After a year of trying to help lower COVID cases with remote schooling in many areas of the United States, the results are in for America’s children, and they aren’t good. After spending 2020 and part of 2021 studying and learning at home, many children have fallen massively behind. So far behind that some students now may be held back a grade to catch up.
Policy-makers and educators are now teaming up to try to brainstorm ways to get the schoolchildren of America back on track.
It has, undeniably, been a rough year for everyone, full of emotional, financial, and physical turmoil. Children have likely experienced more stress than usual, and many of these children are accustomed to learning in a classroom with a teacher readily available. But the results of this mass homeschooling experiment during a pandemic still raises an important question; a question that no one seems to be addressing.
If remote learning is so ineffective for young people… if we MUST get kids back in schools despite the risks of illness for the sake of their education and future prospects, as many politicians and citizens have argued over the last year, then why is homeschooling allowed to proliferate so freely, and with little to no regulation, in our society?
Article after article details the loneliness and isolation our schoolchildren are experiencing after learning remotely for the last year. A recent piece in Time Magazine explores the serious harm that’s been done to childrens’ mental and emotional health. It covers a study performed by a psychologist at Northwestern University, which focused on students’ mental health before and after the change to homeschooling in Chicago public schools.
“The results were striking. On every one of the negative traits the overall scores went up, and on every one of the positive ones, there was a decline. Some were comparatively small shifts: Talking about plans for the future fell from 44.3% to 30.9% (a change of 13.4 percentage points); positive peer relationships declined from 60.4% to 46.8% (a 13.6 percentage-point drop). But in other cases, the change was more dramatic. Just 3.6% of kids overall were reported to exhibit signs of being lonely before the schools were shuttered and 31.9% were that way after, a massive shift of 28.3 percentage points. Only 4.2% of children were labeled agitated or angry before the closures, compared to 23.9% after, a jump of 19.7 points.” — How School Closures Damaged U.S. Children’s Mental Health During the Pandemic, TIME magazine, March 2021
Yet, for years, studies (many paid for by partisan groups) have claimed that homeschooled children don’t suffer such loneliness or isolation. And that their educational performance exceeds that of schoolchildren.
“It’s hard to find an article about homeschool in the national media that does not include a quote from the Home School Legal Defense Association. HSLDA is a nonprofit homeschool advocacy group that offers legal representation to members in some cases involving homeschooling.
HSLDA also lobbies state and national legislatures to present its conservative Christian viewpoint on issues regarding home education and family rights. So it’s fair to question whether HSLDA’s studies represent only its constituents and not homeschoolers from other walks of life.” — Why You Shouldn’t Trust Homeschooling Stats and Statistics, ThoughtCo.
Obviously, our views on home education have been framed carefully for us. We have viewed homeschooling through the lens of advocacy coming from a few specific groups, and not through the lens of what’s best for the children in our communities.
COVID-19 has shown us many things, and I believe one big takeaway will be how our education system is failing children.
While homeschooling may be the correct choice for some children, the practice is almost entirely devoid of regulation and oversight, leaving young people vulnerable to abuse, manipulation, and neglect. Millions of students are even more alone under homeschooling than the students have been who attended online classes over the course of the pandemic. There is no qualified teacher to guide them. No mandated reporter. No school counselor. Ever.
In most states, there are no parent education minimums, no criminal bans, no assessments required, and no vaccines required. In Arkansas, parents can even petition for a waiver to homeschool their children in a home with a sex offender. There are also no state-mandated subjects in most states.
If children aren’t successful learning at home with oversight from teachers, administrative staff, and a school board, how are they expected to navigate an education on their own at home without any resources? And who should they turn to when they suffer abuse at home?
Additionally, how will they break out of indoctrination from parents whose goal isn’t to provide an education, but to prevent them from getting a real education that doesn’t align their specific set of beliefs?
While parents may choose to homeschool their kids for a variety of reasons, religious indoctrination and purposeful separation from society are, unfortunately, common justifications for homeschooling children:
“Some find local schools lacking or want to protect their child from bullying. Others do it to give their children the flexibility to pursue sports or other activities at a high level. But surveys of homeschoolers show that a majority of such families (by some estimates, up to 90 percent) are driven by conservative Christian beliefs, and seek to remove their children from mainstream culture. Bartholet notes that some of these parents are ‘extreme religious ideologues’ who question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy.” The Risks of Homeschooling, Harvard Magazine
Many Americans may not realize that homeschooling is not only regulated in other countries, it is actually illegal in many places. Common regulations in other countries where homeschooling is legal include:
A degree or education requirement on the part of the parent that ensures they are qualified to fully educate their children.
Yearly or bi-yearly testing to ensure the child is receiving an adequate education and is keeping up with children in public school
Permission from an education branch of the government
In other countries, such as Germany, families simply aren’t allowed to homeschool at all, unless they meet certain strict requirements. For example, children with severe illnesses may still be allowed to learn at home. These countries require regulations or ban homeschooling to ensure that the children in their society receive a proper education, along with appropriate socialization and exposure to other ideas and ways of thinking.
Many homeschool proponents argue that regulations and bans on homeschooling reduce the parents’ freedom to choose their child’s education. Recently, those in favor of more regulations have taken the same tack, but in a different direction.
Elizabeth Bartholet’s in-depth article, Homeschooling: Parent Rights Absolutism vs. Child Rights to Education and Protection, provides an argument for the child’s freedom and need for protection over the parents right to absolute authority over their child.
A child is a member of society too, the argument goes. As such, they should enjoy their own freedoms.
The freedom to education. The freedom from abuse and indoctrination. The freedom to participate in society.
If children were miserable, anxious, and undereducated during the COVID-19 crisis, maybe it’s time for us to listen to such arguments and rethink our lax approach to the regulation of homeschooling.
If getting kids back in school was so vital that we were willing to risk the deaths of teachers, aides, and staff, in addition to the health of the children, then it seems our usual, hands-off approach to home learning needs a fresh look, along with many other aspects of our society.