A summary of the research report “Homeschooling and the Redefinition of Citizenship” by Bruce Arai.
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 is also the author of a study entitled “Changes in Parents’: Motivations for Homeschooling” which was featured in the October 1999 issue of Home Rules. He has been researching the topic of homeschooling for three years, and is currently in the process of gathering data on attitudes towards homeschoolers. He and his wife, Tracey Appleton, homeschool their three children, aged 4, 6 and 8.
A great deal of research on homeschooling has focused on comparisons between homeschooled and schooled children with respects to academics and why people choose to homeschool their children. In his research paper entitled “Homeschooling and the Redefinition of Citizenship,” Professor Arai focuses on the area of citizenship — can people be good citizens without going to school? His paper shows that homeschoolers have a different but equally valid understanding of citizenship.
Most of the concerns/objections surrounding homeschooling revolve around whether or not homeschooled children are being properly socialized in order to develop into good citizens. What is meant by “proper socialization” can be broken down into several components: 1) homeschooled children will not be able to cope in and with the harsh realities of the real world; 2) parents will provide a biased and narrow curricular content for their homeschooled children — schooled children are exposed to many different teachers with various areas of expertise; 3) homeschooled children do not receive enough exposure to others and this will produce people with higher levels of prejudice and intolerance.
Parents who homeschool their children are also accused of elitism. They are removing their children from the public school system because it is in a shambles when they should be staying and fighting to improve the system. It is also believed that home schooling can only be done by parents with higher levels of education. Only the elites have the ability to educate their children at home.
Another concern deals with post-secondary education. Many believe that if children do not go through the traditional school system and receive a high school diploma then they will not have the proper credentials to attend college and university. This concern is perhaps the only one that is shared both by the critics and homeschoolers themselves.
Coping in the real world, getting along with others, working for the common good and contributing to society through higher education becomes part of what is considered a good citizen. Can homeschoolers fit properly into the larger society?
Eamonn Callan feels that there should be no parental choice in education. He believes that all children should attend a common school to receive a common curriculum in order to ensure a “vibrant sense of citizenship among present and future generations.” Callan believes that a common school can provide: a) critical tolerance of diversity; b) the power of rational thought and argument and c) a commitment to a moral code.
(Editor’s Note: Eammon Callan used to be Dean of Education at the University of Alberta and is currently the Mactaggart Fellow in the Department of Educational Foundations at this university. He has written several very respected books on education, and educational philosophy. He is basically an advocate of “Common schooling” by which he means all kids attending the same school, with a common curriculum, underpinned by a rather liberal, but firmly held moral code. He has written two books on education entitled, “Creating Citizens: Political Education & Liberal Democracy” and “Autonomy & Schooling.”)
Callan refers to his vision as ‘schooling as the great sphere.’ “This is a form of schooling in which children are helped to explore the world and in the process they acquire the abilities to decide for themselves how and where they wish to live in that world.”
Callan argues that parents should only be allowed to keep their children out of school in clearly defined circumstances and “exemptions should only be granted after careful scrutiny of each case.” He does not believe that parents should have the right to reject this great sphere schooling for their children since it “would interfere with the child’s future ‘zone of personal sovereignty’ by keeping the child ‘ethically servile’ to her or his parents. ” Children removed from the great sphere schooling could be brainwashed into accepting their parents limited view of the world which would be harmful for the child and the larger society.
So…if the purpose of school is to create good citizens, then what type of citizenship education should children be receiving in school? Many models have been presented and debated, however, no one has presented a single vision of citizenship which has been acceptable to everyone. Over the years more emphasis has been placed on teaching facts about a country’s political system stressing rights and responsibilities. Less emphasis has been placed on participation and connection in the community. Schools are now beginning to rediscover that participation in the community is important for the education of proper citizens. Today, many students may believe that participation in the community is important, however, very few actually participate in these activities.
Therefore, do homeschoolers make good citizens? Do homeschoolers pose a threat to citizenship since they do not attend school? Professor Arai believes that “yes” homeschoolers do make good citizens. However, there are differences between the vision of citizenship presented in schools and what is found among homeschoolers.
Homeschoolers have responded to the above criticisms by creating a different kind of citizenship through their actions. They do not accept the assumption that school is the only place that one can go to become a good citizen. Most homeschoolers do not want to isolate themselves from the larger society and, therefore, seek “meaningful integration” into society which produces a different but equally valid understanding of citizenship.
Homeschoolers believe that school is not the only place where children learn coping skills. Homeschooled children are involved in sports, music, church, Scouts and Guides, etc. These types of activities enable children to learn how to interact with others — learning tolerance, mutual respect and cooperation.
Stating that parents of homeschooled children will provide a biased and narrow curriculum is based on the assumption that all teachers are unbiased or that their biases offset one another. Homeschooling parents believe that this is unlikely, therefore, there is no reason to assume that children in school are receiving an unbiased education. Also, many parents use a standard curriculum and/or make extensive use of libraries when homeschooling their children which also reduces the chances of biases.
With respects to narrow mindedness, homeschoolers believe that this is a parenting issue and not a homeschooling one. Children can be indoctrinated into erroneous world views even if they attend school. Critics must show that indoctrination occurs more in homeschooling than in public education. “For example, homeschoolers contend that most racists have attended school. Raising bigoted, intolerant or violent children then can be done as easily if they attend school as if they stay home.”
Homeschoolers believe that children in school are not really exposed to as much diversity as is touted. Schools require conformity. Therefore, diversity must fit into the daily pattern of classes and extra-curricular activities. Children do not have much opportunity to interact and learn from others who are older or younger than themselves.
Some homeschoolers are upset by the notion that they are being elitist by keeping their children at home. All they wish is to be given the same respect for their decision as is given to parents who send their children to school. Many homeschooling families are not part of the financial elite. Surveys show that many have an average or below average income and a slightly higher level of education in comparison to the general population. However, they do point out that homeschooling can and is being done by parents with a lower level of education.
In order to prepare for entry into post-secondary institutions, many homeschooling families research, well in advance, what credentials and documentation are necessary by various institutions for entry. This gives their children time to prepare and acquire the necessary documentation. Homeschoolers who do not wish to follow this path must persuade college and university registrars that they are qualified to be admitted to these institutions. Please note that in most provinces in Canada colleges and universities receive government funding only for students who meet “specific entrance criteria.” This usually means a high school diploma or recognized equivalent. Universities do not receive funding for students who do not meet these criteria and, therefore, there is no incentive to accept these students.
Citizenship education in homeschooling focuses on participation and the importance of family. Research shows that homeschooled children are more actively involved in volunteer work then their schooled peers. “Family unity” is also a major factor in choosing to homeschool. Educating their children at home allows parents to form a stronger relationship with their children than would be possible if their children attended school.
Children who have a strong family relationship are more inclined to a) explore the world with confidence; b) learn at their own pace; c) maintain a high level of curiosity; and d) be involved in intense learning processes. Homeschooling parents believe that their children are more capable of becoming independent thinkers. These parents also feel that there is too much consumerism and/or materialism in the “dominant society.” They want their children to be able to resist this pressure which is perpetuated in the school system.
Professor Arai states that: ”Homeschooling then, is a way to live out a lifestyle which is somewhat different from the norm and to raise their children to make their own decisions about how they wish to live. In other words, these parents share Callan’s vision of raising and educating children to make informed and reasonable choices about their lives.”
Therefore, citizenship education at home may be different than presented in schools but it is not an inferior experience. Homeschoolers are participating in a different definition and vision of what citizenship means. They prefer to stress family and participation in public activities as their basis for good citizenship. Schools cannot and should not be the only source for citizenship education. It must be recognized that children can become good citizens without going to school.
In closing, Arai states that: “…homeschooling parents and children must recognize that they are not just keeping their kids at home, and that they are not just making a statement about parental rights in education. Rather, they are also helping to define and shape what it means to be a citizen of their country. They must be prepared to think in these broader terms, and to recognize that what they are doing has some good elements and some bad elements, just as citizenship education in schools has strengths and weaknesses. In other words, homeschooling is not just about where kids will learn their ABCs, it affects the very definition of what it means to be a member of a society.”
Prof. Arai’s paper was published at the Education Policy Analysis Archives which is a peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal published at Arizona State University. Visit their website at: http://epaa.asu.edu. To read the research paper in its entirety please go to: [old link removed as no longer valid — valid URL as of May 2013: http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/562/685]