Imagine your ideal school environment—an educational system set up entirely for your benefit, in all of the ways that you yourself learn best. You get to pick the subject requirements, the requirements for someone to be a teacher, the classroom sizes, whether there should be standardized tests—everything that is involved with the school system, you get to create, with no compromises. What would this school look like? What would the requirements be?
Now imagine that this ideal school environment was suddenly the law across the land. Do you think everyone would be happy under it?
The obvious answer is no. The math-lover designs a curriculum that is heavy on math, while the fan of Beat poetry works it into every lesson. Some people love the challenge of testing, while others would prefer to have no grades whatsoever. A school system can’t be set up to accommodate every single person’s wishes. You end up with a compromise, with many people’s policy ideas being meshed into a single system—sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
So now we turn to homeschooling, where the environment can be fine-tuned to an individual’s wishes, and where a homeschooling parent can set up what they consider to be the ideal environment for their child.
Imagine your ideal homeschooling environment, either as a homeschooling parent or as a homeschooled child. What are the most important elements to you? Positive parental involvement, allowing children to go at their own pace, a curriculum that is innovative and fosters a love of learning? Whatever it is, these are the reasons you’re homeschooling. There are no limitations placed on you. Isn’t homeschooling the greatest option ever?
Now, imagine that instead of this ideal environment, you are a homeschooled child with no control over these factors. Your parents may not be involved, or may even be abusive. If there are state requirements you’re supposed to be meeting, you have no idea, because no one has ever checked on you. You want to read, but your parents won’t teach you how. You want to learn, but you don’t have the resources to do so. Is homeschooling still a great option for you?
Now, you may be thinking, “That’s BS, there’s no family that homeschools that horribly, or if so, it’s only a tiny minority.” But the truth is, we at CRHE know multiple families that fall into both camps: the fantastic homeschooling families, where learning is prized and the family functions well, and the neglectful or abusive homeschooling families where kids are not taught. We have received testimonials from individuals whose families reflected aspects of both at varying times, where parents were better in states with accountability measures states but slid into neglect when they moved to states without oversight. And while we don’t know how many homeschooled children are currently being abused, we know that that is a number that is greater than zero—and that homeschooled children who are abused are particularly vulnerable because they do not have the same access to mandatory reporters as other children.
There is a great thought experiment by the philosopher John Rawls called “the veil of ignorance”, where he asks the reader to design a world where “no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like.” Without knowing what kind of family or educational environment you would be born into, what oversight or accountability for homeschooling would you want to have in place? What checks and balances would you want to exist? What would you do if you were born into an educationally neglectful and abusive homeschooling family with no outlet, while the law protected your parents’ right to educate you however they saw fit and keep you from those who might notice your plight and step in?
Some homeschool alumni have read our policy recommendations page and become upset at the thought of any homeschool being “fettered” by oversight or accountability. In particular, the requirements for assessment and record-keeping have provoked a consternation from some alumni, often because these are policies that either their parents didn’t do or that they weren’t aware their parents were doing. A common refrain from these alumni is that we are judging their childhoods and their education and finding them lacking. But when we talk to these alumni one-on-one and ask them about their childhoods and education, we inevitably find that their families were actually meeting the basic standards we suggest, and that fulfilling basic accountability requirements would not have been a problem.
We welcome input from homeschool parents and alumni on ways we can improve our policy recommendations to better reflect and support positive experiences while providing effective and flexible accountability. But it should be borne in mind that our policy recommendations are not intended as a critique of healthy, involved parents who are already homeschooling in a child-centric manner. Our policy recommendations are intentionally flexible, to ensure that every family is able to design their ideal homeschool environment. Our recommendations are designed as a safety net to prevent extremes of abuse and neglect that are not part of anyone’s ideal homeschooling environment.
We ask that homeschool alumni with positive experiences to remember that our policy recommendations are not a referendum on their education, and to bear in mind that not every homeschooled child has an experience as positive as theirs. The vast majority of our policy recommendations are either already in place in some state or already practiced by many if not most homeschool parents. We seek not to penalize parents who are homeschooling responsibly but rather to provide a measure of common-sense accountability to protect and support children in abusive or neglectful homeschool environments.
One child’s freedom of education should not come at the cost of other children’s futures.