The opinion piece, “Liberals, Don’t Homeschool Your Kids: Why teaching children at home violates progressive values”, by Slate magazine contributor Dana Goldstein, touched a nerve with political progressives on Daily KOS who strongly second Goldstein’s call and also others who as strongly disagree. Whatever you think about homeschooling, the piece touches on some fundamental issues about how those of us who believe in equality and justice for all (and particularly in the area of education and human development) can continue to work together to move our country towards realizing those goals.
As I see it, the gist of Goldstein’s argument is that homeschooling is a selfish practice that is antithetical to concern for the entire community, a concern that authentically progressive people should share. “Liberal homeschoolers” in particular are naively undermining a crucial public institution (public schools) that needs not only their tax dollars but their kids sitting at desks in those schools, for those schools to survive and continue to serve the entire community and promote a truly democratic society.
Although the national school-reform debate is fixated on standardized testing and “teacher quality” — indeed, the uptick in secular homeschooling may be, in part, a backlash against this narrow education agenda — a growing body of research suggests “peer effects” have a large impact on student achievement. Low-income kids earn higher test scores when they attend school alongside middle-class kids, while the test scores of privileged children are impervious to the influence of less-privileged peers. So when college-educated parents pull their kids out of public schools, whether for private school or homeschooling, they make it harder for less-advantaged children to thrive.
Per Goldstein, though a middle-class family may believe they can improve their own kid’s development by pulling that kid out of public school, they are certainly doing a disservice to the less advantaged kids who are left behind, as well as the whole fabric of a democratic society that should not divide people into “us and them” or “haves and have nots”. This even if that middle-class family continues to pay taxes for public schools while educating their own kid outside of public school on their own dime!
To get a sense of the scope of this issue, the latest U.S. Department of Education statistics I’ve seen show that some ten percent of kids in the U.S. go to private school, while only one to two percent are homeschooled. So I’m assuming Goldstein highlights homeschooling in her piece because it is trending upward, while private school enrollment is a longstanding reality (which is actually trending downward).