The topic of school choice is often discussed on libertarian websites, such as Reason and the Cato Institute. Although much of the discussion centers on public, private, and charter schools, homeschooling is also part of school choice and has become a more mainstream option than before.
COVID lockdowns have ignited the debate over homeschooling, with some comparing it with online schooling. Articles on mainstream media sites, such as Today, USA Today, and The Atlantic, discuss the difficulty of homeschooling during the lockdowns. There is evidence that the lockdowns resulted in learning loss for many in the US and around the world. Yet the utter failure of schools move to online teaching during the pandemic lockdowns and the loss of learning, along with the unhappiness of students, should not be used to argue against homeschooling.
Online government-supported public schools or online private regimented schools are not homeschooling. In the case of public schools, online schooling is actually the worst of government interference combined with a lack of the best aspects of public schools (i.e. the libraries, interaction with peers, and hands-on activities, such as those in science classes). People gave the government a look into their homes but got only subpar teaching in exchange. This resulted in ridiculous situations during the pandemic, such as a student being suspended for having a BB gun in his room, as if he had taken it into the classroom. There were also reports of students having to be dressed in school uniforms, and other strict dress code enforcements, while teachers were calling for a relaxing of the dress code for themselves, even upon return to the classroom. So, teachers were casually dressed in pajama pants on Zoom, but students were getting suspended for not wearing their uniforms.
People gave the government a look into their homes but got only subpar teaching in exchange.
For many, homeschooling brings to mind religious parents who want to shield their children from sex education or evolution lessons; and there is some truth to this narrative. Thus, the argument against homeschooling has sometimes emphasized the indoctrination of young people and their consequently being unprepared for the “real” world, or college. Yet studies have shown that homeschooled students actually fare better in college than students from public schools. Concerns about indoctrination into religious beliefs are often brought up, but this same concern could be voiced about religious private schools.
Meanwhile, indoctrination at public schools seems to have gotten a largely free pass. At the Stanford Academic Freedom Conference, a two-day conference focused on discussing and looking for solutions to the current attack on academic freedom, free speech, and open inquiry on university campuses, Steven Pinker, a Harvard evolutionary psychology professor, commented that there’s hope for a rational future that would embrace individual freedoms and open inquiry, because new babies are born every day. Wisely, Amy Wax, a professor of law at University of Pennsylvania who is facing the possibility of being terminated from her tenured post for her perspective on the importance of Western culture’s position on individual rights rather than the race-based rights that social justice activists seek, pointed out that most children are being indoctrinated for at least 13 years, starting in kindergarten. The danger of indoctrination is that it prevents people from thinking on their own.
Schools staffed by teachers educated mainly in public universities that have been hijacked by social justice warriors practice indoctrination on a number of topics, such as critical race theory and nonbinary gender promotion; and they emphasize group membership rather than individuality. Posters in school hallways proclaim, “If your parents aren’t accepting of your identity I’m your mom now” — meaning that the institution is the “mom” who decides on the student’s “identity.” In California, schools’ new ethnic studies requirement works to revive old “noble savage” tropes by placing “high value on pre-Colonial ancestral knowledge” and misinforming students to believe that Native Americans were environmental stewards. Activism, such as climate strikes, when promoted through schools, forces students to accept a narrative that they may still have questions about, rather than teaching the science of the topic — preventing them from understanding the difference between activism and research.
Even though religious parents make up a large number of homeschooling parents, there are many reasons families decide to try homeschooling. Safety and bullying concerns are a major reason for parents to bring their kids home. Poor school choices are another. Still other families focus on the success of their own ethnic group, which is perhaps why homeschooling has grown fivefold in black families. A growing number of families are taking their children out of schools to prevent indoctrination. Regardless of the reason, homeschooling should remain a choice for American families.
Studies have shown that homeschooled students actually fare better in college than students from public schools.
My family’s experience with homeschooling started in 1975, when my father, David, a solider in the Army, was stationed in Turkey, and the rest of the family — my mother, Gisela, and my three siblings — joined him. My brother Chris was around ten, but the English language school had no openings for new students at the time. Thus, my mother (since my father was on base except for weekends) homeschooled him for about a year, using the Calvert curriculum. When he was tested for placement upon returning to an American school, he was able to skip a year. This demonstrated to my parents the power of learning at home.
As an aside, my parents were open to homeschooling options because Gisela grew up with a father who thought one could learn as much away from school — in the movies, on a nature walk, or reading — as one could in school, and sometimes suggested she take a day away from the classroom.
A few years later, my own homeschooling experience began. When my family and I lived in McLean, Virginia, I was homeschooled during my 3rd and 4th grades. I continued to stay at home when we moved to Jonesboro, Georgia for my 5th grade, and again in 8th grade. To be clear, my parents never discouraged us from going to school, and none of us had academic or social problems in school. Even during our homeschooling times, we maintained active social lives with neighborhood friends, music lessons, dance lessons, volunteer work, and camp. My siblings and I stayed at home because, right then, we preferred to be there. Then, during our high school years, we decided to go back to school, which was never seen as an indicator of failed homeschooling but just — once again — a preference.
My homeschooling was more like no schooling. My parents’ view was that to try to mimic the school environment and lesson content — although our learning was supplemented with Calvert and John Holt materials — was counter to the ethos of homeschooling. Their main goal was to instill a love of learning that extended beyond school walls. They did this so successfully that two of my siblings and I are professors. When some people argue on social media that parents don’t know enough to teach their kids, they miss the point of education. The teacher doesn’t need to know everything, but he should create an environment in which the student can go beyond the teacher and learn on his own.
We didn’t have specific hours to study or work, and yet we didn’t have any difficulty adjusting upon our reentering the school system. We didn’t have to get dressed for “class”; many days were spent in pajamas. This is a habit that I have retained (as I write this in my flannel pajamas), but I would also never dream of going to the airport in pajamas and slippers. Some people have called this relaxed version of homeschooling, unschooling. This form of schooling integrates one’s everyday life with one’s intellectual endeavors, which is why I have my professional and intellectual gear around me in the photo above, taken at home — skulls ranging from modern humans to early Australopithecines on the table next to me, skulls of nonhuman animals above me, and the inspirational photo of anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey hanging on the wall.
For us, homeschooling focused on reading, writing, and arithmetic (which was my dad’s duty). My parents encouraged reading, reading, and more reading. We often went to the library for stacks of books; and I read on topics from natural science to ancient history, from modern biographies to fiction and poetry. Books are still the most frequently given gift in my family — just this Christmas I received half a dozen of them. When I reentered school the first time after three years at home, one of my teachers did not believe the number of books I was into for the Reading Rainbow Book It! Program (which resulted in coupons for free pizza from Pizza Hut). She asked if I could get a letter from my parents providing confirmation.
We were also encouraged to write letters to relatives and penpals — an activity that I kept up for many years. After we left Virginia, I wrote to my piano teacher William Holden for over a dozen years, until he passed away. We wrote essays on topics that were of interest to us; I recall that one of my first essays was on the lifecycle of frogs. The essays were then read by my parents and corrected with us by their sides. I don’t remember any time when these sessions led to tears or hurt feelings. We all developed a genuine love of learning, reading, and writing!
Memory activities were also a part of our education. Memory learning is often looked down upon now, but remembering things helps one figure out new and more complex matters without constantly starting from scratch. There were also days when we would watch a movie, go to the mall or the Army base, or even just relax at home. None of this seemed to concern my parents; as relatives fretted about our absence from school, my parents saw our progress, knew our talents, and accurately concluded that we were going to be just fine.
Most parents want what is best for their kids in a way that teachers and school administrators cannot match.
I think that most importantly, however, homeschooling allowed us to explore our interests, learn in our own ways, and engage in the world without a one-size-fits-all approach. One-size-fits-all rarely fits all and often punishes those who are at the extremes. For instance, when I returned to the classroom I found I was often finished with the lesson plan ahead of my classmates. As I loved to write I could use the time to write letters to Gisela, whom I would be seeing upon my arrival home. For other people this might have meant a time of boredom and thus an increased likelihood of getting into trouble. Another possible activity for me was to read, but certain teachers felt that reading ahead would put me off track with the rest of the class. In my family, although three of us became professors, we are all in different fields, have different interests, and different approaches to life. We’ve been able to succeed because of the freedoms we were allowed growing up.
In the cases I know where homeschooling has failed and the student wants to reenter school even before the academic year is up, or the parent is exhausted from the experience, the parents tried too hard to recreate a classroom environment — a specific room for learning, a blackboard, specific hours, and sometimes even calling the parent “Mrs. So-and-So.” The wonder of homeschooling was lost; a curriculum was strictly adhered to, but there wasn’t even the joy of engaging with other students to complain about the teacher! While acknowledging these and other failures, homeschooling needs to be nurtured as a choice for parents — after all, most parents want what is best for their kids in a way that teachers and school administrators cannot match.
This is not to say that I am against conventional schools. I attended public schools in Indianapolis, Indiana for kindergarten, McLean, Virginia for 1st and 2nd grade; Jonesboro, Georgia for 6th and 7th grade; Nuremberg, Germany (a Department of Defense Dependent School) for 9th grade; San Francisco, California for 10th to 12th grade; and a semester in Cordoba, Argentina during my 11th grade year. In each of these places, I had some good and occasionally excellent teachers, and some not-so-good teachers. I am grateful for all my education experiences, but I think that homeschooling provided me with something that many who have only attended schools, especially government-run ones, could not — protection from government propaganda and indoctrination. The all-important ability to think beyond that, to think critically, was evident to me even in my first year at the University of California, Santa Cruz, when I questioned why we can translate German words, remove the umlaut (e.g., ä, ü, or ö) in German names, and change the eszett (ß) to two esses, but there was a political hesitancy to take any of these measures for the Spanish accent (e.g., é) or tilde (ñ). Likely I wasn’t popular with the more politically correct students in that literature class! But I’m not hurt by the cancel culture mob that has tried to paint me as a racist, which has led to a cascade of events, including the attempt to ban my book, deplatform my Society for American Archaeology talk, and remove me from research materials. I am thankful for this strength, which came in part from my homeschooling years. Homeschooling is not just schooling at home; it is the ultimate way to free your child from indoctrination and social pressure.