THE EFFECT OF HOME SCHOOLING ON THE LEADERSHIP SKILLS OF HOME SCHOOLED STUDENTS
If what the world needed in the sixties seemed to be “love, more love,” what many clearly believe it needs in the eighties and beyond is leadership, more leadership. Marano (1985), Assistant Director of Student Activities for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, declares that “one of the greatest needs of our nation is good, honest leadership” (p. 1). However, the “outlook for better leadership in our leadership-poor society is not encouraging” declares Greenleaf (1977, p. 4). In a similar tone, Stott (1985), British theologian and director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, writes:
Many people today are warning us that the world is heading for disaster, but few are offering advice on how to avert it. Technical know-how abounds, but wisdom is in short supply. People feel confused, bewildered, alienated. We are like “sheep without a shepherd”–and our leaders often appear as “blind leaders of the blind.”
There is a great need for clear-sighted, courageous, and dedicated leaders in the home, the church, the community (p. 24).
Increasingly, educational leaders at both the higher and secondary education levels are beginning to pay attention to this issue of leadership, to the things that are happening or not happening in our schools and on our campuses that nurture and develop students’ potential leadership skills and increase the likelihood of adult leadership. Spitzberg (1987), director of the Association of American Colleges’ Council for Liberal Learning, observed that as of 1987 between “500 and 600 campuses are paying attention to developing their students as leaders” (p. 24), and that such development “is an important personal and social goal” (p. 28).
A review of the literature on leadership highlights two primary links between the potential for leadership in any given child and the realization of that leadership in adulthood. Those links are (1) family environment and experiences during childhood, and (2) family environment coupled with school experiences during adolescence. Pace (1987, p. 3) asserts that the number one issue for an agenda that promotes the scholarly study of leadership is “the link between family and leadership,” and while leadership is learned, not inherited genetically,
much of what the potential leader brings to eventual leadership is learned from his or her family exposure. In the family environment are the values of leadership. I am convinced of this fact though I have no scholarship on which to rest my case (p. 3).
In fact, there is considerable scholarly research on which to rest his case.
Bass (1960), one of the country’s most prolific writers on leadership and the leadership research, summarized his own and numerous other studies. In addressing the question of what research tells us about the development of and the transfer of leadership skill, Bass delineated the significance of childhood and adolescent experiences. Childhood experiences center on the family and family relationships; adolescent experiences on the family and school. Citing studies by Wittenber, Piaget, Burgess and Contrell, Meerlo, and others, Bass found that “the individual relives his primary family group experiences in any other group to which he belongs” (p. 192), and in summarizing the relevant studies, he concluded,
Thus, the future leaders (ignoring situational considerations) are likely to come from homes where they have been given opportunities to practice problem-solving, particularly interaction problem-solving; from homes where they have been stimulated and not left to their own devices; from homes where they have been treated as a function of their level of maturity rather than babied or pushed too rapidly; from organized harmonious homes emphasizing positive incentives. (p. 198)
If Bennis is correct in concluding that “the ability to lead is a skill that can be taught to–or at least learned by–everyone” (cited in Boucher, 1985, p. 50), then a logical corollary is that a healthy family environment during childhood is the first phase in the development of a child’s leadership potential. The second phase, adolescence, is the phase that Bass (1960) labels “the proving ground” for adult leadership success. Bass sees school experiences and school relationships as taking on increasing significance in the process of leadership development. He notes that “certain social proficiencies, if learned during adolescence, often aid in an individual’s success in interacting with others as an adult. Failure or lack of opportunity to develop these proficiencies, may prove a handicap to the would-be adult leader” (p. 202). He gives as examples of the kinds of activities for practicing leadership that may affect success as an adult leader activities that we normally associate with school: dancing, team sports, club meetings, and dating. These are activities, in other words, that comprise the school’s co- and extra-curricular programs.
Having declared that one of our nation’s greatest needs is “good, honest leadership,” Marano (1985) suggests that secondary extracurricular student activities go a long way toward fulfilling this need, go farther than or at least as far as any other aspect of school programs, and have obvious “value in supplementing academics with leadership skills training” (p. 2).
Gohlson (1985) surveyed literature on special talent and outside-of-school achievements. He concludes “that GPA, rank in class, and secondary and college grades tend to be independent of nonacademic accomplishment” (p. 18). Joekel (1985) contends that the student activities program “is where many opportunities are provided for developing leadership and a concept of self-worth and for meeting the social and emotional needs of students” (p. 4). Joekel also finds that “there is little correlation between leadership and scholarship” (p. 5) but that study after study finds “the most consistent predictor of a person’s life success [to be] major achievement in cocurricular activities” (p. 6). Joekel’s references include at least five scientific studies in a list of sixteen scholarly works. Bass (1981) notes that there are numerous research studies which indicate that
leadership in elementary school, high school, and college [is] predictive of later leadership in adult business and social activities . . . [and] that leadership in extracurricular activities [is] more highly related to various criteria of adult success than [are] scholarship or academic achievement. In other words, leadership rather than scholarship [is] best predictive of later leadership. (p. 479)
Thus, we can conclude that it is not IQ scores, socio-economic status, or grade point average that are most predictive of a student’s taking on leadership roles in adulthood, but rather his or her leadership experiences while in school. These are experiences such as being a student body officer, class or club president, athletic team captain, head cheerleader, editor of the school paper, homecoming chairman, and so forth. If, leadership is, in the words of Gardner (1988), “a performing art,” a skill and an approach to life better developed through participation in extracurricular activities than through academic studies, what effect does home schooling have on the potential leadership of home schooled students? After all, there is no student council at home, is there? There is no pep club, debate team, honor society, athletic team, cheer squad, chess club — none of the activities comparable to the extracurricular programs students experience in middle and high schools. Or are there?
With home schooling being a legal option and a growing movement in Washington state, it was the purpose of this study to explore the state of the art of home schooling in Washington state, particularly in the rural and urban areas of Puget Sound, to determine the extent to which those conditions that foster leadership in children and adolescents are operating in the home schooling experience. The condition that was the focus of the study was the environment of the home school: Is there something occurring in that environment that adequately compensates for the extracurricular program and leadership experiences of a conventional school setting?
Method and Procedures
The first step in this study was to identify those conditions that comprise the key ingredients in students’ leadership development. The second step was to determine the extent to which the home school environment and structure provide these conditions. To do this, three sets of interview schedules were designed, one for home schooling parents, one for home schooling students, and one for a control group of conventionally schooled students. The 26-question interview schedule for home schooling parents was designed to elicit data about five primary moderating variables. These variables were (1) motivations for home schooling, (2) home school structure and climate, (3) parent attitudes/expectation regarding independent thinking and action, (4) what leadership experiences have been built into the home school program, and (5) how much and what kind of out-of-home leadership experiences the student(s) has. Other moderating variables that were considered included (1) age of student, (2) sex of student, (3) number of years in a regular school setting preceding the home schooling experience, (4) whether home schooling is a parent choice only or a parent and child mutual decision, (5) socio-economic status of the family, (6) intelligence of the student, (7) accessibility of and use of community resources, such as libraries and museums, (8) personality traits, and (9) nature of the home school, that is whether the student(s) is in isolation or in active contact with the community and peers.
The interview schedule for home schooling students consisted of 16 questions which focused on their perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of the two kinds of school systems (home and conventional), the at-home and out-of-home group activities in which they participate, their perceived role in those activities, their perception of how home schooling has affected their lives, and their plans for the education of the children they will some day have.
A stratified sample of fifty urban, rural, and suburban families, and of families representing a range of family values and motivations for home schooling was selected and interviewed between May and October of 1988, with one student interview taking place in January of 1989. Because most of the research related to the issue of predicting leadership deals with adolescents and preadolescents, only families with home schooling students who were at least ten years old were interviewed for this study. The interviews were with fifty-five parents and eighty-seven students ages 10 to 21, and required traveling over 2,000 miles in Washington state. The interviews with parents averaged one hour in length; those with students averaged twenty minutes, for a total of approximately 100 hours of personal interviews. With few exceptions, the interviews took place in the family’s home.
In addition to meeting with and interviewing home schooling parents and students, I interviewed a random sample of same age/sex students in grades 5 to 12 at Crista Schools (Seattle, WA) during the fall of the 1988-89 school year in order to have a point of comparison with the home schoolers. A judgment cannot be made about the extracurricular program of the home school without having some sense of the extent to which students in a conventional system, with similar backgrounds, pursue whatever opportunities they have. The student and parent bodies of Crista Schools (King’s Elementary, King’s Junior High, and King’s High School), are more similar in their characteristics than the parent and student bodies of any given public school. Like Washington’s home schooling parents, Crista parents typically are two-parent families who are highly involved in their children’s education and lives, have strong religious commitments and values which they want to be an integral part of their children’s education, and they run the gamut from low to upper income levels, with more being in the lower-middle than upper-middle levels.
Not surprisingly, the parents in this sample tended to demonstrate the same traits and qualities that are showing up in most of the recent home school research (Ray, 1988), and those are the traits related to leadership and summarized by Bass (1960). These traits include loving, nurturing parents who have taken on the risks of home schooling out of a conviction that their children are not well-served by the conventional system, either academically or socially. They view their children as having above average abilities and potentials and, as a group, they expect their children to achieve, both academically and socially, at above average performance levels. A detailed discussion of the data derived from the parent interviews can be found in my forthcoming dissertation (Seattle University). It is the data from the student interviews that is the focus of this summary.
To the extent the student sample is representative, it is clear that this state’s adolescent home schoolers prefer the home to the conventional school by a wide margin. Of the 81 students who clearly answered the question, “Which kind of school do you prefer?”, 71% responded with “Home school” or “Home school!”; 15% said they liked and/or disliked both systems equally; and 7% said they preferred the conventional school. In response to the question, “What things do you do [or did you do] in your home school that you did not do [or do not do] in a conventional school?”, students identified 242 experiences unique to the home school, three of which were negative (no recess, mentioned once; fewer friends, mentioned twice). Taking those experiences that were identified by at least nine per cent of the sample (ten of eighty-seven students), their responses could be grouped into five major categories (Table 1). The major differences between the home school and conventional school as perceived by home school students are shown. The number in parentheses represents the percentage of students whose responses fell into that category.
1. Control of one’s schedule (often stated as learning more because of having greater flexibility, less rigidity, more freedom in determining the schedule, or having
responsibility for one’s own learning) (56%)
2. Control of one’s time (52%)
3. Better academic progress/learning environment (38%)
4. Greater frequency and variety of activities/
field trips/ travel (36%)
5. No worry about “being cool” or wearing the “right
Table 1. Differences between home school and conventional school as perceived by home school students.
The first two categories are closely related. It was sometimes difficult to determine in which category a student’s response in fact belonged. Together, they represent by far the majority of responses, over 100%, since many students identified experiences in both categories. What stands out in these responses is a clear indication of the value these students place on time and on having control of their time and their learning. This is significant because it is a value that stands out in the literature as a characteristic of leadership.
Still, there is the primary issue of the home school’s extracurricular program and students’ opportunities for practicing leadership. Table 2 shows a comparison of the participation rates of home school students with those of the Crista Schools control group in major out-of-home organized group activities that are available to both groups, either at school or in the community or both.
Activity Percentage of Students Who Participate
Home School Students King’s Students
Church youth group/
related church activities 83 88
Jobs/paid work 78 80
Sports 55 88
Summer camp 54 76
Music lessons/recitals 43 44
Performing groups 28 96
Scouts/youth clubs/4H 26 28
Nothing (that is voluntary) 2.29 4
Table 2. Home school and conventional school students’ participation rates in out-of-home activities.
The chi-square (X2) test of association was used to test the question, Is there a significant difference between these two groups? The null hypothesis for each table was that there is no significant difference in the participation rates of these two groups of students. With an alpha level of .05 and one degree of freedom, the critical value was 3.84 to reject the null hypothesis. The derived values fell below the critical value in five areas of activity: church youth group and related church activities (X2 = .065); jobs (X2 = .065); volunteer/community service work (X2 = .503); music/dance lessons (X2 = .01); and Scouts/4H, and similar youth clubs (X2 = .166). The chi square value also fell below the critical value in the area of a student’s decision to participate in nothing not required by a parent or school (X2 = .376). There was a significant difference in three areas of activity: sports (X2 = 8.983); summer camp (X2 = 3.886); and performing groups (X2 = 36.53).
It is important to point out here that students at Crista Schools have no choice but to participate in a performing group at some point beyond fifth grade, and thus their responses provide somewhat skewed percentages compared to their public school counterparts. It should also be noted that King’s students typically participate in extracurricular and outside-of-class activities at higher levels than do those students in other Class A schools and in all Washington high schools who were involved in a particular test and studied by Washington Pre-College Testing Program (1988). Whatever weight is given to these statistics must be qualified. The thirty-one per cent of the students in the King’s High Class of 1988 who participated in this testing program comprise a representative cross section of their class. The comparison figures for the Class A and all Washington high schools in the report are based upon the results from the 50% to 60% of the juniors and seniors in Washington’s high schools who took the same test at the same time. They are a representative sample of the state’s college-bound students, not a random sample of all the state’s high school juniors and seniors. Thus, the home schooling students in this study are being compared to a group of college-bound students who participate in extracurricular and out-of-school activities at rates typically higher than those of other college-bound students in this state. Further, it is assumed that college-bound students participate more actively in extracurricular activities than do the non-college-bound. This adds significance to the fact that in five major areas of activity there appears to be no significant difference in the participation rates of home schooling students and King’s students.
It is not surprising that students in a conventional school appear to participate in team sports at a significantly higher percentage than do home schooling students. Sports are readily available at a school and coaches have daily contact with students and can actively recruit them into their sports. Nor is it surprising that students in a school that values and requires student participation in the fine and performing arts are apparently participating at a much higher rate in performing groups than are home school students. Findings that are surprising are the insignificant differences in participation in the areas of volunteer/community service (since King’s students are required to complete a certain number of service hours every year beginning in seventh grade) and in the area of a student’s choosing to not participate in anything. One would expect more home schooling students to avoid voluntary participation than conventionally schooled students, if for no other reason than that it requires more effort to find activities outside of the home in which to participate than it does to join a group of friends at school in a given activity.
From the results of this study it would appear that home schooling is not generally repressive of a student’s potential leadership, and may in fact, nurture leadership at least as well as does the conventional system. In addition to the findings about student perceptions of and value of time, three other patterns stand out as characteristics of this state’s home schooling population. First, home schooling students have as their models parents who are leaders and who demonstrate on an ongoing basis those traits that stand out in the literature as important leader traits (e.g., see my forthcoming dissertation, Seattle University). Second, the message that home schooling children receive from their parents, both explicitly and implicitly, is that they are special people, valued and capable members of the family, cut from extraordinary cloth. When given a list of changes that many people feel need to take place in our schools and asked if they would return to the system if these changes took place, parents typically replied that frankly, the conditions in the school are no longer relevant to their decision to home school. They are having so much fun with their kids, so enjoying being with them, learning with them, seeing them free to develop their various potentials rather than having to worry about being beaten up on the playground or not getting an A on a test, or being on the fringes of the major cliques, that there is no way they would give up their home schooling. “Our children,” they say, “are the finest people we know. They’re a pleasure to be with. Why should we let someone else have them all day?” Remember, these are parent comments about teenagers, not about six- and seven-year-olds. And the literature insists that a child’s leadership potential is profoundly nurtured by such messages. Third, home schooled adolescents are not isolated from social interaction with their peer group nor denied participation in a variety of at-home and out-of-home organized group activities. These students, as a group, are involved in teaching younger siblings, 4H Clubs, Boy/Girl Scouts and similar youth clubs, church youth groups and church responsibilities (such as assisting in the nursery) teaching Sunday school classes, and assisting with summer youth programs; nearly 80% of them are running their own businesses, such as paper routes, lawn care, taking care of neighbors’ houses in their absence, babysitting, and so forth; over half take on volunteer or community service projects, such as being a Candy Striper in a hospital, visiting people in nursing homes, doing chores or babysitting for needy families, assisting in various ways at the Pacific Science Center, and a host of similar such activities; those who have joined one of the dozens of support groups available to the state’s home schoolers are involved in that group’s weekly, biweekly, and/or monthly instructional and social activities. The perception of home schooled students as being isolated, uninvolved, and protected from peer contact is simply not supported by this data. To the contrary, there were a number of students who reported having increased social contact and group participation because school required less of their time.
It is hoped that this study will compel those of us who are members of the secondary education community to take a much closer look at those elements of our school programs that potentially affect our students’ leadership development and therefore the future leadership of our nation. If our nation is to cease being at-risk, we must attend to more than our academic curriculum. Parents, educators, legislators, citizens must work together to release the potential that resides in our youth to generate vigorous and ethical leadership in all our institutions. Our home schoolers are perhaps lighting one pathway that leads toward that end.
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Bass, Bernard M. (1981). Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership: A Survey of Theory and Research. New York, NY: The Free Press.
Boucher, Norman. (1985, October). In search of leadership. New Age, 48-53.
Gardner, John W. (1988). Developing leadership in community colleges. The Education Digest, 53(5), 56-58.
Gohlson, Ronald E. (1985). Student achievement and cocurricular activity participation. NASSP Bulletin, 69(4), 17-20.
Greenleaf, Robert K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York, NY: Paulist Press.
Joekel, Ronald G. (1985). Student activities and academic eligibility requirements. NASSP Bulletin, 69(4), 3-9.
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Pace, Frank, Jr. (1987). The study and practice of leadership. Liberal Education, 73(2), 2-3.
Ray, Brian D. (1988). Home schools: A synthesis of research on characteristics and learner outcomes. Education and Urban Society, 21(1), 16-31.
Spitzberg, Irving J., Jr. (1987). Paths of inquiry into leadership. Liberal Education, 73(2), 24-29.
Stott, John R. W. (1985, August 9). What makes leadership Christian? Christianity Today, 24-27.
Washington Pre-College Testing Program. (1988). SIRS reports for 1988 Washington high school graduates who participated in the WPC Program during calendar year 1987. Seattle, WA: Author.
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