The Homeschool Debate
By Leah M. Brown
Disillusioned with their public school experiences, many parents contemplate homeschooling. This article discusses the pros and cons of educating your child at home.
The History Of Education
In 1642, a Massachusetts Law was enacted in Colonial America that required parents to see that their children knew the principles of religion, were literate, and were well versed in the capital laws of the commonwealth. The primary motivation for enacting this law was to ensure the masses understood the laws of the new colony. Our early ancestors could not possibly have known that by establishing this law they laid the groundwork for compulsory, formalized education. For the first time, a law was enacted that, in essence, forced parents to educate their children. The Massachusetts Law broadened a child's education from household tasks like making candles and soap, tending to livestock, and knowing the proper way of plowing fields, to grammar, arithmetic, and religion. A few years after the law was enacted, public schools were established and the burden of education was, for the most part, removed from the shoulders of parents and placed on the shoulders of paid educators. It is at this point in our educational history that the debate between home education and public schooling began. It is a debate that has continued for over three hundred and fifty years and continues to this day.
Why School At Home
In Colonial America children were schooled at home out of sheer necessity. Pioneering parents could not afford to lose their children's helping hands around the house. Today the decision to homeschool a child is usually based on far more complex reasons than financial motivations. For some parents, the decision to school their children at home is purely academic. They believe there is a direct correlation between under-funded schools, overworked teachers, and sagging national literacy rates. These parents believe that the student to teacher ratio in most elementary schools is so high that it is impossible for children lagging behind, or those soaring ahead, to get the individualized treatment they deserve and require.
Fear is another motivating factor for homeschooling. The Columbine High School shootings in 1999 drew attention to violence and crime in public schools. Many parents were filled with fear every time their child headed out the door. Some decided the only way to protect their children, and assure they were receiving a good education, was to begin teaching them at home.
Jessica Holmes, the mother of a sixteen-year-old boy, lives twenty miles from Columbine. She says she had been pleased with the education her son received at his public school but did not allow him to enroll the year following the shootings. "Some people think I am being paranoid or that I am overreacting. Frankly, I care more about what my son thinks than what a few friends or acquaintances think. I want him to know that I am not indifferent to his well-being. He is, and has been for sixteen years, my number one priority." Holmes admits that her decision has been long in the making and is not solely based on the Columbine tragedy. She cites several incidents wherein her son was the victim of "petty crimes," including a mugging and the theft of his bike.
Tammy Caron, mother of three homeschooled children and the manager of a comprehensive homeschooling Web site, says many parents share Holmes' feelings. "Violence in schools is a factor in many homeschoolers' decisions in the same way bad language, sexual harassment, and other social ills would be. Homeschooling protects my kids from all of that now and gives them the message that we care deeply about them, we are part of their lives, and we are listening."
Data from a recent White House Executive Summary suggest that fear of being victim to violent crimes in the schools is actually unfounded. The report showed "a decline in school crime and a reduction in the percentage of students carrying weapons to school. At the same time the data indicated a substantial amount of crime, including violent crime, against both students and teachers. The report indicated that students are more fearful at school today than in the past."
Holmes admits, "Chances are my son will never become a victim of school-yard crime, but if he is so fearful that he will become a victim that he isn't able to concentrate, then it is impeding his ability to become educated."