By Andrew J. Peterson, Ph.D.
The Psychologists' Concern
In the December 1996 issue of the American Psychological Association Monitor, an article entitled, "Home schools: How do they affect children?" by Bridget Murray reports an "increasing skepticism from psychologists and other educators" about parents teaching their children at home and in the community. Murray, while acknowledging the excellent test scores from those home schoolers who use and record traditional standardized assessment, fears the children will miss the "unique opportunities of traditional schooling" and the socialization necessary for "becoming adults" in American society.
Understanding the Home School Solution
As key players for the past century in the construction of the modern public school, most professional psychologists do not understand the benefits, features, and challenges of home schooling. The arduous effort of home schooling is expended because the parents know it is right in principle, as well as apparently successful in practice. The Bible teaches that the family is to be the primary socializer and educator—not the state. Teaching support may be delegated to others, but parents bear the ultimate responsibility to God for raising children to exhibit excellent character and competence.
A Psychological Perspective
Psychologists, on the other hand, have been trained as experts in human behavior theory without any stated adherence to particular moral principles, state professional ethics notwithstanding. In the APA article, a representative psychological consultant in the Virginia schools, Neil Bernstein, said, "We have to rear kids for the culture they will live in." Psychologists are attributed as having "skepticism" and as being "concerned" about the home schooling family that "denies" normal American experiences, and "They fear that home-schoolers are trying to protect children from becoming adults." Murray assumes that adjustment to societal norms is the rule by which to live. If a technique or method seems to "work," then it must be applied regardless of ethical principle. Home schoolers have a higher standard by which to socialize their children.
Inconsistencies in Method
While the author does recount the benefits of home schooling in an uncontested way, the psychologists' views in this article are based on research reports with limited controls for reliability and validity. One was a case study of an eleven-year-old home schooled boy, "who lagged behind socially and mathematically." Another was a small group comparison of IQ scores of home schoolers and private schoolers revealing that both groups "scored the same." Although the researcher in the second study should have been measuring academic achievement instead of IQ, Murray uses these two studies to build an argument for the necessity of funding more "outcomes research." Murray proposes that the IQ scores do show that home schooling is sufficient for academic purposes; however, she still has concerns about home schoolers' lack of exposure to diversity, participation in greater society and entering mainstream life. Even by the APA's own standards, such logical fallacies and limited investigations will not build confidence for having psychologists perform expensive evaluations of home schooling outcomes.
Freedom from the "Experts"
In the 1920's, the Christian historian J. Gresham Machen warned about a "tyranny of the experts" developing in American life. Bernstein's view is typical: "We must ensure that we're raising children to be complete people." Psychologists must understand that home schooling is a positive approach to education, chosen in principle—it is not based on fear and insecurity about life outside some narrow, ghetto-like subculture. Is it the America of the APA which endorses such anti-Christian views as abortion on demand and the predetermined, unchangeable and healthy nature of homosexuality? Or is it the America of our founding fathers who assumed the general principles of the biblical worldview, such as family responsibility for education? The book of James in the Bible claims, contra APA, that the Christian way makes people "perfect and complete, lacking nothing."
Next Steps in Socialization
The final concern in the article involves collegiate and professional training for young adults from home schools. Although colleges accept applications from home schoolers and evaluate them in a serious way, the APA Monitor detected difficulty with the fact that subjective criteria are necessary for processing and decision-making. As we assume the home schooling mind-set, a greater concern than college acceptance, and even the inordinate expense and debt, is that our youth will matriculate to college and either not be trained sufficiently or be educated into an APA-like view of the world. Home schooling parents set higher standards for excellence in character and competence and will be developing new models for technical and professional training. Home education is an exuberant, hopeful view of growth and opportunity for the future.
Andrew J. Peterson, PhD., is currently Chief Information Officer for Fieldstead & Company in Irvine, California, and an adjunct professor of Pastoral Counseling at Westminster Seminary. He served as a professor in the Psychology Department at Grove City College from 1983—1988, after six years as a psychologist at the Family and Child Guidance Center, a community mental health center in Pennsylvania. Dr. Peterson earned his MA from U.C. Berkeley, and his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. He has assisted home schooling parents since 1980.