by Dr. Brian Ray
Although parent-directed family-based education is thousands of years old, the modern homeschool movement encompasses only about four decades. During that time, many scholars and researchers have treated homeschool parents, children, and whole families as their investigatory objects. Rats in a lab? New cultures of Douglas fir trees? Good bacteria like in goat yogurt? Well, not exactly.
I have been doing research on homeschoolers and studying homeschool research by others for about thirty-seven years. I am thinking of a few things that the body of extant research might say—if it had a voice—to new homeschoolers.
Relax, There Is No One “Best System”
First, relax, there is no one “best system” for home educating children. Many ways are possible and many ways are effective. The effectiveness depends on the unique constellation that is comprised of a particular parent(s) and their particular children. Each mom is slightly or wholly different from another. Each dad is different from the others. Each child has his or her own personality and learning-way make-up.
If any article’s author or any veteran homeschool mom or dad tells you that there is only one way to do it, run the other direction. Put some work into investigating various ideas and concepts about education in general, and homeschooling in particular, while making sure to not let yourself get overwhelmed. Read several articles and a few books by different authors of a variety of perspectives. Christian, seek out authors who have a strong Scriptural worldview. Meet and talk with several veteran homeschool parents and pick their minds. Listen to gracious people and glean what you can for your family and for your children.
Homeschool Children Do Better
Second, over thirty years of research shows that homeschool children do better, on average, in terms of all kinds of learner outcomes. A review of peer-reviewed research makes this very clear.
In eleven of the fourteen (78 percent) peer-reviewed studies on academic achievement, there was a definite positive effect on achievement for the homeschooled students. In terms of social, emotional, and psychological development, thirteen of the fifteen (87 percent) peer-reviewed studies showed clearly positive outcomes for the homeschooled compared to those in conventional schools. And eleven of the sixteen (69 percent) on success into adulthood and college showed more positive outcomes for the homeschooled compared to those who went through conventional schools.
Negative critics might say, “Well, those studies are not perfect studies because they did not control for all confounding variables.” Granted, in the social sciences, there usually are no perfect studies. However, over thirty years of research by many scholars shows, repeatedly, positive things associated with homeschooling. The overall findings are positive. A parent might say, “But my homeschool child’s test scores are below average.” The research-based response is that, statistically speaking, the scores are probably higher than they would have been had he or she been in institutional government/public schools. Also, what is more important: relationship with your child and the sound values and truths that she is learning, or her test scores?
Wrapping up on this point, ask the negative critic, “Where is the body of research studies that substantively supports the claim that the institutional classroom schooling of twenty-seven students of the same age sitting in rows of desks and who are all on the same schedule, using the same pabulum-ish books with teachers who do not deeply love each of the twenty-seven students as do parents and can give each student maybe only ninety-seven seconds of one-on-one time per day the best form of education in the world?”
Negative Voices Will Try to Stop You
My next point might seem a little scary or intimidating, but be strong about it. It is likely that others will negatively criticize you and try to intimidate you away from your decision to homeschool and push you to put your children into institutional schooling, whether government/public or private. These negative critics have many motives. Some are about power, some about money, and some about values very different from yours. Some of them want themselves or people who share their beliefs to teach, train, and indoctrinate your children for you. Some of the negative critics will commit the fallacy of appeal to authority and promote the alleged “experts” who know better than you. But remember, forty years of the modern homeschooling movement and thousands of years of history prove these negative critics to be wrong.
Some of the negative critics will not say that they are against your homeschooling but only that you (and other parents) just need to be more controlled by the government, or that you need to be “accountable to the government” (i.e., state). Do not buy this argument. Biblically-based and freedom-based thinking both show that parents are given the duty and responsibility by God to direct and carry out their own children’s education—with the help of freely chosen friends and associations and their local church—and the civil government does not need to be involved. In addition, research shows that homeschoolers do not need government control.
Give Yourself and Your Homeschooling Plenty of Time
Fourth, give yourself plenty of time to learn, experience, and get better at parent-led home-based education. This is especially true if you have had your children in institutional school previously. You are learning a lot of new things. Your children are learning a lot of new things. Your children might need to be weaned from peer-dependency or peer-orientation and from thinking that only institutional school teachers are the experts on everything— mom and dad know almost nothing. Things might go very well and smoothly from the get-go with your homeschooling, but on the other hand, it might take several months to work out some challenging details. Most experienced (and humble) homeschoolers—who may have been home educating for five, ten, or fifteen years—will tell you that they are still learning how to do it.
It Is an Important Part of a Way of Living
Finally, think of parent-led home-based education as part of a way of living. Teaching and learning of children revolves around family and home life. During home-based education, the parents also learn a lot. Homeschooling is part and parcel of the family unit that God created; the Biblical jurisdiction of the family.
In homeschooling, a child’s life does not revolve around and is not controlled by an institution called school, whether controlled by the civil government or some private organization. His life is not controlled by “experts” who are essentially strangers to his parents, family, and local church. Homeschooling is holistic and wholesome. It is clearly described in the word of God. It is seen throughout history, especially amongst God’s people and those who love Christ with their whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Parent-directed family-based education lets the parents, with input from their children, forge a way of living that matches the gifts and talents in that family, in intimate relationship with their local community, friends, homeschool co-ops, and church family. These families can choose to be involved in education that is a lifestyle of learning, structured curriculum way of doing things, relaxed homeschooling, or delight-directed learning, all while enjoying a genuine freedom of space, capitalizing on individualization and customization, enjoying flexibility, and having plenty of time to develop healthy relationships between children, parents, and siblings. It is not institutional school at home. It should not be that because institutional schooling is not the gold standard—not in history, not in the Bible, and not today. Homeschooling is a different way of life and learning. It is rich, effective, and liberating. Go for it, and enjoy it.
• Ray, Brian D. (2017). A systematic review of the empirical research on selected aspects of homeschooling as a school choice. Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform, 11(4), 604–621, https://www.nheri.org/a-systematic-review-of-the-empirical research-on-selected-aspects-of-homeschooling-as-a-school-choice/
Dr. Brian Ray is president of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI.org). He has published numerous articles and books, been repeatedly interviewed by major media, served as an expert witness in court cases, and testified to legislatures regarding educational issues. Dr. Ray is a leading international expert in research on homeschooling. He holds a PhD in science education from Oregon State University. Brian and Betsy have been married forty-two years and have eight children, all of whom have been homeschooled, and they have thirteen grandchildren. You can donate to the nonprofit NHERI (www.NHERI.org/donate) and sign up for free research updates.
Copyright 2020, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Winter 2020-21 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms. Read The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com, or download the free reader apps at www.TOSApps.com for mobile devices. Read the STORY of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine and how it came to be.