Other than religious reasons to homeschool

Why do people homeschool? What reasons “drive” them to make such a decision. In our modern/post-modern, industrialized/post-industrialized world with a so-called global economy, global communications and the pan-popular ideology of liberal democracy, why would anyone want to take one’s kids out of publicly funded, democratically controlled, scientifically managed school systems?

There are many reasons to homeschool. In many people’s minds homeschoolers are strange, on-the-fringe people who choose to homeschool to avoid putting their children in the evil world of public schools as though they are protecting their kids from Satan. Unfortunately that picture is sometimes true; unfortunate for both the truthiness of the homeschooler stereotype and because public schools are sometimes bad places for kids. I have written about some of this before. Most of the time homeschoolers, however, are thoughtful parents who choose homeschooling for a number of different reasons, which sometimes includes religion as a deciding element, but also includes mostly non-religious reasons. Consider the following statistics which, I believe, though giving a limited perspective on the nature of the choice to homeschool, and are more than ten years old, nonetheless, provide some valuable insight.
Percentage of homeschooled students in the United States, by reason for homeschooling: 1999, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):
Can give child better education at home  48.9
Religious reason  38.4
Poor learning environment at school  25.6
Family reasons  16.8
To develop character/morality  15.1
Object to what school teaches  12.1
School does not challenge child  11.6
Other problems with available schools  9.0
Child has special needs/disability  8.2
Transportation/convenience  2.7
Child not old enough to enter school  1.8
Parent’s career  1.5
Could not get into desired school  1.5
Other reasons*  22.2
This list does show that religion plays a significant part in many homeschoolers’ choices. Coming in second place, 38.4 percent of homeschoolers said they chose homeschooling for religious reasons. That’s more than a third. Of course, there are many different kinds of religious reasons too. Also, religious reasons are not at the top of the list. Then, if one adds up the following three reasons: “Can give child better education at home” (48.9), “Poor learning environment at school” (25.6), and “School does not challenge child” (11.6), they add up to a whopping 86.1 percent. If anything that number highlights big concerns many parents have about mainstream education: It’s just not that great much of the time.
I highlighted these three statistics from the list to point towards an important grouping of reasons to homeschool. Many parents feel schools don’t live up to the promise of what education can and should be. Taking on the task of homeschooling is daunting and not a guarantee of a better education, but it is also a chance worth taking for many people, and for good reasons. I have written about the struggle of making that choice. What I want to point out here is that religion, though important for a large part of the population in general,* is only one of several factors for homeschoolers in general. In other words, even if the detractors of homeschooling get what they want, that is, some kind of proof that homeschoolers are merely ideologues and fear mongering religious fanatics, they still have to face the reality that, religion aside, mainstream education is still not necessarily the best, or even the better, option.

From what I can tell the popular understanding, and what is most often portrayed by the news media, is that homeschoolers take their kids out of public education primarily for religious reasons. Although I have some harsh criticisms of some religious reasons, I cannot argue against the basic idea. Religion is not necessarilya bad basis for homeschooling. In many cases it is a good reason, though it can also be a very bad reason for some people. I certainly don’t think religious reasons are any worse than pulling one’s children out of public school and putting them in a private school for class reasons and then denying that one ever thinks in terms of class. However, religion is not the only reason homeschoolers choose to homeschool. As we have seen, it is not even the number one reason.

* According to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life: “Overall, nearly eight-in-ten (78.4%) adults [in the U.S.] report belonging to various forms of Christianity, about 5% belong to other faiths and almost one-in-six (16.1%) are not affiliated with any particular religion.”

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