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The Harms of Homeschooling: A Retort

Child wearing a dunce cap

Should we legislate home schooled children?

I was notified of an article posted in the Philosophy & Public Policy Quarterly from the University of Maryland. An article “The Harms of Homeschooling“, authored by Robin L. West, begins with specious arguments and then digresses into the ridiculous, and finally argues against his/her own points.

First, let me give a caveat: Ms. West is concerned about the devout, fundamentalist Protestant home schoolers, not the “rest of us.” But given her target, she is doing more of a disservice to all home schoolers in her arguments.

For those who don’t want to bother reading this pseudo-intellectual article, it “starts” on page 9 with the section “The Harms of Unregulated Homeschooling“, and the quick summary is:

  • Home schooled kids are at greater risk for unreported physical abuse. That is, without a 3rd-party teacher to regularly check kids for abuse, home schooling parents can beat the crap out of their kids and no one would know the wiser.
  • Home schooled kids are not immunized, hence a public health risk. Not much more to elaborate on here, except she says that states that allow exemptions to immunization laws effectively allow that “children are basically exempted from immunization requirements.”
  • This one is by far the most ridiculous: School provides a welcome respite from the unconditional love children experience at home. In short, school values children for different qualities (their studiousness) as opposed to being genetically related to someone.
  • Actually, I take that back. This next one is the most ridiculous: Home schooled children are politically engaged. The author then draws parallels to the Bush elections of 2000 and 2004 where home schooled children were called “Bush’s army.”
  • Ethical harm due to children being raised to be “servile” to their parents. Really. I’m not making these up.
  • Educational harm. Quote: “There is indeed no credible evidence that home schoolers as a group do worse on standardized tests, but contrary to their claims, there is also no credible evidence that they do better. There is no credible evidence of accomplishment here at all.”
  • Economic harm. Quote: “Their lack of job skills, passed from one generation to the next, depresses the community’s overall economic health and their state’s tax base.”

I believe the author is really targeting fundamentalist Christians and the above issues, perhaps, but her arguments are backed up by no evidence, and her arguments use rhetoric in the best of cases. As well, her slant appears to be for legislation governing home schooling. And finally, she makes more of an argument for home schooling than against in my opinion.

To retort:

Home Schooling removes a “teacher” check to prevent physical abuse

This, while seeming logical, doesn’t pass muster. You could say that:

  • Children of parents who know how to hit their kids properly” are also at higher risk of undetected physical abuse because even then, teachers can’t detect it.
  • For that matter, why don’t we send a child-protective services to every parent’s home to check on them to make sure they’re not abusing their kids?

Her insinuation here is on the road to Orwellian measures, and home schooling is not the demon here. Show me a study where home schooled children are at higher risk for physical abuse, maybe I’ll buy it.

No immunization

The immunization debate is difficult and gnarled, so I won’t go into detail, but if home schooled kids aren’t interspersed with other public school children, what’s the big deal? As a simple example, in 2001, only 75 children died from measles and mumps.

If we add in all diseases in the chart, a total of 3697 children died from immunization-preventable childhood diseases.

If you read the fine-print, 20% of pertussis cases (by far, the largest number of deaths) happened before 6 months of age, where the vaccine couldn’t have been given. So we can deduct 571 deaths and we have a total of 3,126 childhood deaths in 2001 which could have been prevented by vaccines.

And the total number of children under 5 in 2009 was around 20 million (5/14ths of 61 million), making our death toll a whopping 0.01% of children at risk.

Run for the hills! The home schooled kids are causing an epidemic!

Of course, any child death is a tragedy, but my guess is that having a better health care system which covers the poor and impoverished would probably save more of those 3000 children than immunizing home schooled children.

School provides a “respite” from the unconditional love at home

Um. Yeah. So does military camp. School also provides a bizarre social environment which is never repeated again in life.

Children learn:

  • social strata
  • obedience to the “bell”
  • cognitive dissonance
  • how to dominate others, or
  • how to be dominated

All in the name of what I always hear is “socialization.” In a way, I feel like most people who I talk with about home schooling are suffering from a cross of Stockholm syndrome and greek hazing. They went through the rigors and tortures of lower, middle and upper school: learned to love their captors, and then require their children to undergo similar tortures under the auspices of being “socialized.”

Maybe show me some data about home schoolers vs. public schoolers suicide rates and I’ll reconsider whether the public school form of socialization has advantages.

Home schooled children are politically active

And this is a negative … why? Conservative or liberal, democrat or republican, activism by children and adults, in my opinion, is by far a sign of success, not failure. Unless we really want to raise drones who follow every command of the government…

Ethical harm due to home schooled children being taught to be servile

Wait. Now I’m confused. School is good because it provides a respite from the unconditional love at home, and yet they’re servile to the parents, and dominated? (Oh yeah, and physically abused, don’t forget!)

I think given the factory-like settings of public schools in this country, it’s the other way around. Children at schools are taught obedience to authority, servility, and the value of following instructions in order to receive the rewards. (You get a gold star!)

Educational harm due to home schooled children

Here, the argument is stating that there is no research showing home school is better than public school and vice-versa.

Unfortunately, this neither proves that homeschooling is a negative and that public school is a positive.

So with no argument, there’s nothing to retort. Oh, except if you don’t do research (about 10 minutes using a search engine):

And the author of this is a lawyer? Tsk tsk. Finally:

Economic harm from home schooled children being untrained for a society as a whole

In pure laziness here, I’m going to refer to the above section and just repeat it here.

In conclusion …

Given the poor arguments given by Ms. West, I think what we can take away from this is that she has targeted the religious home schoolers who, she believes, are a detriment to society as a whole in regards to being able to teach their children outside of the public school systems.

While I am not against some regulation of home school programs, I think she needs to beef up her arguments before anyone will buy it.

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9 Comments

  1. Crunchy Mama wrote:

    I do hope you emailed her a copy of this. She needs to hear from “the rest of us” who wont tolerate this so-called scholarly work advocating for prepetuating stereotypes as a justification for increased regulation.

    I’ve emailed back and forth with her twice at this point and shared both of my critiques of her claims on my own blog. Thank you for your rebuttal of her work as well.

    Tuesday, December 22, 2009 at 6:22 pm | Permalink
  2. Chickadee wrote:

    Thanks for this, Razzed. It’s amazing what passes as scholarly work in an academic journal. Sounds like she wants to regulate homeschool out of existence to root out christian conservatism. “That’s it! Get the poor kids with too much unconditional love away from their crazy parents and let overworked schoolteachers adjust their worldview to the right one!”
    While West seems to think the homeschooler’s world is too insular, I think academia is a pretty insular world that tends to harbor slightly liberal, well-“socialized” bookworms who fail to get out of their mindset and into the real world. Robin West’s article is a great case in point and your systematic breakdown of her arguments is very, very effective.
    It raises the question: Who is really being raised to be servile? And to whom? In West’s view, it sounds okay to be servile to the politically correct government-funded institution, but it’s not okay for conservative parents to instill their personal values in their children. I find this utterly preposterous, and I’m a vehement atheist. It really seems like she’s using some specious arguments against homeschooling as a ploy to get conservative christian kids out from under the thumbs of their motivated parents who give a shit about them, and into somewhat secular and culturally mainstream public schools. Why is this better?
    And what about “the rest of us”, secular, open-minded parents who choose to homeschool their kids because we think it will give them a good “education” — that is, a way to build the skills to discover and pursue their interests in life successfully.
    School is not evil. It provides a public service – free childcare while parents work. It provides lunch to many kids who need it, academic learning, mentoring, friends, opportunities to grow. But it is not for everyone.

    Wednesday, December 23, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Permalink
  3. Architect wrote:

    Even if homeschooling is dominated by fundamentalist Christians, why should that justify any regulation? It should be completely irrelevant. Now, government policy advocates are using religion as one of the main reasons to write new laws. I thought that there was supposed to be a separation of church and state. Perhaps West thinks that it’s okay to overlook this when it suits her needs.

    Furthermore, West argues that “authoritarian parenting produces damaged, ethically unrealized slaves who can’t think for themselves” (ethical servility). That is merely a new term for the Authoritarian Personality Structure; a term coined decades ago by the neo-Marxist Institute for Social Research (Frankfurt School). The Frankfurt School saw strong families as being an impediment to their socialist agenda, and so they coined terms like these to ostracized strong families.

    Although I doubt that West is a neo-Marxist, she is repackaging their tactics while claiming to be concerned with the safety and academic progress of children. Don’t fall for her ruse! We can better maintain the safety and monitor the academic progress of our children on our own volition.

    Monday, December 28, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  4. Carol wrote:

    She actually says that the “unconditional love” of the family is conditioned upon family membership. So her point is that family love is very conditional – not unconditional. I guess, technically she is correct – we love our families because they are our families so you can call it “conditional” if you want. But schools are the ultimate teachers of conditionality – a child’s worth is judged by academic, social, and economic factors by both the adults and fellow students. Acceptance is granted based on having the right shoes, or the right grades, or the right home. This is better for our kids? Also – the child abuse thing; if she really believes putting kids in school will stop child abuse or at least help discover it – why isn’t she also proposing removing newborns from their mothers’ arms? They are not school aged and surely shaken baby syndrome happens before school age? Shouldn’t children just be institutionalized at birth to protect them from the harms of their own families? From what she says, it seems it would be so. At least if those families are religious or conservative…she seems to have it in for them, in particular.

    Tuesday, December 29, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  5. Architect wrote:

    Here is another response to Robin L. West’s article:

    http://www.nheri.org/Latest/The-Harms-of-Homeschooling-Where-Are-the-Premises.html

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink
  6. Walter C Bowen III wrote:

    Re: West’s article on the ‘harms’ of homeschooling: What I hope more people will realize is the truly dangerous bent of those like West who would sooner push America into totalitarian communistic educational systems than admit to her complete lack of understanding in the area of homeschooling education. The first thing that comes to mind when reading some of the excerpts of her drivel is many of the points written so eloquently about by Marlin Maddoux in his book,
    Public Education Against America. We must all remain ever vigilant in these times or we will see our freedoms steadily and inexorably eroded before our eyes. Please check out Mr. Maddoux’s book — it will open your eyes to what the liberal factions are trying to push and scare you into action.

    Monday, January 11, 2010 at 1:34 am | Permalink
  7. Jerry wrote:

    Robin West would be surprised at the depth and breadth of home school education in some Fundamentalist Protestant homes.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  8. Mike Howard wrote:

    Hello, I too have just heard about “Harms of Homeschooling”. Wish I had known 20 years ago, when we decided to homeschool our two kids. And yes we are Christians.

    Think of the awful results… both are now well adjusted, good people. Both have or will soon obtain master’s degrees.

    They are both independant and creative thinkers of the first rank.

    One got straight As throughout college.

    Think of that. Straight A’s and never attended a day of public school. But we all know that Robin L West knows best. I am sure everything would be so much better if we hadnt home schooled them.

    /sarcasm off

    I wonder if Robin L West has a child who will get straight As through college?

    I doubt it. Because she is the type that has a closed mind, ensuring that her kids cant disagree with her for fear of being called idiots.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Permalink
  9. Jeremy wrote:

    Excellent retort. I reposted at my facebook page “The Case for Homeschooling” at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Case-for-Homeschooling/107949119240905

    Saturday, April 10, 2010 at 1:21 am | Permalink

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  3. The Harms of Homeschooling? Where Are the Premises? : NutBugs on Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 2:26 am

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