“Home Schooling is Dangerous!”

“Home schooling” proving popular with higher than expected number of parents, but vociferous ideologues are still out there

What’s been said?

Who could have predicted at the start of the year that resources and advice on home schooling for parents would be all over the media? A strange turn of events indeed.

As we know, there is a world of difference between elective home education and pandemic-enforced home schooling, but it is still informative to consider the range of views being reported in the present climate.

The Mail Online, for example, carried an article on 21 April entitled “Harvard law professor believes homeschooling can be ‘dangerous’ because it gives parents ‘authoritarian control’ over their children.”

The views of Professor Elizabeth Bartholet about home education are then expounded in detail, based on an article “The Risks of Homeschooling” in the current edition of the Harvard Magazine. (This in turn drew from an article by Bartholet herself, published in the Arizona Law Review, Vol 62 Issue 1, 2019.)

By contrast, on 16 April, psychological historian Dr Pam Jarvis tweeted her concerns about her grandsons seeming “so much happier now they’re not at school.” Astounded by the volume of feedback from parents saying this was their experience too, Jarvis followed up with a thought-provoking blog post, in which she affirmed:

“Parents overwhelmingly replied that their children were happier at home than at school, and some further commented that they were worried that their children would be reluctant to return.

…In fact, a survey of over 2000 parents recently undertaken by Childcare.co.uk found that 23% of them had ambitions to continue home schooling once the lockdown was over, due to the positive responses of their children to home learning, and the greater sense of well-being that was emerging within their families.”

Also on 16 April – the day on which many parents discovered which primary school their child had been assigned to – local news source KentLive covered the same story. Citing Childcare UK’s data, they added the following insights:

 “When asked what positives they’ve experienced from homeschooling during the lockdown, nearly four fifths (78%) of parents said ‘controlling what their child learns’, over half (51%) said ‘reduced bullying’, and nine in ten parents (91%) said ‘spending more time with their child’.”

ShinyShiny’s report (17 April) on the same poll chose to highlight the positive effects on family life in general: “4 in 5 parents believe Coronavirus lockdown brought family CLOSER together”

Meanwhile, English Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, never a fan of parental choice or home education, was already calling for schools to “consider opening in some form over the six-week summer holidays to help children catch up with the curriculum.”

A BBC News item from 22 April, “Tiny fraction of ‘at risk’ children attending schools,” afforded her another context in which to assert her underlying ideology about parents and children, schools and homes: “So often these children are quite invisible at home and not in the place which is best at keeping them safe – school.” [Emphasis added]

Why does it matter?

What is going on? We had got used to the media’s negative stereotyping of elective HE. The fact that “home schooling” is currently the only option for the majority means we are now seeing a more varied response – but the lobbyists are still in good voice.

Selections from the abstract of Bartholet’s article convey the flavour of her approach:

“This Article describes the rapidly growing homeschooling phenomenon and the threat it poses to children and society…. Many homeschool because they want to isolate their children from ideas and values central to our democracy… This Article calls for a radical transformation in the homeschooling regime and a related rethinking of child rights. It recommends a presumptive ban on homeschooling with the burden on parents to demonstrate justification for permission to homeschool.”

Her views are clearly being recycled and given greater prominence at this moment in time in response to the fact that over 90% of the world’s learners have been affected by school closures, many being “homeschooled”.

But there does seem to be some pushback from the grass roots. Ordinary parents have experienced something of the reality of a slowed down and reconfigured family life. A lot of them like what they are finding – even in the restricted context of the lockdown – and they are saying so.

Jarvis helpfully brings her research and experience to bear on the anecdotal data, concluding that “The whole culture of education from entry onwards… stands to place significant psychological pressure upon children, potentially storing up mental health problems for the future.”

She is scathing about Baseline testing and the impact of “growing datafication in education”. She affirms the richness of play-based learning, and cites emotional development as an integral part of cognitive development. With an increasingly prescriptive curriculum, teaching flexibly and responsively becomes almost impossible.

Finally, a shrewd observation by the School of Choice Director at the Reason Foundation cited at the end of the Mail Online article sums up nicely why all the above matters. Corey A. DeAngelis tweeted: “The elites are terrified that families are figuring out they can educate their own children at home,” adding later, “They are coming after your right to educate your own children at home.”

What can I do?

There are many unknowns about where all this will go in future. How and when will school closures end? Will the 23% of parents actually carry through on their declared intention? How will the teaching profession cope with the new landscape, online learning having come to the rescue in an unprecedented way?

For now, we advocate that you continue to enjoy your elective HE and value the time spent with your family. Continue to keep alert to the need to protect your right to determine the education of your own children. You know there are those out there who think you should lose it!

As much as possible in lockdown conditions, engage with families known to you who are presently in “enforced school at home” mode. Encourage the parents to enjoy their children and to think beyond the immediate horizon of just “getting back to normal.”

Post Script: Since this article was published Corey A. DeAngelis has published the following comment on the Harvard Magazine article. Whilst focussed on the American situation, it makes several points which are relevant in the UK: As Families and Schools Deal With Pandemic, Harvard Magazine Launches War On Homeschooling | Reason Foundation