Side of the PJE study of Tennessee Homeschooling
by Kay Brooks, TnHomeEd Owner
published as "A Response to: 'The Home Schooling Mother-Teacher Toward a
Theory of Social Integration' by Susan A. McDowell of the Peabody
Journal of Education" at
In June 2000, the Peabody
Journal of Education (PJE), a part of Vanderbilt University in
Nashville, Tennessee, published a special double issue focusing on
homeschooling. While I haven't had the opportunity to read the entire
issue the editor of the journal, Susan A. McDowell, just recently was
kind enough to send me a copy of her article titled "The Home Schooling
Mother-Teacher: Toward a Theory of Social Integration."
After reading this article I
am concerned and feel the need to share my thoughts in hopes of giving
readers a clearer picture. My perspective is as a conservative Christian
homeschooling mom and leader in the very geographic area in which Ms.
McDowell did her research for this article.
Ms. McDowell interviewed only
nine (9) mothers. She “observed” an unknown number at various functions.
Her article doesn’t seem to indicate that "observe" was anything nearly
as in depth as her nine interviews. She doesn't say exactly how she came
to connect with these nine mothers, only a brief notation about some
mothers referring others. I feel adamantly that this is too small a
number to base any conclusions on, let alone to have those conclusions
repeated as fact by various other information services.
Within a lunch-hour from her
office at PJE she could have talked to dozens of moms. Without too much
effort on her part I believe she could have made contact with a group of
very diverse homeschoolers who meet regularly in a park 20 minutes from
her office. There was at the time of her research a very active e-list
for Tennessee homeschoolers who don't mind rubbing elbows with people of
other faiths, political views or veggie eating status. I found them
years ago with a simple search of the web. It's very unfortunate that
none of these folks were represented in her research. The result is a
skewed view of homeschooling in our state and homeschooling generally.
All her revealed sources are
of the conservative Christian ilk. Nearly all have direct links with the
Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). HSLDA's former president
also contributed to this double-issue. Her collaborator Brian Ray, of
the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), is a very close
associate of HSLDA. The two home education associations she mentions are
local chapters of the National Center for Home Education, a division of
HSLDA. Family Christian Academy, which published a newsletter she used,
also encourages membership in HSLDA. “The Church with the Home Schooling
Heart”, which she visited, is just a few doors down from that same
Academy. In the past these associations and schools have received back
financial "blessings" from HSLDA. The amount depending on the number of
members they sign up.
The dominance of
homeschooling in this state by HSLDA affiliated groups is very
widespread. All of the large homeschooling curriculum fairs and seminars
are run by these organizations. These HSLDA affiliated groups ran the
curriculum fairs and seminars Ms. McDowell attended. They picked the
vendors, the venue and the speakers. And while these organizations say
they want to include non-believers their by-laws restrict leadership to
a certain definition of Christian. As a result non-Christians, and many
Christians, do not join these organizations or participate in their
activities. Additionally, your average Pagan or Jew isn't going to want
to buy curriculum published by the Mennonites or hear a speaker
emphasize that their homeschooled children should attend HSLDA's Patrick
Henry College and so their appearance at these functions would be rare.
It's been my experience and
so I believe, that due to the closed nature of these groups if Ms.
McDowell asked for the names of non-Christian homeschoolers to round out
her research, they may not have accommodated her request. In an
environment such as this it's no wonder that Ms. McDowell, or any other
researcher, would come away with some of her conclusions.
The major homeschooling
studies that I am aware of all use generally the same group of
homeschoolers--fundamental Christians. Whether it be Rudner’s study,
made possible by a grant from HSLDA, using Bob Jones’ (a fundamental
Christian vendor of curriculum and tests) customers, or NHERI’s studies
using HSLDA members and commissioned by HSLDA, Ms. McDowell’s PJE study
using HSLDA affiliated groups and co-written with NHERI, and even
Patricia Lines’ research for the Department of Education, in which she
thanks HSLDA and NHERI folks while still making it clear that those
survey’s continue “to reflect HSLDA membership or those sympathetic to
the HSLDA principles” --everyone eventually ends up using this same set
of homeschoolers in their foundation--too narrow a foundation in my
Researchers, if they're going
to tackle something as unquantifiable as homeschoolers, must go the
extra mile to insure as accurate an information pool as possible. This
is easier to do today than just two years ago when Ms. McDowell did her
work. The Internet, yet again, has enabled homeschoolers of all flavors
to network. The National Home Education Network has made huge strides in
helping homeschoolers, researchers and the media to find each other
regardless of a homeschooler’s religion, or how or why they homeschool.
Where Ms. McDowell naturally associated with the most vocal national
homeschooling organizations and may have had to rely on friends of her
homeschooling sister to use as subjects, such need no longer be the case
and hopefully a more accurate picture of homeschooling will be the
Kay Brooks, a
conservative Christian herself, is also a homeschooling mother of 4 in
her eighth year in the homeschooling lifestyle. She owns and runs
TnHomeEd.com, an independent clearinghouse of homeschooling information
specifically for Tennesseans.
©Kay Brooks 2000