Let me begin by saying that I do not oppose homeschooling. One of my best friends homeschooled his son, and that son was among the most broadly educated children I have ever known. A lot of this had to do with his father being very well-educated and being commitment to exposing his son to good textbooks, other foundational books, traveling to educational sites, and to doing projects. The son was also eager to learn.
Education was part of the very substance of the way they lived. However, much of fundamentalist homeschooling is not like this at all and is harmful to children in many ways.
The Fundamentalist Homeschooling Movement
In the late 1800s, fundamentalists protested evolution which led eventually to the 1925 Scopes trial against teaching evolution in public schools. When I was in sixth grade I clearly remember the outrage when school-sponsored prayer and Bible reading were banned in public schools in 1962. Some 10-15 years later I was aware that a lot of Christian parents were buying sets of the old mid-1800s McGuffey Readers—partially for its religious content.
Many conservative believers have been in conflict with public education for a long time. In the early 1960s leaders like Rousas Rushdoony, Bill Gothard, and John Holt began to lay the foundations of homeschooling. In the late 1970s the fundamentalist homeschooling movement began to coalesce and in the 1980s it picked up considerable speed. It is now a huge, organized movement.
Homeschooling, in itself, can be an effective choice for a variety of reasons, but the fundamentalist homeschooling movement carries with it some very serious problems. Not everything I mention is true of all fundamentalist homeschoolers.
1. Quality of Education
Homeschooling parents choose the educational curriculum for their children, and the choice is vital. Good homeschooling curriculum is available, but there are also several fundamentalist curricula developed specifically for fundamentalist families. Some of it might be generally adequate—I don’t know—though evolution is always presented in a negative light.
ACE, the curriculum with which I am most familiar, is certainly inadequate. It consists of units on various subjects designed for student self-learning. The student reads through the material and then takes a test on that unit; answers are based on rote memorization. Then the student scores themselves using a scoring key. The curriculum also contains a lot of biblical material.
Perhaps some former homeschoolers can provide information on other curricula.
Another aspect of homeschooling quality is the level of the homeschooling parents’ knowledge and teaching skills. Often this is woefully inadequate and sometimes nonexistent. In 2016 16% of homeschooling parents had a high school or equivalency education; 15% never finished high school.
In most cases the state is unable to track or evaluate the students’ level of achievement because homeschoolers have successfully demanded little or no monitoring by the state. Therefore, many students—who are promised that the homeschooling program matches or exceeds public education—find that they must take remedial education to get into college.
2. Strong Anti-Science Bias and Extensive Religious Indoctrination
Fundamentalist homeschooling has a very strong anti-science bias—especially in any field related to evolution, such as archaeology, genetics, and age-dating techniques. So far as I know, all fundamentalist homeschooling embraces Young Earth Creationism, which claims that the earth is no older than 10,000 years, that humans lived with dinosaurs, and that evolution is a lie.
One might expect fundamentalist homeschooling to include biblical content, but heavy religious indoctrination is the norm.
3. Isolation of Children and Lack of Socialization
For about a century, one of the characteristics of fundamentalism has been that they isolate themselves from non-fundamentalists as much as possible. This is one appeal of homeschooling; not only are the students isolated from unacceptable teaching, but to a great extent they are isolated from non-fundamentalist students as well. Some leaders caution against even allowing fundamentalist children to play with non-fundamentalist children.
As a result, fundamentalist children can be very isolated from the ‘outside’ and often suffer from lack of socialization with other children. I have read many accounts of homeschooled children who socialized with adults and with children of all ages but had little opportunity to socialize with groups of children their own age.
Being raised fundamentalist, myself, I experienced this to a great extent even though I attended public school (there was no homeschooling at that time). My socialization was primarily with my family and my small church; I rarely interacted with my public school friends outside of school because our focus was totally on our fundamentalist group, where there were no kids my age—or very few. I suffered a lot from this situation, and I can only imagine how it must be for fundamentalist kids who don’t attend public school.
This isolation is sometimes tied to a more sinister problem—child abuse.
4. Widespread Child Abuse
You probably have heard some of the horror stories of homeschooled children who have been severely abused—they seem to be far too common in the press. Not all parents are child abusers but many are, and I think there are two reasons for this connection.
First, severe child-rearing techniques are widely popular among fundamentalists. There are a number of widely distributed books that promote these principles, which many outside fundamentalism consider abusive. One principle is to ‘break the spirit’ of the child—even as an infant. Another is to use corporal punishment (hitting the child) as a primary way to form control and secure obedience.
Secondly, some parents are criminally abusive to their children in additional ways. For both groups homeschooling is a convenient way to avoid detection and possible arrest. We will discuss this terrible situation further next time.
An excellent resource on fundamentalist homeschooling issues is the Coalition for Responsible Home Education.
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