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Many new terms about education and schooling have been tossed around during the past five years: micro schools, pods, charter school at home, online schooling, and virtual schooling, and the list continues to grow. Some advocates of these terms imply or argue that there is so much variation and ambiguity between the various pedagogical approaches and arrangements that it is really too difficult to carefully define the terms. Let us, however, hearken to this truism:
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
– Juliet, Act II, Scene II, Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare
In well-planned and rightly executed research and scholarly writing, definitions are critical, and fundamental. Scholars often create operational definitions for their single study or research program. If, for example, private homeschooling is not distinguished from tax-funded school at home, then findings and their implications mean something different than if they were defined as mutually exclusive. Definitions are also critical and impactful regarding the effects they have in and by popular media, policymaking, and law. Definitions and related findings affect public attitude. Definitions and related findings encourage parents to homeschool or create barriers to homeschooling. Consider a recent example.
A Case in Point
Just two weeks ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared, “New data reveal inequalities in homeschooling and mental health of Slovenian adolescents.” Further, the first paragraph presented the following findings:
‘Slovenian adolescents from lower income households faced significant barriers to homeschooling in 2020, finds WHO/Europe’s collaborative Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study. These adolescents also experienced greater feelings of loneliness than those from more affluent families.
And then the first sub-heading reads, “Poor homeschooling conditions for adolescents from less affluent families.” Various negative implications appear to be associated with homeschooling by the time the reader gets to that sub-heading. But one must immediately ask, how does WHO define homeschooling?
It turns out that WHO is reporting on findings related to distance schooling at home that was catalyzed by government lockdowns and shutdowns of institutional schools. In other words, they are informing the public about statistics and research outcomes related to government officials and how they disturbed learning in conventional school systems during the past three years related to assumptions and allegations about how influenza-like-illnesses (including Covid-19) might harm children’s health.
However, WHO officials are not studying and talking about homeschooling as homeschoolers, home educators, journalists, lawmakers, scholars, and the general public have defined it for the past 40 years. Homeschooling is parent-directed, family- and home-based private education schooling (homeschoolingbackgrounder.com, 2022; Ray, 2021).
Homeschooling is not public school at home. It is not institutional lockdown schooling at home. It is not hybrid homeschooling (i.e., institutional schooling or private-business or nonprofit-run schooling with a notable at-home component). It is not 20 students of about the same age wearing uniforms in a place called school who also spend one or two days at home with their families. It is not pod schooling. It is not micro-schooling. It is not government/public charter school at home or with extra parental involvement.
WHO claimed, “Slovenian adolescents from lower income households faced significant barriers to homeschooling …” This is not true. They were not studying homeschooling so these adolescents did not face any barriers to homeschooling. WHO claimed that homeschooled “… adolescents [from less affluent families] also experienced greater feelings of loneliness than those from more affluent families.” This is not true since they were not studying homeschoolers. WHO claimed that “… adolescents from less affluent families had suboptimal homeschooling environments, including a lack of personal space at home for studying and inadequate support for schoolwork.” This is not true; it should not have been stated since WHO was not examining homeschooling.
Slovenly and inaccurate definitions and no definitions lead to ambiguous findings, conclusions, and implications. WHO never defined homeschooling in its news article report. WHO should write a clear correction and revise the wording throughout its article, removing homeschooling from the reported findings.[i]
Words matter. Definitions matter. One might call a rose a bullfrog but it is still a rose. One might still like the rose if it is labeled a bullfrog. But calling a rose a bullfrog makes for much confusion and consternation when everyone knows that a bullfrog is a water-loving and cold-blooded[ii] amphibian and not a plant with a delightful smelling flower that is associated with love and romance.
To date, homeschooling is associated with many beneficial learner outcomes (Ray, 2017). Research has not found, as WHO’s article suggests, that homeschool students from lower income families experience greater feelings of loneliness than do others.
Scholars, journalists, policymakers, lawmakers, homeschool advocates, and the general public should carefully define homeschooling and consistently use the term. To be clear, during the 40-year contemporary homeschool movement around the globe, homeschooling has been and continues to be defined as parent-directed, family- and home-based private education schooling (homeschoolingbackgrounder.com, 2022; Ray, 2021).
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Homeschoolingbackgrounder.com. (2022). What is homeschooling? https://homeschoolingbackgrounder.com/
Ray, Brian D. (2017). A systematic review of the empirical research on selected aspects of homeschooling as a school choice. Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform, 11(4), 604-621, https://www.nheri.org/a-systematic-review-of-the-empirical-research-on-selected-aspects-of-homeschooling-as-a-school-choice/
Ray, Brian D. (2021). An overview of the worldwide rise and expansion of home education homeschooling (chapter 1). In Rebecca English (Ed.), Global perspectives on home education in the 21st century. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference (an imprint of IGI Global).
World Health Organization. (2023, April). New data reveal inequalities in homeschooling and mental health of Slovenian adolescents, https://www.who.int/europe/news/item/26-04-2023-new-data-reveal-inequalities-in-homeschooling-and-mental-health-of-slovenian-adolescents
[i] This author has contacted WHO and urged them to correct their article.
[ii] For you biologists: A bullfrog is a now considered a poikilotherm.