This post reviews Dawn A. Contreras, “Breaking the Bonds of Isolation: Can Home-Based Education Increase Social Support Levels?” in Journal of Extension 46, no. 2 (April 2008): 13-20.
Contreras, Program Leader at Michigan State University Extension’s Institute for Children, Youth, and Families, here presents the results of a study of the effectiveness of a parent-education program called Building Strong Families, which offers at-home parenting classes to “limited-resource” parents with very young children.
Contreras obtained a sample of 122 limited-income Michigan families with young children. A treatment group received at-home parent education classes and a control group did not. The treatment and control groups were demographically equivalent. Both groups were given a pre-test asking them to rate 18 people or groups as to how helpful they are to the parent (e.g. “my parents,” “my friends,” “my family physician,” “school/day care center”).
The treatment group then received 12 parent education classes, provided by trained persons who themselves had come from a limited-income background. The control group received nothing. The same test was then given again to both groups at the end of treatment. Contreras had hypothesized that parents undergoing the at-home parenting classes would end up feeling more connected to and comfortable with a wide range of social support networks, and this is what her study found.
Contreras concludes that her approach of offering home-based parenting classes delivered by “peer-educators” who understand the client’s situation and serve as positive role models is an effective means of parent education.
I’d like to make two points about this study. First, from a social scientific standpoint this study does not accomplish what its author wants it to. Her experimental model did show that parents receiving the classes expressed more confidence about social support systems than parents who did not. But it did not show that classes delivered at home were better than, say, classes delivered at the University of Michigan, nor did it show that peer educators did a better job than, say, professors with Ph.D.s. To show these things she would have needed to have treatment groups receiving these same classes in other settings delivered by other persons. Nevertheless, on an intuitive level I’m inclined to agree with her belief that new parents with limited income would probably be more open to help given them in the home by people who understand their situation than at some other location by people who don’t.
Second, and more important for the purposes of this blog, this study serves as a good reminder that “home schooling” doesn’t have to mean a mother teaching her own children in the kitchen as an alternative to formal schooling. For centuries the home has been used by private tutors, circuit-riding teachers, clergy, and, as this study reminds us, extension agents and social workers, to offer education to family members, both children and adults. Today’s homes are if anything even more important in the educational ecosystem of most Americans.
Occasionally it might be extreme situations like in Alaska, where, as Terje Ann Hanson’s 2000 dissertation describes, public school teachers still make housecalls, often by plane, to the homes of isolated families, or after the Columbine school shootings of 1999, when six members of the “trenchcoat mafia,” a group with which the shooters had associated and that became a focus of national media attention, were given home-based tutoring by the public school so as to avoid possible recrimination from angry classmates. But more typically the home is the location of so many of the commonplace educational practices in which so many engage–adults taking correspondence or online courses, living room reading circles, “cell groups,” a good documentary or quiz show on television–one could multiply examples. When thought of like this we’re all home schoolers in one way or another.