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Home School Myths and Myth Makers

Separating Wishful Thinking From Evidence Based Reality

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Homeschooling is a fairly recent phenomenon in modern American History, as is the importance of having credentials for employment, either bachelor's degrees or professional certificates. Ironically the two seem to be growing at the same time: as employment more and more depends on obtaining training and the appropriate credential from a credentialing organization, more people feel that rather than work to improve the problems in their schools they will just have fun and do field trips.

Homeschooling has been an acceptable choice, legal in all 50 states, since around 1993. It is true that public education really emerged around 1820, although Connecticut required communities of 50 families to have schools to teach reading, and communities of more than 100 to have Grammar Schools. This was the Code of 1650 (20 years after my folks arrived in Hartford.) Still, we need to remember that most of American Society was agrarian, and besides reading scripture, the only book of importance was the Almanac, to help them plan planting. That is no longer true.

Homeschooling creates the greatest challenges when it comes to children with disabilities. Yes, some states and communities have provisions for receiving services. Iowa permits dual enrollment in both a homeschool program and the public school. Otherwise parents must privately pay for speech language pathology services or occupational therapy services if their insurers will not. Many parents of children with special needs pull their children from public education programs because they are unhappy with either the inclusion or lack of inclusion, the teaching methodology or the difficulties their child may have with the expectations of the public education system. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association actually discourages homeschooling parents from taking government supported services for their children with disabilities. (Sad, huh?)

I am, however, writing this to respond to a link that was made by the homeschooling guide for about.com to a blog I wrote in 2011 Not only did Kathy Ceceri misrepresent my opinion in that blog, in her effort to "bust" some myths, she perpetuated some others.

Myths and Myth Makers

First, we need to clearly define "myth." The popular misunderstanding is that myths are all "false," or something someone believes that is in fact false. It derives its meaning from the stories of gods and goddesses that explain the etiology (or origin) of some natural phenomenon. More recently, it means '(Sociology) "A collective belief that is built up in response to the wishes of the group rather than an analysis off the basis of the wish.",'(American Collegiate Dictionary, 1968) First, I may question whether there really exists the specific belief Kathy posits, and then I will question (with research) the new myths she wishes to have take their place.

Myth #1 Homeschooling is Selfish: Kathy ignores the fact that most states support local schools by providing a per pupil amount for each child enrolled. In that way by withdrawing their children from the local school district, they withdraw that portion of income from their local school. They do not support their local schools. I wonder how their neighbors would feel if they knew their property tax had to go up because the amount of support from the state would not maintain the capital expenses incurred. I'm not sure selfish is the correct word . . . One of the educational sociologist I read discussed the shift from a community understanding to an individualistic understanding of education, which I think is a better way to understand homeschoolers motivation than "selfish."

One person on the school board and one person leading a book club is hardly indicative of the selflessness of homeschooling parents: According to Kids Count, there were something between 1,300,000 and 1,700,000 students being homeschooled at the last census. (Stewart, Neely) Even if there is a mean of three children per family, that means 2 in 450,000 or so families. That's like .0000044444 percent. Not a very good record, do you think?

Myth #2: Homeschooling is Elitist I think homeschooling parents would like us to believe that they are an elite. I think most people just think they are misfits. My son went to an elite boarding school in New England. He goes up for a Red Sox game every year with one of his buddies whose name is on one of the largest investment firms in the world. Poor kid has to drive his sister's ten year old Honda.

What demographics do show (Bauman) is that a large majority of home schooling families are white (non-hispanic) two parent families, where only one parent works. In only 10 percent of homeschooling families do both parents work. This is from the Current Population Survey(CPS) of 2004 which surveyed 24,829 households. A little bit larger than the samples quoted elsewhere in Kathy's "myth busting." It doesn't sound like an elite. It sounds like the Tea Party.

Myth #3: Homeschoolers have an Advantage. I'm surprised, Kathy. This is a myth? Three children in one household don't have a better teacher to student ratio than kids in public schools? I also don't know many people that give the National Spelling Bee a lot of attention. We tend to be kind of busy grading papers or writing IEP's. I also read that homeschooling parents only spend about $2,000 a year per homeschooled child, whereas public schools spend about $9,500 per child. They ignore the fact that the teaching parent, if he or she is actually "qualified" to teach his or her child (A BA, at least?) is giving up at least $40,000 a year in income. Less, of course, in Alabama.

Myth #4: Homeschooled children don't know what the real world is like. I agree with you, Kathy. They are somewhat sheltered. So are many children who attend public schools. Whether homeschooled children are more out of touch with the world or whether some children in general are more out of touch may have to do with parents. Research (Bauman) does, however, show that 33 percent of homeschooling parent name religion as a primary reason for homeschooling, and 9 percent name "morality" as a primary reason. That's 42 percent. Statistically, that is significant. So maybe this isn't a myth.

Myth #5: Homeschooled children don't know how to get along with others. That is a particularly broad generalization, as is the statement Kathy also makes: " It's(socialization) is just not a term used about education outside of educational research-- except when it comes to homeschooling." The link she used was terrifically misleading: it goes to an article about "educational sociology," a specialty very few universities have. There is a lot written about socialization. ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center) gave me 13,653 results for my search using the word "socialization."

The word of the day in education is not socialization, it is "collaboration" as this is considered one of the most important skills for the next generation of jobs, especially in technological jobs. There is no research, however, showing that homeschooled children are better or more poorly adjusted in social situations than "schooled" children.

Per Kathy's statement that homeschoolers are diverse, see Myth #4. Maybe in Connecticut there is diversity, but the largest number of homeschooling families are in the West, in Utah, Texas, Oregon and Washington: in high growth areas (but not boom or bust.) They are white with two parents. (Bauman)

Myth #6: Homeschooling parents are not qualified to teach their children. In some states this is quite literally true: New Jersey has no requirements for the qualifications of parents, and since students don't participate in state high stakes tests, they have no idea if "homeschooled" children are getting any education. (Richardson)

7 states reviewed in the study by Stewart and Neeley have no requirements for being the teacher in a homeschooling home. Homeschooling parents who used to be teachers obviously have an ax to grind, so I certainly wouldn't take their word. Research shows that the teacher is the single most important element in classroom success. In many cases, I'm sure the teaching parent's degree in English or geography means they understand not only the expectations of an academic environment but have good research, reading and numeracy, and I know in many cases when a child gets to material beyond the parents ability, they can enroll in the local junior college or hire a tutor. If it's true that anyone can be a teacher, why didn't you (homeschoolers) keep your kids in public schools?

Myth #7: Homeschool parents want complete control over their children's lives. Beats me. No research here. In my own experience, homeschool parents that I have met lack good social skills themselves and what may seem like control may actually be fear of the unknown. Since we seem to be using anecdotal evidence, mine is as good as Ms. Cereci's.

Myth #8: Homeschooling doesn't provide children with a good education. Kathy sends us to the "National Home Education Research Institute" Their offices are in the parsonage of the Evergreen Presbyterian Church of Salem, a PCA church . . . this is the right wing version of the Presbyterian Church, a splinter group that left the Presbyterian Church USA. On the site, the founder and executive director, "Dr. Brian D. Ray" makes a number of claims but charges $50 to see his bibliography. The articles published on ERIC make all the same sweeping claims Kathy repeats without offering any specifics.

If the demographic makeup of homeschooled children are mostly white children in two parent homes where one of the parents makes enough for the other parent to stay home . . . you have a significantly different demographic, with few low socio-economic students, few minorities. Dr. Ray claims interest is growing among minorities, saying 15% homeschool, but considering that nearly half of the children who are not enrolled in school are not enrolled in the states' homeschool programs, it seems we may be talking about truancy and not homeschooling. Dr. Brian D. Ray claims to be an expert in homeschooling, though his PhD was in science education. He also claims to have been a professor at a junior college and a university. He was an instructor at the first and an assistant professor at the other, meaning he never gained tenure. Guess he never published in his field.

Neither Dr. Ray nor Kathy tells us what standardized tests students perform well on, and what groups (national? State?) homeschooled students were compared to. Since most homeschooled children do not participate in their states' high stakes tests, (Bauman) we don't know how they perform alongside their general education peers. That could be made up, too?

As for the evolution thing, Kathy needs to do her research. She needs to read about Kitzmiller v. the Dover Area School District, and she will see that the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that requiring intelligent design be taught alongside evolution was unconstitutional in 2005. All 8 elected members of the school board were replaced in the November, 2005 election by candidates who opposed teaching intelligent design. Democracy works.

Myth #9: Homeschooling is un-American. More false information. Connecticut required communities to provide reading instruction in the Code of 1650. That was 33 years after the pilgrims left England and 20 years after the Hartford colony of Connecticut was founded. Boston Latin (where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, attended) was founded in 1635. Community schools have a long and illustrious history in America. Certainly diversity is also "American" and I personally get tired of arguing about what is most American. Kathy went to McGill (my niece is getting a PhD in secondary education there. It's in Canada) so I'm kind of puzzled that she has an opinion about what is "American."

Myth #10: Homeschooling is a threat to public schooling. When homeschooling parents expect to withdraw tax money from public schools, or when they expect exemption from other responsibilities of citizenship, they will create problems for public schools. Personally (if I am allowed) I think this is the personal reaction of the author . . . since she doesn't quote any specific sources that claim homeschooling is "a threat."

The biggest threat is the number of children that our permissive public policy on home schooling may actually fall through the cracks. As many as half of all children not enrolled in public schools are also not enrolled either in private (parochial)schools or registered with the state boards of education. ( That these children may show up at our unemployment offices or in our prisons later may create a cost we all will have to bear. Does it undermine the public's commitment to public education? Perhaps. Do people who choose to send their children to public school resent homeschoolers? Probably.

Resources

Bauman, K. (2002) Home Schooling in the United States: trends and Characteristics, in Education Policy Analysis Archives, Volume 10, number 26. Retrieved from ERIC 6/26/2013.
Isenberg, E. (2007) What Have We Learned About Homeschooling? Peabody Journal of Education, Volume 82, pp. 387-409. Retrieved from ERIC 6/26/2013.
Richardson, E. (2013) Homeschooling Laws (or the lack therof) in New Jersey-Are Children Slipping through the Cracks? in The Journal of Law and Education, Winter 2013, Issue 1 pp. 173-181. Retrieved from ERIC 6/26/2013.
Stewart, K.P. and Neeley, R.A (2005) The Impact of Homeschooling Regulatons on Educational Enrollments in the United States, Education, Winter 2004, Vol. 126, pp. 353-363. Retrieved from EBSCO Education Full Text 6/26/2013.

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