Yesterday I received an email from Dr. Robert Kunzman, a professor at Indiana University who has written widely on topics related to moral and religious education in public schools and is currently working on a book on homeschooling. After saying many kind and flattering things about my book he gently alerted me to an error it contains. I’d like here to make this error public and explain how I made the mistake I did. I know that there are many graduate students and others interested in research reading this blog, and hopefully my lapse here will serve as a lesson for others.
The problem passage occurs on p. 198. On this page I’m explaining how homeschooling has increasingly been seen by the American public as an acceptable educational alternative. To illustrate, I say this:
A 1985 Gallup poll found that 70 percent of Americans thought homeschooling should not be legal. A decade later, however, Gallup found that 70 percent of Americans believed homeschooling to be a valid educational alternative.
Dr. Kunzman, intrigued by this, did what any good researcher would and went to the source: the Gallup data itself, which is easily and freely available on the website maintained by the Phi Delta Kappan. He provided me with this quotation from the 2001 Gallup poll:
In 1985 respondents were asked whether home schooling was a good or a bad thing for the nation. Only 16% said it was a good thing. That percentage has increased each subsequent time the question has been asked, rising to 28% in 1988, 36% in 1997, and 41% this year.
Kunzman asked me to explain how I arrived at my figures. So I looked at my footnote and knew instantly what I had done.
My source for this data was HSLDA lawyer Chris Klicka’s 2006 book Home School Heroes: The Struggle and Triumph of Home Schooling in America, published by B & H Press. The book is Klicka’s first-person account of the history of the homeschooling movement, with heavy stress placed on the role of HSLDA, written in a pious tone that interprets the movement’s success as a miraculous work of Divine blessing. Over the course of my own research I found many factual errors in Klicka’s account–names of court cases, dates, number of judges, and so on. In a conversation I had with Christian homeschool leader Gregg Harris I learned of more mistakes Klicka had made, and Harris himself expressed to me frustration that Klicka’s book was so sloppy on the details. Given all of this, I ought to have had my suspicions when I read Klicka say:
When I began working at HSLDA in 1985, a Gallup poll came out showing that 70 percent of Americans were of the opinion that homeschooling should not be legal. Thankfully a Gallup poll taken in the late 1990s discovered the opposite was now true: 70 percent of Americans now believed that homeschooling was a valid educational alternative. (p.45)
Rather than go to the source, I simply made note of Klicka’s figures and used them myself when I got to that section in my book. If I had taken 2 or 3 minutes to check these figures online I would have quickly and easily found them here and would have spared myself this embarrassing gaffe.
The general point that homeschooling has gradually become more socially acceptable stands, but the change is nowhere near as dramatic as Klicka, and, regrettably, I suggested. Many thanks to Dr. Kunzman for alerting me to this error.