The Myths of Homeschooling #1

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Google myths of homeschooling and invariably you get a page defending homeschooling. What you never get is an analysis of the hype that surrounds this most divisive of topics.

At the risk of being shunned, scolded, and potentially stoned to death by an angry mob of Basic Youth Conflicts graduates, I want to talk about the homeschooling craze and the tsunami of myths it perpetuates. At homeschoolAnyone who desires to cut through the homeschooling hype is subject to punishment, as if the act of homeschooling is above question. Yet all kinds of learning exist; homeschooling is just one option in a sea of possibilities.

Before I go on, I’d like to discuss my background. My degree is in Christian Education from Wheaton College. I’ve vigorously studied curricula used in homeschooling, so I know the content. I’m also, as most people reading this are, a product of the public school system. My mother was a public kindergarten and preschool teacher for many years and was anti-homeschooling. Despite this, she was an outstanding educator and a mother admired not only by her kids, but also by other mothers. As for my wife and I, we homeschooled our son for a time because of my background and his needs. So this is not a diatribe against all homeschooling or else I’d be a hypocrite.

My hope for this series is to slice through the rhetoric that surrounds homeschooling and to honestly examine its strengths and weaknesses. This is a touchy subject loaded with potential landmines, but homeschooling has its troubling issues and few Christians examine them honestly. Instead, many Christian families are swept along by the homeschooling tsunami unable to clearly consider all its issues.

Let’s take a look at the first few myths:

Myth #1: If you don’t homeschool your kids, you’re not a good parent

We say it’s all about the children, but hasn’t homeschooling become a criterium for sorting the good parents from the bad? Have we not made it a source of pride for those who do homeschool, using homeschooling as a litmus test for labeling others?

No myth does more to generate a class structure within churches than this one. Too many adults classify each other based on whether they homeschool or not. Worse, many Christian organizations insist that to be a good parent, you must homeschool.

Behind this mistaken notion lies numerous problems. On a basic level, our 21st century societal structures don’t support homeschooling. The work lives of the majority of Americans differ dramatically from those of adults at the time of this nation’s founding, when most children received their educations at home. In those pre-industrial days, both parents worked from home and America was largely agrarian. Both parents equally taught their children, not just one homeschooling parent, as is common today.

Sadly, few people question contemporary work situations that take at least one of the parents out of the home all day. By all standards, particularly biblical ones, having only one parent involved in the schooling of children is a defective method at its core, yet it is held out as the ideal today. The stress of forcing all schooling onto one parent is too much for most people to handle, yet many homeschooling parents labor under the pressure to conform to that defective standard, forced to grin and bear the responsibility like a good soldier.

But homeschooling is not meant to be a lesson in endurance. I suspect that many homeschooling moms—if allowed to vent their true feelings on the issue apart from the pressure they feel to conform to a homeschooling ideal—would say the stress and pressure to teach and run a household without the aid of a spouse at home most of the day is overpowering. Trying to jam the responsibility of two adults into one is more than many can bear, yet they shuffle on lest someone accuse them of not being a good parent because they no longer homeschool.

Homeschooling is harder than most people think. Curiously, the Christian organizations that trumpet homeschooling provide no coping methods or assistance for Christian families who seek to have both parents at home—the ideal homeschooling environment—rather than just one. Little is said about the work environments that exist today that take one of the parents out of the home for most of the day while the other struggles to manage all the requirements of keeping a household running while homeschooling.

Homeschooling is not about guilt, yet many adults who cannot homeschool—or those who do and are buried under the load it entails—feel guilty all the time. It’s time we Christians made life easier for both homeschooling and nonhomeschooling parents by dropping the “you’re a bad parent if you don’t homeschool” rhetoric we wield like a club. Many families are struggling and to judge any family by whether it homeschools or not is not of God.

Myth #2: Homeschooling more actively involves parents in their children’s educations

There’s a dirty little secret behind much of homeschooling. I know folks who insist what follows is not them, but my experience proves otherwise.

We all know homeschooling parents who brag about the fact that their kids don’t watch TV or that they don’t even have a TV in the house. Yet how curious that so many of these same parents see no problem with placing a child in front of a computer for hours on end doing computerized homeschool curricula. Many parents can’t draw a distinction between three hours of spurious TV viewing and the three hours their kids spend each day glued to some video-driven homeschool curricula, either. That hypocrisy is perfectly understandable given the ridiculously high regard we give homeschooling. We give parents kudos for homeschooling regardless of how well they actually teach.

From my perspective, a kid wedded to a computer or TV for hours on end is not getting a more parent-driven education than a child who sits in a public school classroom. We’re deceiving ourselves if we believe this myth. Worse yet, the parents who howl about public school content rarely take the time to review the homeschool computer or video content their kid is inhaling for hours on end.

Let’s be honest here. Computer or TV-based homeschooling courses are as much a babysitter as is commercial TV or the public school teacher. A harried mom can sit Junior down in front of a video on fractions then attend to scrubbing the kitchen floor. I understand how hard homeschooling is, but it’s the dishonesty that attends this issue that bothers me. Use the computer and TV-based curriculm, but understand it for what it is. And don’t hide behind the aura of homeschooling if what you’re doing is plopping your kids in front of curricula run from a DVD, videotape, or computer.

Myth #3: The educational methodology behind most homeschooling curriculum is superior to the methodology used in public schools

B.F. Skinner is the psychological theorist behind behaviorism and operant conditioning. We’ve all seen rats trained to press a lever to receive a reward of food or electrical brain stimulation. Ever since Skinner debuted his educational theories in the ’40s and ’50s, Christians have decried behaviorism as dehumanizing brainwashing. Firmly rooted in a naturalistic, Darwinian worldview, reviled as anti-God, pro-Communist, and secular humanism at work, behaviorism is the educational methodology Christians most oppose.

Unbelievably, the majority of Christian homeschool curricula are based on behavioristic teaching methods. Even more ironic, public schools have moved away from behaviorism while Christians have castigated them for doing so.

When I first examined this problem back in the early 1990s, the three most popular Christian homeschool curricula were Skinnerian to the core. Since that time, other methodologies have arisen, but behavioral teaching methods still predominate.

“Unschooling” is growing within some Christian circles, but it is based on the theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau as expressed in his book Emile. It’s surprising that Christian homeschooling parents would want to follow the ideas of Rousseau, an anti-family scoundrel if there ever was one, but such is the reality of our modern educational methods that it’s hard to turn anywhere without finding a problematic theorist behind any learning method.

Dozens of educational methodologies exist to confound homeschooling parents today. All have blind spots and problems. Some are better than others and a mix of them might be the best option of all. And as for one, the classical education, I will save some insights on it for later.

Stayed tuned for more in this look at the myths of homeschooling as I tackle the issues of what constitutes an appropriate education today, how Christians are ignoring changes in our culture, and how that must alter our educational content, and more.

***

This four-part series:

The Myths of Homeschooling #1

The Myths of Homeschooling #2

The Myths of Homeschooling #3

The Myths of Homeschooling #4

26 thoughts on “The Myths of Homeschooling #1

  1. This is interesting and I can’t wait to read more. While we have not homeschooled our 4 children, I have had a huge desire to do so.

    I have see the results of some home schooling families and I have both impressed and appauled.

    One question that will come out of this discussion is, what is your recommendation for the best type of education for our children?

  2. Ummm. I have no desire to roast you in effigy…but I am curious as to the point of this. I personally am not laboring under the misapprehension that homeschooling is perfect.

    I’m also curious as to your source for “most homeschooling parents do____” and “Most homeschooling parents don’t do ____”

  3. Rob Trotter

    interesting post…

    From what I can see – Homeschooling is by FAR an american trend. Over here in Australia (the 52nd state – or whatever we’ve become), it’s never seems like that big a trend. Perhaps that’s just me. I can’t think of a single child/teenager in my church (of about 500) that is being homeschooled. This is a baptist style church on the fringe of suburbia/almost rural. About an hours drive from Melbourne – which would be a medium? sized city for US guys – of about 4 mil people.

    It will be interesting to see if we’re just late in picking up the trends or if we’ll just skip them.

  4. blestwithsons,

    The source behind all my commentary in this series is me.

    I’ve followed homeschooling for more than fifteen years, talking with hundreds of homeschooling parents in that time. I’ve watched the ups and downs and noted the trends. I’ve lived in the Midwest and on the West Coast and my experience comes from those places.

    Have I conducted a formal study of this? No. But I do keep my eyes open, plus I talk with people about what they’re doing in their own homsechooling situations.

    Like I said at the beginning of this post, I plan on homeschooling and I support homeschooling parents. That said, there are enormous myths propagated in the homeschooling community and people are starting to get fried by what is happening. I don’t like to see that. This series is an effort to blast through the hype and provide some grace and wisdom to people who want to homeschool. I see almost no one out there in the homeschool world willing to tackle some of the mania that has started within the homeschool community. That’s why I’m posting this series.

    I hope you find it valuable.

  5. Nicole

    I have to wonder…if Mom spent some time teaching Junior how to help her scrub the floor, would she feel so harried or guilty at the end of the day? I think we also have a huge problem with everyone trying to live separate lives within the same family. As for our family, I try to find little ways to involve my child in all that I do so that we can have fun doing most things together.

  6. Simon

    Really interesting article can’t wait to see the rest.
    As a homeschooling dad, I must say you are, so far, right on target.
    These ARE some of the issues that have bothered me too, in these last 7 years of home schooling.
    There are some homeschoolers that would consider these the �sacred cows� of the HS philosophy, I, however am not one of those.
    And to respond to one of the other comments, YES, there are many Homeschoolers out there that are strongly discouraging their kids from going to college, for they fear the kids will lose their faith. And this is a very dangerous trend, IMHO.
    Well, done, don’t stop here.

  7. Dan,

    I agree with some of your comments and disagree with others. More than against homeschooling, I see your piece as a primer on homeschooling pitfalls.

    You do correctly point out that some people see home school as a panacea, which it is not. Some parents are not well equipped to teach. And within some Christian circles, I agree that there is a bias toward homeschooling. But I have also found many Christians to be realists about the whole thing too.

    There are many more co-ops starting all around the place to help parents fill gaps where they are not qualified to teach. Also, there are many real sports leagues and clubs that provide good places for socialization. Most of the homeschool parents that I know do get help from outside sources. This includes community colleges, co-ops, churches, other parents, local schools, community clubs, etc.

    Like anything, I believe that a family needs to pray, listen and seek the will of God about the best schooling option. In some cases, a family may decide to home school one child while sending others to public school.

    Families have to really explore their motives and goals to know if homeschooling will work. Doing what other families are doing just so you can look committed to your kids is never a wise decision.

    I guess that I am lucky because my particular church fellowship accepts families doing all three: public, private and homeschool.

  8. docRauch

    Great post! I have raised four kids in the local public school and have found I needed to be vigilante in what was influencing my children. They have had teachers with different political opinions that I have countered and friends with different family values that I abhor. I have invited their friends into my home and got involved in the community with their scouts, band, choir and volunteer activities to great fruition. Now that some have graduated high school, they are equiped to handle the American culture both good and bad. I spend at least two hours daily with them as they do homework assignments and have watched them as delve into a google search on their own to further explore what they are learning in school. I could never offer to them the diversity, depth and extra special experiences from being in the public school especially as they use the tools of self-learning anyhow to explore on their own. In my family, I find physical fitness—balancing physical exercise—with all the time they have to spend in school, extracurricular activities and lots of homework—the challenge.

  9. Jeanne

    You said, “I suspect that many homeschooling moms—if allowed to vent their true feelings on the issue apart from the pressure they feel to conform to a homeschooling ideal—would say that they are stressed out by having to teach and run a household without the aid of a spouse at home most of the day.”

    I felt far more stressed out when my kids attended schools that did not meet their needs, and I beat my head against the wall trying to create effective and common sense improvement. Additionally, because the schools’ techniques did not take into account things like learning styles and used tremendous amounts of busy work, I had to spend so much time working with my kids after school when they were exhausted, that I found it to be much less stressful to work with them on my own time and end those horrible afternoons.

    Also, if you think that most moms are trying to conform to a homeschool ideal, you’re not hanging around with the same homeschoolers I hang around with. (In fact, that’s quite possible. I’m a Christian and make it a point to associate in homeschool groups that embrace homeschoolers of all faiths, races, and political backgrounds). The folks I know aren’t worried at ALL about conforming, but instead are focused on doing what’s right for their own children, so their kids can be their best possible selves and contribute to their communities AS their best possible selves.

    You also said, “Homeschooling is harder than most people think” and
    “Homeschooling is not about guilt, yet many adults who cannot homeschool—or those who do and are buried under the load it entails—feel guilty all the time.”

    I’ve found homeschooling to be far easier than I anticipated and talk with homeschool moms all the time who say, “If only I’d known! We would have done this long ago!” It takes commitment, indeed, but folks who find it to be as hard as you describe are probably trying a homeschooling style that isn’t working for their family. My observation after years of homeschooling is that parents who try to re-create an inflexible school-at-home type of homeschool will be prone to burn-out. But families, whether they use curriculum or not, who are open to flexibles schedules, reading for fun, and non-traditional learning experiences do just fine.

    As for feeling guilty, it sounds like some of these people must be homeschooling either against their will or inclination or for the wrong reason. I guess I am just fortunate to be around moms and dads who enjoy their kids and have a realistic picture of how homeschooling can work.

    For folks interested in avoiding such burnout who don’t understand the ways to homeschool without guilt, without an eye toward conformity (oh my!), and without such a feeling that it is an overwhelming task, a great book is The Homeschool Family Handbook by Dorothy and Raymond Moore. Another is Art of Education by Linda Dobson. If you haven’t read these books or associated with homeschoolers who have taken their messages to heart, you’ve only seen “one kind” of homeschooler and missed the great diversity within homeschooling.

    I could go on and on rebutting your column — for instance, an extremely popular book among homeschoolers is by Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards, which is the complete opposite of a behaviorist approach. Do some homeschoolers use behaviorism? Sure. Do a lot of homeschoolers intentionally reject it? Definitely.

    Oh, and by the way, there ARE MANY Christian Unschoolers, and we find that Christianity and unschooling make perfect sense together!(Google it).

    But I’ll stop. Suffice it to say that your observations don’t begin to cover the broad diversity of attitudes toward homeschooling by homeschoolers. I guess you haven’t seen the wide variety of methodologies that homeschoolers use, and apparently you’re seeing some overwhelmed moms who are guilt-ridden and striving for impossible ideals as representative of the rest of us. Heck, what we do in our family is lie around and read good books, take nature walks, and build forts out of the living room furniture, mixed in with scouts, soccer, and music lessons. This is not rocket science. It’s just enjoying the kids with an eye toward giving them future options to be independent and pursue happiness, mixed in with some commitment to give them some academic skills and the ability to do their own laundry.

  10. Susan

    I hope that one of the myths you tackle in future is “Homeschooling is harder than most people think.”

    I find it to be quite the opposite.

    It’s well and good to question the truth of a litany of pointless generalities, but not if you are going to add to the list in the process.

  11. Carla

    Hat tip to Tim for posting this series link on his sideblogger thingie today. (Can you tell how astute I am this morning?)

    This, is GOOD stuff! I’m a homeschooling mom of 7 kids, going into my 6th year (it’ll be 6 years in December).

    So much of what you’ve said in part 1 here is spot ON. Other things aren’t, but I’m going to read the rest of the series, and all the comments, before I tear you apart. LOL, just kidding, no effigies, to tearing, but I will certainly be commenting.

  12. Phil

    Interesting, as most people have said here. While I lack the sensibility to a possible hype of homeschooling and your desire to cut through it (living in a country where homeschooling is illegal, Germany), I see how the growth of the movement may well include a lot of dangers and pitfalls, in logic as well as in practice.

    Yet however honest your desire: with all the generalisations in there, I conclude that your desire might be to give a warning shot than to exercise differentiated and in depth critique of SOME extremes, dangers and practies.. And I have a hard time understanding why you would be at least so much attracted to the model per se as to homeschool your child. Some explanation on that would be helpful…
    One example: are you sure that the same parents who don’t own TV sets are the ones who wed their child “to a computer or TV for hours on end “? This is what appears through your argument: many of those who seem to be radical, are hypocrites. That’s far from being a sophisticated critique, sorry.
    Furthermore, as you should know, the level of participation and activity in a child’s brain will in most cases be higher when observing curricula via video then when watching a soap or music videos. You’ll probably know that from first hand experience – isn’t the feeling that one has after completing an hour of studying with low success and low interest still different than after completing an hour of watching TV ?

    This is not to say that your judgement about video driven curricula and their dangers and the potential harm they can do is misplaced; yet the argument is weakened and unclear by some weird generalizations like this.

  13. theswordsman- Bill Jaimez

    Amen, I am a home school dad and these are the attitudes that we have come acroos from many homeschoolers. You also can visit any number of homeschool blogs and read the same. Due to the economics of the day my wife has to work outside the home and she has been critized for that as well. Homeschooling works for us, and i have strong opinions on why we do, but I always say it is not for everyone, and everyone should not do it.

  14. Dwayna Litz

    I am enjoying reading through your posts this morning. My mother is a public school teacher and has been “Teacher of the Year” in every district she has ever worked (all of my life). She would appreciate your post, and I am going to suggest that she read it tonight.
    Dwayna

  15. manda

    Homeschoolers are constantly defensive because they are constantly attacked.
    Public school parents often feel the need to defend their decision to send their kids to public school the moment they find out I homeschool my son. They list all of the positives of public school. When that first happened I felt like they were attacking my decision. My responses in defense of homeschool were then viewed as an attack on public school so they defended further and so forth.

    We just get tired of having to explain ourselves to everyone. We all get defensive.

    Then there are articles like this one that take the usual debate format by overstating the opponent�s position. I’ve never met homeschoolers that said they were better parents than those that send their kids to public school. The idea that we think that is itself a myth. I�ve never heard anyone suggest the methodology is better as much as we feel our ability to tailor everything to our children�s individual needs is better. Sorry, I don�t know any homeschoolers that put their kids in front of a computer all day, either.

    No one should feel guilty for sending their kid to public school if they feel that’s the best thing. If they do feel guilty the problem is most likely their own doubts and not homeschoolers. If anyone in your church tells you that homeschooling is a moral obligation remind them to pull the rafter from their own eye and to judge not lest they be judged.

    Just be happy with your own decision and don�t be defensive. Don�t assume every positive thing said about another method of educating children is an attack on your own.

    (I’m also homeschooling for educational and not religious reasons so I can’t speak for all homeschoolers)

  16. mike

    So…

    I have worked with children roughly ages 4-18 in a variety of capacities for the past 17 years: camp counselor, personal tutor, teacher, gymnastics coach, even nusery attendant. I’m just going to give my honest observations of the typcial eduacational and pyschological aspects I’ve seen in homeschoolers.

    In my experience, stereotypically homeschoolers fare higher in regards to education and general academia… personal results vary of course, but from what I’ve seen first-hand the homeschooled kid most often recieves more attention scholastically, and the results are more or less apparent in his/her usage of language, etc. (these are merely generalizations, but perhaps worth consideration.)

    Another aspect, and I am being completely honest here, is the tendency for the homeschooled kid to be socially “awkward” outside of the household, or sometimes out of his/her sphere of adults. A lack of diverse people skills coupled by an underdeveloped sense of interaction with his/her “peers” or, perhaps “the rest of the world”, has lead me to visably recognize the social struggles of the homeschooled child. I am an observer of people, and for better or worse a social handicap has been a common phenomenon of homeschoolers in my experience. (not all of course, but enough to notice a trend.)

    Another point that I haven’t seen raised in this forum… many people homeschool their kids out a sense of protection. The reasons are obvious (Columbine, drugs, countless others) and the inherent reflex of protecting our children is perhaps as natural as breathing. But has anyone thought, “I may be protecting my child from the world, but am I depriving the world of my child?” The “world” (in the secular sense) NEEDS the Godly child (obviously). And in a strange way the child needs the world as well. Struggle is inevitable, and each person’s faith is made stronger through struggle, through interaction with the world. Faith-filled children sheilded from as much of that secular “struggle” as parentally possible… I think are in a sense deprived of the life experience neccessary to become a fully-rounded person of God.

    I’m sure I’ve ruffled a feather or two knowing the nature of the forum, and that’s ok. Just things to ponder.

    • Ronda

      I agree with your comment. Our only child goes to public school, and I’ve contemplated taking her out to protect her from the bad language she hears and perhaps tailor her education. But, I am finding, she is finding her strength in the struggle, her individuality. She is becoming salt and light to the world and a safe haven for friends and acquaintances who don’t feel loved and cared for. It’s like she’s becoming a butterfly and she’s only in the 8th grade.

  17. ada

    I appreciated Myth #2 very much – I was homeschooled by someone who didn’t use a TV or computer for the curriculum, but who did leave me alone with my workbook while she left & did her own thing. Nobody really cared what I did or how long I did it, as long as my workbooks got done. I wasn’t homeschooled, I was an autodidact.

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