian fundamentalists,
is perhaps the most well-known and powerful home-school lobbying organization in the
U.S. The HSLDA provides legal support for families fighting for the right to home school
their children, and it serves as a public advocate for home schooling. It also works to ensure
that the home schooling movement has legal representation by encouraging pro-home-
schooling legislation.

Aside from its influence on Capitol Hill, the HSLDA is notable for its hard-line stance on
many home-schooling-related issues. The organization has avoided representing some
home schoolers who have pushed for greater access to resources that only public or private
schools can provide, such as advanced placement classes and extracurricular activities.
(Roughly one in five home schoolers take classes at local public schools.) Representatives
from the HSLDA say that the home-schooling movement must retain its integrity and
independence and not associate itself with traditional schools at all.

The home-schooling movement has also made headway in higher education in recent years.
An increasing number of colleges and universities have become more receptive to home-
schooled applicants. Stanford University in California, for example, has added a special
section to its application form specifically for home schoolers.

Religious conservative home schoolers even have their own college. In 2000, the founders of
the HSLDA established a college in Purcellville, Va., expressly designed for fundamentalist
Christian home schoolers. The school, Patrick Henry College, is often referred to as
"Harvard for Home Schoolers" due to its intense curriculum and selective admissions; its
students' average SAT scores are in the 1220-1410 range. The most popular major by far
among Patrick Henry students is government; many students and alumni have gotten jobs
and internships with conservative members of Congress and in federal agencies.

Despite such successes, however, many members of the home-schooling movement have
complained that there is a stigma attached to home schooling, and that many of them face
discrimination because of it. Most people tend to think that home schoolers are hermits
afraid of confronting the real world, or that they receive substandard educations, home-
schooling advocates say. A short-lived sitcom on the Warner Brothers network entitled The
O'Keefes, for example, was criticized for its depiction of home schoolers as sheltered and
socially inept. And in 2001, the retailer J.C. Penney was forced to remove from its shelves a
T-shirt depicting a trailer home, which bore the caption "Home Skooled."

Many home-schooling support groups have been formed in recent years, partially as a
response to such negative stereotypes. Those localized, grassroots groups—some of which
are exclusively Christian while others are inclusive and accept members of all ideological
backgrounds—are usually organized by the parents of home schoolers. The groups provide
both parents and children with a support system and sense of community, advocates say.
Some of those groups even organize social events such as dances for home-schooled

Home-schooling advocates use such support groups to defend their right to educate their
children under their own terms, in the privacy of their homes. Yet many have spoken out
against what they perceive as home schooling deficiencies. As the practice of home
schooling continues to grow in popularity, the debate between its supporters and opponents
has intensified.

Supporters Argue: Home Schooling Benefits Children

Advocates of home schooling argue that the home is simply the best learning environment
for children. The intimacy and comfort that the home provides cannot be duplicated in a
classroom, supporters say, and both attributes make for a superior education. Children also
feel less pressure and stress when they are home schooled, and therefore are better able to
learn, advocates maintain.

In addition, home-schooled children are not beholden to the often rigid curricula of
traditional schools, backers assert. Home schoolers are free to pursue their own interests,
which instills a lifelong love of learning, supporters maintain. Due to that freedom, Cordes
writes, "home schooling can allow kids to spend hours on any given passion, to zip through
certain material and move on to more challenging stuff, [and] to take advantage
of...apprenticeships, early college classes and volunteering."

The stereotype of home-schooled children as hermits is also completely false, supporters

say. On the contrary, because they spend so much time with adults, advocates argue, home
schoolers tend to be more emotionally mature than their traditionally schooled
counterparts. And, because of the freedom that a home-based education provides, home
schoolers are more self-motivated and independent than their peers, backers contend.

Many supporters also say that home schooling provides an opportunity for parents to
promote religious values in their children. Too often, supporters assert, traditional
schooling subverts those values with negative influences, such as the secular curriculum
found in public schools or peer pressure to take drugs or have premarital sex. "Parents
choose home schooling to have more influence over their child's life," says Dorothy Karman
of Portland, Ore., who home schooled her son and daughter.

Sen. Rick Santorum (R, Pa.), whose five

school-aged children are home schooled,
supports the religious home-schooling

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Other supporters say they choose to home school their children because public schools are
poorly and inefficiently run. In addition to overly rigid curricula, the average school wastes
hundreds of hours each year in administrative duties like attendance-taking and
disciplinary actions, backers maintain. Additionally, supporters note, most public schools
are very crowded, with student-to-teacher ratios at 30 to one or higher in many districts.
Those conditions impede the learning process, advocates argue.

Public schools can also be extremely dangerous places, supporters say. High-profile
incidents such as a 1999 shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.,
which resulted in 15 deaths, represent the tip of the iceberg of a dangerous and sometimes
violent public-school environment, backers assert. Many parents who home school say they
choose to do so because they do not feel comfortable entrusting the safety of their children
to a public school for eight hours a day.

Advocates of home schooling maintain that many people continue to discriminate against
home schoolers because they are simply unable to see beyond conventional wisdom, which
states that children can learn only if they are made to sit behind a desk in a school five days
a week. Sociologist Maralee Mayberry, the author of several books on home schooling, says
that all the elements of a good educational setting—such as one-on-one instruction and a
nurturing environment—are more easily found in the home than at an impersonal and
bureaucratic public school.

Opponents Argue: Home Schooling Deprives Children

Most opponents of home schooling argue that home-schooled children miss out on one of
the most crucial aspects of a traditional education: the ability to interact with an ethnically
and ideologically diverse group of fellow students. The opportunities for socialization
offered by public and private schools play a huge role in children's development, opponents
assert. But in a home-school environment, "a parent can really insulate a child from the
vibrant, pluralistic, democratic world," says Rob Reich, a professor of political theory at

Opponents contend that a traditional education provides students with the opportunity to
form relationships, grapple with viewpoints that may differ from their own and resolve
conflicts between their peers, among other things. Many critics say there could be untoward
consequences when a home-schooled child finally enters the real world as an adult and has
to interact with other people on a different level.

Critics also warn that home schoolers do not receive the broad, liberal education offered by
most public schools. Although many parents choose to home school their children precisely
because they want their children to focus on what most interests them, opponents argue
that a diverse education is beneficial to developing minds. "The basic function of a liberal
education is to expose people to fields they normally wouldn't investigate," write journalists
Jodie Morse, who covers education, and John Cloud in Time. "Whether you believe the
purpose of an education is to shape one's character in a democracy or to prepare Johnny for
his job, neither is accomplished when kids get to study only what they want."

Critics further argue that parents who home school are depriving their children of the vast
educational resources that traditional schools can provide. Those resources include teachers
who are well-equipped to teach their respective classes, access to extracurricular activities
and field trips to museums or other historical locations, they note.

Additionally, some opponents say that the rising home-schooling movement could lead to a
decline in the U.S. public school system. That would have a corrosive effect on local
communities, they warn. "Schools are the community glue, and when people don't feel they
have a stake in the community, then things deteriorate badly," said the late Fred Newman,
former president of the Education Commission of the States, an education-policy think tank
located in Denver, Colo. "This society desperately needs more of a sense of community, not

A home-schooling curriculum also runs the risk of being wildly unstructured, opponents
contend, to the point that a child's education may be compromised. The home-schooling
movement is predicated on the notion that any person is capable of teaching a child—an
assertion that, according to critics, is simply not true.

Finally, opponents of home schooling say they fear that the lack of supervision involved in
home schooling could lead to tragedy. Indeed, in certain isolated instances, it already has.
For example, critics point to a 2003 incident in Collingswood, N.J., involving four home-
schooled children who were starved by their adoptive parents. That situation would have
been prevented, opponents argue, if those children had regularly gone out in public to
attend school.

Complexity in the Home- Schooling Debate

According to home-schooling experts, the number of children who are home schooled in the
U.S. will continue to increase in coming years. Home schooling has become more acceptable
to the mainstream since the 1980s, experts assert, and the rise of home-schooling support
groups—a fairly recent phenomenon—has provided a measurable boost to the movement.

Because most parents who home school their children say they do so for religious reasons,
many commentators have framed the home-schooling debate within the context of the
U.S.'s so-called culture war, the ongoing clash between conservative "red-staters" and
liberal "blue-staters." However, many home-schooling advocates argue that the home-
schooling movement is, in fact, ideologically diverse, and includes many liberal members,
even within its religious majority.

Indeed, both supporters and detractors of home schooling concede that nothing about the
debate is cut-and-dried. Many critics of the movement say they recognize that many home
schoolers go on to achieve high levels of success in their chosen careers. And the
movement's supporters note that although home-schooling is now legal in all 50 states, it is
not right for everyone. The decision to home school one's children should not be made on a
whim, says Janice Quitmeyer of Christian Home Educators of Colorado. "Home schooling is
a way of life. It's a huge commitment."


Chapman, Ashley. "Home Schoolers Get Out of the House." Christian Science Monitor,
March 25, 2003, www.csmonitor.com.

Cloud, John and Jodie Morse. "Home Sweet School." Time, August 27, 2001, 40.

Cordes, Helen. "Battling for the Heart and Soul of Home Schoolers." Salon, October 2,
2000, www.salon.com.

Cordes, Helen. "Sour Grapes, Anyone?" Salon, June 6, 2000, www.salon.com.

Golden, Daniel. "Home Schooled Pupils Are Making Colleges Sit Up and Take Notice." Wall
Street Journal, February 11, 2000, A1.

Gross, Jane. "Unhappy at School, More Are Learning at Home." New York Times,
November 10, 2003, A1.
Kenny, Alice. "Home Schooling, for Mind and Soul." New York Times, November 28, 2004,

Lines, Patricia. "Home Schooling Comes of Age." Public Interest, Summer

2000, www.thepublicinterest.com.

Lloyd, Jillian. "Home Schooling's Latest Appeal: Safety." Christian Science Monitor, June 4,
1999, 3.

Rosin, Hanna. "God and Country." New Yorker, June 27, 2005, 44.

Additional Sources

Additional information about home schooling can be found in the following source:

Stevens, Mitchell. Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling

Movement. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Contact Information

Information on how to contact organizations that are either mentioned in the discussion of
home schooling or can provide additional information on the subject is listed below:

National Home Education Research Institute

P.O. Box 13939
Salem, Ore. 97039
Telephone: (503) 364-1490
Internet: www.nheri.org

National Education Association

1201 16th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
Telephone: (202) 833-4000
Internet: www.nea.org

For further information about the ongoing debate over home schooling, search for the
following words and terms in electronic databases and other publications:

John Holt
Patrick Henry College
Home School Legal Defense Association
Rick Santorum

Citation Information MLA Chicago Manual of Style

"Home Schooling: Is home schooling a viable alternative to traditional classroom-based

education?" Issues & Controversies, Infobase Learning, 13 Jan.
2006,http://icof.infobaselearning.com/recordurl.aspx?ID=1996. Accessed 13 Apr. 2018.
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