Recently, a member of my wife’s family took their son out of school in order to home school. Their reasons were perfectly valid…they were in a district in Utah that was so stressed that their son’s needs were not being met. He has medically documented needs, but the teacher was so stretched that she could not see to them. As my sister-in-law was signing the documents, the teacher said, “I can’t help but think this was all my fault.” She was right and yet there are other factors as well. Utah ranks the lowest of all states in per pupil spending: $4,331.00 compared to the national average of $6,835.00. The national teacher/pupil ratio average is 15.9, but Utah’s is 22.4. Finally, the average teacher pay in Utah is $38,268.00, while the national average is $45,771.00. Especially given the concentration of church members in Utah, I think I can safely say shame on Utah for its failures in something that the church has emphasized as important for all its members.
Now I am not just out to proclaim the weaknesses of the education system in Utah. There are weaknesses nationwide. To be fair, Utah performs well in terms of benchmark achievements and SAT/ACT scoring. But I have to wonder whether these successes are cultural manifestations rather than outcomes of Utah’s education system. In the specific case of my nephew, however, the Utah system failed him. Perhaps many other parents feel the same. Home schooling is on the rise. Between the years of 1999 and 2003 there was a jump of 22.5% in the number of home schooled children. Statistics seem to bear out that home schooling is preferable to traditional schools. Home schooled students score an average of 57% higher than traditional students on standardized exams.
There are many reasons to home school. In my nephew’s case, the schools were not able to adequately meet his needs. 13.7% of all home schooled students are schooled at home for the same reason. Additionally, 16.5% of home schooled students are schooled at home because the parents felt that the schools were not adequately instructing the children academically. I can appreciate and respect these motives.
My big concerns are with the 61% of parents who home school their children because they don’t like the environment of the schools or so that they can provide religious or moral education. I have known many children who were home schooled, and invariably they were strange—socially maladjusted. Granted these are anecdotal observations that I can not back up with statistics. However, my observations seem to bear out that home schooled kids are socially retarded. I have heard the excuses: they take part in extra curricular activities; they go to schools for physical education; there are home schooled groups for social interaction. But these excuses ring hollowly against my cynically hardened, university professor’s worldview.
Parents cannot protect their children from the world indefinitely. At some point, the children must enter society and function. The parents who are so controlling that they feel they can keep their children in a protective shell indefinitely are doing a disservice to those children who emerge like a defenseless chick, unable to cope with the difficulty which is real life. Over time in a traditional school system, children learn to cope with the ugliness which is inevitable in society. Gradually, they develop the skills to handle those difficulties. In a traditional school environment, children strengthen their ability to endure and vanquish temptation in the same way they strengthen their physical muscles. Often, home schooled children emerge from their parent’s protection with atrophied defenses and retarded social skills. Which students are really the better educated?