Homeschooling and the Double Standard

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Ms. York is a professional writer and lives in Orlando, Florida. She graduated from New College, the Florida State honors college, and was homeschooled almost exclusively from second grade through twelfth.

After the Columbine massacre, no one questioned the fact that a public school can turn into a hostile, deadly environment. But no one, or at least very few, asked the important question that should follow: Are public schools inherently deadly? Such a question demands tomes of academic analysis, years of carefully planned research, and probably millions of dollars worth of study. Yet, no one has asked the question at all; instead, the debate has centered on how to make public schools safer, not on whether they are fundamentally dangerous places.

But a double standard is being applied to homeschooling. When Andrea Pia Yates killed all five of her children by drowning them in Houston, Texas, a vocal group of homeschool critics not just raised the question of whether homeschooling children is deadly, they assumed that the very case itself was proof that it is.

The argument is based on the concept that teaching a bunch of kids at home is far too stressful for anybody, and that it creates an unnatural psychological toll that at some point may break the parents or the children. Unfortunately, this argument is also radically leftist, assuming that the majority of homeschoolers are fundamentalist Christians whose sole aim is to isolate and indoctrinate their children.

Is their argument sound? Is it based on facts? It is worthwhile to look at the history of homeschooling, perhaps, to find answers.

Historically speaking, there is only one"homeschool" movement, and it is a comparatively recent phenomenon. The homeschool movement as it is understood today - parents pulling children out of public or private schools, to be taught at home - began in the early 1970s, and can be broadly traced to the publication of John Holt's book, Freedom and Beyond, in 1972. Homeschooling has been hotly contested by professional educators and fought for by grassroots activists on a state by state basis ever since, and it was not even until the late 1980s that the first crop of homeschooled high school graduates went on to college.

The homeschool movement, according to statistics, includes at least 350,000 families in all 50 states of the U.S. and ranges in style across the board from fundamentalist Christians to liberal atheists. Unfortunately, the statistics are by nature flawed: few states have methods in place for accurately recording how many children are currently homeschooled (and those that do rarely ask what the political and religious persuasions are of the homeschool parents), and many families never report their activities to any official body for fear of truancy reports or state intervention.

However, the act of schooling a child at home (as apart from the"homeschool movement") is an ancient tradition. Given that public education in the formal sense is a relatively recent phenomenon of the last 200 years, not gaining wide acceptance even until the mid to late 1800s, it must be concluded that homeschooling and private schools were the de facto options for parents wishing to educate their children during the majority of the history of the U.S.

This being the case, homeschool should have a long history of violence, or of peace. This is not a question I believe anyone is prepared to answer, as no one (to my knowledge) has conducted a legitimate, scientific inquiry into whether families that schooled children at home prior to 1970 have a higher murder and/or suicide rate. Theoretically it would be difficult to prove, but proper study of newspaper and death records of rural areas (where homeschooling was more prevalent in the last two centuries) might shed some light into the subject. In fact, a similar study confined to the modern era would prove useful as well.

Homeschool activists have gathered quite a bit of circumstantial evidence in their efforts to prove that homeschooling is a natural, healthy method of education. Many leaders of the homeschool movement, both liberal and conservative, point to Thomas Edison, whose mother finally removed him from formal schooling when he was 12, after years of contentious debate with both her son and the school master. Other homeschool luminaries include Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Margaret Mead, Mark Twain, Pearl Buck, and Albert Einstein. The list goes on, but the point is many successful people were homeschooled. Were they exceptions, though? Does homeschool, as critics suggest, critically remove children from proper socialization and burden the parents with overwhelming emotional duress?

In the end, both public schools and home schools can be considered dangerous, deadly environments; both can also be seen as positive and encouraging sources of education for today's youth. The questions asked of either should be applied equally to both, whether it is how to make each environment safer, or if one or the other is unredeemably lethal.

In the case of Yates, it is quite probable that the stress of dealing with all five of her children all day, every day was a factor in their deaths. Yet the historical data, as incomplete and circumstantial as it obviously is, points to the fact that millions of families over the last 600 years have homeschooled their children without resorting to lethal recourse. It is far more likely that homeschooling was simply another factor in Yates's life, along with post partum depression and mental instability, that led to her allegedly committing the murder of all five of her children.

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Patrick Fagan - 8/26/2001

On the face of it, trying to show a correlation between homeschooling and murder does seem rather inane. Highschool teachers have many more than the five students the murderous mother had. If such a correlation is plausible, it seems that more highschool teachers would be committing violent crime upon their students. The unfit mother in this case probably would have snapped sooner or later regardless had her children been in traditional schooling. Any person who carries out such a heinous act is already mentally troubled, and the fact that her children were being homeschooled is probably coincidence.