Public Perceptions of Home-Based Education

Many home-based educators know Ontario writer Paul Kropp from his critically-acclaimed book The Reading Solution, a cogent analysis and discussion of how and why people learn to read.

Last year Mr. Kropp moved a little further afield when he produced The School Solution (Random House of Canada). In his new book, Mr. Kropp devoted exactly one page to the topic of "Home schooling," and within this page he displayed a profound lack of understanding about home-based education, assuring his readers that it is "difficult, time-consuming, lonely and virtually impossible to do on your own." He states further that, "In Canada it is the schooling of last resort. If all your other options seem hopeless, if you have the time to spend four hours a day teaching your own child, if you can somehow make up for your child's isolation from his peers, then perhaps home schooling is for you."

Here are some other misconceptions. "As a home schooler, you are both parent and teacher, following the provincial curriculum in a program that must be monitored by someone in your local public school system....It is difficult to give home schooling a try and then abandon it if it doesn't work out. Home schooling is a commitment and a philosophy, but one shared by only a handful of families, most of them in rural Alberta and British Columbia."

Mr. Kropp rather begrudgingly allots one third of a paragraph to positive statements about homeschooling, and in a sidebar lists some advantages, such as efficiency, convenience and the ability to create an individualized program. Many homeschoolers will find his list of "disadvantages" laughable. For example, he asserts that, "Few parents have sufficient expertise to tackle all senior high subjects," "Few parents have training in teacher techniques," "The educational bureaucracy is often not supportive," and "Children are isolated from their peers."

At least two families in Ontario took exception to this cursory dismissal of our chosen educational option, and wrote to Mr. Kropp. Here are some quotations from their responses. From a homeschooling dad:

"After reading this dismissive page, I could only shake my head in amazement that someone could so completely misrepresent a rapidly growing educational movement that approximately 5,000 families in Ontario alone have chosen. Did you actually interview any families that practice home-based education? Did you go any further in your research than the one 14-year-old book that is listed in your notes?...

The biased, pitifully short portrait of home-based education your book presents will probably do considerable harm. Because of the high quality of your last book, readers will be expecting the same level of research and analysis in this book. You may well discourage, or at least raise unwarranted concerns, in the minds of many families considering home-based education, not to mention the fact that you have reinforced unjustified prejudice against this educational option. Many families experience negative comments from family, friends, and strangers when they choose to let their children learn at home, and unprecedented numbers of families are having trouble with school officials who seem to be unfamiliar with the fact that home-based education is a completely legal option. You have irresponsibly made things harder for many families."

A homeschooling mom in Pickering wrote:

"Your opening paragraph pokes fun at the Colfax family. Does their success disturb you? I see in your notes that you did refer to one 14-year-old book. Did you read anything by Andrew Nikiforuk, Dorothy and Raymond Moore, John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, or David and Micki Colfax? This would be a good start. Better yet, did you talk to any families that are actually doing it?

"Mr. Kropp, you did not do your homework on home schooling. Your false statements do much harm to our hard work and reputation. If you met my children you would find they are bright, confident, well-adjusted young people. Quite normal, in fact. Our family enjoys the freedom home-based education affords us. We rarely have the 'stress' you mention constantly in your book....My children...can focus on the joy of learning and not worry about being knifed in the hall on the way to the bathroom. They are well aware it is a tough society out there, but I can see they are becoming the kind of people who will help make changes for the positive."

Mr. Kropp responded to these two parents by sending each a postcard. To the first he wrote that he had made some good points but he just couldn't go along with his thesis. He told the other that her family sounded special, but he stood behind his research and advice. He assured her that home schoolers should be monitored by the government, and that very few children in public schools ever see a knife.

Publicly-stated misconceptions about home-based education propagate our current environment of fear and uncertainty. Some families decide to try home-based education in spite of negative public perceptions, only to find that they, and many other families, are having wonderfully positive experiences. How many families never get up the nerve to try something that could change their lives for the better?

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Topics: Perceptions of Homeschooling