In this final entry I will finish out my review of the anthology AT ISSUE: HOMESCHOOLING, summarizing chapters 7-13 much more briefly than in previous entries.
7. Physician Blythe Brown tells his personal story of how great homeschooling has been for his family.
8. Dawn C. Pitsch follows with a more cautionary piece about the underside of homeschooling, especially with older children, in an article originally titled “I was a Homeschool Dropout.”
9. Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff, one of the most colorful figures in the recent history of homeschooling given her personal journey from very conservative “Titus 2” woman to radical feminist (and the Gentle Spirit controversy that led to a lawsuit involving some of the most prominent names in homeschooling. I tell the whole story in my book), offers here a feminist vision of homeschooling as woman-centered and anti-patriarchal practice.
10. Journalist Andrea Neal relates several success stories of homeschoolers who have won scholarships, contests, and the like, generalizing from these successes that homeschooling’s flexibility gives it an edge over traditional schooling. Much of Neal’s piece (originally published in the Saturday Evening Post) is based on information given her by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), so it is not surprising to see an uncritical acceptance of the Rudner study and an exclusive focus on the most positive anecdotes.
11. Brian D. Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), which has for many years been releasing research trumpeting the benefits of homeschooling and has drawn much criticism for being thinly disguised advocacy funded by HSLDA, here reproduces the piece he wrote for the Journal of College Admission in 2004 (again, the publishers decided not to include the references). In short, Ray finds that “in study after study” homeschooled students excel academically and socially and are more than ready for college. He also summarizes research showing that colleges embrace homeschoolers and offers suggestions to college admissions officers regarding appropriate policies for homeschooled applicants.
I should note that the original context of this piece was a special issue of the Journal of College Admission devoted to homeschooling. While Ray’s piece was perhaps the most rosy, the articles that surrounded it were also quite positive about homeschoolers’ performance in institutions of higher education.
12. As a corrective to Neal and Ray, the next chapter by Dennis J. Willard and Doug Oplinger argues that, as the original title puts it, “Claims of Academic Success Rely on Anecdotes, Flawed Data Analysis” (originally published in 2004 in the Akron Beacon Journal). The authors especially single out the Rudner study and note its misapplication by scores of journalists, most of whom never bothered to read the original. Rudner himself is quoted as being miffed that his study has been misrepresented by HSLDA and the mainstream press. The authors also note that SAT and ACT data is likewise nonrepresentative, since only a small slice of the homeschooling population seems to be taking these tests (and those who do are almost always white and middle-class, so it is misguided to compare their results to the national average). Finally, they critique Ray’s study of college attendance and find it methodologically flawed. In conclusion, the authors say they “interviewed nine researchers whose studies on home schooling are most often quoted…. They agreed: There is no statistical evidence that children who are kept at home to be educated perform at a much higher level than public school students.”
13. Finally, a team of authors writing for The Futurist in 2005 argue that homeschooling is one of the up-and-coming trends that portend the future of education. The authors foresee an increasingly stratified United States, where the successful utilize technology to sequester themselves from the poor who increasingly will become a sort of underclass serving as manual laborers for the technically-savvy creative types. The authors envision a future (which they place in 2014) where “homeschooling…has become a status symbol,” among well-to-do mothers who want to free their kids from the numbing emphasis on tests. In the hypothetical future, “Homeschooled children are well rounded and have refined interests; public school graduates have been stifled and processed through an impersonal and degrading system.” The authors go on to predict yet further social stratification based on educational attainment but hold out hope for an eventual reinvention of public education such that it becomes more responsive to real human needs and hence will eventually help deconstruct the caste system that is fast becoming a reality.
As with most futurist hypotheticals, this last chapter reads a bit like a piece of dystopian science fiction, with just enough verisimilitude to make their predictions sound plausible. These are not the first authors to see in homeschooling something more than a reactionary rejection of pluralism by disgruntled conservatives. While it may be a bit of an overstatement to see homeschooling as the future of elite education, others have noted trends in this direction.
To wrap up this overly long review of the At Issue anthology, I would recommend it as a good starter volume for someone not very conversant with the various claims made for and against homeschooling, but for anyone wishing to do serious study it would be much better to go back to the original sources from which these selections are taken. The selections are judiciously chosen and do offer a comprehensive range of voices on the topic, so in that regard I’d say that the book does what it intended to do.