In Defense of Home Schooling
By John D. Turner
9 July 2001

I suppose it was inevitable that someone would pen an article of this nature, but I must admit to slack-jawed amazement as I read the recent diatribe by Froma Harrop, a syndicated columnist who writes for The Providence Journal concerning parents who home school their children. From her title, "Questioning the motives of home-schooling parents" to her final paragraph Harrop maintained a non-stop barrage of negative imagery and slant, intended to portray the average home-schooling family as nothing more than a collection of misanthropes and anti-society types who at best are depriving their children of a "normal" childhood, and at worst are abusing them physically, mentally, and probably sexually as well.

She began her diatribe citing Andrea Yates and JoAnn McGuckin as being "America's most famous home-schooling parents at the moment", with the intent of evoking an image of those who home school as being neglectful at best, psychotic at worst. Mrs Yates has confessed to drowning her five children at her home in Houston, TX, whereas Mrs McGuckin was arrested and charged with child neglect in Idaho. Both were home schooling their children. Both also had other serious problems; that they were home schoolers is simply another facet of their lives with no positive correlation to the issues at hand, those being murder and child neglect respectively. Other such "facts" would include that they both are white, female, lived in houses (which in the case of Mrs McGuckin, Ms Harrop chooses to describe as a "hovel"), attended church, owned cars and had husbands, though Mrs McGuckin's had recently died which probably contributed to the problems she was having. No one is seriously suggesting we need to watch out for married white women who attend church and drive as being particularly dangerous, or more apt to be putting their children at risk. But homeschooling? Ms Harrop considers that quite a different kettle of fish.

Words paint pictures, and with this opening paragraph, Ms Harrop is off and running, painting her mural of "objectivity" with gleeful abandon. Stating her intent is "not to smear the parents who instruct 1.5 million mostly normal (italics added) children at home", she then asserts that home schooling is a "social phenomenon that isolates children from the outside world", and as such deserves "closer inspection". As if home schooled children are kept in a barrel and fed through a bunghole. Sort of like the case of Barbara Atkinson, who kept one of her children locked in a closet for four years and was recently arrested for child abuse. But wait, her other five children were enrolled in public school. Should I then characterize Ms Atkinson as being one of America's most famous public schooling parents? And what's with this "mostly normal" comment concerning our children? Does she mean to imply that home schooled children are somehow at least partly abnormal? Or that some home schooled kids are normal and others aren't? But wouldn't that apply to public schooled kids as well?

This "closer inspection" is laced with verbiage intended to bias the reader against the home schooling movement by using loaded words and phrases. It does such by referring to the home schooling movement's "active propaganda machine", the Home School Legal Defense Association as the movement's "mouthpiece", and our children as being "socially isolated". We as parents are characterized as simply unable to "get along with others". We are social reprobates who are "taking our children captive", and turning them into misfits as well. She finally admits that Yates and McGuckin are extreme cases and "probably demented". However she then charges that the home school movement is used to provide cover for "the unstable, for narcissists and for child-abusers", insinuating that this is the main reason why people home school, and adds more examples of abusive home schooling parents to bolster her argument. Then she caps the whole thing off with a "personal observation" of a home schooled family at the New Hampshire primary, whereupon she opines that "there is something sad about home schooled children". The family she observed didn't behave the same way as the other kids; instead of "circulating around the giant room, debating and arguing", they "were just sitting there", and "seemed wary of talking to strangers". They just didn't seem to be having as much fun as those perky public schooled kids. Instead, they seemed "intelligent and well-behaved". Egads!

Obviously, she has never talked with my children. If she had, she would be lucky to escape with her ears intact, as given half a chance, they would talk them right off her head. Of course, she would probably find this "sad" as well, ascribing it to a desperate search for attention from "obviously intelligent" children hungering for contact with the real world, or some such psychobabble.

Other than to note that it is a dangerous fallacy to generalize from one specific case, there could be many reasons why this group of home schooler's didn't behave according to her expectations. Perhaps they were shy. There are shy kids in public school, and I'm sure there are shy home schoolers. Perhaps they were more interested in observing what was going on, rather than behaving like the other kids around them. Perhaps they didn't find Ms Harrop's banter particularly scintillating. Perhaps they really didn't exist at all, except as a prop for Ms Harrop's anti-homeschool diatribe.

While I am sure there are parents out there who fit the profiles she describes, I am also sure the same can be found in the ranks of public school parents as well, and in larger numbers. Ms Harrop seems to think there is greater safety in public school. As an example, she poses the question, "suppose one of Andrea Yates' children had gone to a school and told a teacher of the mother's spiraling mental state", and goes on to say that had such occurred, this tragedy could have been prevented. Perhaps. This of course, presupposes that a 7 year old would be able to diagnose a case of postpartum depression and cogently report on it, and ignores the fact that the episode occurred during summer break, when school was out of session. Perhaps she believes that every time a parent seems out of sorts, the children should report this to their school nurse, and child protective services should spring into action. Aside from turning our children into a nation of snitches, in a city the size of Houston I would expect the backlog of cases from such reporting would be enormous.

Having children in public school didn't stop John Battaglia from shooting his two daughters in Dallas. Nor did it stop Thurmell Maley from attempting to kill her three daughters and herself in Madisonville, Ohio last week. The newspapers didn't specifically say their kids were in public school, but that's usually a safe assumption if no mention is made. Had they been homeschooled, I'm sure we would have heard. There was no safety in public school for those killed at Columbine either, or at any of the other public schools where students have decided to kill their classmates. Hardly a week goes by that I don't hear of a teacher or school administrator somewhere charged with sexually abusing his or her students. I suppose that I should at least be happy that they aren't being "socially isolated". It's ok it seems for kids to be socially warped, just so long as they are warped along socially acceptable guidelines (in public school), by the proper professional authorities (such as public school teachers, coaches, and administrators).

While Ms Harrop did admit that home schoolers "do tend to score above average on standardized tests", she ascribed this to the "fact" that the parents are "themselves upper income and well educated", and noted that "students from those backgrounds also do well in traditional schools". While I am just as unqualified as Ms Harrop to speak for the entire home school movement, I would have to say that based on my observations of home schooling in my small section of the planet, she is dead wrong here. It is true that I know of home schooling families who are well-off financially, and who have college degrees. I also know of many not so well off, and who's education ended at high school. It doesn't seem to be a real good indicator of how well their children do with their studies. Other articles I have read indicate that most home school parents are not from upper income families or themselves well educated (i.e., college degreed). While this may be true, and would seem to support my observations, I can only go by what I have seen.

In our case, it is true that I make what most would consider a very comfortable income. And if you look at my bio, you will see that I am indeed fairly well educated. However, I work two jobs to earn that income, so that my wife can stay home and raise and educate our children. As a result, my contributions to the homeschool are limited primarily to funding curricula and extra curricular activities such as martial arts, basketball, voice and piano lessons, and the occasional help I may render when one of them has a particularly challenging problem in math. My wife does the bulk of the teaching. And while my wife is an incredible lady, her formal education ended upon her graduation from high school, when she joined the Air Force at the age of 18 (with the exception of 48 intensive weeks of Russian language training) and includes no college at all. I can also state categorically, that what may seem a very comfortable income for a family of four is somewhat less comfortable when stretched to cover the requirements of a family of eight. Throughout my own schooling, from high school through college, I have seen no evidence that kids coming from "richer" or more educated parents have any inherent advantage over those "poorer" or less educated. I have noted, however, a correlation between parental involvement, regardless of economic class or education level, and student performance. And I would submit that you can not as a parent become more involved than handling the task of education yourself. This is the ultimate in parental involvement in your children's education.

Ms Harrop writes that among home schooler's, "trashing the motivations of professional teachers provides much sport", and implies that there is somehow something wrong with having a lobby for home schooling in Washington D.C. Again, she slants her argument. Most home schooler's have nothing against teachers. Many, if not most are hard-working, underpaid, and often times under-appreciated individuals who are genuinely concerned with the education of their students. Many go the extra mile and purchase things out of their own pockets that the school will not provide. We who home school understand more than most the challenges they face, as we face many of the same ourselves. Our disagreements are more with the public school administration itself; with policies, curriculum, attitudes, and lack of support in areas that we feel important. Note that the latter is highly personalized; there are probably as many reasons why people home school as there are families who home school. To think that the home school "movement" is some kind of monolithic block is sheer fantasy. We have a lobby, yes, because if we didn't, people like Ms Harrop would take it upon themselves to see to it that we couldn't home school our children. All for the "good" of the children, of course.

There are many "social experiences" our kids won't enjoy in our home school. They won't learn "put the condom on the banana", for example. Nor, most likely, will they learn how to score a line of cocaine. They won't have the "pleasure" of renting a hotel room for the night with their date at the Senior Prom; they will have a Senior Prom, courtesy of their home school group, but it will end at a reasonable hour, and afterwards they will come home. Home schoolers believe that the purpose of school is to educate, and prepare them for their future lives as adults, and productive members of society, not for radical social experimentation and indoctrination. Ms Harrop's concern would be better spent on those individuals who graduated from public school this past summer; immature, full of "self-esteem" but unable to read their diploma or compute their welfare check. They who think a 40-hour work week "inhumane", who think they should be able to come to work when ever they like, and leave when ever they want; and who believe the world owes them a living. There are far more that fit this profile graduating from the public school system than have ever been home schooled, and they are a much graver danger to society, in my humble opinion.