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Originally published Tuesday, November 29, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Home-schooling in the modern world: Worries about the long-term impact on public education

Here's the problem with looking at short-term studies on home-schooling. Positive scholastic outcome of a sample of home-schooled children...

Syndicated Columnist

Here's the problem with looking at short-term studies on home-schooling.

Positive scholastic outcome of a sample of home-schooled children isn't the only issue.

You have to think about the long-term effects of what this trend means for the future of education and the segregation of our school system over ideology.

A paper presented at the American Educational Research Association in 1991 reported that there were generally two kinds of parents who choose home-schooling for their children: the extremely religious and the "New Age." Both choose home-schooling for ideological reasons. Home-schooling is not about how public schools teach so much as what they teach. Parents who choose home-schooling want to instill in their children their own deeply held beliefs.

Most of these parents are willing to take on traditional roles of male breadwinner and female caretaker to accomplish this end. It makes you wonder if the intensity of this commitment isn't so much about a good education as it is about political inculcation. One benefit of a secular education is its exposure to diverse views. This is something home-schooling may not offer if a parent considers secular exposure a detriment.

Then there's the question of a parent's aptitude. Parents may have the right to control their child's education, but do they have the right to practice an occupation without any skill? If parents, or the recent trend of the home-school neighborhood group, lack the range to leap from studying geometry to English literature, a child will miss out on a topic that could have proved valuable to her future. I know from experience that a teacher's passion for a topic is just as important as the topic itself. That passion is more often found in teachers who pursue this as a career.

We also have to consider what this means for the future of public education. University of Illinois professor Chris Lubienski contends that home-schooling is not only a response to deteriorating public schools, but a cause of its decline. Schools should be given the chance to respond to public needs, he argues. Home-schooling doesn't help the public good, just the individual. And our future is about all children, not just our own.

Harvard-educated Diane Glass (dglass@ajc.com) is a writer and freethinker with a B.A. and M.A. in comparative religion.

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