This is the first of a series of articles I am writing in response to the NPR 1A podcast episode “How should we regulate homeschooling?” which originally aired on Jan. 2, 2020. The discussion revolved around many of the common issues people have with homeschooling. The host spoke with Jerusha Lofland, a mother who had suggested the topic, Brian Ray, who conducts research studies on homeschooling, and Samantha Field from the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. You can listen to the full podcast here:
While the discussion did highlight some of the positive aspects of homeschooling, the overall tone was rather negative toward children being educated outside of traditional school buildings. Brian Ray was the only proponent of the benefit of letting parents decide what is best for their children; however, doubt was cast on his research conclusions because of self-selection bias in his population. Both of the women in the interview had experienced abusive, Christian fundamentalist homeschooling as children and therefore, favored stricter oversight of home education.
Why did NPR not include a secular homeschooling parent? Despite occasionally throwing in platitudes that homeschooling looks different for every family, both of the female guests on the show implied that the vast majority of home educating families are religious fanatics who use “cult curriculum”. That just does not hold true anymore, if it ever did!
As mentioned in the podcast, data on homeschooling is difficult to come by. The most recent data I could find on the reasons why people homeschool was from the National Center for Education Statistics using data from 2012. On page 12 of the report, a table shows the “reasons parents gave as important and most important for homeschooling.” The top most important reason for homeschooling was “a concern about the environment of other schools,such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure” at 25%. Second place went to “other reasons”, which “include family time, finances, travel, and distance” at 21%. The third most important reason parents gave was “a dissatisfaction with the academic instruction at other schools” at 19%. Only in fourth place, at 17%, were the parents who homeschool because of “a desire to provide religious instruction.”
An atheist living in the United States, I am very aware of the fact that religious people are not shy about spouting their beliefs as the reason for everything they do. So, if only 17% of the respondents in that study chose religion as the most important reason for homeschooling, then the stereotype of the fundamentalist Christians shielding their children from society by homeschooling just isn’t valid.
There are over 36,000 members in the main Facebook group of Secular, Eclectic, Academic (SEA) Homeschoolers, an organization that promotes what its name spells out – non-religious, diverse resources to provide a thorough education to children in their own homes. Surely, NPR could have talked to one of these parents to provide a more complete picture of modern-day homeschooling.
In my next articles, I am going to dive into some of the regulations that were suggested during the podcast conversation.