Homeschooling and the common good

I’ve always been someone suspect of homeschooling.  I know a number of parents with special needs kids who have resorted to it because they felt their children’s very unique needs could not be met by the school system.  Personally, I’ve been very pleased with how the school system has done by Alex, but I certainly understand this choice.  A lot of other people, though, I’ll admit to being skeptical.

My first encounter on the issue happened not long after moving to NC I took David to a nearby park and we ended up playing with some other young kids.  I asked the sweet little girl where she went to school.  Her literal response… “Do you know God?”  Umm, okay.  “Sure, I know God,” I responded.  Turns out the public schools don’t and that’s why her parents were homeschooling her.  I don’t need to expound on the idea that it’s a damn good thing that the public schools are not for learning about God, but it seems to me that this is quite different from algebra and grammar anyway, so what exactly is the problem?  Can’t your children learn math, writing, etc., at school and learn about God at home and church?

Anyway, really enjoyed this recent Op Ed in the N&O about homeschooling in NC:

In 2011, 91 percent of homeschooling parents said that one reason they homeschooled was concern about the public school environment. Seventy-seven percent cited “a desire to provide moral instruction,” and 74 percent cited “dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools.”

That homeschooling is increasing is clear. Less clear is what these trends mean for public education in North Carolina and in the United States…

Another way to look at it is that higher-than-ever numbers of parents are removing themselves and their children from the public education system that is such an important part of the culture of the United States – a public education system that needs constant and continuous maintenance to improve. The contract of our public education system includes that such maintenance, at least in part, comes from the families of students in the system.

When families leave in higher and higher numbers, what does that mean for the public education system? And what does it mean for our sense of community?

In her 2012 book “Homeward Bound,” Emily Matchar puts the increasing number of homeschooled students in a historical context. During the social and political reform of the Progressive Era, from 1890 to 1920, Matchar writes, “Parents with high socioeconomic status – the ones with the greatest social and political clout – advocated for policy changes that ultimately benefited everybody,” including a number of school-reform bills, such as a more widely available high school education.

Today, though, Matchar notes, “Historian Janet Golden observes that we’ve abandoned the idea of communal good in favor of individual, family-focused solutions.” That means “there are fewer people … volunteering to improve the public schools.” She describes it as “opting out” of the social contract.

When parents are committed only to their own child’s education, that affects the education of other children, those whose parents don’t have the time or inclination to fight for improved school conditions, those whose parents must work long hours and can’t devote evenings to school projects and PTA meetings. When parents are committed only to their own child’s education, that affects communities for whom schools have long been a source of unity. What does that do to education in North Carolina, education in the United States?

Now, I do understand that many people have a variety of reasons for wanting to homeschool, but when the parents most committed to their children’s education pull out of the school systems that undoubtedly hurts the school systems.  Yes, families have a right to do what’s best for their child, but if some of that effort went into working to improve public schools, than everybody’s child would benefit.

My third son attends an elementary school that is majority-minority (it’s about 30% white).  A lot of the more committed white parents have pulled their kids out for a whiter magnet school further away.  I know it’s not about race for most, but it has left our school with a much higher percentage of kids on free/reduced lunch.  The truth is, my son is still getting a very good education at our neighborhood school.  Would it be even better at the magnet?  Probably.  But the difference is not going to mean the difference between Evan going to Duke versus community college.  Meanwhile, our school benefits from still having committed, higher SES families involved.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to Homeschooling and the common good

  1. Hello. There may be a “home School” movement in the USA. There is also a “Charter School” movement too. It seems like a lot of Americans do not won’t to support a public school system. Public schools is how America got to be where it is.

    The one’s who opt-out want to home school their kids and the ones who support charter schools want to turn public institutions into tax-supported & privately managed profit schools. How is this going to make America great in the future?

    Thanks for your moderation.

  2. itchy says:

    “Yes, families have a right to do what’s best for their child”

    I really try to tread lightly on the home schooling thing, and I know several (white, suburban, middle-class — OK, upper-middle-class) parents who do it.

    But I would entrust nearly none of these parents to teach my child. Not one is as qualified as any public school teacher my daughter has had — and she has had good and bad — to say nothing of the curricula they choose.

    I’m not theoretically opposed to home schooling. But I’ve yet to see an example that stands out objectively as a better option.

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