Homeschooling Promotes Intolerance? Think Again!

Two people in a heated argument about religion (click for credit)

Two people in a heated argument about religion (click for credit)

One of the many uninformed criticisms of homeschooling is that it promotes intolerance. The Encyclopedia of Distributed Learning, for example, summarizes how the National Education Association sees it:1

Critics, among them the National Education Association, argue that…because they are not exposed to the broad range of socioeconomic and ethnic groups found in conventional classrooms, home schooled children may become bigoted and intolerant.

Until now, I had never seen any studies on the issue, but my personal experiences with homeschoolers don’t give any credence to this idea. In my personal experience, homeschooled children are significantly more tolerant than those who come from public and private school.

Of course, my personal experience is not a good gauge for the homeschooling movement as a whole. I tend to interact with homeschooled students who first reach out to me, through email, Facebook, or homeschooling conventions. Since they are reaching out to me, they are part of a self-selected group of homeschooled students who many not represent the norm. As a result, I read with interest a recent article in the Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform. In it, the author discusses what studies exist regarding private schooling, homeschooling, and intolerance. He then he reports his own findings on the subject.

Let’s start with the author’s discussion of what previous research has been done on the issue. Most of the research is related to private schools, and the author contends that the literature shows that privately-schooled students are at least as tolerant as publicly-schooled students. That was only marginally interesting to me, because it doesn’t really relate to homeschooling, which is the focus of my work.

He tries to discuss some research related to homeschooled students, but it mostly centers around how involved they are in civic activities. In my opinion, that tells us nothing about the level of intolerance in homeschooling, since intolerance can lead to a high civic involvement. After all, as militant evolutionists have already demonstrated, if you don’t want alternate views to be discussed, one way to get that accomplished is through legislators or the legal system. Thus, I didn’t think that part of the article was very useful.

However, at one point he conjectures why it is reasonable to assume that homeschooled students are more tolerant than their peers, and I think he hits the nail on the head:2

Individuals who are less secure in their identity tend to feel more threatened when their views are challenged. Hence, they wish to control or even quell these threats and ultimately are more uncompromising in their actions and outlook. Because homeschooling is a highly personalized educational arrangement and usually constitutes holistically introducing students to a particular worldview and way of life, homeschooled students typically attain a higher degree of self-actualization. Consequently, homeschooled students may be more politically tolerant than those who attend a traditional public school. In fact, traditional public schools may be an institution that stunts self-actualization for some of its students because it threatens those students’ sense of self by endorsing a worldview that clashes with the one held by those students. [references removed for clarity]

That has been my experience. Homeschooled students are simply more comfortable in their own skin, specifically because of the homeschooling model. As a result, they tend to be more tolerant, because they don’t feel as threatened by opposing views.

Once again, however, my personal experience is not necessarily representative of homeschooled students in general, and his conjecture is interesting, but in order to be taken seriously, it needs to be backed up by some hard data. That’s where his own research comes in. He gave a survey to 304 students at a private Christian university in the western United States. He doesn’t indicate which university, but I suspect it is Biola University, because that’s where the author got his undergraduate degree.

He reports that the survey he gave (the content-controlled political tolerance scale) is a widely-used instrument that measures political tolerance, and it has been validated in several different studies. He does a statistical analysis of his survey results and reaches the following conclusion:

…among a relatively homogenous group of undergraduates, all of whom attend an evangelical Christian university, those with more exposure to homeschooling relative to public schooling tend to be more politically tolerant.

While I think this conclusion is valid, I also think more studies like this need to be done. One of the serious weaknesses of the study is the small number of homeschooled students. Of the 304 participants, only 15 of them had been homeschooled K-12. Another 23 of them had been homeschooled for 7-12 years, and another 26 had been homeschooled for 1-6 years. The statistical error related to such small groups is fairly large, and the difference he finds between the tolerance of homeschooled students and the others is fairly small. It could be that when studies like this are done on larger groups, the difference will decrease. Of course, it could increase as well. The fact is, we won’t know until more studies are done.

However, I do think that one firm conclusion we can draw from this study is that those homeschooled students who attend Christian universities are at least as tolerant as the same kinds of students who were privately- or publicly-schooled. That, in an of itself, is a very important result. Of course, I doubt that such research will change the arguments coming out of the National Education Association. That organization has already shown its disdain for the data when it comes to discussing homeschooling.

REFERENCES

1. Encyclopedia of Distributed Learning, Anna DiStefano, Kjell Erik Rudestam, and Robert Silverman (ed), Sage Publications 2004, p. 222
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2. Albert Cheng, “Does Homeschooling or Private Schooling Promote Political Intolerance? Evidence From a Christian University,” Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform 8(1):2014 DOI:10.1080/15582159.2014.875411
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22 Comments

  1. I guess being able to spend time in inner-city South America as well as out with rural indigenous tribes in SA, as well as visiting the slums of India, makes kids intolerant. My kids’ mother and I have also been to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East and can give them first-hand accounts of our experiences. The irony of homeschooling is that homeschoolers don’t usually stay at home too much. They typically get out more than classroom-schoolers. Being well-grounded is based more in having secure familial relationships that can weather going on the road than it is being closed off from the outside world. Perhaps that’s why the social engineers are fearful of solid families. It’s harder to change homeschoolers’ worldviews.

  2. Dan from Dayton says:

    Peer pressure is also a significant factor with impressionable children. Regardless of the schooling venue, many children will gravitate toward following the dominant personality. Dominance is a broad spectrum, but many times that tends to be a loud, intense and undisciplined child. Conformity tends to set in, not free thinking. The bottom line is what standard do you want your child to align themselves to: The communal “path of least resistence”; or a heart-lead self initiated standard? Tolerance, it seems, is bred in the environment where one is free and encouraged to think for themselves and live according to their own humble purposes. Homeschooling, in my mind, is that free and tolerance generating environment.

  3. Kendall says:

    Hi Dr. Wile!

    I’m going to make it to the St. Louis homeschool expo:-) I’m so looking forward to the event and hearing you speak.

    I was wondering how you became part of the homeschool scene? I understand that you adopted your daughter during her teenage years. Was homeschooling a calling to you before you became a homeschool dad?

    1. jlwile says:

      I look forward to meeting you, Kendall! I got involved with homeschooling when I was on the faculty at Ball State University. I decided to investigate it when I realized that my top three students were homeschooled. When I looked at the studies that had been done regarding homeschooling, I found that my experience was common. In general, homeschooled students are academically superior. This was all before we adopted our daughter.

      In the end, I got involved with homeschooling because the products impressed me so much.

  4. Zorcey says:

    I actually just had an argument about this today – what a happy coincidence. The disposition of the opposite side was that homeschooling parents deny their children exposure to other cultures, religious beliefs etc., during their critical formative years – thus raising bigots who are “unequipped” to deal with conflicting worldviews. All in all parroting the claims made by the beloved NEA.

    I do hope more studies like this at conducted on a larger scale, it’s time the notion that homeschooling is about indoctrination was debunked.

  5. Anthea says:

    ” …homeschooling parents deny their children exposure to other cultures, religious beliefs etc., during their critical formative years…”

    Because there aren’t actually any PEOPLE in the world outside of school, and only teachers can tell a child anything about life, right?

    Our children have lived next door to people from
    Poland, Nigeria and Turkey, opposite Greeks and Irish people. Our pastors are from New Zealand, their cousins live in France. The manager of the local library casts spells and has a pentagram on her wall (nice!) and one of our son’s best friends has a mother who was raised in communist Russia and knows nothing about Lent, Easter and so on …

    If only my poor children went to school, then they wouldn’t be so sheltered and cut off from a range of cultures!

    None so blind as them wot won’t see, Dr Jay …

  6. Amy says:

    This is a good point, but I think its ultimately wrong. When I went to university, I found that the most tollerent people were a mix of all backgrounds, schooling, socialization, ect. The one thing they all had in common was that they were nice, and friendly, and more selfless than selfish. They were also some degree of humble. The least tolerant people were obnoxious, self centered, and generally proud. Some of the intolerant people went to public school, and some were homeschooled. Ultimately this leads me to conclude that tolerance has a lot more to do with personality.

    1. jlwile says:

      I would have to disagree with you, Amy. I have no doubt that a person’s personality affects his or her tolerance. However, that personality is shaped by the person’s schooling. The data here seem fairly clear that homeschooling tends to produce more tolerant people.

      1. Amy says:

        But is it that tolerance is a result of the homeschooling enviornment? Or is it that kids who are homeschooled simply have more tolerant personalities which attribute to their parents ability to homeschool them.

        1. jlwile says:

          Amy, it is always hard to tease out cause from studies like this. The study tells us that homeschoolers are slightly more tolerant. We also know that a child’s experiences in schooling shape the child’s personalities. Thus, it is most reasonable to assume that there is something about homeschooling that is shaping the students to be more tolerant. In addition, as someone who has been working with homeschoolers for the past 21 years, I can say that I don’t see a particular personality type in homeschooling. Thus, the idea that homeschooling self-selects for more tolerant personalities doesn’t work so far as I can tell.

  7. Kendall says:

    This conversation thread reminds me of something that I believe Ravi Zacharias said in a talk once. He said, essentially, “I don’t know anyone who wants to be tolerated.” That’s a very negative word. Humans want to be loved and respected. To me it is almost along the same line as “putting up with.” That’s not how we should treat others! I certainly don’t like the idea of other people “putting up” with me. That doesn’t feel good at all.

    I wonder if you’re on to something, Amy. Pride is root of most human problems, if not all. Certainly a student that attends a public school can turn out humble, and “tolerant.” I would wonder how much that result came from the parents influence on the child rather than the public school’s influence though. It could be the same with homeschooled children that turn out “intolerant.” Certainly you can have a prideful, self-righteous homeschoolers. Again I would probably attribute that outcome to the parental influence on the child.

    I would guess that more homeschool parents have their hearts and intentions in the right place, and that is why the results of “tolerant” homeschool students far outweighs their counterpart.

    We must all take on Christs love and love our enemies, and each other.

    1. Yannick says:

      AS someone who exclusively went to a public school and comes from an household with 4 children, i can tell you the school had more influence on me regarding tolerance. At least where i am from tolerance doesnt have a negative wibe to it. At least if you join the workforce and you realy have to put up with some people…like a boss you dont see eye to eye with or a Co-Worker who you dont like for some reason. Yet you have to learn to work together. This isnt somethin you cant learn at home. Not even with Brothers and Sisters arround you.

      Also i would say that not every Parent is fit to teach their children at home. Some parents also use Homeschooling to keep their children in a bubble. I think there was a case of a girl who couldnt proove she was american citizen because she was born at home, schooled at home, to my understanding keept home her entire life before she decided to leave. Of course this is an extreme example.

      Also: There is an amazing amount of realy good teachers working at Public Schools…of course there are bad ones too, but at least i could learn a great deal from those too.

  8. Kendall says:

    I’m sure you’re right on both those points, Yannick. Homeschooling can be abused (just like any tool), and there are certainly good teachers in the Public School system.

    I also wonder, is there a point at which you should stop laying down and standing idly by (in regards to tolerance) and a time when you should call out someone who is legitimately being a jerk to you. I’ve never been in a position where I had a bad boss. But at least on a normal relational level, where your job isn’t at stake, I don’t think it’s normal to put up with everything that’s thrown at you. Hehe…should you tolerate the intolerance of other people?:P

    Having said the above, I think there is a difference between tolerance and getting along with others. Tolerance is allowing others to have difference worldviews and idea from oneself. “the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.”

    If I may bring up a rather caustic topic as example. I don’t believe that homosexuality is a good practice. There is a difference between allowing a free person to live out their own beliefs and ideas (tolerating), and endorsing it, however. I think that a lot of people today equate tolerance with “acknowledging the legitimacy of an idea.” No, that is something different. Forgive me if you haven’t made that error, I just wanted to clarify. And to go a little further…at what point should you stop tolerating an idea because it is hurting someone else? Pedophilia, for example.

    I regards to “getting along with” as opposed to “tolerance” I definitely think homeschool wins the day. One must learn to get along with their family first, usually a big one consisting of a lot of siblings! Sometimes siblings are harder to get along with than your worst enemies:-) Especially when you’re with then all day long! But that aside, the biggest point against public schooling in regards to the social aspect (for me anyway) is the prescribed psydo-class system. All of the children are divided into their own age groups, where they interact mostly with kids their own age. Aside from their teacher they aren’t getting a variety of experience when it comes to interacting with people of all types and ages. As a homeschooler I can say that I had and have many adult (far older than I am) friends, and also children ( far younger than I am).

    The forte of homeschooling, Yannick, is the ability to individually school a child. The homeschool teacher (typically Mom) drawing out their interests (on a personal level) and leading them, as a guide, into adulthood.

    I’d also like to say that while homeschooling is great, you may be right that it isn’t right for everyone. In fact, it isn’t even necessarily practical for everyone. But it is definitely a strong and legitimate learning system. I wouldn’t say that everyone should homeschool anymore than I would say everyone needs the same dietary plan, or the same government. Every person is an individual.

    1. Yannick says:

      The when to tolerate and when to stand up thing is exactly the thing i learned at my public school. Although there where some troubling moments i think i grew from that more than i ever could someplace else because you are stuck with your classmates for some years πŸ˜€

      I deffinetly agree that a Homeschoolkid can be a legit learning system. I personaly feel that the potential to abuse this tool is very high though.

      1. jlwile says:

        I understand your comment about abuse, Yannick, but the potential for abuse is just as high (in my opinion) in public and private school. Incompetent teachers are protected, bullying is rampant, a multitude of irrelevant distractions exist, etc. I don’t see how schools are any more reliable on the whole.

        1. Yannick says:

          For example there was a case here a few weeks ago. A girl was abused by her father at home. A female teacher noticed the psychological symptoms and upon questioning saw also the marks on her body so she could tell the Authoritys. Just as one example. I dont know about the US but our teachers are in general very well educated. Yes there was bullying in the school, but at least at the time where i was there if possible the school always stepped in and where not it made sure the dilinquents where sent to other schools at the very least. i dont know what you mean by distractions. See i dont want to say its all perfect. Its not. But i didnt only mean Physical or Psychological Abuse.

        2. jlwile says:

          At least in the U.S., Yannick, child abuse is much more common in the schools than in homeschools. For example, The Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect found that homeschooled families were much more likely to suspected of abuse and neglect, but they were much less likely to be found to be guilty of it. So, at least in the U.S., homeschools are under more intense scrutiny when it comes to abuse and neglect. Despite this, there is more abuse and neglect found in those who attend school.

          When I mentioned distractions, I was considering educational abuse as well. That’s another form of abuse that is much more common in schools than in homeschools, as evidenced by the fact that, on average, homeschooled students excel compared to publicly- and privately-schooled students.

        3. Yannick says:

          I still dont know what you mean by educational abuse? Here in Germany Homeschooling isnt even allowed and even the Private School-Students have to pass a Test from the Government to get a Diploma they can actually use. (Like i did)

          “So, at least in the U.S., homeschools are under more intense scrutiny when it comes to abuse and neglect.”

          Thats quite good to hear πŸ™‚

        4. jlwile says:

          I feel sorry for the students in Germany, Yannick, if they are being denied one of the best educational models available!

          Educational abuse takes on many forms, and forcing students to take tests doesn’t fix that, as it only demonstrates a minimum proficiency. Educational abuse is the process by which a student is not allowed to develop to his or her full potential, for any number of reasons. A student can pass a state-mandated test and still be the victim of educational abuse. After all, if the student is a true genius but not allowed to develop because he or she doesn’t “fit the mold” of what the educational establishment deems proper, that’s educational abuse. The student might meet some minimal qualification, but that doesn’t indicate anything about whether or not the student was educated to his or her full potential.

          Here’s an example of a young man who barely escaped such educational abuse. Her mother was told he would never be able to read, and might not be able to talk or tie his shoelaces. His mother thought he was capable of much more than that, so she homeschooled him. He is now working on his PhD in physics at age 14. One wonders how many kids are stuck in schools facing the educational abuse that this young man escaped via homeschooling.

          I note that you truncated my statement, so I want to repeat it in full so that people understand how utterly unfounded the idea that homeschooling leads to abuse really is:

          “So, at least in the U.S., homeschools are under more intense scrutiny when it comes to abuse and neglect. Despite this, there is more abuse and neglect found in those who attend school.

        5. Yannick says:

          About your statement i quoted: I wanted to make clear that Homeschools are being watched is the thing i am glad to hear. Schools are already under supervision. The Idea that Homeschooling leads to Abuse is stupid indeed. I think its more a thing of Homeschooling being used to cover the Abuse.

          Well there are so called Waldorf-Schools in Germany. Where Children are educated much more to their own pace and topics. After the Ideas of Rudolf Steiner. Also now since Humanistic Schools are being founded the Idea of learning by ones own pace gets arround some more. So improvements are made all the time πŸ™‚

          I see now what you mean by educational abuse. I personaly think of those cases more as Missjudgements of capabilitys but yeah πŸ™‚

  9. Jaaon says:

    I can’t speak for other countries but in the UK our public school system is in shambles. My sister is an English high school teacher and so is my cousin and they constantly complain about the state of education in this country (having come from and taught in South Africa).

    I would also like to point out that English schools are constantly bombarded with government agendas. It is disgraceful to hear how certain philosophies and intolerances (ironically) are being forced on our school children.

    Further, I was surprised to find a growing number of atheist families who have identified similar concerns and who have decided home educating was the better more responsible route if possible.

    And finally, many UK kids can’t get into their schools of choice and as such opt to home educate while they wait. Some kids can’t find a place in the public school system at all and are forced to either go private or home educate as an alternative.

    Like I said earlier, I can’t comment on other countries but in the UK, home educating in on the rise and I can certainly understand why.

    1. jlwile says:

      Thanks for your perspective, Jaaon. It is unfortunate that the UK schools are such a mess, but I am glad that parents have the option to rescue their kids by homeschooling!