Over the last few years, homeschooling has grown in Virginia by almost 40 percent. In fact, homeschoolers in Virginia now account for almost 60,000 students — making homeschooling the fifth largest school district in the Commonwealth. Because homeschoolers are self-funded, this saves Virginia’s state and local governments almost $800 million per year. More importantly, homeschoolers outperform public school students in almost every measurable category. Homeschoolers score significantly higher on standardized tests, have higher college graduation rates, lower rates of depression and anxiety, and succeed at higher rates as adults.
Yet, the Washington Post reported in The Revolt of the Christian Home-Schoolers (May 30, 2023), based almost solely on one couple’s experience, as a “conscious rejection of contemporary ideas about biology, history, gender equity and the role of religion in American Government.” The article, with scant evidence, concludes that there is an “unmistakable backlash” of formerly homeschooled children denouncing homeschooling. Riddled with references to “indoctrination” and “abuse,” homeschooling is painted by the Washington Post as a fringe and dangerous educational option. These homeschoolers “could not recover or reconstruct the lost opportunities of their childhood” as “there were so many things they had not learned.”
The attack on homeschooling is not limited to the Washington Post. In the just-released Amazon Prime documentary, Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets — homeschooling is similarly painted as an ultra-right-wing movement tied to controversial and fallen religious figures from the 1980’s. Viewers come away viewing homeschooling as a teaching method that leads to closed-minded, sexually abused, and undereducated students.
There is no doubt that the experience of the Round Hill, Virginia family highlighted in the Washington Post and of the supposedly shiny happy Duggars is real, but they are clearly the exception and are not indicative of the broader homeschool community. In fact, homeschooling is growing dramatically in the non-white community, with the fastest growing segment of homeschoolers being African Americans. A quarter of homeschool families are not even religious. And, as noted above, the academic and social success of homeschooling is well researched and documented.
So why would the Washington Post devote such a large amount of ink to bashing homeschooling? Their motive, I believe, is exposed when they claim that Christian homeschoolers are behind “the nation’s culture wars, fueling attacks on public-school lessons about race and gender with politically potent language about ‘parental rights.’” Homeschoolers, more than any other group, are free from the philosophy espoused by our former Governor Terry McAuliffe that parents should not have a say in what their children are taught. I think the Post and other such publications fear the remnant of homeschoolers that fall outside the scope and reach of their own indoctrination. Parental rights are not “politically potent,” they are fundamental to a free society. Until parents are respected and heard in our public schools, homeschooling will continue to grow and homeschool students will continue to excel.
(In full disclosure, I homeschooled my four children in the same community where the couple in the Washington Post story reside. While I do not know them, and I wish them recovery from the abuse they describe, I can attest first-hand that their experience is not typical of the overwhelming success and loving parenting I witnessed in our local homeschool community)
Derrick A. Max is incoming President and CEO of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.