The impact of homeschooling on the adjustment of college students.

Author:Drenovsky, Cynthia K.


Homeschooling is an option for education that has increased considerably since the 1970s. Stereotypes of homeschooled children often include labels such as "backward" or "on the fringe" of society. This study seeks to determine whether these stereotypes have any lasting effect on homeschooled students' adjustment to college. An online survey resulted in a sample of 185 students from a variety of colleges and universities, both public and private. The results show that as compared to traditionally educated students, college students who were homeschooled do not exhibit any significant differences in self-esteem, and they experience significantly lower levels of depression than those with no homeschooling in their educational background. This research also reveals that homeschooled students report that they achieve higher academic success in college and view their entire college experience more positively than traditionally educated students.

Sometimes retailers and their advertisers make embarrassing blunders that force potential consumers to examine, and then define the myths and realities of a condition in society. Take for example a T-shirt advertised for J.C. Penney in 2001 that depicted a dilapidated mobile home paired with the words "Home Skooled." While store officials insisted that they did not mean to offend anyone, they pulled the product from their shelves "after enraged missives poured in from homeschooled families, some of whom threatened a boycott." (1) Interestingly, Stacey Bielick from the National Center for Education Statistics published a report during the same month as the T-shirt incident, which stated that over 850,000 American children were homeschooled in 1999. (2) Suddenly, it is now commonplace to learn about homeschooling in mainstream popular culture, and Americans who had not thought much about the topic have formed their impressions of homeschooling through the media. As with most media portrayals, the images of homeschooling churned out over the past decade were caricatures oversimplified, yet exaggerated. For example, a 2004 article in The Economist referred to homeschooled students as conservative "Republican foot-soldiers." (3) Patrick Henry College, a private Evangelical Christian college with a "deliberate outreach to homeschooled students," (4) opened its doors in 2000, and by 2007 Hanna Rosin, senior editor at The Atlantic, helped draw national attention to the school's mission in her book, God's Harvard. It is not the primary aim of her book to simply identify the faults of students attending Patrick Henry College. However, the image of students that Rosin constructs presents them as a perfectly homogeneous set of young adults. As a result, readers come away with a stereotype about homeschooled students as extremely conservative Christians, and a bit crazed, like "overambitious junior executives that populate the Ivy League these days--only without the political apathy." (5)

Most faculty members who have taught in higher education during the last fifteen years, whether at a small private college or a large public university, have likely noticed an increase in the number of homeschooled students in their classrooms. At one time, a student's public disclosure of being homeschooled elicited gasps and stares from classmates. At other times, the class discussion on homeschooling would take a "we" versus "them" turn as students hypothesized that homeschooled students are usually noticeable on campus by their awkward appearance or lack of social skills. Times have changed, however. Today, there are more homeschooled students on college campuses than ever and their number is expected to grow in the near future. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics estimated an increase from 850,000 homeschooled students in 1999 to 1.3 million in 2003 and 1.5 million in 2007. (6)

To be sure, homeschooling can be beneficial to many students; however, much of the literature on homeschooling and its consequences is often a product of the homeschooling movement, so it contains obvious biases. (7) This study takes an objective look at the consequences of homeschooling on students' adjustment to college. The homeschooled college student does not have the wide array of institutional experiences from primary and secondary schooling to draw from while coping with the stresses of a college environment. Nevertheless, it is possible that the homeschooled college student has sufficient preparation for succeeding in college from his/her home environment. This study examines how well the homeschooled college student is adjusting to college.

Background Literature

While homeschooling has been around since the colonial era, compulsory schooling laws that were enacted in all states by 1918 put America's focus on institutionalizing education. That focus continued throughout the twentieth century until Americans began to learn more about homeschooling. (8) The publication of several highly critical works on American public education spurred national interest in the concept of home education beginning in the 1960s. In both How Children Fail (1964) and How Children Learn (1967), John Caldwell Holt, the founder of Growth Without Schooling, which offered parents ideas and philosophies for educating their children at home, encouraged many families to reconsider the traditional public education system that they knew so well. (9) Holt's ideas concerning the basic dysfunctions of American education included the notion that when children are too often motivated by fear their natural desire for self-discovery is thwarted, and that they are too often taught for test-taking in American schools. (10)

As Holt's works gained notoriety for his claims about the shortcomings of the American education system, Ivan Illich's book, Deschooling Society (1971), drew additional attention to the pitfalls of mass, public, compulsory schooling in the United States. (111) Illich, a philosopher, derided all formal institutions in American society, and, in the process, called for their dismantling. According to Illich:

Universal education through schooling is not feasible, and alternative educational paths must be sought. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hard ware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue's responsibility until it engulfs his pupil's lifetime will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into a search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries. (12) His vision of a "peer-matching" network to bring together a community of learners via computers is strikingly prophetic of today's Internet.

Raymond and Dorothy Moore are also credited with shaping today's homeschooling movement. Their ideas were first published in Better Late than Early (1975), (13) which suggests that children should not begin formal schooling until they reach the age of eight. (14) They also advocate the use of home chores and community service as learning experiences. The Moores homeschooled their own children, and many parents today turn to their works to guide them through home education. (15)

The U.S. Supreme Court also contributed to the rise of the homeschooling movement in Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), (16) a landmark case which legalized homeschooling for families who maintained that their religious beliefs could best be preserved if their children were educated at home. The Yoders, an old-order Amish family, turned to the First Amendment to ensure their right to homeschool their children. Since the Yoders were part of a unique community where the lifestyle is often consumed by tourists and labeled as "backward," it is not surprising that, during the 1970s, mainstream Americans viewed homeschooling as backward and strange. It is true that throughout the 1970s and 1980s, many families who chose homeschooling did so because of distinct religious reasons or concerns about the academic quality of a public school education. (17) Homeschooling was also adopted by families who were members of what education researchers Gretchen Wilhelm and Michael Firmin call "extreme groups." According to Wilhelm and Firmin, the early homeschooling families of the 1960s stood to...

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