Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology suggests that a person should set himself apart from or objectively “bracket” a phenomenon in order to understand it before making a value judgment related to it. This appears to be the approach utilized by Michael Shepherd as he executed his investigation and wrote his dissertation entitled The home schooling movement: An emerging conflict in American education (l986). Shepherd wrote, “By setting aside for the moment the question ‘Which side is right?’ and instead describing what has actually happened, I firmly believe a richer understanding can be gained that will be sorely needed if the controversies the home schooling movement has raised are to be fairly and effectively resolved” (p. 219).
Shepherd carefully worked his way through several topics regarding the home schooling movement: (1) the dilemma today, (2) how/why the movement came about, (3) religious liberty, (4) home schooling in Texas, (5) dimensions of the controversy in the 70s and 80s, (6) home schooling’s future, and (7) whether home schooling is an acceptable alternative to conventional schooling. To begin, he discussed the dilemma today.
In the wake of strong criticisms of the quality of American education, some “…have now begun to experiment with an age-old practice: home schooling” (p. 2). In his first chapter, Shepherd made a point basic to his entire treatise: Home schoolers “…are forcing a redefinition of compulsory education in America” (p. 2). The researcher raised the practical issues of legislation, socialization, questioning professional educators and the significance of teacher certification, loss of funds by school districts, and the question of who should control a child’s education. He then surveyed compulsory education laws from 1852 to 1919 and the laws and home education from 1893 to 1970. Renewed interest in this form of education has rekindled the debate over the rights of the individual/family versus the rights of the state in education, Shepherd observed.
In Chapter 2, the author engaged in theorizing about why and how home education has recently experienced a resurgence. “The social activism of the sixties as well as the social tensions of the seventies and eighties help explain the attraction of parents to home education,” Shepherd began (p. 25). He surveyed the civil rights protest concerning Black Americans, public school busing, feminism and the ERA, the “sexual revolution” and its permissiveness, Vietnam, the narcissism of the 70s, Watergate, economic recession in the 70s, and finally a fundamental
political shift in the 80s with the election of Republican Ronald Reagan and an active “religious right.” During the 60s and 70s, Shepherd observed, social changes were effected and “The schools were viewed by policy makers as agents for social change” (p.33). Many were not satisfied with conventional schools during this era and “free schools,” “community schools,” and “alternative schools” were begun. The New Left spoke of conventional schools and compulsory education as forms of indoctrination and social control. They desired more individual freedom and many desired to “deschool society,” as Ivan Illich called it, in order to disintegrate the class structure of society. ·The New Left, Shepherd explained, delved deeply into experimenting with alternative schools. Many of them were and still are successful today.
The alternative school movement, Shepherd claimed, significantly contributed to the emeregence of home schooling. Alternative schools often used noncertified personnel and created options outside of the main stream of education. They tested the notion that the best education for all occurs within the walls of a 25—student, one— (certified) teacher room. And alternative schooling developed leaders who eventually embraced and advocated home schooling as a valid learning option. “It was natural for alternative schools to accommodate home schooling as one more alternative approach to education” (p. 47). However, most of this “alternative schooling” involved secular educational experimenters and innovators. Other parents have adopted the same educational option for distinctly different reasons Shepherd pointed out. These reasons are often religious. Next, the researcher considered those home schoolers in search of religious liberty. While many alternative school people and secular home schoolers seek greater freedom for students, “…many of the overtly religious parents who instruct their own children do not relish the child’s freedom to explore ideas on his own. Rather, they are more interested in indoctrinating their sons and daughters in truths already known, namely the truths of the Bible…” (p. 59). Shepherd went on to contrast different types of home schoolers. Whereas many during the 60s and 70s sought desegregation of the schools, some religious home schoolers are accused of racism. Whereas some encourage the feminist ideology, many home schoolers “…reject the type of feminism which encourages married women with children to work outside the home…” and believe that having the mother as teacher “…dignifies the traditional female role of housewife by giving mother additional responsibility…” (p. 60). In addition, the religious want their children at home and away from the humanism of the public school, explained Shepherd.
Shepherd then allied Raymond and Dorothy Moore with the religious contingency of home schoolers and devoted considerable space to their teachings regarding early childhood education and home schooling. He also wrote of the benefits given to home schooling by the support of others, whether religious or not, such as John Holt, Gregg Harris, Bill Gothard, and James Dobson.
After reviewing court cases, nonaccredited private schools and their involvement with home schools, and other subjects, Shepherd concluded this section by saying, “Home schooling, then, has been one more form of religious separatism for members of various religious denominations” (p. 86).
Probably due to the fact that he did his study in Texas, Shepherd devoted an entire chapter to home schooling in that state. His main idea was that there was no specific legal provision for home instruction in that state and various local school districts and courts dealt with it in various ways.
The dimensions of the controversy from 1970 to 1984 included, the author explained, criticism of public schools, alienation of parents from those schools, desire for time to explore by children, individualization in instruction, teacher certification, enforcement of compulsory education laws, physical and emotional safety of children, socialization, the difficulties of home education met by parents, education as religious war, and the constitutionality of home schooling, which encompasses the dialectic of individual versus public rights. Shepherd concluded his thoughts on the controversy with the following statement:
“Since academic and social success for students is more important than the means of education, it might be wise as well as less expensive for states to allow parents whose children are progressing well at home to pursue this private alternative of home schooling” (p. 131).
Concerning the future of home schooling, Shepherd included the predictions of Alvin Toffler, author of Future Schock, and John Naisbitt, author of Mecratrends. Home schooling is a part of the trend toward decentralization, high-tech/high-touch, and do-it-yourselfing. The researcher predicted that home schooling will continue on for several years, but it will be limited by the increasing number of divorces and one-parent families and the number of families in which both parents are employed outside of the home. Further, he reasoned that conflicts over home education will “drag on” for several years. Shepherd suggested that perhaps the most reasonable and constitutionally defensible means for states to ensure their interests would be to legislate the use of standardized tests to monitor and control home schoolers.
Finally, Shepherd considered whether home education is an acceptable form of learning for youth. He stated that professional educators, judges, and legislators may oppose it, but they are not likely to be able to stop home schooling. The author suggested that what is perhaps needed is a dedication to good education, wherever it might occur. In conclusion, “…home education could become not only a laboratory for the comparative study of educational methods but also an occasion for examining the way conflicts are resolved in a democratic society” (p. 169).
Michael Shepherd has brought many aspects of the educational issues involved in home schooling into focus. He did his homework well and utilized a large number of primary sources to write this historical/analytical treatise. His emphasis on terms such as individuality, indoctrination, and choice, as related to home schooling, assisted him in maintaining a fairly balanced approach to the issue. Although his historical consideration of the phenomenon did not resolve an issue, it provides valuable information to those who are attempting to do so.
Notes: Michael Shepherd presented himself and his home centered learning interests in Vol. 1 No. 3 (September 1985) of Home School Researcher. A copy of Shepherd’s dissertation may be obtained from University Microfilms, 300 N. Zeeb Rd., Ann Arbor, Michigan 48106. Or, looseleaf copies are available for $20.00 from Michael Shepherd, Ed.D., 728 5. Winnetka Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75208, ph. 214/941—6048.