These days you hear the praises of homeschooling from many on the right, but also some on the left, from "social conservatives" and "progressives." Teaching your kids at home is supposed to cure any number of social ills and produce prize-winning scholars who are light years ahead of their public school contemporaries, or is supposed to train your kids to have exactly your value system, without interference from outside the family. In truth some kids seem to do wonderfully well academically with home schooling and in some cases the education of children in specific situations (poor local schools, dangerous neighborhoods, isolated communities and for some special needs students, for example) may require at least temporary home instruction. No Child Left Behind is such a mess now that I am glad that our kids went through the system before George W. Bush got his hands on it. However such decisions to home-school should be entered into very cautiously.
Several correspondence schools have capitalized on this need for many years and I am in fact intimately acquainted with two of them, one in Maryland and one in Illinois. You see, I was home-schooled by two people (in truth one of them) who never finished high school. My mother, who was my teacher, had an accident that made her leave school (although I think she probably did not have to be persuaded too strongly) and my father, who did not care much about it, had been kicked out of high school in New Jersey. How my parents met through correspondence (yep- letters delivered by postmen) when my father was in the CCCs during the late Depression is, in itself, a strange story, but eventually they met in person. Dad must have seemed both strong and slightly dangerous to a shy young women who had lost her father at age nine. My father's mother died of "over work" when he was a teenager. The loss of a parent at an early age can often lead to trouble, and in my parents' case it led to what we now call a very dysfunctional family. Both of my parents had very bad relationships with their siblings - my mother had one full sister and five half siblings and my father had three full siblings. My father was not on speaking terms with his father, who refused to met his new wife. I was born during World War II, nearly a year after Pearl Harbor. My sister was born on Pearl Harbor Day a few years later and died of SIDS on the next Saint Patrick's Day. My mother was accused by her siblings of causing my sister's death, and (according to my parents) their doctor recommended a dryer climate for both my mother and me. And so it was that my father left his job at the steel plant where he had worked during the war and moved the family to the middle of the Sonoran Desert.
My mother decided that I was too fragile to attend school and kept me home. I learned to read using old readers and various books. She taught me basic math and spelling. When my work got beyond her ability she and my father got two years of correspondence schooling from a company in Maryland. This was followed by a course of high school study from another in Chicago. In the meantime my father's rages (he was later diagnosed as bipolar) and my mother's possessiveness became a real problem for me. There was way too much closeness to the point that I had few friends and never a girlfriend. When my father argued with my mother (which was often) he threatened leaving her and me and sometimes he threatened suicide. However, he never struck me or my mother. The torture was psychological instead.
By a series of very unlikely events, starting with the Vietnam War and my having to go in for army physicals I finally got to enter a real school - a junior college. My mother had changed her mind about my going to college when my being drafted was a strong possibility. I got my GED in two days, taking the battery of five tests and receiving no lower grade than 90%, and was given a scholarship as promised by the Dean of Students at the local school. This led to a scholarship at a state university and eventually an assistantship and a Ph.D. at another state's university. I was still tied to my parents, who always moved with me, and if I had not, by another miracle (I really don't believe in them, but sometimes wonder) met a most wonderful woman who helped me make the final break, I might have lived with them until they died! However, I will give myself some credit - I walked out the door on my own and never went back. My father lived on to his 91st year and my mother died of a blood clot at 85. In the meantime the special woman and I married and we had two very wonderful girls. When the time came to educate them we sent them to PUBLIC SCHOOL! Admittedly this was before NCLB and so they actually had enrichment programs, including art. However, they both went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa from one of the most highly rated state university in the country, but, unlike me, they had many friends and a real social life.
What are my points? a) Homeschooling is not a panacea for fixing education as some parents are not qualified to teach their kids, b) home schooling parents should examine their motives as well as their resources before attempting to become educators of their kids, c) socialization is a very important aspect of education and must not be neglected, d) the public schools can be saved and parents who are involved in their children's education for the right reasons can used them effectively to properly educate their children, and e) most parents simply do not have the option to home-school their children. While we each want our children to have all the advantages they can have, abandoning the public school system for a pie in the sky fix for some will not help all the others. You can't fix a public system for the benefit of all by killing it, and abandonment of the system by those who can do it will certainly kill it and destroy some very good and dedicated teachers. No Child Left Behind must be fixed for everybody's sake, but right now Congress is in no mood to do anything and President Obama's hands are to a large degree tied. It is up to the parents of this country, and even those who are not parents as they have a stake in education as well, to influence politicians to do the right thing. Your children are eventually going to have to live in the real world, not the family cradle.
I repeat that under certain circumstances home schooling for a shorter or longer period may be the best thing for a child, but always be careful about such decisions. One of my friends took her daughter out of a local school in a small city for a year because she objected to the teaching of creationism! I fully supported her decision as religion should not be taught in science classes. However, my experience makes me believe that homeschooling is not the answer for the majority.