The Perceived Impact of Home Schooling on the Family in General and the Mother-Teacher in Particular: The Quantitative Study
Susan A. McDowell, Ed.D.
Peabody Journal of Education
Nashville, Tennessee 37203
Keywords: Homeschooling, home schooling, home education, family, teacher
The home schooling movement in America is growing at a phenomenal rate. Indeed, some researchers place the number of children being home schooled nationwide at somewhere “between 900,000 and 1.2 million” (Farris cited in Innerst, 1996, p. 23). Not surprisingly, one result of this growth has been a parallel increase in the amount and type of research conducted in this field.
Also not surprisingly, much of this research has centered upon the effects of home schooling on the children involved in it. Logically, however, home schooling affects more than just the children in a home schooling family. More questions concerning the impact and effect of home schooling need to be asked, and answered.
One such question, which begs an answer, is addressed in this research study. Specifically, the question is asked, “What effect—as perceived by the mother-teachers engaged in it—does home schooling have on the family in general, and the mother-teacher in particular?” It is the purpose of this article to present a research project whose purpose was the study of this particular aspect of the home schooling movement. To that end, the research is discussed in terms of (a) the research objective guiding the study, (b) pertinent background information regarding the area of inquiry, (c) a review of the literature, (d) the conceptual framework utilized for the quantitative portion of this study, (e) the purpose and significance of the study, (f) the methodology employed, (g) analysis of survey results, (h) limitations of the study, (i) conclusions, and (j) discussion.
Statement of the Research Objective
The primary purpose of this research project was to determine the perceptions of the mother-teacher in home schooling families as to the impact of the home schooling process on the family in general, and on the mother-teacher in particular. In order to research this heretofore uncharted area as thoroughly as possible, both quantitative and qualitative research methods were utilized, because—as Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff (1970) point out in The Modern Researcher— “a large subject is like a mountain, which no beholder ever sees entire: if he climbs it he discovers only selected aspects; if he stands off, he sees but an outline and from one side only …” (p. 185). This research—and the differing and complementary research methods employed in it—is an attempt to more fully comprehend this particular home schooling “mountain.” (Although both methodologies were utilized in the original research study, only the quantitative portion is discussed and presented in this article.) The answers gleaned from this research, it is hoped, provide a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of and insight into the home schooling phenomenon, and the families involved in it.
Home Schooling: A Look at the Movement
According to Patricia M. Line’s (1996), “home schooling has come of age” (p. 63). As was noted earlier, the number of families involved in home schooling nationwide has increased substantially, and with surprising speed, in the last few years. Conservative estimates inform us that, near the writing of this paper, “more than a half million children are home schooling” (Lines, 1996, p. 63), while other sources claim the correct figure to be nearly twice that amount—somewhere in the neighborhood of 900,000 to 1.2 million children (Farris cited in Innerst, 1996, p. 23).
Much, much more gradual has been the concurrent increase in acceptance of home schooling as a viable educational alternative to traditional learning. As Lines (1996) notes, “Not so long ago, the families of these [homeschooled] children might have gone underground, hiding from public view. Now they feel that they are simply exercising a valid educational option” (p. 63). Indeed, one of the most important “factors contributing to the growth of home schooling may be the increased receptivity of the general public” (Lines, 1996, p. 65). As a result of homeschooling’s rapid growth and increased public acceptance—along with the possible impact on public school enrollment (R. Crowson, personal communication, November, 1995)—research into all facets of the home schooling phenomenon is becoming increasingly important.
And indeed, much research has been conducted. Qualitative (see, e.g., Cappello, 1995; Laudermilk, 1994) and quantitative (see, e.g., Hainlen, 1995; Strange, 1994) research studies abound which (a) detail the who, what, why, where, when, and how many of the home schooling movement (see, e.g., Burns, 1993; Fegley, 1993, Golding, 1995, Lines, 1991); (b) investigate socialization issues (see, e.g., Mullins, 1993; Shyers, 1992); and (c) explore various other aspects of home schooling. Not much is known, however, about the perceived impact of home schooling on both the family itself and the mother-teacher in particular.
Who Home Schools?
“Parents who secure a good education to their children, are more useful than those who merely beget them.”
— Aristotle (cited in Barnard, 1861, p. 40)
What sort of people make up the home schooling population? Who are these people who voluntarily and purposely add new roles and responsibilities to existing ones? A 1997 study by the National Home Education Research Institute provides the following information about home schooling families:
These families, with 3.3 children and 98% being headed by married couples, were much larger than the United States average. Ninety-five percent of family income was earned by the fathers; 34% of them were professionals and 11% were small business owners. Eighty-eight percent of the mothers were homemakers/home educators and only 16% of the mothers worked outside the home. A wide variety of religious affiliations was evident; about 90% were Christians. The parents had higher than average educational attainment; 46% of the fathers had a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 42% of the mothers had the same. These families’ median income of $43,000 was a little lower than the median for all married-couple families in the United States. The parents spent, on average, $546 per child per year for home education. …. The mother did 88% of the formal teaching of the children while the father did 10% of the teaching. (Ray, 1997, p. xii)
Why Home School?
“The schools ain’t what they used to be
and never was.”
— Will Rogers (cited in Pajares, n.d., p. 1)
What reasons are given by home schooling families for the important and potentially stressful undertaking of educating their own children? Brooks (1995) recites some of the more common reasons when he states that “some are concerned about the breakdown of discipline, declining academic standards, rising illiteracy rates, escalating violence, increasing teen pregnancy, and the teaching of values antithetical to traditional ones” (p. 1). According to other researchers, however, four primary reasons for home schooling exist: religious, academic, socio-relational, and “New Age” (Mayberry, 1988). Some researchers, such as Van Galen (1986) and Kutter (1987) condense all these categories into two basic reasons for home schooling—the ideological and the pedagogical. This last categorization of home schoolers plays an intrinsic role in both the quantitative and qualitative portions of this particular study. Also playing an intrinsic role is the review of the literature—a condensed version of which is presented in the following section—as it helps to provide a sound foundation for the study through examination and discussion of applicable research.
Review of the Literature
The research objective for this particular project lends itself quite readily to three different areas of literature review and discussion. First, and most obviously, home schooling literature which pertains to and/or is indicative of the impact of home schooling on the family in general and on the mother-teacher in particular is explored. Other fields deemed to be highly applicable to the research question include family role research, and family stress research.
The Home Schooling Literature
Indications of some of the possible impacts of home schooling on the family in general and the mother-teacher in particular are evident throughout the literature. In various homeschooling manuals and “how to” books, advice on stress-reducing steps and organizational techniques abound, and even in positive personal accounts of the home schooling experience, many mother-teachers nevertheless reveal the strains, stresses, and tensions clearly believed to be, and accepted as, inherent in the home schooling process. It is the purpose of this particular section to examine both these facets of the home schooling literature—the (a) manuals and periodicals published for home schooling parents and (b) personal revelations concerning the home schooling experience made by home schooling parents themselves—for indications of home schooling’s impact on (a) the family and the mother-teacher, and/or (b) the resulting roles assumed by family members.
Home Schooling Advice: Manuals, “How To” Books, and Periodicals
In one very popular manual—Home Schooling: Answers to Questions Parents Most Often Ask— authors McIntire and Windham (1995) address the issue of home schooling stress in particular when they point out that
stress is a given. A new baby, twin toddlers, an ailing grandparent, a house under construction, part-time employment, volunteer responsibilities—all these added to the role of parent and teacher create a challenging experience. Being a parent can be a challenging and exhausting job. Being a parent and a teacher intensifies the experience. (p. 146)
Helpful advice as to how to handle the additional role of teacher is also offered by McIntire and Windham (1995):
The parent who is doing the primary teaching should view his or her role as a second job. No sensible person would attempt to work outside the home for four to five hours a day while still maintaining the exact schedule kept prior to working. The same is true when you assume the responsibility to home teach. Your schedule and time are greatly affected; some adjustments will need to be made. (p. 138)
Vicki Brady (1996)—in The Basic Steps to Successful Homeschooling—sees roles and role assignment as an integral part of home schooling. In fact, Brady assigns an entire chapter to “Establishing Roles” (pp. 77-83), and notes that “one way to understand the roles we have is to picture the father as the principal of the school and the mother as the teacher. Each has clearly defined roles” (p. 79). Brady also advises would-be home schooling mothers about the importance of prioritizing:
For most moms, their lives are so busy that the idea of taking on responsibility for the education of the children can seem overwhelming. If your glass is already full, you cannot put more into it without something spilling over. Therefore, something has to go… Begin to think about what may need to be bumped in order for you to take on homeschooling… . The key to working out your roles is determining what your priorities are and committing to guard one another’s time. (pp. 81-82)
Despite the best efforts to be organized, however, sometimes the process of home schooling can lead to certain unforeseen problems. Debbie Strayer (1997), executive editor of Home Schooling Today and herself a home schooling mother, describes
a common malady among homeschoolers. As with many problems, the symptoms are recognizable, but the cause may remain a mystery. Discouragement, physical exhaustion, frayed nerves, and feelings of failure are conditions we all experience from time to time. It is when they all come at once that a homeschooling mother is in potential danger. She can become the woman who feels she never does enough. (p. 5)
Strayer then proceeds to offer advice concerning “How to Say No,” “When to Say No,” and “The Fruit of Being Able to Say No” (pp. 6-7). In this same home schooling magazine issue, Dr. Dale Simpson (1997), a practicing psychologist as well as a home schooling parent, examines the “Balancing Act” homeschoolers attempt:
Homeschoolers, as formal teachers, wear an additional hat to that of parent and authority. Teaching parents have an additional responsibility to plan and execute a learning process that will prepare their children for the rigors of life. The parent must create an environment that focuses learning and organize it so that important lessons for life can be acquired. Tension can result from the dual roles of parent and teacher, student and child. (p. 49)
Simpson, in closing, gently reminds his readers that
playing the role of parent, teacher, principal, and curriculum consultant can lead to burnout. This is, of course, a risk for all of us in this crazy, fragmented, overly busy western society. Homeschoolers have their special vulnerabilities to this [emphasis added]. (1997, p. 51)
How do home schooling mothers and fathers handle the stress of the home schooling experience? It is the purpose of the next section to present a few of the experiences of—and resulting reflections upon—home schooling as voiced by actual home schooling parents.
Home Schooling: The Voices of Experience
“There was never a child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him asleep.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson (cited in Pajares, n.d., p. 8)
As was noted earlier, even positive personal accounts of the home schooling experience often reveal the strains, stresses, and tensions clearly believed by many to be inherent in the home schooling process. Kate Kerman (1990), for example, begins her ultimately glowing description of the day-by-day duties of a home schooling mother with the following: “When asked, as I have been many times, ‘What is a typical day like in your home school?’ I always groan and grimace” (p. 175). While Kerman (1990) admits that “home schooling can be boring, difficult and frustrating for me on a daily basis” (p. 176), she also believes that the experience has made her “more able to deal positively with daily exasperation” (p. 176). Sue McCoy (1991) would seem to speak for all home schooling parents when she perceives the experience as made up “of moments of actual progress and moments of real frustration” (p. 457).
Yet another home schooling parent, Wallis C. Metts, Jr. (1996) (a home schooling father whose experience is surely generalizable to home schooling mothers) waxes almost lyrical about the benefits and rewards of home schooling, while at the same time (a) admitting that he “had no delusions about home schooling being easy” (p. 72), and (b) giving his article the title of “Home Sweet Hassle.” Other home schooling parents, whose experience was much less than ideal, speak of feeling that “the isolation was insurmountable” (Armon, 1990, p. 220).
Nancy Lande (1996) shares her personal frustration with trying “to be the principal, teacher, aide, playground mother, cafeteria director, bus driver, and custodian all at once” (p. 4), and “Barb” (cited in Lande, 1996) voices thoughts echoed over and over by mother-teachers throughout the literature:
some days of schooling are better than others. Not all days work out the way I imagine they should. Sometimes I am frustrated and other times elated … No matter how hard or trying homeschooling may get, I will never allow my children into a public school system. (p. 45)
A review of several personal home schooling accounts revealed that the majority of these revelations—whether ultimately positive or negative in nature—give evidence of some degree of stress, strain, anxiety, and tension within the family unit. This fact—along with the proliferation of home schooling manuals, “how to” books, and articles in home schooling magazines that pointedly and repeatedly discuss the absolute necessity of planning and organization and the very real dangers of burn-out—denotes a genuinely important and heretofore unstudied element of the home schooling process, that element being the very real impact of the home schooling experience on the family proper and the mother-teacher particularly.
Family Role Research
As the body of literature concerning roles and role theory is so very vast and complex, a concentrated and conscious effort was made to research those areas of the literature most relevant to the research question and conceptual framework utilized in this particular study. As a result, this section will explore roles and role theory in terms of (a) the family, (b) the husband-wife relationship and resulting roles, (c) parental roles, and (d) women’s roles.
Mary Farmer’s (1970) description of the “statuses” and roles within the family unit seems singularly relevant to the study at hand:
There are many statuses within a family group, and in association with each status there is a recognized and institutionalized role to be played. There are also expectations of how it will be played attached to each role; and as the appropriate behavior in each role is in accordance with a set of norms, it follows that a set of reciprocal relationships are also normatively prescribed.
Each individual in a family group also has a number of statuses and similarly in each of them his behavior is influenced by the expectations attaching to the role. For example, a man may be a husband, father, son, brother, breadwinner and so on, and he plays the appropriate roles for each of his statuses. If he misinterprets his roles, plays them inadequately or misguidedly, or evades playing them in so far as he can, then strains and tension will result [emphasis added]. (p. 52)
The Husband-Wife Relationship and Resultant Roles
In Marriage and the Construction of Reality, Peter Berger and Hansfried Keller (1994) offer a useful overall look at the subject of marriage and its attending roles, by suggesting that
each role in the marital situation carries with it a universe of discourse, broadly given by cultural definition but continually reactualized in the ongoing conversation between the marriage partners. Put simply: Marriage involves not only stepping into new roles, but, beyond this, stepping into a new world. The mutuality of adjustment may again be related to the rise of marital egalitarianism, in which comparable effort it demanded of both partners. (p. 32)
Such adjustment of roles can sometimes be problematic, as Michael P. Fogarty, Rhona Rapoport, and Robert N. Rapoport (1971) would seem to affirm as they point out
that it is difficult to assess personal needs and abilities precisely enough to make accurate adjustment between personality and work or other roles possible. Even so apparently straightforward a procedure as assessing a candidate’s suitability for a job can have a wide margin of error. Similarly, a husband and wife will not necessarily find it easy to understand and adjust to each other’s personality. Alike in work and in family life, people may not even be aware of their own potentialities unless this awareness is forced on them, and even a careful investigation of their potential may discover only what they have been trained into in the past, not what they might arrive at in the future. It was observed of a certain Roman emperor that “no one would have doubted that he was capable of ruling, if only he had never ruled.” (p. 38)
Doubtless, many beginning home schooling parents are dubious and/or unaware, as noted above, of “their own potentialities” in undertaking the responsibilities of teaching their own child(ren).
What do scholars believe about the very complex parental role? The following section is devoted to this area of discussion.
The Parental Role
When it comes to distinctions within the parental role in and of itself, Glen H. Stamp (1994) offers the following: “Analysis revealed three relevant dimensions salient to the appropriation of the parental role: role expectations, role enactment, and role negotiation” (p. 233). Stamps also notes that a parent often “longs for absolute solutions in an indefinite reality” (p. 245).
Hilary M. Lips (1994) makes an observation worth noting when she asserts that
the old saying, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” suggests that men have traditionally held power in connection with their position as head of the family; and that women derive power from their role as the family’s heart. (p. 356)
Smith and Reid (1986), in their discussion of the parental role, offer the following rather
obvious, but nonetheless appropriate and necessary, statement:
Children, are, of course, a great deal of responsibility in any family, regardless of its structure or method of handling family roles. Unlike housework, which can be left undone for a period of time, or cooking, which can be circumvented at times by eating out, snacking, or fasting, child care must be given by someone at all times. And not just any child care; most parents in our society insist on good child care, however they define it. (p. 127)
Perhaps the most obvious statement, however, is made by Logan and Spitze (1996) when they simply state that “research has found that parenthood is stressful, particularly when children are very young, and particularly for women” (p. 117). Most probably a great majority of women would be amazed that any research was even necessary to come to this particular conclusion! A look at some of the differing research on women and their roles is the focus of the next section.
The Role(s) of Women
Hilary M. Lips’ (1994) powerful argument concerning the role of women in society
provides an appropriate point for opening this particular discussion. Lips asserts that
if women in a society have a power advantage anywhere with respect to men, it is likely to be within the family. This is because the exchange currency of the family is not just money, education, legitimately authority, or status, but also emotional resources such as love, support, attention, guilt, personal information, and trust. The cultural assignment of the relationship sphere to women, particularly relationships with children, can give them a central position with respect to family communication, the formation of alliances and coalitions, and family identification and loyalty—all linked to family power. (pp. 359-360)
Michael P. Fogarty, Rhona Rapoport, and Robert N. Rapoport (1971) present an altogether different but equally useful look at women and their roles:
As women move from the roles involved in one phase into those of the next phase, a process of reorganization is at work. To accomplish the reorganization, there is a necessary un-organization, a certain amount of turbulence, and then a new organization forms around the role expectations and obligations in the new situation. Individuals vary in the degree of disorganization and turbulence subjectively experienced. (p. 163)
It quickly became quite apparent, in an examination of the applicable literature on family role research, that some degree of stress is the altogether likely and logically expected result of role change, role overload, role assumption, role definition and redefinition, and role ambiguity within differing contexts (family, husband-wife relationship, parental relationships and responsibilities, and individual women’s issues). As the addition of the responsibilities of home schooling to a family unit logically entails—especially on the part of the mother-teacher—some aspect of role change, assumption, and definition and redefinition, as well as the very real possibility of role overload and role ambiguity, the application of this research on family roles to the research question guiding this study is clear. Reasonably and logically, then, the undertaking of home schooling will result in some degree of stress experienced both within the family unit and by the mother-teacher.
Family Stress Research
Family stress is yet another research area applicable to home schooling mother-teachers as well as the research question guiding this study. Within this field of inquiry, three different areas relevant to this discussion will be examined: (a) stress in the husband-wife relationship, (b) children and stress, and (c) coping with family stress.
Stress in the Marital Relationship
Ronald J. Burke and Tamara Weir (1982) in “Husband-Wife Helping Relationships as Moderators of Experienced Stress: The ‘Mental Hygiene’ Function in Marriage,” make the following observation:
Blood and Wolfe (1960) used the phrase “mental hygiene” function of marriage to refer to the latent contribution one spouse made (or could make) to the mental health of the other. Mental hygiene was termed a latent function of marriage because individuals were seldom aware of it even though it existed, and although they did not consciously perform it, it occurred nevertheless. (pp. 221-222)
Despite these findings, Burke and Weir (1982) also point out that some of
the couples who were older and married longer showed a diminished level of helping activity occurring between them, a decrease in communication about problems and tensions, and a greater criticalness of each other’s functioning as a helper. Older wives in particular indicated that their first preference would be to go to someone other than their husbands with their difficulties. (p. 225)
Clearly, then, the husband-wife relationship can function both as a source of stress and as a stress-reducer, depending on the nature of the relationship itself and the phase in which it exists. What does the family stress research literature have to say about parenting and children as a source of stress? This subject is the topic to be explored in the following section.
Parental Responsibilities and Children as a Source of Stress
Ross and Mirowsky (1994) make a somewhat startling point when they report that in their research “one finding is clear. Children do not improve the psychological well-being of parents” (p. 331). They continue their discussion by explaining that
young children put constant demands on mothers who are home all day with the children. They separate them from other adults and make them feel they are “stuck” in the house, at the same time decreasing their privacy and time alone. Housewives who are not employed are much more likely to feel that others are making demands on them than are employed mothers or father. The traditional female role of housewife and mother who is not employed outside the home is stressful. This argument implies that children are most stressful for women in the traditional role of housewife and mother—those who are home all day with the children. (pp. 331-332).
Burke and Weir (1982) report that children can have a less-than-positive effect on the marriage relationship:
The introduction of children into the family unit offered diminishing returns to the husband-wife helping relationship. Although spouses with children were more reliant on one another, they reported receiving less help from their spouses and gave less in return. It is not difficult to imagine that children would be a competing force for the energies and attention of the parents so whatever stresses accrue to them remain unnoticed or unattended. (p. 225)
Bolger, DeLongis, Kessler, and Wethington (1990) would no doubt agree with this last assessment, as they affirm it to be “noteworthy that family overload is the stress thought to be the most strongly affected by the presence of children. The fact that this stress is significantly related to children among both men and women is consistent with this thinking” (p. 103).
Coping With Family Stress
How do families, and their individual members, deal with the stress inherent in their day-to-day lives? McCubbin, Boss, Wilson, and Lester (1980) note that dealing with stress “in the family unit appears to be a continuous process of checks and balances—a system of coping patterns directed at achieving a delicate balance in family functioning, individual development and emotional stability and family-community relationships” (p. 97). McCubbin et al. (1980) also assert that
many researchers have discovered a strong relationship between the community as a source of social support and the individual’s and family’s ability to adjust to and cope with stress, crises and change. The effects of support have been reported from the study of diverse populations, across a range of life stresses… . (p. 98)
Health and well being within the family unit is clearly of value to Daniel Perlman and Karen S. Rook (1987) as well, who remind their readers to “bear in mind that families may be a source not only of support but also of stress,” and to “consider ways to facilitate positive interactions within families as ways to minimize negative interactions” (p. 33).
Family stress research is a field which examines “the whole area of problems that includes stimuli producing stress reaction, the reactions themselves, and the various intervening processes” (McCubbin, Cauble, & Patterson, 1982, p. xii). Not altogether surprisingly, the literature revealed that the marital relationship is oftentimes a stressful one, but that—in some cases at least—the spouses were able to function “as a source of help … in times of stress” (Burke & Weir, 1982, p. 221). Also not surprisingly, children are perceived by some researchers as sources of physical, psychological, and financial stress (Miller & Myers-Walls, 1983, pp. 57-58). How does a family effectively cope with such stress? Social support, community support, and self-help groups—according to many researchers—”represent an obvious resource available to lay people to reduce adverse effects on family life” (Perlman & Rook, 1987, p. 34). Clearly, such support within the home schooling community may be considered both highly useful and fundamentally important.
In this review of the pertinent literature on home schooling, family role research, and family stress research, one consistent and unifying element has appeared and reappeared time and again—the element of stress. In the home schooling literature, the majority of personal accounts and reflections upon home schooling by home schooling practitioners—regardless of whether or not the account is ultimately positive or negative in nature—reveal some degree of stress and strain. Likewise, the proliferation of articles, manuals, and “how to” books that emphasize the importance of planning and organization as a sort of “antidote” to stress and possible burn-out gives evidence of the existence and expectation of stress in the home schooling process.
Stress was also an expected result—in the family role research literature—of role (a) change, (b) overload, (c) assumption, (d) definition and redefinition, and (e) ambiguity. Each of these stress-inducing aspects of roles and role theory is capable of producing stress within the home schooling family, as roles are added, shifted, and/or redefined as the result of the home schooling process. Stress was also the focus, quite logically, of the family stress research literature examined, in discussion of which the existence of stress in the family was confirmed and coping mechanisms discussed.
It is, therefore, fair to say—as a result of this review of the applicable and appropriate literature—that stress of some sort and/or at some level is most likely a given for the home schooling mother and in the home schooling family. How this stress is experienced and perceived by said home schooling mother and her family is examined in the latter part of this article, while the framework utilized to organize the attendant research is detailed in the following section.
The Conceptual Framework
Famed sociologist Dorothy E. Smith, in The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology (1987), provides an appropriate framework for a discussion of home schooling mother-teacher roles within her concept of a “bifurcated consciousness.” In her discussion, she speaks of her personal difficulty in transitioning from the role of professional to mother and back again when she “combined work as an academic at the University of California at Berkeley with the single mothering of two small children” (p. 6). The role of mother involved and inhabited a world which, Smith (1987) allows, was
an absorbing world. Apart from the tensions and stresses created by having to coordinate the scheduling of my own passage from one [world] to the other with the school and child-care schedules of my children, and the like, it was also a refuge, a relief, from the abstracted practices of sociology. I liked coming down to earth. (pp. 6-7)
On the negative side of this bifurcated consciousness, however, Smith (1987) shares her belief that
these were two modes of consciousness that could not exist with one another. In practice of course they “existed” in the same person, often in the same places, and certainly they often competed with one another for time. But moving from one to the other was a real shift, involving a different organization of memory, attention, relevances and objectives, and indeed different presences. The strains and anxieties involved in putting and holding together work sites, schedules, and modes of consciousness that were not coordinated marked the separations institutionalized in a gender division of labor. (p. 7)
Although Smith clearly emphasizes the aspect of gender in this discussion, the potential applicability of the bifurcated consciousness concept to the home schooling mother-teacher seems clear, in that Smith and the mother-teacher both assume roles that co-exist and compete “with one another for time” (p. 7). I would argue further that these roles, or consciousnesses are continuously present in the individual, although they are enacted at different times and in different situations as the individual deems appropriate. For example, when Smith is lecturing a class, she is functioning in the role of professor, although she is at the same time—as point of fact—a mother. By the same token, when Smith tucks her children into bed at night, the fact that she is enacting the role, or consciousness, of a mother in no way lessens the reality of her professorship. In sum, Smith is both truly a professor and truly a mother at all times, although she clearly perceives these roles as functioning quite separately. Smith (1997) does note, however, that roles are not always so easily divisible, as “the social organization of the roles of housewife, mother, and wife does not conform to the divisions between being at work and not being at work” (p. 68). Given the basic applicability of Smith’s bifurcated consciousness to the home schooling mother-teacher and the differing roles she is called upon to play, then, a modification of Smith’s original concept would seem to be in order.
For the purposes of the quantitative portion of this study, and in order to be more precisely applicable to the homeschooling mother-teacher, Smith’s concept of a bifurcated consciousness (mother and professional) was expanded and refined into that of a quadfurcated consciousness (mother, teacher, wife, and individual). Through the adoption of a quadfurcated organizational and theoretical framework, this study researched the impact of home schooling—as perceived by the mother-teacher—on the family in general, and on herself in particular. More precisely, how has homeschooling impacted the family and the mother-teacher in her roles as a mother, teacher, wife, and individual? This was the primary question addressed in the quantitative portion of this study. The purpose and significance of said study are detailed in the following section.
The Purpose and Significance of the Study
The purpose of this research was to enhance our knowledge and deepen our understanding of the impact of the home schooling process on the family in general, and on the mother-teacher in particular (i.e., its effect on the roles and attending responsibilities of mother, teacher, wife, and individual). This research both expands upon current knowledge of the home schooling population, and helps to fill a void in the existing literature.
As was stated earlier, as the number of families nationwide who choose to home school is increasing rapidly, so, too, is the number of researchers interested in pursuing inquiry relative to this educational phenomenon. A great deal of research exists which speaks to issues of demography, socio-economic status, academic achievement, socialization, attitudes, reasons for choosing home schooling, rankings on national tests scores, and so forth. However, surprisingly little research has been conducted which concerns the effects of home schooling on the home, that is, the family itself. This is an important and potentially problematic area, as elements of family stress could have unintended and unforeseen detrimental effects on student learning.
If it is indeed true, as Lines (1996) avers, that “home schooling has come of age” (p. 63), then this research project—the goal of which was the study of this extremely important, and hitherto neglected, aspect of home schooling—has not only helped to fill a significant void in the literature, but also—again, it is to be hoped—added an important depth to our understanding of those families who choose to home school their children.
The purpose of this research was to determine the perceptions of the mother-teacher in home schooling families as to the impact of the home schooling process on the family in general, and on the mother-teacher’s roles as wife, mother, teacher, and individual in particular. The secondary research question pertains to the stressors experienced by home schoolers.
The hypothesis which guided the quantitative portion of this study may be summarized as follows: The addition of the responsibility of home schooling to a mother’s other responsibilities results in a perceived increase in stress in the family, as well as in the mother-teacher’s roles as wife, mother, teacher, and individual. I hypothesized further that the results of this study would indicate that those mother-teachers who gave ideological concerns (i.e., religious, philosophical) as their primary reason for choosing to home school would report significantly less stress in the family unit and in their roles as wife, mother, teacher, and individual than those mother-teachers whose primary reason for home schooling was a pedagogical one.
This last hypothesis was based on the universally accepted understanding that a shared belief has a unifying effect on a family, or indeed, any group of people. A comment by William Wordsworth is easy applicable to that home schooling family who chooses to home schools for ideological reasons; such a family is “one in whom persuasion and belief had ripened into faith, and faith become a passionate intuition” (William Wordsworth cited in Bartlett, 1955, p. 411).
Subjects for Research
The unit of analysis for this research study was the mother in home schooling families wherein the mother is the primary instructor.
Babbie (1995) informs his reader that in many instances “it would be either impossible or unfeasible to select the kinds of probability samples” (p. 224) he describes in the text. Such was the situation inherent in this research study. As it was virtually impossible (or at least, extremely difficult) to gather the names of all the mother-teachers in all the home schooling families in the United States, the use of a probability sample—in which each subject has an equal chance of being selected for study—was scarcely feasible. As a result, a non-probability sample was employed, and—due to the manner in which the data were collected (discussed in “Data Collection Methods”)—the non-probability sample was of the convenience variety, in that the subjects were comprised of volunteers at a home schooling curriculum fair. The bias inherent in (a) the self-selection process, and (b) the fact that the population of home schoolers surveyed was composed of only those home schooling mother-teachers who chose to attend the curriculum fair on the day the survey was administered, will be examined at a later point.
The primary constructs of this study, which flow directly from the research question, include the impact (as perceived by the mother-teacher) of home schooling on the family in general (e.g., levels of stress and tension within the household); and the impact (again, as perceived by the mother-teacher) of home schooling on the mother-teacher’s roles as a wife, mother, teacher, and individual (e.g., the positive, negative, or neutral effect of home schooling on the role in question). These constructs are, as Babbie (1995) notes “theoretical creations based on observations … which cannot be observed directly or indirectly” (p. 113). They also possess face validity, in that the constructs are, on the surface, logical ones.
Another important element of the research design involves attention to rival hypotheses. As was detailed earlier, the guiding hypotheses for this research project included the hypothesis that (a) the addition of the responsibility of home schooling to a mother’s other responsibilities results in a perceived increase in stress in the family and in her differing roles, and (b) those mother-teachers who give ideological concerns as their primary reason for choosing to home school will report significantly less stress in the family and in their roles than mother-teachers whose primary reason for home schooling is pedagogical in nature. The related rival hypotheses addressed include the possibility that the control variables of (a) the number of children being homeschooled, (b) the number of years the participant has been home schooling, and/or (c) the financial status of the family influence the mother-teacher’s perceptions of home schooling and its impact as much as do their ideological or pedagogical reasons for home schooling.
Data Collection Methods
In this section, (a) the manner in which the survey was administered and related issues of anonymity and confidentiality, (b) details of the actual survey form and its composition, and (c) the number of participants participating in the survey are examined, defined, and discussed.
The Administration of the Survey
This survey was administered by the researcher at the “11th Annual Family Resource Fair,” held in Knoxville, Tennessee during the weekend of June 13-14, 1997. A table was set up in the cafeteria area—complete with 4 chairs and an adequate number of pencils—and potential subjects were asked to participate in the survey with the understanding that for every survey completed, a $1.00 donation would be made by the researcher to their home schooling association, the Smoky Mountain Chapter of the Tennessee Home Education Association. Also on the table was a container of individually wrapped mints, along with a sign which read, “Fill out a survey—take a mint!” Both the promised donation and the offer of free candy proved to be helpful in garnering the necessary participants.
As the respondents were viewed by the researcher in a face-to-face encounter, total anonymity could not be guaranteed. However—given the fact that (a) the home schooling event was held in a region of Tennessee in which the researcher had no home schooling contacts, and (b) no identifying marks were present on the survey form which could link the respondent to the survey form completed by him or her—relative anonymity could be presumed.
As was detailed above, no identifying marks of any sort existed on the survey forms which could identify the subject and his or her response. As a result, confidentiality was assured.
With the exception of Section I (biographical data), this survey utilized a Likert-type format, with participants asked to respond to statements by choosing “strongly agree,” “agree somewhat,” disagree somewhat,” or “strongly disagree” in Section II, and “not stressful,” “rarely stressful,” “sometimes stressful,” and “always stressful” in Section III. The survey was composed of 6 close-ended questions in Section I, 20 closed-ended questions in Section II, and 15 close-ended questions in Section III. Subjects were asked to circle the preferred response in all sections of the survey.
Before the survey—in its final form—was completed, input concerning both the survey format itself and the questions/statements to be utilized was garnered from actual home schooling mother-teachers during the weekend of February 21-22, 1997. Their suggestions were invaluable in the delineation and definition of appropriate (a) questions, (b) the wording of those questions and/or statements, and (c) the compilation of the list of possible home schooling stressors.
As Babbie (1995) points out, “Every questionnaire, whether it is to be completed by respondents or administered by interviewers, should contain clear instructions and introductory comments where appropriate” (p. 152). In keeping with this line of reasoning, the survey began with a short paragraph in which the general questions of the survey were explained, instructions given, and issues of confidentiality discussed.
Babbie (1995) also advises the researcher “to be generally wary of what researchers call the social desirability of questions and answers” (p. 146). It may be presumed that this particular issue would be somewhat problematic in that respondents to this survey may feel that they should respond positively to all questions surrounding the home schooling issue. However, it might also be presumed—as social desirability is especially a problem “if they [respondents] are being interviewed in a face-to-face situation” (Babbie, 1995, p. 146)—that respondents filling out forms in a relatively anonymous and absolutely confidential situation (as was the case with this survey’s administration) might be more likely to answer questions honestly.
In an attempt to follow Babbie’s (1995) suggestion that researchers “measure a given variable in several different ways” (p. 157), each variable in this survey—other than the biographical questions in the first section—was measured a minimum of four different times and in four different ways. Insofar as the ordering of items in the questionnaire is concerned, they were-again, except for the biographical items—randomly placed.
Despite having conducted a pilot study with this survey in order to “weed out” any problematic questions, wording, and so forth, three particular issues arose which proved troublesome to some participants. First, the question dealing with why participants chose to home school—in which subjects were asked to select the primary reason from a list of four (each of which fell into either the ideological or pedagogical category)—seemed somewhat perplexing to some home schooling mothers. Many (n = 13) decided to (a) circle all the provided reasons, (b) circle two reasons which fell into disparate categories, and/or (c) write in at the bottom of the selections, “all of the above.” As a result of the surprising number of participants who chose to respond in this manner, a new category was created and entered into the analysis: participants who chose to home school for both ideological and pedagogical reasons.
The second problematic area that emerged was in Section III of the survey, in which participants are asked to respond to items on a Likert-type scale as “not stressful,” rarely stressful,” sometimes stressful,” and “always stressful.” It soon became clear, as participants asked questions regarding this particular section, that a choice of “not applicable” was necessary, and should have been included in the original survey. Many participants added their own “NA” (not applicable) to certain items, and some indicated verbally that they had simply circled “not stressful” as their response when the item was not truly applicable to them. As a result, since many “not stressful” responses were in actuality “not applicable” responses—and there was no way to determine which responses were meant by the participant as “not stressful” and which were meant as “not applicable”—all “NA” marking were entered in the data analysis as “not stressful,” and the “not stressful” category was altered to include the “not applicable” response. The resulting category, then, was “not stressful/not applicable.”
The third and last issue which proved problematic involved the fact that a few of the participants (n = 2) informed the researcher that they had always home schooled their children, and thus had no basis for comparison when responding to statements which began (as did the ones in this survey) “Since our family began home schooling—.” As the number of participants for whom this was a reported difficulty was extremely small, this last problematic issue should not have any significant effect on data analysis.
Number of Subjects
In order to garner at least 100 usable surveys, 125 subjects were asked to participate. At the end of the first day of the curriculum fair, we had collected 115 surveys out of a total of 125 surveys actually distributed. Evidently, 10 of the potential participants who had taken the surveys elsewhere to complete—rather than completing them at the booth table, as most participants did—neglected to return them by the close of the day. Further analysis of the returned surveys revealed that 8 participants had failed to respond to 10 or more of the statements, rendering these instruments useless for analytical purposes. In the end, the final completed and usable sample was made up of 107 surveys (n = 107).
Analysis of Survey Results
The analysis of survey results includes a discussion and examination of (a) the analysis of the data, (b) the data and the guiding research questions, and (c) the data and the primary and secondary hypotheses.
The data were analyzed using the Statistical Packages for the Social Sciences (1997) computer program. Simple statistics were used to describe the sample population, and Table 1 displays the means and standard deviations for participant responses to the research variables presented in Section II. Table 2 displays the means and standard deviations for responses to Section III, and Table 3 details the frequencies and percentages for responses to Section I of the survey (for visual representations of these same data, see Figures 1, 2, 3, and 4). The internal consistency reliability of the statements which made up each variable were also analyzed (using Cronbach’s alpha), and were found to be at appropriate levels (family = .7772, mother = .5872, teacher = .5720, wife = .6775, and individual = .8654).
Variable Mean SD
Family 1.4650 .4436
Role as Mother 1.5607 .4546
Role as Teacher 1.8240 .6333
Role as Wife 1.7667 .6053
Role as Individual 2.2243 .7428
T-Tests were utilized in this analysis for addressing the hypotheses of the study, as use of a t-test “allows you to compare the average views of two groups to determine the probability that any differences between then are real and not due to chance” (Fink & Kosecoff, 1985, p. 75).
Although an analysis of variance (ANOVA) also offers comparison among groups, it requires “larger samples as you expand the number of comparison groups” (p. 75). As this survey was relatively small in size—and as it is suggested that t-tests “have at least twenty cases per group to compare” (p. 75), which this survey did—utilization of t-tests for this particular analysis seemed appropriate. In order to avoid the possibility of a Type I error from repetition of t-tests, an appropriate alpha level was utilized (p < .01).
Analysis By Reason Given for Home Schooling
Analysis (t-tests) of the data revealed no statistically significant difference between respondents who home school for ideological reasons and respondents who home school for pedagogical reasons in their perceptions of the impact of home schooling on the family or on their roles as mother, teacher, wife, and individual (see Table 4). Analysis also revealed no significant difference between those respondents who indicated that they home schooled for ideological reasons and those respondents who chose both (ideological and pedagogical) reasons for home schooling as regards these same issues (see Table 5).
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Table 3. Frequencies and percentages of Section I research variables.
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Analysis of Rival Hypotheses
Also of considerable interest is the fact that further analysis revealed no statistically significant difference between those respondents indicating a family income of less than $29,000 and those indicating an income of $50,000 and above in their responses to the research variables of family, mother, teacher, wife, and individual (see Table 6). There was also no statistically significant difference between those participants who had been home schooling for 5 or more years and those who had been home schooling for 1 year or less (see Table 7). Finally, it is interesting to note that analysis revealed no statistically significant difference between those participants who home school one child and those who home school four or more children (see Table 8).
The Primary and Secondary Research Questions
The Primary Research Question
What is the perceived impact of home schooling on the family, and the mother-teacher’s roles as mother, teacher, wife, and individual? The response of the participants to statements concerning the impact of home schooling on the family was positive (mean = 1.4650). Participants’ response to statements regarding the mother-teacher’s role as mother were also positive (mean = 1.5607). As regards the mother-teacher’s role as a teacher, participants also responded positively (mean = 1.824). When considering the role of wife, home schooling mother-teachers again responded in a positive manner (mean = 1.7667). Finally, and not surprisingly, mother-teachers indicated that the impact of home schooling on their role as an individual was, overall, a positive one (mean = 2.2243).
The Secondary Research Question
How did home schooling mothers perceive the stressors presented in Section III of the survey? According to the data analysis, only eight stressors possessed a mean of over 2.0 The item clearly found to be the most stress-inducing by respondents was “lack of organization” (mean = 2.6822). “Housework” was, not surprisingly, another major cause of stress for home schooling mothers (mean = 2.4860). “Concerns about children learning what they need to be learning” placed third (mean = 2.3738) among the list of possible stressors, while “dealing with financial issues” was rated fourth (mean = 2.3491). Tied for fifth place as causes of stress were “choosing a curriculum” and “concerns about using the correct teaching methods” (mean = 2.2430). The sixth ranked source of stress for the respondents was “volunteer responsibilities” (mean = 2.1963), and the last stress-inducing element ranked above 2.0 was “the difference between expectations of home schooling and the reality” (mean = 2.0943).
The Primary and Secondary Hypotheses
Neither the primary hypothesis (i.e., the addition of the responsibility of home schooling to a mother’s other responsibilities will result in a perceived increase in stress in the family, as well as in the mother-teacher’s roles as wife, mother, teacher, and individual) or the secondary hypothesis (i.e., those mother-teachers who give ideological concerns as their reason for home schooling will report significantly less stress in the family, as well as in their roles as wife, mother, teacher, and individual than those mother-teachers whose primary reasons for home schooling is a pedagogical one) were supported by the data.
Limitations of the Study
The use of a non-probability convenience sampling design—and the resulting respondent bias and lack of generalizability to a larger population—is the primary limitation of this research study. The subjects who were asked to participate in this survey were drawn from the population of home schooling families who chose to attend that particular home schooling curriculum fair on that particular day. The results are, therefore, inferential only to the extent to which they correspond with known data about the population (e.g., the number of respondents who cite religious concerns as their reason for home schooling corresponds with the national figures, etc.). Even so,
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Table 8. T-test results of research variables by number of children home schooled.
such inferences may be made only when the existence of such corresponding data has been established, and with great caution.
Respondent bias—in that the respondents were volunteering to participate in the survey and were therefore self-selected—is yet another limitation of the study. As was discussed earlier, it was hoped that the manner in which the survey was administered effectively offset any problems of the “social desirability” of responses which might have been present in a self-selected population. Despite the limitations imposed by the non-probability convenience sampling design, it was nevertheless the obvious choice for research of this type, in which complete lists of the population in question were either impossible or extraordinarily difficult to obtain.
The impact of home schooling—as perceived by the mother-teachers engaged in it—on the family in general and the mother-teacher’s roles as mother, teacher, wife, and individual in particular is, according to the results of this survey, generally a positive one. As a group—again, according to the results of the survey—mother-teachers find “lack of organization,” “housework,” “concerns about children learning what they need to be learning,” “dealing with financial issues,” “choosing a curriculum,” “concerns about using the correct teaching method,” “volunteer responsibilities,” and “the difference between expectations of home schooling and the reality”—in that order—to be the top eight stressors in their lives. As concerns the rival hypotheses, it is also of great interest to note that there was no statistically significant difference in the response of participants based on their (a) reasons given for home schooling, (b) reported income level, (c) number of years spent home schooling, or (d) number of children being home schooled.
The results of this survey were, clearly, somewhat surprising. Despite evidence to the contrary (i.e., a review of home schooling literature, family role research, and family stress research which indicated some degree of stress to be a very likely result of the home schooling process), the survey participants indicated that home schooling had, indeed, had a positive effect on both their families and themselves. It was also quite unexpected to discover that no significant differences were found between participants based on their reasons for home schooling, income level, number of years spent home schooling, or number of children being home schooled.
It could be argued, based on these results, that the experience of home schooling is a more powerful uniting factor in the population than other issues (reasons for home schooling, income, number of years engaged in home schooling, and number of children home schooled) are a divisive factor. Clearly, such theorizing begs further detailed research. As was noted earlier, many more questions concerning the impact and effect of home schooling need to be asked, and answered, and—as the home schooling movement continues to expand and to gain both credibility and power—they no doubt will be.
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