I was recently contemplating the infamous Duggar family, known for their recently cancelled reality show, 19 Kids and Counting, all about the conservative Christian couple and their household of 19 children. All of the children were/are homeschooled, and the Duggars adhere to a Christian homeschooling program, complete with a healthy dose of Bible study and Christian lessons. This compelled me to finally write my personal objections to homeschooling, and why I not only think it’s bad for children, but bad for America. We need to do whatever we can to raise and educate young people who are cultured, socialized, tolerant, educated, and well-rounded. In my honest opinion, I believe the best way to truly produce those types of individuals is through the public and private school system, and not through the limited scope and reach of homeschooling. The more diverse people and broad range of ideas a child is exposed to, the greater potential for that individual to grow up to be a moral, fair, and just global citizen.
Forgive me if I’m skeptical the Duggar clan received stellar educations through homeschooling — a notoriously uneven method of teaching children from the comforts of home. Uneducated parents with no degrees, certifications, or familiarity with pedagogy are teaching out of books and online, and are often poor resources and arguably clueless instructors. Who’s asking the critical questions, if the parents are shaky on the concepts? How in depth can such superficial instruction be? The last time a traditionally schooled child is taught by one teacher — teaching all the subjects — is typically 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade. Why? Because the subject matter is rudimentary and simple enough for one person to master the various content areas. They likely studied ‘Elementary Education,’ rather than a content area like Physics or Creative Writing. As children grow, their brains crave more complex subject matter, and the classes divide up, and teachers focus on one or two specific subjects, which they are presumably experts in. So how can a parent be expected to teach advanced high school courses like Calculus, Physics, Music, English, and History with any degree of effectiveness? The answer is, they’re not. More often than not, homeschool kids don’t take courses that advanced, and invariably get less rigorous educations than their peers in traditional schools. Working out of a book or online is fine some of the time, but it’s missing a key component in education — class discussion and the socratic dialogue of a teacher and student. Good teachers ask a lot of questions of their students, and ask provocative questions designed to spur critical thinking and force a student to craft arguments and use data and evidence to back up their arguments. In short, homeschooling often neglects the socialization that every student needs to build confidence, find their voice, and articulate their thoughts. Homeschooled adolescents are often noticeably more shy, uncertain, and sheltered than their peers.
In the case of the Duggars, the curriculum is already planned and laid out by the Christian company that makes the materials. The courses are simpler and more intermediate than the courses offered at school. One striking deficit homeschooling has is not having access to the various fonts of knowledge each individual teacher has. There is a combined wisdom that homeschooled students miss, if all they have access to is a parent. Many of the homeschool houses are made up of devout Evangelical Christians, who see public education as evil and corrupting, with its lessons in global warming, environmentalism, Evolution, sex education and contraception. To many, public schools are a governmental trap, in which tax payers pay liberals to indoctrinate young people in the virtues of Socialism and marriage equality. I am not speaking of every homeschool family, nor every Christian family. I am targeting a very specific group of evangelical Christians, who shun perfectly acceptable school systems, in order to make sure their children are learning ONLY what their religion allows, and that they aren’t exposed to any other opinions. You see, diverse opinions are dangerous to those whose faith is so absolute and inflexible, they fear their children could be enticed by the easier path of the wicked. It’s no wonder so many of these people have trouble fitting into the real world, and playing nicely with those who may be different and hold opposing views. They were brought up in an insular echo chamber, where all they ever heard was their own beliefs and the sound of their own voices. Homeschooling tends to have that affect.
Despite its obvious drawbacks, homeschooling is conspicuously absent the incentives and initiatives that come in a classroom full of learners. When children engage in healthy competition, it helps them learn more effectively, and builds confidence and self-esteem. As if it’s not bad enough having one sole teacher, who is really more of a facilitator than a knowledgeable instructor, but that person is most often the parent of the student. Generally, it’s not fair or wise to have parents teaching their own children. There are two problems that can arise. Firstly, a parent teacher is naturally biased, and may show their child preferential treatment and be more permissive than a teacher who was unrelated, and naturally more objective. Secondly, the parent could be just the opposite, and be the scourge of the classroom, pushing their child hard and having rigid and inflexible standards, too high for any child to reach. This kind of parent may push their child excessively, and may invariably drive their child away from their education, and also engender bitter resentment and mistrust along the way.
As I alluded to earlier, one of the most dangerous and reckless consequences of homeschooling is not allowing children the natural and necessary chance to mingle and socialize, and learn from their peers. Many homeschoolers are shy, timid, insecure, uncertain, introverted, and socially awkward. They come across as sheltered, and are often uncomfortable around joking, sarcasm, sexual situations, competition, and other similar scenarios. By robbing a child the opportunity to interact with their peers or engage in the back and forth dialogue with a teacher, a student may not learn invaluable lessons in body language, signposting, verbal cues, non-verbal communication, politeness and etiquette, humor, and many more life lessons.
In the final analysis, I must simply argue that MOST (not all) homeschool students generally receive an inferior and subpar education, when compared to their peers in traditional schools. Having a single and untrained parent as an instructor is crippling, and frankly insufficient to properly advance through subjects and levels. It’s reasonable to assume that before long, the subject matter and level surpasses the education and knowledge of the parent, and that figure becomes obsolete and ostensibly unhelpful. The lack of socialization, critical thinking, social interactions, spirited debates, having to defend and support arguments, and answer the questions of teachers is a catastrophic loss and not reproducible in the child’s home. Not having access to a wide variety of instructors, with varying levels of education, knowledge, and teaching styles robs the student of the chance to build a diverse base of knowledge, upon which they can build and expand learning. Another drawback to homeschooling is the obvious lack of classes in the arts and extracurricular activities. Although many homeschooled students have the access to participate in after school activities at their local schools, many choose not to. It can be awkward to not know anybody or have to suffer the looks and judgements of those who don’t approve and/or would ridicule homeschooling. It can often not be a very welcoming environment. In most homes, parents aren’t talented or equipped to teach visual art, theatre, photography, dance, or any of the other myriad art classes, that are not only offered in most public schools, but required for most students. No matter what they may want to be when they grow up, a child should be introduced to a wide array of subjects and hobbies. After school activities like drama, a sport, or the debate team are great ways to further socialize, and excel at something they love. It is great to work as a team, and learn good sportsmanship and collaboration, and also learn something about conflict resolution, and overcoming adversity. Children should be allowed to succeed AND fail. Activities are great ways to learn those lessons. And yet, many homeschool children will never have these unique and invaluable experiences, because they are shut up in their homes, and isolated from the real world around them.
Although there are families from all walks of life who choose to homeschool their children, a large number of people come from conservative evangelical Christian households. Many of these people are fearful and disgusted with the state of public education, and view schools as being dens of iniquity, spreading a liberal agenda, and polluting good Christian minds. They object to the high degree of sexuality and kids having sex before marriage. They object to sex education classes and the teaching of contraception and female reproductive rights. They object to the way history is taught, and to the idea of multiculturalism. Some may not like how racially diverse schools are, and the presence of LGBT students and the tolerance and encouragement of groups on campus. Many conservative parents strenuously object to the way science is taught, especially teaching Evolution, global warming, the Big Bang Theory, and how old the Earth actually is. Many of these concepts directly contradict the teachings in the Bible, which is the absolute literal word of God, to these fundamentalists. Many are upset that most teachers are liberal and pro-union, and teach in a style that is permissive and promotes a liberal agenda, where homosexuality and gay marriage are considered acceptable, gun control is a priority, environmentalism is embraced, immigration and amnesty are encouraged, businesses are over-regulated, and all the other many beliefs most conservatives object to.
The problem with ultra-conservative Christians homeschooling their children is that often, they don’t do a very good job. Some look at the world and see nothing but sin and depravity, as they wait for the End of Days, and ensure their place in the rapture, all while shutting out the profligate world around them. They isolate their families in their homes and in their insular churches, where many of the flock are just like them, and hold all the same beliefs and values. These homeschooled children have very little contact with the outside world — just their homes and church — and are rendered helpless out in the real world. The problem is that these families are producing young adults who are sheltered, scared, wrathful, contemptuous of the sinful world around them, naive, inexperienced, inflexible, unable to see more than just black and white, bigoted, prejudiced, intolerant, self-righteous, pious, untraveled, uncultured, provincial, ignorant, anti-science, anti-intellectual, biased, unworldly, and generally short-sighted. Their educations are often not very rigorous because education and intellect are not high priorities. Their blind faith and the love and unquestioning devotion to the Bible is what drives these people, and quite honestly, Calculus and philosophy aren’t always high on their list. What’s more, over 80% of evangelical Christian homeschooled students do NOT go on to earn an advanced degree. College is simply not a priority, and holds little interest for them. For one thing, as bad as public K-12 schools are, American universities are viewed with even more scorn and contempt. They are notoriously liberal and atheist institutions, and most of these people wouldn’t be caught dead in such sinful places of learning. Many of the jobs they pursue are in the church itself, or in other trades that don’t require college degrees. A good number of them go on to study at Bible schools all across the country, earning certificates, but no formal degree.
In the course of this essay, I’ve cast a wide net, and as you might expect, a whole lot of people got caught up in it. There are a lot of groups who choose to homeschool their children, and I believe people should have the right to choose. In this essay, I undoubtedly had a bit of an axe to grind, and unmistakably took direct aim at some evangelical Christians who almost all exclusively homeschool their children. I maintain that my generalizations are based on anecdotal evidence and common knowledge, but to be clear, in no way is it meant to represent all evangelical Christians. As with any group, these people are relatively diverse. I was targeting a very specific group of evangelicals I especially take issue with. I don’t mean to suggest that ALL homeschooled kids are receiving poor educations, or that the parents who teach them are all unqualified and ineffective. There are undoubtedly many homeschooled students who are receiving exceptional educations, and perhaps, even more rigorous and ambitious than the average traditionally educated student. I know there are parents who insist their children participate in at least one after school activity, and enroll them in an art class to expose them to culture. They also may take trips to art museums and visit the ballet from time to time. These parents are the good ones, and have taken it upon themselves to fully educate their child, and offer the most substantive and diverse education they can. At the same time, I still stand firm in all the many drawbacks and deficits I believe homeschooling has. In general, I always believe the more diverse people and opinions a child can be exposed to, the better and more well adjusted person they will become. They will likely grow up to be tolerant, cultural, curious, responsible, moral, and more. They will be good neighbors and compassionate global citizens. They will know about the world outside the walls of their home or church. This is why I generally don’t believe in homeschooling, and advocate all children should learn amongst their peers and be exposed to as many new ideas and different teachers as possible.