How Not to Evaluate Homeschooling

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Update: Since this post was first written in December 2013, I've had an opportunity to reevaluate it. In light of several comments and insights, combined with a rereading of the original article in question, I've come to see that I've made key mistakes in this post. The original article cited, for one, was not a good choice in making my points about how not to evaluate homeschooling. For another, I did not accurately represent the article. This is due, admittedly, to carelessness on my part, not on the part of the original article. For example, the original article really does not contain anything that is overtly critical of home education in general. In closing, I apologize for misconstruing the article mentioned below and for causing confusion among readers of this blog. I'll do my best to avoid such errors in future posts. In addition, for the record neither myself or Sonlight support harmful home education practices, but instead encourage a loving, nurturing learning environment where ideas are openly discussed and children are educated, not indoctrinated. 

Recently I came across an article in The American Prospect titled, "The Homeschool Apostates." It's hardly favorable regarding home education, highlighting examples of individuals who were raised as homeschoolers, but who now are essentially rebelling against the ideals they learned.

The article in question presents extreme examples of homeschooling situations that are hardly normative. In one example offered, the parents are depicted as being highly legalistic, controlling, isolated from others, and inflexible in their approach to education. It's not surprising given such circumstances that the children would ultimately rebel. As the article states, "Their parents wanted them naïve and sheltered."

I'll point out three errors in reasoning that are present in The American Prospect article (there are others, but these three are particularly important). First, examples that are not normative among homeschoolers are set forth as being typical. In other words, although such extreme circumstances and situations do exist, they are not broadly representative examples. In short, it's not helpful to base one's analysis of something, such as home education, on the basis of non-normative examples and circumstances.

Second, to judge the whole of homeschooling on the basis of limited individual examples is not the best approach. The logical fallacy of composition holds that what may be true of the parts is not necessarily true of the whole. In the case of certain criticisms of homeschooling, the whole of home education is being judged on the basis of certain parts--parts that are not normative or typical, but in fact are extreme examples.

Third, logical counterexamples may be used to demonstrate that certain arguments against home education are false. It is certainly the case that not all homeschooling parents are legalistic, abusive, or haphazard in their approach. There are many examples of well-rounded, intelligent parents and homeschooled children (just look at some of Sonlight's scholarship winners, for instance).

Finally, Sonlight seeks to foster learning, not isolation from ideas or the world. We want every child who uses Sonlight to be able to engage and understand ideas and be open to thoughtfully evaluating different viewpoints (even ideas that are directly in opposition to their worldview).

Robert Velarde

P.S. Since this is my last blog post before Christmas, I thought I'd quote one of my favorite passages in reference to the Incarnation: "The Word [Christ] became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14, The Message). Merry Christmas!

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