American and British home educators

I have talked before about how careful we must be in looking at research into homeschooling in the USA and then applying the conclusions to home education in this country. The very fact that the favoured name for the activity in America is homeschooling provides a clue as to why this should be. Looking at big studies in America, such as Rudner's Achievement and demographics of home school pupils in 1999, indicates what I mean by this. The typical profile of the American parent who keeps her children at school looks very different from British home educators.

The parents in these families were educated to a higher level than average. In a quarter of families one or both parents were qualified teachers. The percentage of parents who were married was higher than the national average, perhaps connected with the fact that many of these families were devoutly religious evangelical Christianity being the most common denomination. The mothers tended to stay at home and those who did work only did so part-time. This is hardly a surprise. These look like very conventional families, where the father goes out to work and the mother stays at home with the children. The whole family worship in church on Sundays. This is a lifestyle and family structure which is less common in this country. Overall, only 6 per cent of the families belonged to ethnic minorities, compared with around 30 percent nationally.

I think that if we were to poll the members of organisations such as Education Otherwise, HEAS and Home Education UK, a rather different picture might emerge. Of course in both countries there is a wide range of home educating parents, ranging from conservative Christians to left wing atheists, but on the whole, the picture is very different. This is reflected in the nature of the main organisations for home educators. In the USA are groups like the Home School Legal Defense Association, while in this country we have the ones which I mention above. Education Otherwise would probably be relaxed about a same sex couple raising a child or about abortion, while very few home educators in this country are probably in favour of regular physical punishment of children.

In America, the situation is so different, that some parents here might have trouble grasping the the sort of things which so many homeschoolers take for granted in the USA. For example the HSLDA are very passionate about guns, among other things. When the government passed a law banning the possession of a gun within a thousand feet of a school, the HSLDA was outraged at this violation of rights and supported its repeal. A lot of these people tend to be very strongly anti-abortion and anti-gay as well, probably not typical positions for home educators here. (Interestingly, the woman who runs the Friends of Dominic Johanssons group lives in Pennsylvania and is active in both fields, being particularly enraged by homosexuality). Another 'right' that many American homeschoolers are very determined about is the right to hit their children and insist that they follow the family religious practice. This is why the HSLDA is so opposed to the American ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Only two countries in the world have not signed this; America and Somalia!

For my own part, I am quite relaxed about all this. I suspect that I have a little more in common with this sort of conservative approach which tends to be slanted towards structure education than I do towards the laid back, wooly liberal attitudes which I see a lot here. I do think though that it is well for parents in this country to be aware of these differences. If you are a liberal Humanist who is all in favour of gay rights, a woman's right to abortion and opposed to guns and beating children, then it might be as well to stop a little and think carefully about the kind of campaigns which might attract somebody with precisely opposite views to your own. Otherwise, you might find yourself in some very strange company indeed and aligned by implication with some causes which you would probably run a mile from in your own country.