Six exceedingly odd and equally common arguments for sending your child to a public school (instead of homeschooling). Refuted, obviously.
Note: This article may be updated occasionally, as I come across more strange reasons to send your child to school.
1. Children need a school environment to develop proper social skills
Another way of putting this—and it often is put this way—is that homeschooling creates a restricted, artificial social environment, hindering social development, and making it harder for children to integrate into the “real world” as adults.
But, assuming we should want “optimal integration” with the real world, how does school prepare children for this? Here are some of the more prominent rules of socialization children must conform to at school:
- Only socialize with people your exact age. This is built in to most schooling systems. Indeed, socializing with someone a grade below you is regarded as something we adults call a faux pas—in kids’ terminology, it makes you a loser. But where in the real world do we find this? I’m not aware of any examples. So rather than preparing children for integrating into the world, age segregation at best fails to prepare them at all in this respect, and at worst makes it more difficult for them to interact normally with people of different ages.
- Society is divided into castes. School is strongly segmented into various social castes—so much so that we have cliched names for them: jock, geek, cheerleader etc. Children are divided by an instinctive social pecking order, largely due to innate characteristics like physical appearance, intelligence, and interests. These groups seldom socialize with each other, and even more seldom do so amicably. In fact, the higher castes routinely victimize the lower castes. But where in the real world do we find this? India, perhaps, with their Unclean. But in Western egalitarian society, this is considered antisocial behavior. So school at best fails to prepare children for integrating into an egalitarian society, and at worst undermines their ability to do so by entrenching antisocial habits.
- People who are smart and work harder are worth less. In most cases, the more academic and studious a child is, the more he is ostracized and abused by the “ruling caste”. But where in the real world do we find this? Studious and academic people are generally well respected and earn the highest wages. So again, school seems to model the reverse of the real world—and does not prepare children for healthy socialization at all.
- People who are strong and beautiful are worth more. This is the corollary of #3. Social status in schools is largely determined by physical attributes. But where in the real world do we find this? Perhaps you’ll find it in some areas of the entertainment industry—but even then it is far more attenuated. More importantly, most of us would think it was a bad thing. The only other obvious example that comes to mind is prison. So if school is really preparing children to integrate into society, it seems to be preparing them to be image-obsessed personalities and/or criminals—not the kind of people their parents would prefer.
- Going to the authorities to redress a wrong is pointless and a sign of weakness. “Go cry to the teacher,” is a common taunt on school playgrounds. It’s a taunt of contempt because in the school caste system, having to rely on outside authority shows that you can’t stand up for yourself (regardless of how impossible that may be) and are therefore of less value as a person. It is also a taunt of mockery because bullies know very well that in most cases, abuse is dealt with inadequately by teachers, if at all. But where in the real world do we find this? Certainly authorities like the police are never perfect, but the only truly similar examples I can think of are, again, among the criminal element—in gangs or prisons. So school seems to be preparing children for antisocial roles in society, rather than for productive ones.
I think if you assess the social environment common to schools in a fair-minded way, you can’t help but conclude that it is not healthy, and in many cases is actively harmful. Just because school is considered a normal part of our society does not mean that its social environment is normal, or that it prepares us for normal social interaction.
But here’s something very interesting: despite all the social disadvantages of school, most people who went to school still manage to become normally-functioning members of society. So even if homeschooling has social disadvantages of its own, shouldn’t pro-schoolers expect homeschooled children to also adapt into society as easily as they did?
2. Bullying makes children stronger and teaches them to deal with adversity
People usually defend this by saying something like, “Well, bullying made me a better person, so while I would give my kids all the support I could, I wouldn’t want to remove them from that.” But even assuming you can know that bullying made you better—and how could you, not having access to the alternate reality in which you weren’t bullied?—here’s the same logic applied to other forms of abuse:
- “I was sexually abused by my uncle, and it made me a stronger person, so I think my kids should be sexually abused by their uncle too.”
- “I was beaten with a hose if I didn’t get an A in school, and it made me a better person, so I think my kids should be beaten with a hose too.”
- “I had a drunk father who beat my mother and deserted us when I was 12, and it made me tougher, so I think I should beat my wife and desert my kids too.”
There’s no difference in principle between these analogies and wanting your child to be bullied. And recent findings show there’s no difference in practice either: bullying has almost identical effects to physical or sexual abuse (see “Inside the Bullied Brain”).
Would you tell Child Protective Services that you were beating or raping your child so they would build character? Do you think that would satisfy them? Do you think the judge would be right to let you off a jail sentence because you thought your child would be stronger if you abused him?
Fact: statistically speaking, bullying does not make children better
Indeed, studies show that bullying causes permanent psychological damage in many children. Here are some findings to consider:
- According to the Crime Victims’ Institute, “Links have been established between bullying and physical and psychological health issues, violent behavior, alcoholism and substance abuse, sleeping problems, and even suicide” (“The Long-Term Consequences of Bullying Victimization”).
- People who were repeatedly bullied as children are nearly twice as likely to suffer from emotional or mental conditions as adults, and nearly three times more likely to suffer from eating disorders (ibid).
- Bullying is correlated to over a 200% increase in homelessness (ibid).
- According to findings published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, children who have been bullied have increased symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders—in fact, emotional abuse from peers turns out to be as damaging to mental health as emotional abuse from parents. (“Inside the Bullied Brain”)
- Bullying causes physical abnormalities in the brain. Specifically, the myelin coating which speeds up communication between brain cells is reduced in the corpus callosum of bullied children. This is the thick bundle of fibers connecting the right and left hemispheres of the brain. It is vital in visual processing and memory (ibid).
- Bullying impairs verbal memory, seemingly by altering how much cortisol (stress hormone) the body produces. There is evidence this may cause long-term damage to the hippocampus, which is involved in memory and emotion processing (ibid).
- And of course, some children physically abuse themselves as a result of bullying (one of my friends used to cut himself in fact); and a small percentage of children kill themselves to stop the bullying permanently.
What kind of parent would argue that the risk of these documented outcomes is worth the “character building” that bullying supposedly produces? What kind of parent would argue that his children should be abused? An abusive parent. I think actually, on some level, the people who make the “bullying builds character” argument realize this—which is why they support efforts to eradicate bullying in schools. If bullying were indeed a positive feature of school, like a rite of passage, then they would encourage it instead.
3. Children learn best when taught by a professional
On the face of it, this is actually quite reasonable. It is certainly the least strange of the six reasons in this article. But when you actually stop to consider how much direct tutelage children have under homeschooling, and how carefully and lovingly their education can be tailored to their learning style—and then compare this to school—you’ll realize it is quite a strange reason.
But don’t take my word for it. According to the many studies of how homeschooled children perform compared to “normally” schooled children, the evidence is decisive: academically, homeschooled students trounce publicly-schooled students. Here’s a sampling of the results:
- In a survey of 11,739 homeschooled students in the United States, homeschoolers achieved an average of 89% in reading, 84% in math and 86% in science, compared to the national publicly-schooled average of 50% for each. That’s 34 to 39 percentile points higher than normally schooled students.
- When neither parent had a college degree, their children “only” got an A- overall (83rd percentile); when both parents had a college degree, their children averaged an A+ (90th percentile). More importantly, whether either parent was a certified teacher made no difference (ibid).
- A study from the Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science found that homeschoolers tested 2.2 grades higher for reading and half a grade higher for math than normally schooled children of the same age. In other words, if a homeschooler had to suddenly go to public school, he would be up to two years ahead of everyone else his age.
- According to an article in Time Magazine, homeschoolers are nearly twice as likely to be accepted into Stanford as non-homeschooled applicants, and at Wheaton College homeschoolers’ SAT scores average 58 points higher than non-homeschoolers.
- The same article reports that in 2000, homeschoolers scored an average of 1,100 on their SATs, 81 points above the national average; and 22.8 on the ACT, compared with the national average of 21.
Incidentally, many homeschoolers do receive at least some of their educations from professional teachers. Tuition is often “outsourced”, especially in subjects like music, or science and math at higher levels. And many homescooled teenagers take night classes or attend university classes for some subjects.
4. Children can only grow up properly and learn independence away from the home
Or put more bluntly, homeschooled kids are likely to have an unhealthy codependence on their parents. If this is true, I know of no evidence to show it. Young children in general can be quite codependent, but that doesn’t strike me as unhealthy—it’s a normal part of the parent/child relationship at that age.
Anecdotally, of all the young children I’ve met, some of the clingiest have gone to school, and some of the least clingy have been homeschooled. But I don’t attribute those characteristics to the kind of schooling they’ve received, since I have no good evidence that it is a deciding factor.
I’ve also met a good number of homeschooled teenagers—I run a youth worldview study, and most of the people who come are (or were) homeschooled. They are all quite well adjusted. I haven’t noticed any of them being overly attached to their parents. Indeed, for the most part they seem very confident and assured for their age, and have unusually good relationship with their parents compared to many normally schooled teenagers. That is probably more to do with the fact that they are Christians; but surely there can be no denying that many publicly-schooled kids turn out pretty rebellious and undisciplined. If that is the kind of independence public schooling fosters, I would prefer my children to have no part of it. But again, I have no evidence to suggest it is the schooling specifically which accounts for these kinds of behavioral differences.
5. Children can only adequately learn to deal with opposing worldviews in a school environment
Why? In fact, I’d be interested to see a survey comparing apostasy among homeschooled teenagers and public schooled ones. I suspect the public schooled ones would be far higher. Again, I have no scientific evidence to back my position here—although neither does the person making this odd claim—but in my own experience homeschoolers are much better equipped to analyze and evaluate alternative viewpoints than publicly schooled teenagers.
Do they have less immediate experience with alternative worldviews? Probably. But why think that is anything except a good thing? They have their entire adult lives to rub up against unbelief in its various forms. Cultivating their own faith first, in their formative years, rather than being exposed to the gross immorality I know from experience characterizes public school, seems like the better course.
Notice I’m not suggesting isolation from the world. I strongly oppose overly strict discipline, “protecting” children from even knowing about “unapproved” practices like sex, drugs, alcohol and some music. What I’m suggesting is that homeschooling is a more controlled environment from which children can encounter the world, and see that the various promises it makes about the pleasures of sin are entirely without merit.
6. Children need to be missionaries to non-Christian students in schools
Tim Challies for example has given this as one reason they public school their kids.
Honestly, I do find this a very strange reason to send your kids to school.
The great commission is not directed at children. It is not even directed at adults. It is directed at the disciples. Unless you think your children should be baptizing and teaching people, you are inconsistently applying Matthew 28:18ff.
This is corroborated by the fact that Ephesians 4:11 speaks of “evangelist” as a kind of office, given to the church in the same way as apostles, prophets, shepherds and teachers.
The only thing the Bible seems to require of all Christians is that they be ready to give a response for the hope within them—not that they go out and evangelize to unbelievers. Of course I fully support Christians who do evangelize, and if, say, a teenager felt convicted that he should be witnessing in a school environment then perhaps that would be appropriate. But generally speaking, expecting young children to take on the task of a specific adult role in the church seems, at best, an unjust burden on them. At worst, a good way to damage them spiritually.
For one thing, it’s quite presumptuous to think your young children are saved at all. So why think they are qualified or called to be evangelists in the first place? For another, even if they are saved, putting them into an environment where their views will result in ridicule and bullying is not only pointless in terms of evangelism, but positively harmful to their own psychological and spiritual health.
Now, you can retort, “Imagine what schools would be like if there were no Christians there.” But this fails on at least two counts:
- I’m not suggesting the only Christian approach is to homeschool. I’m suggesting that being a missionary to other kids is not a good reason to public school
- What if public schools were to lack any Christian influence from students? How is that a problem, and how is the problem your responsibility to such an extent that you’re willing to place your child at risk to solve it? Bearing in mind all the harm I’ve shown is inherent in schools, let’s take this logic a bit further with another example: Should we encourage our kids to join gangs, so the gangsters can benefit from a Christian influence? If you think there is something wrong with this idea, then perhaps there is also something wrong with the idea that Christian children must be salt and light to schools. If you want to influence non-Christian kids with Christian values, start with their parents. Don’t send your children to do the job of the church.
Incidentally, I’d be most curious to hear from people like Tim Challies just how much evangelism their children actually do at schools.
Other reasons to send your child to school
These six reasons are not the only reasons you might have to send your children to school. They are just what I consider the oddest (and wrongest) of the common ones. There are other reasons, and sometimes they are very good. For example, it’s highly unreasonable to expect a couple to homeschool if they are struggling to make ends meet and have to work two jobs. But in most cases, I think homeschooling is at least a good option. So if you have children and are thinking about their education, I hope I’ve given you something to consider. Don’t be shy to share your opinion in the comments.