The case against home-schooling

Recent cases show it's not an acceptable measure

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Two cases in the last month have brought Germany's education policy under scrutiny. In the first, a family fled to America, sought asylum and were granted it by a Tennessee judge, because the parents wanted to home-school their children. The second is much the same, but it strikes closer to home: after fleeing Germany for Denmark, a family ended up in Canada because Germany doesn't allow home-schooling. This past Tuesday, the family went before the Alberta Immigration and Refugee Board to plead their case.

Seldom does a developed country have to decide to give asylum to people from another developed country. Germany isn't a cultural backwater where people are denied basic human rights, but the lawyer for the Alberta family is arguing that in this case rights are being denied. Parents, the argument goes, have a right to raise their children how they see fit. If the parents decide that the educational system is inappropriate for their children, then they should have the right to educate them themselves.

The majority of websites promoting home-schooling do so for religious reasons. In both of the German families they felt that the education the children were receiving was lacking Christian values. Statistics on the reasons most parents choose home-schooling are hard to come by, but a large majority of the people I have met who were home-schooled were, at least in part, so taught because the traditional education system is absent of religious instruction. The family in Alberta has a more complex case; two of the children have medical conditions that a regular school would not be able to accommodate and the third was removed from school because the other students were setting a bad example.

Human rights do not allow parents to indoctrinate their children. The concern with home-schooling is that, even with a state-sponsored curriculum, it's much harder to determine what the children are being taught. One goal of the public education system is for children to frame their own opinions about issues; another is that they should be presented with a number of different opinions. All people should be able to determine their own conception of the good later in life. If one is brought up so that possibility is minimized, then it is the child's right, not the parents', that has been violated.

Citing a lack of religious values at school is tantamount to stating that children should only be presented with religious values: nothing about the German system prevents parents from teaching their children about God outside of the classroom. The same can be said for the unruly behaviour the one parent claims occurred. The behaviour isn't clearly defined, but if it involved drugs, sex, or evolution, then that isn't a good reason.

What about cases where a child has special needs, like in the case of the two children mentioned? It's more complex, but why should both necessities -- healthcare and education -- be deferred to a parent who has training in neither? The grounds that the parents have to claim that a special needs program couldn't do a better job is lacking; it makes it more questionable that their healthy child was unsuited for the public school system as well.

In many cases the value that children gain from a public education are not the things explicitly taught in the classroom (although learning the truth about our origins is). Learning how to interact with children who have a different ethnicity, religion, gender affiliation or sexual preference can be classed within this other curriculum. The values are picked up in a diverse classroom, not necessarily from what the teacher is saying. Learning about these different views is no less important for a democratic society to function than learning about math or social studies.

For children who have special needs, medical professionals should determine how those needs are best met. Otherwise, there should be one school system for all. No faith schools, no Catholic school board and no home-schooling. A world religions class could teach children enough of what they need to know about religions (which would foster acceptance) without the indoctrination.





Eric, come on. You make it sound like every single family who homeschools for religious reasons practices indoctrination, which is of course, absurd. How many homeschooling families have you actually talked to? If you want more perspective I can arrange for you to meet with some.

Truth is, religion may be one aspect of the decision to homeschool, but not the only. Some parents simply think public school education just sucks - and depending on the school, I\'d say they have a fair argument.

You\'re painting with too broad of a brush, Eric, and you have a laughable faith in the public school system. Maybe once this utopic school system is created, there will be no need for homeschooling. Until then, parents should have the choice about how they want to educate their kids.

How has Eric researched and interviewed parents & children who home-school before writing this article? By reading a few recent articles on the internet perhaps?

We home-school and are not religious or have any special needs. We made a very big decision to home-school because we wanted to give our children the very best possible start in life.

Yet all we hear from ill-informed people such as Eric is a bunch of negative conjecture.

We home-school to give our children the best social interaction possible – we find being out in the communality meeting and working with people of all ages and creeds is better than 5-days a week with the same bunch of same-aged children.

We home-school to give our children the best possible education - we are miles ahead of the school-curriculum in music, language, science, art you name it. We find personal and individual tuition is significantly better than the factory-based school approach.

I am sick and tired of hearing people who have no facts spouting the same old crap about home-schooling. Eric do your research!!

Some points are worth making about the comments so far. Robin\'s remarks are well taken. However, nothing in my article denies that parents don\'t choose to home-school their children for justifiable reasons. What it does deny is that the reasons that most provide (anecdotally, as I noted) are bad ones. These involve the types I have mentioned, and were the principle reasons provided by the two German families I write about. If those stories had not dealt with the supposed right to raise one\'s children with specific religious values, I would certainly have written the story differently. As it stands, they didn\'t, so I didn\'t.

But surely nothing in my story suggests that all parents who home-school have the type of indoctrination I specify in mind. I know of one person who was home-schooled because his parents wanted to sail around the world. That\'s a great opportunity that would afford many unique experiences such as encountering different cultures. This is exactly what I say one value of a public education is. So, if a child can get it in another way, then that is worth consideration. This still doesn\'t resolve the problem about ensuring that home-schooled children aren\'t being indoctrinated. The system would have to be much more standardized in accordance with the public curriculum, and more frequent testing would need to take place for this to occur. But teaching the same curriculum is not the goal of many parents.

Robin\'s situation does raise another question though. If certain parents are willing to give their children much more than other parents are (or can), are they justified in doing that? On one hand, the answer seems obviously yes: we want all children to have the best possible upbringing they can have. But on the other hand, there is an intuition that society should reward effort, and not chance. It is pure chance that we are born to the parents we are (in the country we are, and so on). It isn\'t clear that if I am born to very smart parents, say, both with doctorate degrees, who decide to home-school me, that I deserve that education over another child. I will surely benefit from it; no doubt I have inherited some of the genes that will make me better off already. A similar example is if I am born to wealthy parents, do I deserve the large inheritance they leave for me? I have done nothing to deserve the money, and this seems to be the type of social hierarchy society doesn\'t want to promote. Anyway, dear reader, you will have to forgive me for not being able to address all of these questions in the 600 words I\'m allotted each article. If you are interested, a paper I am presenting at a philosophy conference this spring is on exactly this topic, and I would be happy to discuss it in more depth, so contact me. Because I approach this problem from my field (applied philosophy) I reject statements of the kind Robin makes about lacking facts about this issue. I am dealing with normative questions: more facts will no doubt make each case more complex, but they won\'t resolve the problem. If only as many parents took the time (or had the knowledge) to raise their children in the manner Robin discusses, then society would be much better off. I have strong doubts about the extent that parents should be given free reign to give their children objectively better home-schooled education for the same reasons I have doubts that private schools are just. The children of rich parents don\'t deserve that education, so if parents want to improve the education system as a whole then that is fine, but making one child\'s education much better for the arbitrary reason of her being your child is problematic.

Emily, I think, makes many of the same points for the same reasons, although there are two confusions that she makes. 1) She accuses me of stating that every family who home-schools for religious reasons is practicing indoctrination. I don\'t know why she says that \"I make it sound like that\". This is exactly what I explicitly state. We can only guess at why she thinks this \"is, of course, absurd\". She gives no reasons for this argument, and instead relies on everyone else to share her view. I don\'t share her view, so it would be generous of her to point out her reasoning. 2) She commits two fallacies in as many sentences by stating that religion may be one aspect of the decision to home-school. In fact, I supply two: religious and medical. The second begins by noting that some parents think that public schools \'suck\', and says in the next paragraph that I have a laughable faith in the public school system (she gets points for the faith analogy). But what makes it the case that because I think one is bad, I must believe the other is a utopia? If I criticize the Liberal party am I forced to believe that the Conservatives are infallible? No. There are many problems with the public school system in Canada, and even more with the German one. But if I think that the public school system is x units bad, then home-schooling (for religious reasons) is x-1.

Nice rebuttal, Eric. It was even more enjoyable to read than your article, and your article was thoroughly enjoyable.

Thanks for your response and clarification. The key sentence that got me was:

- No faith schools, no Catholic school board and no home-schooling.

You have extrapolated from two of specific examples to a general recommendation to stop home-schooling. This is based on the premise that some parents will indoctrinate their children with religious views – which is of course something they could do even if their children went to school.

Lets take this back to a fundamental question – who is responsible for ensuring children get the right education? If you believe it is the state then you agree with German law – remember it was introduced by the Nazi party to control people. If you believe that parents are responsible (which the majority of parents choose to delegate to the state) then you must support home-schooling as a valid option.

Actually I agree that home-schooling for religious indoctrination is not a valid reason. But you also need to look at the education that schools provide. This is essentially convergent in nature and based on achievement of exam results. This means being able to understand information and produce “Model Answers” that most accurately match what the examiner wants to see. Being good at convergent thinking does bring rewards, recognition and potentially a good job. That is all great but it does not promote divergent thinking. A student who started their exam paper with, \"I think this is the wrong question and the real question to answer should be......\" would be marked down. Home-schooling provides this freedom for creative and innovative thought denied in a state education.

You end with a bit of a u-turn. You have gone from wanting to ban home-schooling because in some instances it may be wrong for the wrong reasons to then declaring it an unfair advantage hence implying it is better then state-education. So now home-schooling should be banned because it gives children an unfair advantage and only well educated/rich people can have this luxury.

Home-schooling is certainly not a luxury for the rich and privileged. We need to finance the whole thing, we get no support at all and have to pay for all equipment, sports, activities, exams and trips. We need to make the time available to provide a full-time education. This means we have to economise and scrap-through. It’s quite insulting to be cast in the way you have.

Finally, we spent two-years researching, understanding and talking to people about home-schooling before making the decision with our children in full-support. Our children have a “day at school” once a year to see if they would like to return and each year they have concluded it is not for them.

Look forward to reading your paper…..

I\'d like to point out, as a home educated child, that the biggest reason for home educating in Britain is to give a better education than can be recieved in school. The evidence suggests that home educated children outperform their school peers, so this is clearly a justified reason.

I would argue that state education leads to a more narrow-minded outlook for many children, as they are fed facts by \'experts\' whereas home educated children have to find things out for themselves once their parents\' knowledge ran short. The library and internet offer a much wider range of views than any classroom. I would know - I have been educated in both state-run and private schools, as well as being home educated.

I was homeschooled and wrote the article about it:


In counting above some twenty odd errors to grammar and logic in Eric Mathison\'s \"The case against home-schooling\" and his proposed rebuttal—simply for brevity—this one sentence appears to be the kernel in expression of the base application of the mundane philosophy subsuming his proposed treatment of sacred things—which any family is—the first, being: \"I have strong doubts about the extent that parents should be given free reign to give their children . . . .\".

This sentence, but in context with the remainder of his article and proposed rebuttal, is it unfair to assume Mr. Mathison to be an anti-Christian, and a statist in the most negative sense of the term—as Pres. Kennedy spoke: \"The rights of man come not from the generosity of the State, but from God.\"?

But then also—if Mr. Mathison hails from Canada—for his betterment by example, has Canadian society produced any great orator—ever?

Mr. Mathison concludes that sentence, thus: \". . . . I have doubts that private schools are just.\", and for the clever notion that, a child or, the child\'s birth here or there, is—as elsewhere he propounds—by sheer chance (although he writes: \"pure chance\" when the thing would better as in the form of an adverb: \"purely\". And this, just before this dogmatic, arbitrary and unsupported rule: \"The children of rich parents don\'t deserve that education, . . .\" (And for the spurious notion that, it was by simple chance that, the children were born to wealth.).

As I think, upon the simplest extensions to his redundancies, mis-constructions and tortuous logic and, the \"piled higher and deeper\" use of: \"I\"—thus providing a nice exposure to at least some extent of his self-centeredness—signing himself as \"writer\", the comical appearance of Mr. Mathison\'s article, is naturally enhanced.