Review of HOME SCHOOLING: A REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE BY MARY ANNE PITMAN
Mary Anne Pitman (1986) has written the most sweeping review of the literature on home education to date. Since most home school researchers will already be familiar with many of the works cited in the article, I will briefly summarize the content of the review to indicate the comprehensiveness and scope of
Pitman’s review, and then the implications of this article for future home school research will be suggested.
Pitman opens her review with a brief historical overview of the interaction of home and school. Beginning with examples of famous men and women who received at least part of their schooling at home, the history of formal schooling is traced from the home(c)based colonial Dame schools to the consolidation
movement of the 1960s which, in Pitman’s words, made school “a place further and further away [from home]” (p. 11).
After this introduction, Pitman turns to her review of published materials on home schooling. This literature review is broken down into three sections: “advocacy and resource literature,” legal works, and research on home education.
As anyone doing research on home education quickly learns, a great deal more has been written “for• home schooling parents than “about• them. It is not surprising, then, that Pitman reviews the greatest number of works in her “advocacy and resource literature” section. Here, she summarizes the work of John Holt and the Moore’s and then discusses the many catalogues, handbooks, local and regional newsletters, and anecdotal works which are written by and for home schooling families.
Although citing fewer works, the review of published legal analyses of home education is longer and more detailed. Pitman notes early in this section that the tone of these works and the sometimes virulent legal activity itself indicates that “the practice of home schooling has touched a nerve” (p. 13). She argues that the reviews of legislation and court findings often reflect the biases of their authors, citing Zirkel, Whitehead, and Klimes as examples of scholars who selectively chose cases that support their own positions when writing reviews. Following summaries of several key state court cases, Pitman recommends the work of Harris and Fields and of Lines as being the most balanced and accurate.
After a brief summary of historical and philosophical discussions of compulsory education, Pitman moves on to her review of research on home education. In this section, she includes both completed work and work in progress at the time her review was written. She first summarizes the findings of Lindley’s and Kim’s surveys of school administrators (both found administrators to be opposed to home education) and then reports the general findings of Gustavsen’s, Wartes’, and Linden’s demographic surveys of home schooling families.
The emerging data on academics and socialization are then briefly reported. Citing Greene’s data from Alaska’s Centralized Correspondence Study and several secondary sources, Pitman reports that the home schooled “•appear to be scoring above the average level on academic achievement tests. Taylor’s positive findings in his study of the self(c)concept of home schooled children are also noted. Finally, Pitman reports on work-in-progress in several ethnographic case studies being conducted on home schooling families that are taking a closer look at the pedagogy of home educators.
Pitman, herself an ethnographer, closes her review with a recommendation that future home school research focus on the children themselves toward the end of “identify[ing] the complete range of cognitive, social, and motor skills which a home-schooled child exhibits” (p. 19). She also suggests that attention be paid to the issue of how home schools contribute to the state’s interest in an educated citizenry. Finally, she
asserts that home school policy can no longer be grounded on “hearsay, intuition, myth, and anecdote” (p. 19) when the available data do not support restrictions of home education.
This review is comprehensive and well presented. One strength is the inclusion of works that do not specifically address the issue of home education but nonetheless contribute the field. In the advocacy and resource section, for example, she cites lifestyle magazines such as “Mother Earth News• and
“Mothering• as sources of information for parents. Similarly, the historical works cited in the legal section both inform and support home schoolers’ stance on compulsory schooling while not specifically addressing the issue of parents teaching their own children.
The review is also valuable for clarifying how much work remains to be done in the field. The “leanest” section of the review is that on academics and socialization, yet it is precisely these areas that are of greatest concern to policy makers and school officials. Pitman’s review serves to remind us that some of the most intriguing questions about the “outcomes• of home education remain unanswered.
The review also suggest the form that many of those questions should take. For example, Pitman and other authors she reviews distinguish between different “kinds• of parents who teach their children. (Her classifications are “Fundamental Christians, New Agers and the `Harvard bounds'” [p. 12].) The
demographic studies strongly suggest that distinctive ideologies shape the home education of the children from different backgrounds, yet the academic and socialization research reported to date has categorized all home schoolers together and reported only composite findings. The home schooling movement is diverse;
the pedagogy created for Emile (one of the home schoolers mentioned in Pitman’s historical reviews) by Rousseau and that created by the writers of some home school correspondence programs that require children to do little more than fill in workbook pages for several hours each day are worlds apart, yet
current research into the academic achievement and socialization of home schooled children has not yet taken such pedagogical differences into account. We may be missing rich data and important insights into learning and teaching if we overlook the distinctive methods and materials used in many home schools.
Further questions are raised by the review. Of particular curiosity to me is why the information reviewed is not more readily available beyond the circle of home schooling researchers. Apart from the legal analyses, few of the sources cited by Pitman that specifically discuss home education have been published in forms that are readily accessible to policy makers or traditional educators. No data based studies on home education have been reported through academic journals and only a handful of papers on home education have been presented at professional conferences; instead, Pitman found many of her citations in dissertation abstracts and the ERIC system. This dearth of accessible information suggests either that the methodologies employed in the studies are not up to professional standards for publication or that researchers have been slow to disseminate their work. Either explanation points to the need for home school researchers to be more diligent about reporting their findings to those waging the skirmishes over home school policy.
In sum, Pitman’s review offers a comprehensive overview of the literature for those new to the field. To those already involved in research with home schoolers, she suggests direction for further work. The review reminds us that we must continue to inform one another’s research as we formulate new research
questions and the methodologies to answer those questions.
Editor’s note: Jane Van Galen is an Assistant Professor, Foundations of Education, Youngstown State University, Youngstown, Ohio, 44555
Pitman, Mary Anne. (1986). Home schooling: A review of the literature. “Journal of Thought•, “21•(4), 10(c)24.ÞJÞ
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