Friday, March 30, 2007

Homeschoolers - Are We Socially Irresponsible?

Note: This is an article that I wrote in 1999 and I have updated it a bit, but overall some things never change.

Are Homeschoolers Socially Irresponsible?

Someone once told me that I was socially irresponsible for taking my children out of the public school system. They claimed that I was abandoning the system instead of trying to change it or help it to function better. I would then ask, “Are people who send their children to private school just as socially irresponsible?” For one thing, homeschooling is not only about parents who are dissatisfied with public education. It is about parents having the freedom to choose between a few options when it comes to educating their children. Homeschooling parents are pretty normal people who you might even bump into at the local store. They are doctors, lawyers, homemakers, computer consultants and come from just about every income bracket and walk of life.

Homeschoolers typically have varied reasons for choosing to homeschool. Some do it so their kids can have time to focus on a specific talent like ice skating or even train to become an Olympic athlete. Some do it for religious reasons. Some do it because their family lifestyle dictates that they travel and relocate often. Some do it because they reject government intervention in their life, or maybe have a specific pedagogical belief, and still more just want to be involved in their children’s learning experiences. There is of course a percentage that are just unhappy with what public or private schools have to offer. That percentage seems to be growing ever more to the extent that some school systems are fighting parents who wish to withdraw their children from school in order to homeschool them.

Homeschooling does require a lot of time and commitment and dedication to your kids, but overall, so does parenting. One parent, or caretaker, typically stays at home to teach the children. But the benefit to this, that I have discovered, is that this builds strong family ties and is the breeding ground for solid moral, ethical and spiritual growth. Families really benefit by being together, learning together, and growing together. There is also strong intergenerational learning and bonding that happens when kids are around their older and younger relatives more regularly. I believe that strong families are a cornerstone to society. They face life’s problems and joys together and learn to deal with everyday life. Homeschooling parents don’t live with kids who are totally disconnected from them. Homeschoolers learn to see and share their common interests and respect their differences. Kids carry those lessons with them through their life.

Family bonds become very important, unlike government schooling where we have heard the common mantra of "cut the apron strings", or from kids' peers that "the parents are the enemy". Advice and help of parents are usually tossed aside because "the teacher said this is a better way to do such and such". One cannot deny that government schooling does in many ways disconnect kids from their families. I often hear things like older kids don't want to engage with younger cousin Jane because "she's a third grader", and that type of thing. There is also a lot of negative socialization that happens in government schools. So as far as I am concerned, regarding social responsibility, our homeschooled kids are learning to get along with their own family, and to resolve their differences at home in times when there is conflict.

And while I am on the topic of "socialization", the socialization aspect of homeschooling is wonderful. Homeschooled kids typically are involved with intergenerational social contacts. They learn to get along with people of all ages, not just their own peer group. They have friends older and younger than themselves. They get out and see lots of people on a daily basis, either through field trips with other homeschoolers, or get-togethers, or whatever kids do when they are being kids. But that is just part of the story. The rest is about community.

I have found that homeschoolers tend to be extremely socially responsible. Their families spend a lot of time and energy in community involvement, either through church or other volunteer activities in many different types of organizations. They spend time out in their community everyday helping neighbors, or working in food co-ops, or patronizing local businesses. Homeschoolers incorporate a lot of volunteering and mentoring activities into their daily life. Our kids learn by doing, and many take the opportunity to work as interns or apprentices in the areas that are of interest to them. They learn to give their time and talents to their community, while learning about the world they live in. Homeschoolers contribute a lot in the way of time, skills and talent to many civic and religious groups. They volunteer in nursing homes and political campaigns and just about every facet of life that you can imagine. That is incredibly socially responsible.

But what about the public school system? If kids from families who are so committed to involvement and education are pulled out of school doesn’t the system suffer a bit? Wouldn't those homeschool parents be the same people who would be room moms or PTO presidents or chairs of various school activities? Don’t the schools lose valuable funding for each child who does not sit at a desk all day? Perhaps, but that is such a weak argument, and the fact of the matter is that there are still many other children still in the government school system. Class sizes are already bursting at the seams. I do not think that the schools are missing my children that much. I do not believe that those kinds of numbers have had a negative impact on the government school system, at least not just yet.

It might just be though, that if public/government schools continue to offer poor results that people will continue to leave. I have heard that homeschooling is growing at the current rate of 15% a year! But the fact still remains that more kids go to private school than attend homeschool nationwide.

According to Separation of School and State website there are 56 million elementary and secondary school children in the United States, 8 million of those children, or around 14%, are educated independent of state schools:

* 6.3 million children attend private schools,
* Nearly 2 million children are home schooled.

Homeschoolers along with privately schooled children would absolutely choke the current government school system if they all enrolled tomorrow. So we are all really doing them a favor by not being there. Again, that could be viewed as being socially responsible.

If anything, the fact that homeschoolers pay taxes, which support the public/government school system, and yet they do not, or may not, use the resources that they pay for, is in and of itself a testimony to the fallacy of being socially irresponsible.

Aside from that, since we are learning apart from government sponsored education, we can and do try lots of different methods and create many successes. We are usually an example of "best practices", and perhaps can show government schools what the necessary ingredients are for providing good education. I believe choice and competition are integral to the realm of education, because that makes for better education overall as a society. If there is no choice then the system falls into mediocrity and fails. As long as we have this choice it is our duty and obligation to take advantage of it and it is socially responsible to keep the choices open and vibrant and available.

If anything - I would say that it is socially irresponsible for government schools and educrats to continue to offer mediocre programs and curriculum, and as long as they do, parents will exercise their choice to leave and do the socially responsible thing - and that is to make sure their children get an appropriate education.