Home Schooling II

Last night’s post on Patrick Henry College has drawn, by OTB standards, quite a lot of commentary and some follow-on posts from John Kalb and Bryan at AWS. I would note that I read the two NYT articles in reverse order, seeing the advanced copy of the piece on Republican congressmen hiring PHC graduates at extremely high levels before reading the introductory article, so my reaction was conditioned toward that issue.

My argument isn’t that such schools should be outlawed, merely that I find the idea of cloistering one’s children for the purposes of religious indoctrination objectionable and, especially, that I fear for the future of the Republican party if it moves even further into the control of such people.

Are there people who home school their children for reasons other than religious brainwashing? Sure. By and large, I’m still not sure it’s a good idea. A large part of schooling is the social process of interacting with other students, dealing with the rigors of a set schedule, learning to live with seemingly arbitrary rules set by others, etc. While I’m often disgusted with the quality of the teachers at public schools, they at least expose their students to views beyond those of their parents. That’s a good thing.

At the university level, a different dynamic is at work. Historically, many if not most of the great universities in this country started as religious institutions. But they quickly became secularized and aimed at broadening the minds of their students rather than reinforcing their preconceived notions. This is even true of most of the religiously based schools such as Holy Cross and Notre Dame. But it’s far less true of places like Liberty, Oral Roberts, Bob Jones, and Patrick Henry. Schools that exist to reinforce the prejudices of the parents and insulate their students from the world around them are anathema to the very concept of higher education.

Furthermore, schools like Bob Jones and Liberty exist on the fringe. Putting them on one’s re’sume’ sends a signal to the rest of the world that you’re likely a zealot. Apparently, though, this is not true of Patrick Henry, a school that didn’t exist a decade ago and which was created with the express view of channelizing home schooled kids through another four years of religious indoctrination. If the intern class statistics mentioned in the NYT piece is not a fluke, it would indicate that many GOP lawmakers are actually recruiting these people for their staff. That is a move toward the fringes that troubles me.

Note, too, that my objection isn’t about religion per se but about extreme measures of indoctrination and the isolation of children from society at large. The U.S. is easily the most religious country in the modern world, a trend that’s existed despite the fact that we’ve got a very long history of public schools and the fact that we send a greater proportion of our youth on to college than any other society. While education can temper religious fervor, it can also strengthen spirituality. People who are forced to examine their belief systems often emerge with a tempered faith. Indeed, that’s the idea behind the “born again” phenomenon that’s part of many evangelical traditions. But exposure to other ideas–and especially close association with those who have different ideas–tends to work against fanaticism and toward tolerance. A society as diverse as ours depends on this to survive.

FILED UNDER: Best of OTB, Education, Religion, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    Man, even YOU can’t spell my name right. 🙁

  2. Mark Hasty says:

    Interesting. I attended a church college for the first year and a half of my undergrad education, and, even though nobody would ever mention the school I attended in the same breath as Bob Jones et al., I transferred out exactly because I was tired of all the in loco parentis policies. I was 20 years old; I didn’t figure anybody needed to be telling me who I could be talking to when, etc., etc. So I went to a state university, and not only did my faith not completely fall apart, it grew so much I wound up going to seminary.

    Apparently the message that the Christian Coalition isn’t very influential anymore has yet to reach the upper levels of the GOP.

  3. jen says:

    James, I don’t want to dump on you more, but I still disagree somewhat with your generalization of the supposed indoctrination of college kids at schools like Liberty, Bob Jones, and Patrick Henry. They are still colleges and the kids that go to those schools are just like all other college kids – they’re going to question what they’re being told, they’re going to rebel from the rules, they’re going to grow up. No, the colleges aren’t as open as secular schools, but that doesn’t mean that the kids that go there are simpletons and/or lemmings who can’t think for themselves.

    I went to a Baptist college that had what I considered to be ridiculous rules. We ignored many of the rules and did what any college kids would do – test the boundaries as we learned how to become adults and to make our own decisions. I’m sure the kids at the three schools listed above are no different.

    I think you also have to take into consideration the fact that those articles were published by the NYT – a newspaper that’s clearly biased against most things Christian and conservative.

  4. John A. Kalb says:

    A couple points.

    First, people of all political stripes home school their kids.

    My main point, though, was that PHC won’t have any real effect, though, because most home school grads are homebodies. All but one home school grad I’ve known who was interested in government has pulled out in order to be closer to home.

    Also, I find that people, even those going to schools with far different political slants, tend to do a pretty good job of avoiding being intellectually challenged if they so choose, and that this won’t have a real effect.

  5. Paul says:

    OK… I “understand” your concern but I don’t know that it is founded in any experience with home schooling.

    I have 2 nephews and a niece that are homeschooled. To called these kids cloistered would be really quite laughable. They have a far more active social life than “regular school”
    kids. They just don’t get bombarded with messages about sex and drugs 24/7. These kids actually have far more life experiences than other kids. While other kids are watching 8 hours of T.V a day, these kids are out doing things.

    Let’s just say that the reality of homeschooling is not exactly what most people not familiar with it think.

    And I am not sure I can make the leap that since they don’t hold hands in public at this college their ideas are not challenged in the classroom. Contrary to what you often imply, people can actually both think and pray. They are not mutually exclusive.

  6. bryan says:

    “But exposure to other ideas—and especially close association with those who have different ideas—tends to work against fanaticism and toward tolerance. A society as diverse as ours depends on this to survive.”

    This sounds suspiciously like the University of Michigan’s arguments in their admissions case that went before SCOTUS recently. 😉

  7. Mark says:

    Why, yes.

  8. Jim says:

    Interesting dicusssion. One of the fundemental questions is why we go to school. There appears to have two reasons: impart knowledge and prepare to join civil society. Home schooling can be very good at imparting knowledge. I am not so convinced about the civil society aspects. One of the lessons the Army teaches you is that there are two types of courage: physical and moral. Moral courage is doing the right thing when there is nobody watching. That takes experience. I am not convinced that the cloistered enivroment of home schooling allows that kind of growth. Everyone knows of the sheltered kid who goes crazy when they enter college. At least college is still a fair protected area. What happened when these kids find freedom after graduating college?

  9. Richard says:

    “A large part of schooling is the social process of interacting with other students, dealing with the rigors of a set schedule, learning to live with seemingly arbitrary rules set by others, etc.”

    That may be true enough as an ideal, but from what I saw as a student and now as a parent is results that led me to purchase a secular program. Yeah, kids do learn to interact with other students and generally, the lesson they learn is to conform rigidly.

    Your comment on Holy Cross is interesting.I live close to the Cross and it is as rigidly PC as Jones is born again.

    People who are forced to examine their belief systems often emerge with a tempered faith.”

    My wife and were houseparents at a small secular, academically mediocre college. I saw almost no one question any beliefs, whether faith based, agonstic, or atheist. There was exposure to ideas, a few and they seemed to be based on the worldview of the moderately PC instructors. There was much more exposure to substances.

    I go often to the Amherst/Northampton area and maybe the self-absortion is better than the isolation. At least the PHC types won’t have to shell out a fortune to have 40 tatoos removed.

  10. Cam says:


    I think you could have an interesting discussion on homeschooling by talking to Kyle Williams, who runs the http://www.oklahomaconservative.com blog. He’s a 15 year old homeschooler and a very bright individual.

    As to the issue of schools like Bob Jones and Liberty… did you know Liberty is playing in the NCAA basketball tournament this year? I’d say being able to compete at a Division 1 level in sports means you’re in the mainstream (at least as far as being able to attract players). I don’t know much about Bob Jones, except to say that the one grad I know is a normal, reasonable, personable individual who seems to have suffered no ill effects from attending there.

  11. Rae says:

    “dealing with the rigors of a set schedule, learning to live with seemingly arbitrary rules set by others, etc. While I’m often disgusted with the quality of the teachers at public schools, they at least expose their students to views beyond those of their parents. That’s a good thing.”

    May I politely question just how many home educating families you know personally? Some do hold to rigorous schedules, others have a more relaxed program they follow. It seems that having to hold to such a schedule makes many teachers feel bound to didatic teaching methods and limited to colorless teaching plans. How many teachers have said they wish they had more time and less students? Arbitrary rules set by others…isn’t that what they experience in a home school class? “You must study this..” “This is due tomorrow.” Who said that home educated students dictate their whole schooling experience and why is that the assumption?

    “My main point, though, was that PHC won’t have any real effect, though, because most home school grads are homebodies. All but one home school grad I’ve known who was interested in government has pulled out in order to be closer to home.”

    Hasn’t the information posted (the number of students who are Senator’s aides) shown your statement false? How can a student hold down the “rigors” of a 14-17 hour schedule and aid and be a homebody? May I also ask how many home school grads you know or have known? How does that number compare to the number of students educated at home who are now attending a university? Be accurate in your statements. It is a bit immature to say, “Because I think it’s true, it is true.” That realm of thinking, if properly educated is grown out of by about 8 years of age.

    Why is it o.k. to make such sweeping generalizations about home educating families and students, but wrong to make such statements about any other group? African-Americans, Hispanics, Gays, Liberals, Conservatives, The Aged, The Young…Start by getting to know a family that home educates. Then increase that number to more than one (removes suspect “token” family, as in “I’m not predjudiced because I know one family”- one is hardly a good representative of the whole). Then form your opinions.

    I would never deny that there are families who claim to home educate and don’t do anything. That is life. Just like there are schools that are better, teachers that are worse, boards that are wrongly influenced, superintendents who fight for more money, there are going to be families that say they home school and simply don’t, but there are far more who make the sacrifice (it isn’t cheap when you consider curriculum purchase and a possible loss of wages due to choosing to quit the work force to educate your children) to do it right, than not do it all.

    I find it interesting that many assume that these children never experience challenges to their belief systems. Simply going outside of their home challenges their way of life. They are constantly asked, “What school do you go to?” When they reply, “I am home educated” and see the body language of the person’s response, “well….that’s nice”; they are challenged. It’s obvious to the kid that the person obviously doesn’t agree with what is going on. They read newspapers, magazines, listen to radio programs, see television news spots all protraying them as backwoods, hillbillies with parents too lazy to get their sorry, welfared rumps out of bed each day. No challenges to their beliefs and way of life? What?

    O.K, so maybe you meant that they aren’t inundated with educational thoughts different than those of their parents? What? Evolution? It’s a theory, not fact. So, it is presented that way in many home educating families, both religious and non-religious. The politcal process? What kid isn’t influenced by his/her family’s politcal beliefs (how many Kennedy’s are Republicans or Bush Democrats)? We personally listen to NPR, not known to be the most conservative radio news, but not only that, isn’t all of history and politics from someone’s perspective?

    Have you even looked at statistics regarding home educated kids? They are more involved in the political arena than their publically educated contemporaries. They are more involved civically and at earlier ages.

    I think the thing that is being missed is it is the parents responsibility to educate their children and to rear them with freedom in that regard. I realize and conceed that there are going to be parents who teach their children at home and never expose them to any contrary views. Just know that this is one family that doesn’t: we listen to NPR, read The Atlantic, Harper’s, and The New Yorker in this family. Plus we live in a state in which the government is so influenced by the religion of the majority, that simply living here is the closest we will ever be to living in a different country and still be in the U.S.

    Stepping off of soapbox now…Btw, because I enjoy reading opposing and challenging views, I will be coming back often. Off to read Homer for Children, Greek Mythology, help my second grader finish her series of posters on vertebrates, administer a science test, take the children to drop off their unused toys to a local charity, discuss “The Return of the King” book in light of it’s cinema counterpart, take oldest three to swim team practice, catching NPR in the process, and somehow make a delicious, nutrious dinner. And this is one of our “down” days? Who said something about “rigors of a set schedule?”

  12. bryan says:

    Sorry, Rae, but you hit my pet peeve.

    You end your reasoned argument re: homeschooling with this line:

    “discuss “The Return of the King” book in light of it’s cinema counterpart,”

    It’s is not possessive.

  13. Rae says:

    Right you are! A grammatical error on my part. Thanks for the correction.

  14. Rae says:

    Wait- does that also mean that you think my argument was well-reasoned? I mean, was it inteneded to be complimentary or just used descriptively, you know, as an adjective? The internet so lacks in projecting the subtleties of communication.

    P.S. My daughter’s had a nice laugh over my little grammar error.

  15. David Kutzler says:

    I’m an Air Force officer and was previously stationed at Andrews AFB, Maryland. Andrews is in Prince George’s County, Maryland and my then seven-year-old daughter would have gone to a school in the local school district. When I heard some of the other parents talking about the dreadful quality of the school system, I checked it out myself. My daughter would have gone to a school in a neighborhood that I felt uncomfortable DRIVING through.

    My wife and I decided to do what most Andrews parents did. We had a bit of difficulty finding a secular home schooling program, but we did find a quality program and home schooled our daughter for third and fourth grade. My wife was a Girl Scout leader, so our daughter had ample opportunity for socialization.

    When I was transferred to Nellis AFB, Nevada, my daughter transferred back to public school for fifth grade. She was actually ahead of her public school peers, especially in reading. I don’t think that she was too damaged by her home schooling experience.

    Major David L. Kutzler, USAF

  16. Rae says:

    Sorry I was trying to bait you in my P.S., Bryan (daughters had a laugh). Just a little cheek, there.

  17. darby says:

    I have the advantage of a different perspective regarding socialization, since I have one child in a public school and other being homeschooled. My daughter spends all her time in the company of the same 24 children every day, all day long. It’s not a very diverse experience. They are all the same age as her, share approximately the same socio-economic status, and she only really interacts with two different adults. However, right now, the academic advantages seem to outweigh the social negatives of having my child spend all day in an institution.

    My son has difficulty writing, so rather than have him labeled LD by grade 1, we brought him home.

    Right now I’m sitting here at my computer looking at a small pile of paper scraps, each printed with another homeschooler’s e-mail address. Yesterday we spent all afternoon at the home of a friend. My son and her son went for a ramble down by the river and discovered many muddy treasures over the course of an hour. His mother and I discussed exchanging the kids once a week so they could do science and history project together. We also discussed starting a Roots and Shoots club with our boys and other homeschooled children to help people and animals in the neighbourhood.
    That was just yesterday. The day *before* yesterday we were at the local community center for an hour of swimming with homeschoolers (who, BTW, are not all Christians – they are also Muslims, Pagans, and folks of no particular faith, as well). After swimming, my 6yo son happily chased down his two favorite people – a 14 year boy and his 12yo brother – in order to discuss LOTR collectible toys with them.
    The day before that another friend and her son (different ones altogether) borrowed my son for the day and the boys played with her new puppy.

    If anything, I’m having a hard time keeping up with my son’s social life. It includes people of all ages and walks of life, and he spends most of his day outside of any classroom. And yet, even with all that, he still gets more academic learning than he’d ever get in school. He’s pulling ahead of the provincial curriculum in math, in way that would never be possible in school, where all the focus would be on his lack of writing skills. It would have been a crying shame if this bright little boy (who can now type fairly well) had been left to assume that he was stupid because he couldn’t print sentances like the other children.

    Sometimes I wonder why I send my daughter at all… (except that she insists she really wants to go). Her limited schedule means she can’t do the things we do. She can’t learn to swim. She has homework every night, so she can’t run right out to play with the neighbourhood kids when they get home, and she can’t get involved in any long term projects. Everything she does has to fit into weekends or the summer.

    I don’t think public school is a bad thing, but I don’t see that it has any particular advantage over homeschooling. They’re different choices, and different ways of living. And I’m sitting here on the fence with one child in each world.

  18. Interesting commentary. 🙂 I’m a bit intimidated to post a comment. I’m a busy homeschooling mom of 3, and also running a daycare. I’m prolific, verbose and articulate. I’m also a lazy proofreader and a poor typist.

    Socialization as a concern for homeschooling families is certainly not a new topic. In response, I have a few comments.

    One is that an institutional school as a socialization vehicle has not been proven the best socialization vehicle. It’s simply the most common one.

    I won’t offer a list of events, groups and activities that my kids and I participate in in order to allay your fear about homeschooling. I used to do that in response to the socialization question. I finally realized, however, that our lives don’t have to mirror or mimic that of public school age peers in order to be productive, legitamite or valid.

    While I share your concerns about extreme measures taken to shelter children, I have respect for those who chose to homeschool for that primary reason. OTOH, I am glad the “face” of homeschooling is changing dramatically. Although my faith brings me in contact with stereotypical conservatives, my parenting choices put me in company with a wide variety of mainly liberals.

    I’ve found homeschooling famiiles (and I know hundreds) to be wonderfully varied, rich, flawed, vibrant, active, quiet and inspiring.

    In my case, homeschooling over the years has become less about the problems with public school and more about the advantages of homeschooling. There are many and I’m thankful to live in a state in a country that honors my right and ability to teach and socialize my own children.