Figures released by the United States Department of Education show the changing face of home education in the country. One attention-grabbing statistic shows the number of home-schooled children in the United States nearly doubled from 1999 to 2007. A whopping 6.8% of college-educated parents have chosen home schooling over institutional schools, which may indicate greater confidence in their own abilities or perhaps less confidence in the American institutional school system based on their own experience. “Dissatisfaction with academic instruction”, however, was given as the motivation for only 17% of parents who responded to the survey. 57% of parents cited a desire to provide “religious or moral instruction” in the home, or expressed reservations about “school environment” when asked about the basis of the home school decision. One significant number is the ratio of boys to girls who are being taught at home. In 2007, 58% of homeschooled students were girls versus 42% boys, a statistic that is clearly deserving of further study.
Henry Cate, a homeschooling father of three daughters who writes the blog Why Homeschool, believes that parents wish to spare their daughters from the “mean girl” environment found in institutional schools. My own conversations with parents confirms Mr. Cate’s conclusion. Adolescent girls have always been tribal, exclusionary, and sometimes downright cruel, but cell phones and internet social sites (like Facebook and MySpace), coupled with an education that does not seek to inculcate virtue, have elevated this spitefulness to an art form. Malicious rumors or indecent photos are distributed online for all to see.
Often the boys in the school contribute to the vulgar and hostile environment. In one Illinois public high school, a group of boys “rated” the incoming freshmen girls on their looks, figures, and rumored promiscuity. The ratings were then printed up and distributed on lunch trays. The boys were disciplined, but nothing can really make up for the damage to the girls’ reputations and self-esteem.
It has been said innocence is one of the few things that, once lost, can never be recovered, so it should be no surprise that parents simply want their daughters to have the benefit of the joys of childhood a bit longer. One Utah mom, Michelle Blimes, quoted in a USA Today article, says she home schools her three daughters because, “They should be able to enjoy playing and being kids before being thrown into the teen culture.” Keeping daughters in the safe nurturing environment of the home seems like a no-brainer. What is less understandable is why loving parents would subject their sons to this toxic setting. Based on conversations I have had with homeschooling parents, there seem to be several common reasons parents are more likely to place their sons in an institutional school setting.
A widespread motivation is Dad’s desire for junior to play team sports. While physical activity is essential for growing young men, and organized sports certainly can be beneficial, watching their sons throw the winning pitch in the big game will be small comfort to parents who later witness their child embrace secular values. A little research will uncover ample opportunity to play sports outside the school setting. Communities often have football, baseball, softball, and soccer teams. Many parishes host CYO basketball, and Catholic schools in some communities will allow home schooled students to participate in their athletic programs for a pro-rated tuition; the list goes on and on. Take a look at the “Seton Student Achievement” section of our website to see that many of our students excel at sports.
Other times, it is Mom pushing Junior out the front door and onto the school bus. Let’s face it: boys can be exhausting to home school! Many just cannot seem to sit still and focus. They whine about finishing their math, slip away when Mom is not looking, and seem to be constantly trolling the kitchen cabinets for a snack. Mom may seek relief by shipping off her child to school, but more often than not, the plan backfires.
Teachers do not like boys who are antsy, unfocused, and uncooperative any more than their own mothers do. Not uncommonly, the boys are shuffled off to resource rooms, or put on medications such as Ritalin to control their behaviors. Unquestionably, some children, most often males, will benefit from a medication to help them focus, but ADD and ADHD are notoriously over-diagnosed and common sense tells us medication should be prescribed only when clinically indicated, not because Junior is a brat. Successful home schoolers know that ants-in-the-pants boys respond very well to healthy doses of firm discipline, healthy exercise, and a dependable schedule.
A final reason for sending boys to school can be summed up in the words of one home schooling father. “My wife can teach our daughters to be fine women, but she can’t teach our sons to be men. Adolescent boys need strong male role models, like teachers and coaches, and I work long hours to keep food on the table.” This is a legitimate concern, but there is no guarantee that teachers or coaches in schools will be the type of role models parents would choose for their sons. In fact, many public and private high schools are overwhelmingly staffed by females.
There is simply no substitute for guidance a son receives from positive male role models closer to home. Even a hardworking dad can find some small amount of time in the morning or evening, during mealtimes, or over the weekend, to have an affirmative impact on his sons’ lives. A great practice is for Dad to take his son to work with him on occasion. Working side-by-side, teaching sons to make household or auto repairs, is also a way to build both skills and confidence. Playing pickup games of baseball or basketball with male relatives or close friends establishes camaraderie and healthy male bonding. Finally, letting Junior know that dad expects complete cooperation is a real help during the home schooling day.
Let’s all work to ensure that boys receive the benefits of home education in equal numbers as their sisters.