Worry about homeschooled children not developing into autonomous adults

Each time a criticism of homeschooling is refuted another one crops up.

  • The charge of quality in learning among homeschooled children is contradicted by the number of homeschoolers who are successful college students.
  • The allegation that parents will not be able to find adequate materials was remedied by awareness of educational resources other than those supplied to schools.
  • The rumor that homeschooled children will be socially inept is brushed aside by university educators and employers who value the maturity and level-headedness of young people who were raised and educated at home.

As critics make each objection to homeschooling, the children who were homeschooled prove the opposite.

A recent theoretical criticism of homeschooling is that because of the closeness between homeschooled children and their parents, and because of the lack of ‘diversity’ in their daily lives, homeschooled children will not understand worldviews other than those of their families and will not attain autonomy. This criticism comes from Rob Reich of Stanford University:

“I argue . . . that at a bare minimum one function of any school environment must be to expose children to and engage students with values and beliefs other than those they are likely to encounter within their homes. Because homeschooling is structurally and in practice the least likely to meet this end, I argue that while the state should not ban homeschooling it must nevertheless regulate its practice with vigilance.”

Professor Reich’s paper is titled, “Testing the Boundaries of Parental Authority Over Education: The Case of Homeschooling.”3 I think the assumption is that the publicly schooled adults who now run contemporary society are autonomous people who think and act as individuals. From within a society it may indeed appear that ‘choice’ is exercised but if you leave a society for a significant amount of time and then return, this assumption doesn’t seem as valid as before.

Our family spent 20 of the last 30 years outside the United States and one of the things I’ve noticed since our return to the United States is a general decline in the appearance of autonomy. People today seem to be more conforming and less likely to act independently. Choice in regional food is one example that smacks me in the face every day as little choice in noncorporate food is glaringly obvious unless you frequent very upscale shops (I see this both in prepared/restaurant food and in choices available in the grocery stores).

On the various vacations our family took during our “home leaves” in America I can think of few choices we had while on the road in easily finding food that didn’t involve some corporate chain; a lobster place in Maine is the one exception that comes readily to mind.

In the almost three years since we’ve been back in America we’ve found one little restaurant in a local town that isn’t corporate, one nice Italian place that my father enjoyed 1960s, and a family BBQ place still run by the sister of one of my classmates. I’m sure there are other privately run restaurants but they aren’t in prime locations and it takes local knowledge to ferret them out. Otherwise I see the same places over and over all over the local area and beyond. And, for the most part, they sell the same food. Just how many ways can spinach-artichoke dip be made? This is just one example of the everyday herd-think I see.

When my eldest son was in junior high in a parochial school I occasionally gave him shelled hazelnuts in his lunch. He liked hazelnuts, they were good for him, they were easy to make, they were tidy and didn’t squish all over his lunchbox, the shells were biodegradable, etc. He was teased for bringing ‘health food’ for lunch. Before they were removed from school his younger siblings has much the same experiences in the overseas military school lunch room because they didn’t bring Ding-Dongs, Ho-Hos, chips, and such in their lunches. Autonomy? Developed in schools? That was not my experience of it.

So where is the autonomy that is so desirable? Does a publicly schooled nation really show diversity and a predisposition of the citizens to think and act independently or has American life become an extended set of peerpressure– and- copycat-shopping-experiences?



3. Rob Reich, “Testing the Boundaries of Parental Authority over Education: The Case of Homeschooling”, 2001 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, August 30-September 2, 2001, This essay is included in: Political and Moral Education, NOMOS XLIII, Stephen Macedo and Yael Tamir, eds., NewYork: New York University Press, 2002.


Copyright 2006, Valerie Bonham Moon

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