Understanding homeschoolers: Who are they?

Recently I came across an interesting back-and-forth on the social and other characteristics of homeschooling families.

Robin L. West, a professor at Georgetown University, wrote a journal article titled, “The Harms of Homeschooling” [PDF].  As you might expect, that was not a popular article among the homeschooling community. West claims that homeschooled children are at a higher risk for child abuse, disease, and to put things bluntly, a lousy education.

One person who responded to West was Milton Gaither, a professor at Messiah College. Gaither, who has studied homeschooling himself, wrote a response to West on his personal website, which in turn inspired a number of comments from readers.

Homeschooling still retains a bit of a “freak show” reputation in a few quarters. And I suppose that among homeschooling parents, as you’d find in any subset of the population, you or I will find people very different from ourselves–people we’d rather not simulate or live next door to or whatever.

A self-described secular, progressive homeschooling mother replied, on Gaither’s blog, to West’s characterization of homeschoolers:

It’s not very compelling to read, over and over again, the words of people outside the homeschooling community who reluctantly concede that, well, sure, I suppose legally we have to let them homeschool, but they’re a little creepy, those people who like spending all day with their kids, so let’s just write some laws to keep an eye on ‘em.

If you’d like an introduction to the cultural controversies surrounding homeschooling, the two items I’ve linked to might be a good place to start. One lesson from observing this debate may be that “education” is often not about whether or not children understand logic, how to do math, or know key facts, but whether they are spending their time in ways that are approved by the powerful.

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