The following is a summary of a 21-page research paper by Bruce Arai, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo. The paper is entitled “Ideologues”, “Pedagogues” and “Mainstreamers”: Changes in Parents’ Motivations for Homeschooling. This paper is currently under review for publication by a scholarly journal. [Web Editor’s Note: this likely refers to this publication: Arai, A. Bruce (2000) Changing Motivations for Homeschooling in Canada. Canadian Journal of Education, 25(3): 204-17.]
The purpose of this paper was to investigate some of the reasons parents choose to homeschool their children. Prof. Arai reviewed the findings on homeschooling (mainly from the U.S. since there is very little available in Canada) to develop a picture of what is known about the practice. He also did interviews with homeschooling families in Ontario and B.C. Finally, it is argued that Canadian homeschoolers are different from their American counterparts on several important dimensions and that these differences reflect a recent change in the nature of homeschooling.
The existing literature on homeschooling shows that, in general, parents either did not accept the content of the school’s curriculum (referred to as “ideologues”) or were unhappy with the institutionalized nature of schooling (referred to as “pedagogues”).
The ideological homeschoolers had a diversity of reasons for their dissatisfaction: 1) public schools did not provide either enough or the right kind of religious education; 2) parents of “gifted” or “bright” children felt that the regular school curriculum was not demanding enough to provide a challenge for their children. Among the pedagogical homeschoolers the “negative socialization” was a concern for the majority of parents — i.e. teasing, pranks and exclusionary behaviour could be extremely damaging to their child’s sense of self. Other pedagogues felt that learning in a highly structured environment was wrong and many parents rejected the hierarchical learning situation in schools.
Both the ideologues and pedagogues did share some reasons for wanting to homeschool their children, such as: 1) creating a stronger family bond (family unity); 2) homeschooling provides a way to practice an alternative lifestyle (getting away from materialist and consumerist values); 3) many parents themselves had unpleasant memories of school when they were children; 4) homeschooling allows parents the right to be responsible for their children’s education.
There are reasons to expect that homeschooling in Canada will be different than in the U.S. There are different legal contexts surrounding homeschooling in the two countries. Rules governing homeschooling vary from state to state and province to province. Also, much of the research in the past is about 10 years old, and there has been a rapid growth recently in homeschooling — people’s reasons for homeschooling may have changed.
In the 1990s, as homeschooling becomes more accepted and as debates about educational choice continue, there are more opportunities for families to choose homeschooling as an option for their children. In the past, parents usually had strong philosophical beliefs about homeschooling because of legal difficulties and negative perceptions of homeschooling. Homeschooling today is becoming easier due to the fact that battles about the legality of homeschooling are being resolved and there has been an explosion in the number of support groups and organizations.
Data for this research were collected through interviews with 23 homeschooling families in Ontario and in B.C. Each interview lasted approximately 2 hours. Discussions also took place with key people in three provincial homeschooling organizations in B.C. and Ontario as well as attendance at three different homeschooling conferences in Ontario. The goal of this research paper is to provide an initial look at motivations for homeschooling in Canada which is informed by the results from U.S. studies.
The basic interview schedule contained questions about: 1) parent’s motives for homeschooling; 2) how they arrived at the decision to homeschool; 3) how they actually accomplish homeschooling on a daily basis; 4) what are their perceptions of various aspects of the educational system; 5) what are their thoughts about parental and state rights and responsibilities for education. As other topics arose, they were pursued with alternatives lines of questioning.
The results were organized into four sections: 1) characteristics of homeschooling parents, 2) coming to the decision to homeschool, 3) motivations for homeschooling and 4) attitudes towards the public education system.
1) Characteristics of Homeschooling Parents
Some of the parents interviewed had not completed high school while others had post-graduate degrees. The vast majority had completed high school and had some post-secondary education. None of the parents were currently employed as teachers, although four had degrees in education. All of the families knew of at least one family that was currently homeschooling where one or both parents were teachers. Virtually all of the families lived on one income.
There was also diversity in the length of time that families had been homeschooling. Thirteen families had only started homeschooling within the last four years, while the rest had homeschooled for longer periods. Almost all of the homeschoolers expressed a strong spiritual or religious commitment, however, this was not a major motivation for homeschooling for most of them.
2) Coming to the decision to homeschool
For most participants in this study, the decision to homeschool was not precipitated by a specific incident. Many parents arrived at the decision gradually over a period of months or years. The process usually started with a general dissatisfaction with elements of the public school which led to an investigation of alternatives, usually private school. For people who had begun homeschooling more than four years ago, they did not know that homeschooling was out there as an option. In several cases parents had decided to homeschool their children before they even attended school. This was almost exclusive among those families who had begun homeschooling less than four years ago.
3) Motivations for homeschooling
Only two people in this research made a specific connection between bad personal experiences at school and their decision to homeschool. Negative memories of school do not appear to be a major motivation for homeschooling among Canadian parents. Canadian homeschoolers do not appear to differentiate as clearly between ideological and pedagogical objections to schooling as homeschoolers in the U.S. Most families felt that the overall environment of schools was detrimental to their children’s well-being.
Parents may have taken their children out of school initially due to a poor school environment, low academic standards or moral and religious concerns, however, parents found there were positive changes in their children as well. Homeschooling had helped strengthen the family bond–both parents and children were happier and more comfortable around each other. Family unity was an unexpected benefit of the practice, and not an initial motivation.
With respects to whether the state or parents should have the right to determine a child’s education, some parents who had started homeschooling recently were confused by the question. They felt that it was their right and responsibility to look out for their children and the state had the right and responsibility to protect the well-being of everyone. For those parents who had been homeschooling for longer than four years, they felt that they had the right to determine their children’s education and that homeschooling helped them to manifest that right.
Some parents felt strongly that homeschooling was part of living an alternative lifestyle. These parents–some new to homeschooling and others who were veterans–felt that homeschooling meshed nicely with their other values including a belief in herbal medicines, vegetarianism, concern for the environment and social justice. However, the majority of parents did not feel that homeschooling was an integral component of living an alternative lifestyle. They felt that they were normal in all respects, except for the fact that their children did not go to school.
4) Attitudes towards the public education system
Parents in the study did not uniformly object to public education, but rather to specific parts of the system. Not all homeschooling parents felt that homeschooling was a better option than public school. Some felt that public school is preferable to homeschooling if it is done properly. Many homeschoolers actually have quite favourable opinions of certain aspects of public education.
Teachers: Some parents in the study had pulled their children out of school due to problems with a specific teacher, however, most parents had favourable impressions of teachers as a group. Most parents recognized that there were good and bad teachers. Many parents had a high degree of respect for teachers and felt that they were caring, well-meaning and doing their best under the circumstances. Of course, not all parents were positive about teachers and were quite negative about their unions.
Local school officials: Principals and school board trustees received a more mixed review from parents in the study. Some homeschoolers were positive about principals at their local schools while others told “horror stories” of how badly they were treated. Some principals were quite supportive of the homeschooling decision while others tried to block attempts by parents to homeschool their children.
As more and more people take up homeschooling, their reasons for doing so may have changed. The results presented above suggest that motivations for homeschooling have changed in recent years. The families interviewed expressed both ideological and pedagogical reasons for homeschooling. Families had problems with both the content of public school curricula as well as how it was being delivered. There were also concerns over the social issues in schools. Family unity was a result of homeschooling and not the reason to start homeschooling in the first place.
An important shift has occurred in the homeschooling movement. Today, homeschooling is being considered a more legitimate option than in the past. More and more parents view homeschooling as merely one educational option among many rather than a radical alternative to contemporary public schooling. This would suggest that homeschooling is appealing to a larger, more “mainstream” segment of the population than in the past. That is why homeschoolers in this study cannot be separated easily into ideologues and pedagogues. Parents are more interested in trying to do what is best for their children, rather than using their educational choices to make deliberate political statements about parental rights in education.
Homeschooling will likely continue to increase in popularity and will be strengthened as more and more mainstream parents choose this educational option. However, the growth of homeschooling is limited by two important considerations.
First, homeschooling is usually only possible when one of two parents, or a single parent, is able to stay home with the children. Both the single income family and the single, non-employed parent family are becoming less common in Canada. This puts a limit on the number of potential homeschooling families. The second limitation is the type and amount of time and effort required to educate children at home. There are many people who would not want to teach their children at home even if the family environment would allow it. However, despite these two limitations, homeschooling will likely grow substantially for an extended period of time.
Another implication of the mainstreaming of homeschooling is better cooperation between schools and the home. In the past, homeschoolers preferred to have little or no contact with school officials. Most contact was initiated by the schools and most of the efforts were aimed at trying to get children back into the school system. However, as a new generation of parents take up homeschooling they may demand more interaction and cooperation from schools. Parents may begin to initiate contact and demand that schools work with and support them in their efforts to educate their children at home.
School officials may also be more amenable to cooperation with homeschoolers because they will realize that homeschooling is not a wholesale rejection of the public education system. Homeschooling is now being viewed by some parents as simply an alternative and possibly a complementary education option. This increased contact may lead to a blurring of boundaries between homeschooled and schooled children and the boundaries between home and school.
Bruce Arai teaches courses in research methods, statistics, and the sociology of work at Wilfrid Laurier University. His research interests include homeschooling, educational assessment, and economic sociology, particularly self-employment. Professor Arai homeschools his children.