In a free society it is essential that education, however procured, produce people who can dream, think, and accomplish. Exploration and discovery are the roots of freedom and the foundation of egalitarian republics.
“I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays and have things arranged for them that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas.”
The most basic principles of academic freedom are often expressed in homeschooling. Academic freedom in its purest form allows the teacher to teach what he or she chooses and the learner to simultaneously choose what to study. A centuries’ old German tradition idealized that(Lehrfreiheit) the freedom to teach and (Lernfreiheit) the freedom to choose what to study were the foundation of a free society and an essential part of the Grundgesetz, the German constitution — until 1918.
Committees such as the one that established the fervently debated “Common Core” or the thousands that set up Core Curriculums on university campuses over the past century cloud civil and academic freedoms and individual responsibilities of teachers and students. The dynamic equation of right and responsibility makes free societies work. No Agatha Christie mystery here. Homeschooling profoundly expresses the “what to teach,” “how to teach,” “who to teach” dynamic.
Only 3% of students enrolled in K-12 classes are educated at home. The growth rate over the past few years has been a steady 5 to 8% annually. This number of students reduces the U.S. taxpayer burden by about $16 billion a year. Pennies compared to the total government spending on education. A range of families choose homeschooling. Every faith, every income, and every ethnic group home school their children, and participation is increasing in every group. Some parents who engage in homeschooling have PhD’s, others, GED’s. In some states, such as North Carolina, the growth rates are dramatic. And, homeschooled students score higher on standardized tests, and achieve university graduation rates above the norm.
A number of years ago, I served on the Truman Scholar’s selection panel. The process entailed interviewing dozens of gifted and performing students. One of the candidates gave a remarkable perspective on the value of education in a free society. He also revealed that he was homeschooled, and the member of a devout Christian family. At the end of the meeting there we sat, five university citizens and four around the table were shocked that a student who was homeschooled could be as bright and insightful as this young man appeared to be. Predisposition and prejudice filled the room. I asked why my co-panelists were surprised that a young person educated by loving parents, within a moral framework, and afforded lavish access to the world’s insights through the Internet, should be bright, energetic, and articulate.
Not one intelligent response followed: just frantic back-peddling from dogmatic, thick-skulled self-revelation. And homeschooled children often socialize “acceptably.” The fear that homeschooled children will be narrow-minded is unfounded by research comparing them to public school compatriots.
Responsive universities will find ways to welcome homeschooled men and women onto their campuses; soon they will be recruiting them. The challenges of opening the doors of public institutions to homeschoolers are many. How and what home educated students are taught may differ positively or negatively from general college preparation in traditional high schools. In public educational settings graduation rates and college preparation vary widely from one district to another or from school to school in the same district. To be sure, consistency is difficult to attain in all settings. The general achievement of home educated students is better than average, according to Joseph Murphy, a faculty member and expert on home-schooling at Vanderbilt University.
Germany, once a leader in thoughtful perspectives on teaching and learning, has vacated the position of leadership according to a widely publicized New York Times story last year regarding a family in Germany that sought U.S. asylum so that they would be able to home school their children. Germans are not allowed to home school and have not been since 1918. But, the Romeike family is now in the U.S. indefinitely, and pleased to be able to educate their offspring as they see fit.
Increasingly, homeschooled graduates are competing favorably at some of the best universities in the nation, and the numbers are growing. Opportunities coveted by universities for freedom of choice in study, scholarship, and research, and the choices that students are able to make, must be extended to families. It increasingly appears to be more effective than the standard fare offered at many traditional schools.