Homeschooling is Good for Society

Homeschooling is important to a society for three reasons.

First, it helps to create conditions for a real and sustainable democracy. A great error of both modern libertarianism on the political right and contemporary European socialism on the left has been to leave the isolated individual as the only relevant political and economic actor. The result has been a relentless assault from both ideologies on natural human bonds, including religious groups, local communities, families, and finally even “one flesh” marital unions. Appeals to “rights” and claims of “liberty” become, in practice, parallel channels to what philosophers used to call license, a moral anarchy that undermines the natural foundations of social order and human flourishing.

Where moral license reigns, natural family life is progressively shredded. In the end, these versions of democracy become parodies of healthy political life, characterized by demagoguery, the cultivation of lies, and the suppression of truth. Supposedly free individuals find themselves quite alone and defenseless before an ever more powerful state. It is the self-righteous “liberal democracies” of Germany, Sweden, and Norway that ruthlessly suppress home education today, jailing parents and seizing their children.

By restoring the task of education to the family, homeschooling helps recover an ancient truth: The family, not the isolated individual, is the natural cell of society—and, as such, the proper and primary political unit. As implied by the word “recover,” this is no fresh discovery: The ancient Greeks rested their democracies on function-rich, autonomous households. So did the founders of the original American Republic of the late 18th century. As historian Barry Shain summarizes in his fine book The Myth of American Individualism: “The vast majority of Americans [of that era] lived in morally demanding agricultural communities shaped by reformed-Protestant [Christian] social and moral norms” and grounded in strong kinship bonds.[1] In educational terms, they were homeschoolers. These were the real American men and women who fought and won the Revolution of 1776.

Under modern conditions, homeschoolers are rebuilding households as places of meaningful activity and first loyalty. In doing so, they are also recovering a much sounder understanding of liberty: not “do whatever you choose” (the libertarian understanding) nor “freedom through the state” (the socialist). Rather, homeschoolers look to the freedom to do “everything that is right,” or Christian liberty; and they look to the freedom that comes from a healthy level of autonomy and self-sufficiency, or familial liberty.

The advocates of mass state education argue that their style of uniform teaching is critical to democracy. In truth, it is home schools that help to build democracies where the people actually rule and justice might be advanced.

Second, homeschooling is important to society as a source for creative young citizens who can build a better future. Mass state schooling favors uniform inputs and uniform human outputs. It rewards those who submit to mind-numbing conventions and who learn how to play the game. It crushes new ideas or fresh approaches to human problems. Despite claims to the contrary, it insists on submission to the way things are done, and in practice ignores what might be.

Homeschooling, in contrast, is wonderfully and creatively anarchic. It is richly diverse. Only here might a true “thousand flowers bloom.” The record in the United States already shows that homeschooled youth are more likely to challenge “the way things are now done,” be it in the engineering of a new machine or in the crafting of a powerful poem or in the building of a robust home. These are a society’s future innovators—happy, healthy, and wealthy will be those societies that welcome them in large numbers.

Third, homeschooling is one of the few proven antidotes to the birth dearth, the collapse of birth rates occurring in every developed land. This can be seen on both sides of the problem.The role of mass state education in undermining natural human fertility is well established. As demographer Norman Ryder summarized in the United Nations Bulletin on Population:

[State] education of the junior generation is a subversive influence. . . . The reinforcement of the [family] control structure is undermined when the young are trained outside the family for specialized roles in which the father has no competence. . . . Political organizations, like economic organizations, demand loyalty and attempt to neutralize family particularism. There is a struggle between the family and state for the minds of the young.[2]

In this contest, the mass state school communicates a “state morality” that replaces those of the family and religious faith.

The American poet-philosopher Wendell Berry explains a related point: “According to the new [educational] norm, the child’s destiny is not to succeed the parents, but to outmode them. . . . [H]e or she is educated to leave home. . . . The local schools no longer serve the local community; they serve the government’s economy and the economy’s government.”[3] The bonds of the generations become meaningless; so does the presence of children. Indeed, numerous investigations have shown a direct and causal tie between the spread of mass state education and fertility decline.

In contrast, homeschooling families are both more stable and more fruitful. According to one American survey, 97% of homeschool children had parents who were married, compared to 70% nationwide. Sixty-two percent of homeschooling families had three or more children, compared to only 20% of the nationwide sample. And over a third of homeschooling families actually had four or more children, compared to a mere six percent nationwide. Comparatively speaking, homeschool families are “rich” in children.

Over 200 years ago, Adam Smith, the philosopher of liberty, wrote: “Domestic [or home] education is the institution of nature—public education is the contrivance of man. It is surely unnecessary to say which is likely to be wisest.”[4] Closer to our time, my mentor and friend—the sociologist Robert Nisbet—wrote:

We can use the family as an infallible touchstone of the material and cultural prosperity of a people. When it is strong, closely linked with private property, treated as the essential context of education in society, and its sanctity recognized by law and custom, the probability is extremely high that we shall find the rest of the social order characterized by that subtle but [powerful] fusion of stability and individual mobility which is the hallmark of great ages.[5]

Let us work together to build a new Great Age!

Allan C. Carlson is Editor of The Natural Family.

[1]     Barry Alan Shain, The Myth of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994): xvi. 

[2]     Norman Ryder, “Fertility and Family Structure,” Population Bulletin of the United Nations 15 [1983]: 18-32

[3]     Wendell Berry, “The Work of Local Culture,” in What Are People For? (Berkely: Counterpoint, 1990, 2010): 153-69, at 162. 

[4]     Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (VI.ii.1.10), 1759.

[5]     Robert Nisbet, Twilight of Authority (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), 254.