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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.