Why I Post Critical Takes on Homeschooling

I have put up a couple of posts (see here and here) highlighting contrarian takes on homeschooling from a blogger called The Practical Conservative, who says she is a stay at home mother. These provoked a lot of good discussion in the comments.

I’ve also received a number of negative comments and emails about my links to TPC’s site, however. These folks strongly defend the homeschooling model, view the families who are homeschooling in a very positive (sometimes heroic way), and feel TPC’s criticisms are very unfair.

To be clear, I’m not anti-homeschooling. Although we hope to send our son to a classical Christian school, homeschooling is a legitimate option for us. Nor I do personally endorse all of TPC’s takes.

But it is extremely important to be open to wrestling with critiques of homeschooling.

TPC’s site was sent to me by someone who is one of the smartest people I know (smarter than me for sure). He thought she had very unique conservative takes on these issues, and I agree.

One reason TPCs critiques sting is because they are conservative ones. She’s not attacking homeschooling from the right per se, but her critiques are in a completely different category from the more traditional left critiques. The latter are easier to dismiss. But TPCs are more bothersome - obviously, given the response in the comments - precisely because her critiques are from a conservative standpoint.

Pan back the lens and take a look at the bigger picture. Things have not been going well for American Christianity pretty much my entire adult life. It has basically been completely routed in the public square, for example.

To me that says the church’s strategies and approaches have probably been flawed, at least in part.

Or think about purity culture, which is now almost universally seen as a mistake, at least in its implementation. Why weren’t there more vocal critics at the time?

It must have been very difficult to criticize purity culture at the time. Everybody thought it was great. And how could anyone be against sexual purity? You don’t support impurity now, do you?

Yet it had many problems.

I’m not saying homeschooling is as flawed as purity culture. But given the history of how fads operate in the Christian world, and the church’s poor track record over the last 30 years, we should be cautious and remain open to critique.

I think it’s highly likely that there are in fact substantive downsides to large scale homeschooling of which we are not yet aware. That doesn’t mean not to homeschool, but we shouldn’t be too cocky about it.

Having been badly burned by believing the church’s deeply flawed teachings on gender, I’m planning to do my best to avoid naively glomming on to any Christian trend without giving it as much critical thought as possible.

The truth is that homeschooling requires an immense investment of time and energy. That’s time and energy that can’t be used for other things. By its very nature, homeschooling comes with a very high opportunity cost.

At the end of the day, TPC is simply putting the opportunity cost of homeschooling on the table and asking, “What have we collectively given up in order to do this?”

We’ve certainly given up a lot, and that’s a point worth considering.

She also points out that homeschooling is quite different from the way households functioned historically in America.While in the pre-industrial era education was a household function, that education was nothing like today’s homeschooling, which essentially replicates a school curriculum. And in the mid-century glory days of strong community and high social capital, women played a big role in making that happen precisely because institutionalized child rearing and public schools freed them up to do that.  TPC also fingered the fact that many conservative Christian families are opposed on principle to hiring help, which puts a very large burden on the wife.

Again, as with the opportunity cost, it’s very much worth thinking about how homeschoolings families function today vs how families functioned in the past.

This isn’t a homeschooling site at all, much less an anti-homeschooling site. On the whole, I like homeschooling. I don’t plan to regularly post about it going forward.

But if Christians adopt a sort of default cheerleading mode for homeschooling similar to how it went along with purity culture, if we don’t seriously engage with critiques like those offered by TPC, that would be a big mistake.

We already hear about - and I personally see - the negative consequences at the individual level of homeschooling gone wrong. Everybody seems to believe homeschooling is better now than during the 1990s, for example.

But beyond the individual level, if the church doesn’t more seriously think about homeschooling, we might very well find out down the that we’ve inadvertently hurt ourselves collectively as the church, perhaps by not investing in the structures (think Benedict Option) we should have been building because we spent all our time and energy on homeschooling.

That might not happen, but thinking about possibilities like that is something we should all very much be doing. Homeschooling advocates should be as attuned to the flaws in their own model as they are to those in TPC’s analysis.

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