An article on Alternet today bears the ominous title: “An Army of Home-Schooled ‘Christian Soldiers’ On a Mission to ‘Take Back America for God.'” In it, Robert Kunzman discusses some of what he uncovered researching the “Generation Joshua” program for his book on the “world of conservative Christian homeschooling.” Children are quoted calling public schools tools of “the Enemy” and “quite simply humanist churches” out to undermine Christian values. (I guess they’ve never heard of Christian humanists.)
Of course, Jesus Camp probably holds the honor for the most disturbing depiction of anti-science Christian fundamentalist homeschooling: [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DH_wPUVlJ38]
Sure, there are positives to homeschooling. My own mother sometimes wonders if I would have been better off homeschooled, citing the wasted time I frequently spent bored and learning little in the public school system (in what are considered good schools, comparatively). The public education has a lot of flaws No Child Left Behind did nothing to remedy, and homeschooling can look like an appealing way to accelerate your child’s learning, if you can afford the time commitment. In the realm of test scores, homeschooling has its successes and failures, just like public schools–the quality of the teacher is an important factor whether that s/he is a parent or professional.
Yet the larger problem is the impact of parental indoctrination on their children. Already, kids get most of their beliefs from their parents, for good and bad; school is the other major force in their lives, exposing them to diverse viewpoints. Although schools could certainly improve in encouraging students to think for themselves, when the parental and educational influence become one, children lack the experiences through which they could grow to discern the positive and negative in their parents’ beliefs and prejudices. (Whether their parents be evangelical Christians or atheists, liberal or conservative.)
Religion, unsurprisingly, raises the stakes. The Jesus Camp documentary states that a three-fourths of homeschooled children are evangelical Christians; Generation Joshua tells homeschoolers: “America is in a culture war. A few good soldiers can make a difference. Equip yourself and come join the battle!” And, unfortunately, passing the SATs doesn’t say anything about a students’ accurate knowledge of science or history, the areas in which the fundamentalist Christian Nation agenda tends to be weak on.
Sweden might have the right idea: it’s planning on banning homeschooling for “religious or philosophical” reasons, only allowing it in special exceptions, such as medical need. On the other hand, this action has garnered a lot of opposition, mainly from religious groups citing it as inference with protected belief, but also in terms of the inadequacies of the public education system and parental rights (what about children’s rights to a real education?).
In the end, I don’t have a ton of sympathy for homeschooling. There’s such a thing as too much parental control (although an involved parent who helps with homework and provides additional teaching afterschool is a fantastic asset), not to mention the social benefits to attending school with other kids. This doesn’t even take religious completely out of the equation–private and religious schools exist as options (whether that’s a positive or not). The best argument I see for homeschooling is one that not about instilling ideology but simply providing your children with a better education, basically an opt-out route.
However, like private schooling, this removes the people with means and time from wanting to push for stronger universal education, penalizing those left behind who don’t have the time to homeschool or the money to private school.