REVIEW OF “AN OVERVIEW OF HOME INSTRUCTION BY PATRICIA M. LINES
By its very definition, an overview purports to provide a general survey of the topic in hand. As such, Patricia Lines provides a very credible and seemingly objective view of the home schooling movement. Because of the nature of an overview there is an inherent problem in my providing a review and critique. It’s almost like asking a student to write a summary of a summary… of a summary. I will therefore direct my attention to a number of assertions made by the author, particulary where I (or others) have had a different experience, to that which seems to “ring true,” or to that which for me seems particularly important and worth commenting upon.
The major (if not only) weakness and criticism of Lines’ article is the lack of opportunity the reader has to verify the assertions made by her or to further investigate some interesting and intriguing aspect of the home school world. It is this orientation to reporting and writing that has put home school advocates at a disadvantage over the years, for it enables the reader to easily put aside claims made by writers as simply being an emotive personal opinion. It seems to me that an “overview” should serve a function similar to that of a literature review in a research proposal: establishment of knowledge bases through supporting and verifiable evidence. Unfortunately, Lines, in writing for a journal such as “Phi Delta Kappan” (with a large
professional teacher, academic, and administrative readership), has not provided adequate means of verification for these often influential readers; these are readers who could perhaps make a difference in the realm of home instruction. Despite my criticism, however, Lines’ assertions generally do seem valid.
It is true that there are many and varied reasons for parents undertaking home schooling. The common denominator for withdrawal of children from school is that there have come into being contentions about public schools; and the ultimate result of such contentions is home schooling. Like Lines, John Naisbitt in “Megatrends” (1982) also noted the “self-help,” “do-it-yourself” attitude of some home school parents, and claimed ;that this phenomenon of independence would be more acceptable and prevalent as the 1980s progressed. But self-help does not completely explain the actions of home schooling families; yes, they are often fiercely independent, they are concerned about morality in schools, about academic standards, and a host of other underlying issues. Such families believe (be it correct or not) that they can do a better job of educating their children. In some cases they do, while in others they probably do not. What Lines does not mention is that there is very meager understanding about the deep underlying reasons why parents school at home, and those efforts to uncover such information have been few and often poorly executed; that is the more reason to provide citations. For those interested in the growth of home schooling understandings, it is important to make available to both the interested public and researchers the most extensive knowledge base possible. Such a base can only grow when writers and researchers are willing to share viewpoints and sources of information.
Lines asserted that the largest growth of home schooling seems to be in the “devout Christian” community. While this may be correct, it is difficult to establish unless the growth of Christian oriented curriculum materials and home schooling “umbrella schools” are an indication. Accelerated Christian Education (which provides curricular materials) and Christian Liberty Academy, for example, have displayed considerable growth in recent years. But I’m not sure that such indicators can reliably pinpoint the growth segment. Evidence is at best only correlational. I would suggest that there may be distinctly different approaches to learning (be it schooling at home) evident in non-Christian families whom (it would seem) may not be as reliant upon prepared curricular materials. In other words, non-Christians (and in particular those with liberal and humanistic perspectives) may not be so interested in utilizing prepared curricular packages, and it may be that there is comparable growth in the less visible non-Christian home schools.
Indeed, based on my personal observations and discussions with Utah parents, Christian home schools tend to display greater rigidity, structure, and replication of public school organization, and tend to use commercial curricular materials. Besides, I wonder whether this just mentioned approach destroys
to some extent the real advantages that home schooling affords such as (a) parent-child involvement in the learning process, (b) freedom of activity, (c) flexibility of time and organization, (d) discovery and experiential learning opportunities for field trips and learning beyond the “classroom,” and (g) individualization, for example.
It is significant that Lines has placed considerable emphasis on cooperation. Not only has she been an advocate of such efforts for considerable time, but her stance is to be commended. Some states are making considerable progress, as she mentioned, although sometimes largely a result of court directed
incentives and penalties. Recently the Utah State Superintendent accepted invitations to speak at home schooling conventions in that state, showing that he has purposely gone about establishing links with the home school community. But such rapport did not simply occur; much groundwork by the leaders of the Utah Home Education Association established a degree of credibility so that a member is even serving on a state educational advisory committee. I believe it behooves the home school community to be more forthright about its actions, outgoing in the establishment of good public relations, and willing to confront the realities of home schooling. In this way the wonderful success stories can legitimately overcompensate for the horrendously pathetic efforts on the part of some parents. Schools (and teachers too) need to make the same sorts of admissions. An important goal that home school networking organizations ought to consider is active encouragement of home school parents in initiating community dialogue about issues and concerns relative to local school authorities so that creative cooperative arrangements can be established between schools and home school parents. Both sides need to actively seek and develop trust.
The confrontations between schools and home school parents, evidenced by litigation, could often have been alleviated if opportunities for non-threatening dialogue had been established between parties. Unfortunately, fear of the unknown motivates people to act in strange and defensive ways. Superintendents and others are particularly fearful of home schooling when they sense it is beyond their realm of experience and understanding; they do not know what goes on behind closed doors. A major way in which parents can assist in propagating “the truth” is to collectively be more open to the scrutiny of bona fide objective researchers. On the other hand, researchers have the responsibility to be impeccable in not only their methodology, but also in the formulation of appropriate research questions that collectively provide more complete understandings of the multiple realities of home schooling. The setting up of a research agenda by groups of interested parties may well be a beginning.
One of the underlying messages of Lines’ overview is that research in home schooling is not only meager, and paltry at best, but it is often fraught with methodological problems. And while Lines is not blatantly revealing in this respect, there is an obvious need for questions to be asked and answers sought
through the implementation of an appropriate research paradigm — be it quantitative or qualitative. There needs to be greater balance. To date, the emphasis has been on establishing quantitative measures of home schools and home school students, which to a great degree deny the multiple realities of the very
human element of this very human involvement of parents in the education of their children.
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