Family Matters offers a cogent look at the practice of homeschooling and, more broadly, the crucial role of parents and families in the education of young Americans. While David Guterson educates his three boys at home, he is not intent on championing homeschooling here so much as explaining the underlying rationale for it. Guterson himself teaches English at a public high school and acknowledges that homeschooling is not for everybody. But, he says, there are strong academic, social, and political grounds for examining the practice more closely.
Guterson cites numerous studies which show that homeschoolers consistently outrank their counterparts on standardized test, tend to be better adjusted socially, and, despite the disadvantage inherent in their situation (they have no transcripts to present to admissions boards), routinely enroll and flourish in leading colleges and universities. Homeschooling also goes a long way, says Guterson, toward fostering independent-minded, critical citizens. It inspires a broader commitment to community service and cultural diversity. It also strengthens the qualities in society that constitute social capital. Moreover, homeschooling is in the mainstream of American tradition — at least the tradition that existed before we had common schools.
Guterson enumerates a number of problems with our current system of public education. Our schools lack a coherent educational philosophy, he notes, “haphazardly incorporating a little of everything." They also fail in their civic mission of building a national consensus. Today, that function has largely fallen to newspapers, television, and cinema, in his view. Schools aim to teach the values of democracy, but students rarely have a role in decision making — instead they are “tracked, sorted, graded, and evaluated.” And, most importantly, schools are structurally hampered from providing the one thing educational philosophers claim is essential to a good education: a child-centered learning environment.
Guterson’s main hope, he says, “is that family-centered education will someday gain legitimacy and will eventually be incorporated into our national system of education. I also hope that the term homeschooling will fade with time as Americans come to recognize that every home, every community, is a place in which education should go forward — and where they in fact cause it to go forward with the assistance and support of school systems.” One way in which this could work, in his view, is through programs aimed at combining formal schooling and home-centered learning. Many school-districts are now experimenting with home-based learning programs and reaching out to parents in an effort to involve them more closely in their children’s education. Educational reform, Guterson contends, must aim at “strengthening the family instead of replacing it. . . . It means a thorough restructuring of our educational system, one that encourages parental involvement, supports those parents who are already involved, and energetically promotes the fundamental principle that education begins at home.”
Copyright 1994 by Scott London. All rights reserved.