Over the last two years there has been much brouhaha about the explosion of homeschooling. Statistics and numbers fly readily from the pens of writers and lips of hosts: 2 million nation-wide; double-digit growth; incredible SAT scores. Hyped claims of revival, reformation and the culture-changing power of homeschooling have mushroomed. As one bright-eyed romantic exclaimed, homeschooling has been a “veritable reformation of life” among a dying culture.
Sadly, this optimism is driven by an uninformed idealism. The 2 million number is suspect because unprovable: most of the number includes an assumption about how many homeschoolers have not been counted. The National Center for Educational Statistics has the latest number at about 1.1 million—with 18% of that number including students that attend 25 hours or less of class time outside the home. So, practically the 1.1 million number should ignore 18 percent. And if the 2 million number is accurate, it should shrink proportionally as well: 902 hundred-thousand and 1.640 million respectively.
When the retention factor is analyzed, the future of homeschooling becomes more questionable. The latest 2007 Peabody Journal of Education summary paints a more accurate picture: “much homeschooling occurs in intervals of 1 to 4 years. This implies that the total number of 18-year-olds in 2006 who have been homeschooled at least intermittently is around 375,000, or about 10%.” Only a 63% retention rate exists into the second year of homeschooling. And after year six 48% are still homeschooling (only 15% for secular families). Similar numbers are acknowledged by some homeschooling leaders (CHEC Update, Fall Quarter, 2008).
There’s more. Many assume that most homeschoolers are college-educated, middle-class, white conservatives. However, the Barna poll demonstrates that 49% of these families fit this description. And just over half (51%) are not classified as “born again”. Only 15% are (loosely) Evangelical. Half of the homeschoolers polled consider themselves somewhere between conservative and liberal.
More importantly, the Barna Group numbers display a level of poor spirituality I had only guessed at from my own anecdotal experience: most homeschoolers deny that Satan exists and half believe that salvation is obtained through good works.
The future of homeschooling is decidedly not looking bright. Even if the numbers are actually growing, who cares? If the numbers grow but the spiritual life does not grow what have homeschoolers achieved? What have the leaders wrought? If vast numbers are ignorant of the depths of their sins and the power of the Gospel of sovereign grace, hypocrisy and false assurance will rise. Then the future may be pleasant people, clean neighborhoods, and whiten sepulchers full of dead men’s bones.
The future of homeschooling is bright if and only if the faith grows with it. Hyping it will not help. As a viable option among many, the families that choose homeschooling still need to have their life and methods rooted in the same Gospel as the Reformation. For it is only in the Person and Work of Christ that homeschooling—or any schooling—can be part of a reformation of life and a bright future for mankind.
[More observations on homeschooling; a new blog on Christian nurture and homeschooling]