Does Homeschooling Offer Hope for America?

Barb Wire

Reader, beware.

A friend asked me to read the recent New American article on home education, “Homeschooling Offers Hope“. He wanted my feedback since I have investigated homeschooling issues for several years.

And I bring bad news.

But first off: I homeschool my child. I have been around homeschooling families for twenty years. My church is full of homeschooling families. I have supported my local homeschooling organization.

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So I have no prejudice against homeschoolers.

Now the bad news. The facts about homeschooling are not the gleeful proclamations found in the mouths of so many leaders and groups.

For instance, the New American article rightly notes that the question of academic superiority has been studied by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Education Research Institute (NERI). But the article never mentions what Dr. Ray wrote about his own 2010 study:

“In other words, the design of most research to date does not allow for the conclusion that homeschooling necessarily causes higher academic achievement than does public (or private institutional schooling)…research to date may not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the practice of homeschooling and many positive attributes associated with homeschooling, but the research does allow for the possibility…”

These caveats have been made by Dr. Ray before:

“The design of most research to date does not allow for the conclusion that homeschooling necessarily causes higher academic achievement or better social and emotional development than does public (or private) institutional schooling” (“The Evidence is So Positive“).

In other words, these studies are not random. They are self-selecting studies. This does not make them useless, but it is a far cry from the claims offered by this article.

As I have found out first-hand, the temptation is strong to bury these quotes. It seems some conservative leaders do not care about these inconvenient facts.

But we should care because truth matters. We are not liberals who turn everything into a game of pragmatism.

We should care because falsehoods hurt. They hurt families. Just read the investigative reports like the one from American Prospect. When families are told (explicitly or implicitly) that homeschooling as such creates academic prowess, they are just setting up their children for failure.

Not to pick on the New American article, I will point out that the rest of it was helpful. They listed and detailed several homeschooling groups that offer curriculums or virtual academies. These are good things.

But the article ended on a near-triumphant note:

“What better way to preserve and propagate the heritage of freedom than homeschooling?…Homeschooling can be an ideal way to do this, and as homeschooling continues to grow, America could see an entire generation of students grow up to be a vanguard for liberty…”

I write near-triumphant because the positive note struck by this article pales in comparison to the rhetoric in parts of the homeschooling world. Consider:

“I believe that home education is producing, and will produce, the future leaders of our culture. I believe that you will lead America into decades of revival and national reformation. If you don’t, there is little hope for our country. A lot depends on you” (Rick Boyer, Take Back the Land).

“They are fighting for freedom…homeschoolers are on the forefront of the battle to restore family, faith and freedom in the 21st century” (Generations Radio, 2014).

But these claims are not backed up by the previously mentioned studies.

The Nehemiah Institute (a worldview assessment center) has a worldview test that, although certainly far from perfect, suggests that homeschoolers are sub-par. A 2011 large-scale, longitudinal  study of high school graduates, the Cardus Education Survey, suggests average to less-than-average results academically.

Does this mean homeschoolers are sub-par overall? Probably not. The Cardus study was random and long-term, but it was a small size. And I know smart homeschoolers.

But smarts will not save America. What of personal and social strength?

Digging into the 2011 Cardus study reveals data that are so contrary to conservative hype that to even quote them is to court social ostracization. But I am used to that.

The Cardus study of 2011 details social and personal lives of religious homeschoolers. Their practices of prayer and Bible reading were similar to other groups, but their tithing was less. Homeschoolers seem to have higher rates of helpless feelings in dealing with difficulties of life; they lack clear goals and direction; they get married at younger ages; they get more divorces than their private school peers.

But there is more.

The new Cardus study of 2015 paints a similar picture. (For the more suspicious of my readers, Cardus is pro-homeschooling).

Academics and social prowess are not sufficient to save America. Spiritual maturity in Christ is much more important.

But the statistics (a sad experience of many) show widespread Biblical illiteracy and theological error among Christians. A smaller Barna poll suggests weak spirituality among homeschoolers as well. Most denied that Satan exists and half think good works can obtain salvation. Only 15% were Evangelical.

A massive Pew Forum poll showed  57% of Evangelicals deny that Christ is the only way to heaven. Is there any reason to think homeschoolers are not represented by this poll?

Academically, socially and spiritually, homeschooling is not the white knight, ready to rescue America.

Nevertheless, the homeschooling movement is a good thing. But it is a relative hope that should not be hyped. Academically, we need high standards. Socially, we need strong families. And spiritually, our hope is in the power of Christ to save souls. And Americans need that hope.

[For more on the statistics, history and current state of homeschooling, please read Uniting Church and Family, Kindle. More at my blog]

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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