EDUCATION, SCHOOLING, AND CHILDREN’S RIGHTS: THE COMPLEXITY OF HOMESCHOOLING Robert Kunzman
School of Education Indiana University
Abstract. By blurring the distinction between formal school and education writ large, homeschooling both highlights and complicates the tensions among the interests of parents, children, and the state. In this essay, Robert Kunzman argues for a modest version of children’s educational rights, at least in a legal sense that the state has the duty and authority to enforce. At the same time, however, it is important to retain a principled distinction between schooling and education — not only to protect children’s basic educational rights, but also to prevent the state from overreaching into the private realm of the home and family. I never let schooling interfere with my education. — Mark Twain
When twelve-year old Rebecca Lee gets home from school, she practices the piano for thirty minutes. Later, while at the grocery store, she helps her dad ﬁgure out which of the competing brands offers a better deal. At dinner that evening, her family discusses politics and the news of the day. All of these activities are educational in nature — particular knowledge is being applied and certain skills are being practiced. But we would not call them school; that is what Rebecca does between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays. Across town, twelve-year-old Jeff Wilkins follows a similar routine. But Jeff is homeschooled, and his mother records each of these same activities as part of his curricula — ﬁne arts, math, and social studies. Like many homeschoolers, the Wilkins view their homeschooling as an endeavor that extends beyond traditional schooling boundaries of time, place, and subject areas; the whole of life provides educational opportunities, and oftentimes in more authentic and powerful contexts than what traditional schooling has to offer. For all children, not just homeschoolers, there is obviously more to education than institutional schooling. Some learning experiences occur within other organizations, such as churches, Girl Scouts, or Little League baseball. Others types of education take place in far less formal settings, such as shopping excursions or dinner table conversations. It is no exaggeration to say that the whole of life can be educative for those attentive to its lessons. But since ‘‘education’’ as a term is so easily read as ‘‘schooling,’’ I will use the phrase Life as Education (LaE) to denote this broader universe of learning experiences. Parents naturally see much of what they do in raising their children as central to LaE. In fact, it is fair to say that most active and engaged parents, particularly in their children’s younger years, are the primary choosers and shapers of LaE. They instill values, monitor behavior, authorize play dates, and provide learning materials, books, and games. As time goes on, they may increasingly delegate many facets of LaE, choosing to send their children to school, sports leagues, EDUCATIONAL THEORY Volume 62 Number 1 © 2012 Board of Trustees University of Illinois 2012
summer camps, and the like, but parents retain a central role in LaE — legally, if not in practice — until their children reach adulthood. So if LaE is a major task of parenting, why is homeschooling’s frequently blurred line between LaE and formal schooling of particular importance? To begin with, homeschooling is an increasingly signiﬁcant educational phenomenon in its own right. Between 1999 and 2007, homeschoolers in the United States increased by an estimated 74 percent — twelve times the rate of public school growth — and now likely number more than two million altogether.1 I have spent the past eight years researching the phenomenon of homeschooling, talking with families about their educational purposes and observing them in their day-to-day practices. While it may not appear so from the...