Lawmaker Compares Homeschooling to ‘Child Abuse;’ Two Homeschooled Graduates Respond
As two homeschooled graduates, we'd like to set the record straight for Rep. Marjorie Porter.
A senior Democratic lawmaker recently compared homeschooling with child abuse. She made the comments during an executive session over a controversial bill on “conversion therapy” for kids with gender dysphoria.
Rep. Marjorie Porter aired her views in an executive session in the New Hampshire House of Representatives Committee on Health and Human Services on October 26. Witnesses speaking on condition of anonymity told Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) that they were shocked to hear the legislator make the comments in that context. The session wasn’t recorded.
As two homeschooled graduates, we’d like to set the record straight for Ms. Porter.
My homeschooling experience began in 1982. On our East Texas property sat a one-room cabin perfect for homeschooling. My mother was militant about our studies. Each day she expected us to be standing by our desks at 8:30 ready to say the Pledge of Allegiance, the pledge to the Christian flag and the pledge to the Bible. We’d then sing as our day began.
Our studies were based on the Christian A.C.E. curriculum We were expected to set goals for our studies each day and to follow through. We weren’t allowed to speak without raising a flag atop our desks. Our mother would then come to us and work through problems with us, or handle whatever we needed.
The 1980s were a scary time to homeschool. Homeschooling didn’t have the acceptance that it does today. There was no cooperation between homeschooled children and public school education. It was too risky to tell anyone what we were doing because we were afraid the local school superintendent would cause problems for us. We had friends who went to jail for homeschooling their children. So, every time a car would drive up our driveway we got quiet, just in case the stranger came from the state.
I have little doubt that the academics were superior to what we would have received at the local public school. A.C.E. is a self-paced curriculum with a great foundation in English studies. My two sisters and I graduated a year earlier than we would have otherwise. I finished my curriculum in the spring of 1990 at age 16, wrapping up with a 96 percent grade average overall.
My education didn’t stop there, however. I went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a Master of Journalism from The University of North Texas (with a 4.0 GPA and an induction into Kappa Tau Alpha, an honor society for those who exhibit excellence in communication and journalism). I had the opportunity to study abroad at Oxford University. Finally, I am almost finished with my PhD in Communication from Regent University. I have about a year left, including the dissertation.
My homeschooling experience gave me a solid academic foundation, contrary to the stereotype from peers and family members back in the ’80s. Am I an anomaly? Absolutely not.
Mom began homeschooling her children in the 80s, when it was rare. So rare, in fact, that she was arrested. (Turns out homeschooling was not illegal, something attorneys explained to local Oklahoma authorities. Mom was quickly released.)
Thankfully, things changed. I was homeschooled in Texas from the mid 90s to 2011, when I graduated high school at 17. My parents wove a curriculum for me that catered both to my hungry imagination and the need for structure.
As a homeschooled kid, the questions you get are predictable. For instance, “Do you do school in your pajamas?”
Some friends adopted routines that did allow them to pajama-school. But it didn’t work for me. I rose early, did chores and worked out. School began around 8:00 and was completed by early afternoon. Afterward I’d play outside, read or get whisked to an extracurricular activity.
Which leads to another question homeschoolers get: “How do you make friends?”
It would take pages to recount the diverse activities I enjoyed, so I’ll stick to the highlights. I was heavily involved in church. I also participated in 4-H, competing in everything from shooting sports to talent shows.
From sixth grade through twelfth, I played on the local homeschool basketball team. We competed in leagues and at state and national tournaments for private and home schools (yes, those exist!).
I attended a weekly co-op with hundreds of other homeschoolers. It was the perfect opportunity to experience both the competition and camaraderie of a traditional classroom — and the benefits of learning from adults besides my parents.
Many homeschool parents are asked: “Are you qualified to teach that?” Sometimes, the answer is no.
So in junior high I learned algebra from a pastor and math professor who offered classes twice a week. Later, a tutor guided me through geometry and physics. From seventh grade on, a beloved mentor honed my passion for writing into a skill. She even sparked my interest in journalism.
Which is what I majored in at Patrick Henry College, where I graduated with honors in 2015. During college I had the opportunity to work in Washington, D.C., producing a talk show on WMAL radio during my senior year. Today, I’m happily working in my field.
Like Nancy, I’m not an anomaly. The homeschoolers I grew up with are leading their own successful lives. They’ve become artists, military veterans, engineers, business owners and everything in between. While many of our experiences overlap, none exactly mirrors another.
That’s the beauty of homeschooling.
Recent research suggests there are about 2.3 million homeschooled students in the U.S. According to Brian Ray, Ph.D., president of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), the homeschooling numbers are booming, at a rate of 2 to 8 percent each year.
Parents said the biggest reason they homeschool their children is concern over the school environment. Beyond that, they want to instill moral and spiritual values. They’re also concerned about the education their child would receive at a public school.
So, how do homeschoolers perform? Homeschooled students outperform public school students on standardized tests from 15 to 30 percentile points. Public school students average around the 50th percentile mark while homeschoolers average around the mid-high 80s on the same tests.
The education level of parents does not necessarily reflect academic achievement in homeschooled students. That is, there is little disparity in students’ achievement based on whether their parents have a college education or a high school education. Also, the level of government control or state regulations on homeschooling does not impact students’ academic achievement.
One of the many questions homeschooling parents get is, “What about socialization?” According to Ray, homeschoolers are once again ahead in the race.
“The home-educated are doing well, typically above average, on measures of social, emotional and psychological development,” he wrote in a recent article. “Research measures include peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service and self-esteem.”
Part of that is, as Liberty described, due to homeschoolers’ ability and choice to become involved in sports, 4-H clubs, church ministries and an endless list of extracurricular activities.
What to do with Negligent Parents?
We’ve all heard about those homeschooled students who perform poorly because of parental negligence. This is a small minority. In general, parents homeschool because they want their children to receive a better education. So they invest a lot of time and effort in their children’s education.
Still, there are outliers. New Hampshire’s Berlin School District Supt. Corinne Cascadden believes that homeschooled children in her district are not being educated at all. She called for a bill that would “restore the requirement for some kind of third-party review of student progress that was eliminated by a law that took effect in 2012,” reported New Hampshire’s Union Leader.
But more control isn’t the answer, said attorney Mike Donnelly of HSLDA. “Tools already exist” to take care of negligent parents, he said. “Truancy laws and a child abuse statute exist if education guidelines are not being followed. There’s no need to impose additional burdens on [homeschooling] parents because of a few.”
At the same time, Michelle Levell, director of School Choice for New Hampshire, contends there’s no evidence Cascadden’s claims are true.
Don’t Turn Back the Clock
Homeschooling has made huge strides in recent decades. But many of those strides are even more recent than you might imagine. As The Daily Signal reported in 2014, homeschooling wasn’t legal in every state until 1996. And where it was legal, it faced a stigma that sometimes resulted in arrests, as we can attest.
In general, homeschooled students shine both academically and socially. Cultural acceptance of home education continues to grow. Millions of families are leaping aboard the homeschool train. There is simply no reason for New Hampshire, or any state, to turn back the clock. And there’s absolutely no justification for comparing it with child abuse.