Homeschooling Goes Viral (with Kerry McDonald)

Americans are currently engaged in a grand, national experiment in homeschooling.

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Because of the COVID-19 shutdown, tens of millions of American households have suddenly been forced to do school at home. Education policy expert and homeschooling aficionado Kerry McDonald joins the show to discuss why she believes this experience will lead many more families to consider educational alternatives even after the shutdowns ease. Additionally, Kerry and Paul discuss the incendiary Harvard Magazine broadside against homeschooling, Tara Westover’s best-selling novel Educated, and why the history of public schooling should make us leery of critics who accuse homeschoolers of failing to be good citizens.

Further Reading:

Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom, written by Kerry McDonald

Are Kids Learning More at Home During COVID-19?, written by Kerry McDonald

COVID-19 and the Future of Educational Freedom, written by Kerry McDonald

Harvard Law Professor’s Attack on Homeschooling Is a Flawed Failure. And Terribly Timed, Too., written by Patrick J. Wolf, Matthew H. Lee, and Angela R. Watson.

Related Content:

Is Homeschooling Dangerous? (with Kevin Currie-Knight), Free Thoughts Podcast

Why Schools Haven’t Changed in Hundreds of Years, Free Thoughts Podcast

Compulsory Education as Social Control, written by David S. D’Amato

Transcript:

Paul: Welcome to Building Tomorrow, a show about what a free and fair future could look like. If you’re like me, you’ve been doing something you never thought you’d be doing: homeschooling a kid. The schools are shutdown because of the pandemic and so for the past two months you’ve been juggling your job and trying to keep your kids focused on their remote schoolwork. But I’ve been wondering if there will be any long term effects from this moment, what amounts to a grand national experiment in homeschooling. I figured I should talk to an expert.

Paul: I’m joined by Carrie McDonald, who was a fellow in scholar of education policy at a number of think tanks, including the foundation for economic education and the Cato Institute. And she’s the author of unschooled, raising curious, well-educated children outside the conventional classroom, which was published last year by Chicago review. Press. Welcome to the show. Carrie,

Kerry: That’s great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

Paul: What is unschooling? I mean schooling sounds like it has good connotations. It sounds like a good thing. So unschooling might sound some of our listeners like a bad thing. What is it?

Kerry: So in my book I define unschooling really as disentangling education from schooling and seeing schooling is one method to be educated. Certainly the most dominant method today, but really thinking about learning and schooling as separate and ways that we can cultivate education beyond schooling, particularly focused on self-directed education, really thinking about children’s unique interests and gifts and talents and helping to facilitate that through community resources, digital resources, which of course we’re all accessing now and other ways of fostering that curiosity and creativity in young children that we see all the time. And that’s so often can be eroded as children go through a schooling system that very often is focused on conformity and compliance. And so one of the things, particularly as a result of the pandemic now that so many young people are at home you know, more than 50 million students in the U S over 1 billion students around the world at home learning at home during the pandemic. One of the things that I try to say is to the extent that families can disconnect from their local school and really try to tap into some of these incredible learning resources we have available to us, really reconnect with their children and discover their children’s interests and gifts. And then use those as a way to really facilitate that child’s learning and maybe rekindle some of that natural curiosity and drive for discovery. That again, young children naturally exude,

Paul: Did you say 50 million students or 50 million households? What was the statistic there?

Kerry: 50 million students in the U S and over 1 billion students around the world are at home learning at home and to varying degrees of connection to their local district of core or their local private school. Of course, some schools have been able to ramp up virtual learning more successfully than others. And in some cases though, I think families are finding that they have a lot more time, a lot more freedom and flexibility even if they are tied to a local school curriculum. There’s a lot of other time in the day, maybe their child is getting through that curriculum in a couple of hours because there aren’t those distractions we would typically find in a conventional classroom, which leaves a lot of time for these other kinds of opportunities for discovery. And I have an recent article up at the Cato Institute about all of these free online learning resources that are sprouting during the pandemic that really make online learning and discovery so much more of a possibility for so many families. I mean, you see you know, world famous authors and illustrators offering classes and workshops, free live streaming during the pandemic. You have 2,500 museums around the world offering free virtual tours of their museums as well as incredible online content that they’re generating daily to really help families to discover some new experiences and ideas. So there’s just so much to tap into right now to the extent that families can disconnect from these curriculum directives and really explore learning without schooling.

Paul: What are the differences between what, say, you know, your school district sends you a curriculum we’re supposed to walk through with your students? How, how does that differ from what we kind of expect from a homeschooling family would do in the ordinary times? How similar is that? I mean, cause I could see an argument that it’s still not full homeschooling because it’s not self-directed. You’re still following a curriculum. How, how do you weigh those, the, the similarities and differences between what we’re currently doing cause a Cove at 19 and what homeschooling typically looks like.

Kerry: Right? I think you’re right that what most families are encountering now is school at home, virtual school at home or some other variation of that. That this is nothing like authentic homeschoolers. I’m a homeschooling mother of four children in Cambridge, Massachusetts and can tell you that what we’re experiencing now is nothing like our typical days, just like everyone else. We are isolated from our communities right now and disconnected from the people, places and things of our community that really enlivens our typical homeschooling experience. And so this is definitely not anything like authentic homeschooling when young people would be out in their community taking classes, meeting in groups, gathering with friends engaging with mentors, participating in apprenticeship programs and those kinds of things. That’s just not happening right now for any of us. But I think it’s interesting that given the limitations that are on all of us right now I find it surprising that ed choice just came out with a, of families coping with the pandemic and they asked all kinds of questions about, you know, what are, how are families dealing with this current environment?

Kerry: They found that more than half of the respondents have a more favorable view of homeschooling as a result of this pandemic homeschooling that we’re encountering, which I find really intriguing because if families are finding this not to be that unpleasant, then just imagine the real thing when they can actually be out in their communities. So that’s a good sign. And, and in some ways speaks to, you know, what I think a lot of families have maybe been considering for awhile. Maybe they have felt like the conventional schooling environment for their child has not been ideal, but they haven’t been certain about other alternatives or maybe they’ve considered homeschooling, but have lacked that catalyst, that inertia to really take the leap into trying something else. And now that we are all forced to do something different, it might be just what these families need to see, that there are alternatives to school and maybe some of these families are finding, you know, their child is happier because they’re not being bullied in school.

Kerry: Maybe they’re calm or because they’re able to focus on content that’s really meaningful to them. Maybe their love of reading is re-emerging because they’re reading things that interest them and that they’re passionate about. And so for some families, this could be eyeopening and even if families may not choose homeschooling post pandemic, although I would be surprised that we don’t see an uptick in the numbers of families choosing homeschooling, I think it will open their eyes to all kinds of schooling alternatives, like virtual schooling options now that they realize that, you know, online learning maybe isn’t so bad, maybe they’re child is actually actually thriving in that in that format. Maybe they’ll look into virtual schooling or hybrid homeschooling models that already were sprouting prior to the pandemic. And I think we’ll see more of these hybrid homeschool and micro school models emerging after this is over.

Paul: To be clear when you talk about these hybrid models is, is this the kind of situation where you know, you’re you’ve decided to homeschool or in this current moment being forced to essentially homeschool and you feel competent, competent to help lead your kid through, you know, basic literacy, learning how to, how to read, how to, you know, learn their letters, do basic math, but there some classes you just don’t feel capable or you’d rather have someone else do the instruction for. And so you dial into a, a remote service for higher level science classes or you know, trigonometry or whatever. Is that what you mean by a hybrid model? What does that look like?

Kerry: Well, that could be part of it. I mean, homeschoolers say even more traditional homeschoolers, you know, particularly in this digital age are often taking online classes, advanced placement classes online and those sorts of things. When I talk about hybrid homeschool models though that have really been becoming more popular, say over the last five to 10 years, it’s really a combination of some at home learning and then having children be present at a building or a learning center or some other kind of environment. And there’s both private and public models of this. So for example, in California there is the DaVinci charter school network in the Los Angeles area where parents are homeschoolers but their children go two days a week to this kind of public charter school building and learn this project based approach to learning with, with teachers and, and a charter school curriculum.

Kerry: So it’s free to the consumer in that it is a public charter school, but the rest of the time the parents are homeschooling or the children are taking classes elsewhere in the community facilitated by the families. And so that is one model. You also see more private charter hybrid homeschool models where again, young people may be at a learning center a couple of days a week, but they’re registered as homeschoolers. And in some cases, for example, my children attend a self directed learning center here in the city a couple of days a week, but you could attend up to five days a week if you wanted to and you’re still registered as a homeschooler. What this does again, is enable families to tap into the freedom and flexibility of homeschooling and in this case of self-directed education but still acknowledge that some families have two parents who work or have single parent families. It’s interesting to note too, that obviously there’s the public charter schools that are free to the consumer, free to the user, but even these private models tend to be a fraction of the cost of available private options, typically one quarter to a third, the cost of other types of private schools in that area.

Paul: I imagine not all States are quite so progressive as Massachusetts and California in that regard. Is that true? And would you expect there to be some variance between States that have, you know, the kind of have a baseline openness towards homeschooling and what that means for the future after this kind of mass and forced homeschooling because of the pandemic?

Kerry: Well, I would just say that in terms of virtual charter schools and charter schools in general you know, here in Massachusetts, we’re not at all progressive in that, in that area. And you find many other States to have much more education, experimentation and innovation. For example, Arizona, which leads the country in education choice mechanisms and all kinds of different education options. You know, has some really incredible micro schools that are popping up often using their virtual charter school programs. There’s a fast growing network for example, of in-home micro schools that operate sort of on this again, homeschooling model called the [inaudible] school network in Arizona. That now has over 600 students and just started about a year and a half ago. So they’re doing really well. And again, it’s that flexibility of state policy around encouraging different models of K to 12 learning.

Kerry: So I think that that, that will continue and I think we will see States manage this differently for the States that already have a reputation for embracing education choice. This will be a great time for families because I think parents will in particular be demanding more choice. They’ll start to see that there are these different ways of learning and some cases learning outside of a conventional classroom or maybe some combination of virtual learning and in-home learning or virtual learning in home learning and community based learning. And I think that that the more that parents demand that the more that entrepreneurs will respond. And of course that’s easier to do when you have a culture in particular States that encourage that kind of innovation and that have some of these education choice mechanisms, particularly education savings account programs that again, Arizona leads the way in and and charter schools and those kinds of things.

Paul: Now I live in New Jersey and right across the river from Philadelphia and early on during the school shutdowns there were some schools were attempting to do remote learning. But those, the, the school district actually shut those schools down for a period of weeks at least. And did so because they were concerned that not all students would have access to remote instruction. They didn’t have laptops or reliable internet home or, or whatnot. So there was a certain beggar thy neighbor approach, which was if, if everyone can’t be guaranteed to have it, then no one is going to have remote instruction. So they really had a long break in Philadelphia is a school system because of that has that been a common problem across the country or have we seen other school districts struggle with that equity access problem in this shift? The remote instruction?

Kerry: That’s right, yes. Seattle, And in Illinois other districts had that same issue where they were concerned about equity in terms of accessing the virtual curriculum. Even though in many cases internet service providers were offering their services for free internet, for free, for families that didn’t have it, there were still connectivity issues. Many districts were handing out Chromebooks to students who didn’t have access to laptops or computers at home, but still there was concern that because everyone wouldn’t have equitable access to a curriculum we can’t make this curriculum mandatory. And so what you found in some of these districts is that any materials that were being sent home were considered for enrichment purposes only and they were considered optional. So again, I look at that as an opportunity for families to really disconnect from that, those local school directives and curriculum requirements and really start to tap into some of these incredible free online resources that again, are sprouting every day.

Kerry: And really then realized how children can learn without this kind of conventional schooling approach when they are facilitate, when that is facilitated and when they have access to these other resources. Hmm.

Paul: Now you mentioned education savings accounts and even when times are good, even we’re not in the middle of a pandemic and you know, a possible economic recession even when times are good there. Our concerns about homeschooling having access issues just because it’s, you know, it, it, it doesn’t always require a, per a parent to stay home full time, but it does require it, it’s hard to, for, you know, two parents to work traditional nine to five jobs and home school kids at the same time. So there’s a certain kind of socioeconomic or financial privilege that makes it easier for middle class and upper class families to homeschool, to have the financial resources necessary to in a sense, you know, double pay. They’re paying both their property taxes for the local public school and for the curriculum for their homeschooling curriculum. So even in the best of times, there is an equity gap just because of different levels of income when it comes to homeschooling that’s been heightened, I suspect because of the current circumstances. What kinds of policies, and, and you mentioned zonas education savings accounts I imagine school vouchers can play a part here, but what, what kind of policies would you favor to mitigate that financial equity gap?

Kerry: Right. I’ll just start by giving a bit of a snapshot of the US homeschool population. Pandemic not withstanding. So what is the homeschool population when it’s not 50 million of us? There’s about 2 million U S homeschoolers, about three and a half percent of the overall K-12 school age population are homeschool. That’s just a bit under the number of a us public charter school students as well. And you’re finding that that population is increasingly diverse, demographically diverse and ideologically diverse different approaches to education and so on. So that, that you do find that home, the current homeschooling population really is much more reflective of the U S population as a whole. And social economic status would be a key piece of that. And I think you’re right that more families might take advantage of homeschooling if they had to access to some of these education choice mechanisms.

Kerry: And education savings accounts are particularly beneficial for homeschoolers because they do what I’m suggesting here in, in separating education from schooling. So whereas vouchers are enabling parents to enroll in a private or in some cases a public school and move their tax dollars from one school to another school. Education savings accounts really unbundle education and allow families to use a portion of that tax revenue to fund tutoring or books and supplies or classes. Those kinds of things. So other, other, other approaches to education that wouldn’t just involve schooling. Although tuition could be a part of that, particularly if it’s these learning centers or some of these hybrid models that would make sense for some of these ESA accounts. Tax credit scholarships are also another way that families can access some of these funds outside of schooling and be able to use those toward approved educational expenses.

Kerry: There’s understandably there’s controversy even within the homeschooling population around education choice mechanisms. Many homeschooling families wary about increased scrutiny or regulation if families were taking advantage of these education choice mechanisms. And of course the mechanism, these mechanisms should always be voluntary. And that you know, I, I can sympathize with homeschoolers suggesting that opening up these options to homeschooling families could open up the larger homeschool population to regulation. I think that’s a justifiable concern, but I think that to expand these kinds of education options to more families, we can be vigilant about making sure that families who don’t tap into these education choice mechanisms don’t get increased scrutiny or regulation and the families that do choose to access some of these education choice mechanisms may be required to have some additional regulation or oversight because that is some public money. So, you know, I think there is that that is so unsettled even within the homeschooling population, but to expand access to the freedom and flexibility inherent in homeschooling or other types of alternatives to school, it’s worth advocating for these school choice mechanisms.

Paul: There are also critics of homeschooling who are skeptical of the effects on public schools, either of removing, you know, some portion of taxpayer dollars through vouchers or of removing high performing students from public school districts. What’s your kind of elevator pitch to someone who’s skeptical of homeschooling for, for these kinds of reasons. Why would you encourage them to have a more open mind terms towards homeschooling?

Kerry: Well, in, in terms of critics who say, you know, by removing your children from the public school, whether that’s for homeschooling or private school or any other kind of education option that then they say, well, that weekends the public school and you shouldn’t do that. I would say that I don’t think a family should ever have to sacrifice their child’s wellbeing and education for the sake of another child’s wellbeing and education. I think that that’s a parent’s responsibility, a family’s responsibility to look after the wellbeing of their own children. So that would be, you know, my response to that. And I, and I think again, you know, we have to look at compulsory schooling more broadly, that if families are only attending an assigned district school because they are mandated to do so by law under a legal threat of force and otherwise would flee. You know, what does that say about the quality of that education in that local district?

Paul: It seems unfair to expect families who currently homeschool as if that what three, three and change percent of the schooling population they bear the onus for fixing schooling for the other 90 plus percent. I mean, like you have a broken system and the people trying to flee the system are, are the ones who get scapegoated for the broader systemic problems. It seems unfair.

Kerry: Right? Well, and I don’t think it’s just homeschoolers, right? I mean you have just under 10% of the U S school age population in private schools and then you have you know, roughly 6% in charter public charter schools. And that’s all often the same critique of charter schools is that it’s funneling students away. But again, it has to make you look a little bit closer at mandatory district school assignments. And the fact again, ed choice coming out last fall with a discovery that while 80% or over 80% of young people attend an assigned district school fewer than 30% of their parents prefer them there. So there’s this enormous choice gap in American education.

Paul : Now you’ve been an advocate for alternative education for quite some time. You, you’ve mentioned you homeschool your, your own children. Where did you first encounter that approach to education? Is that something you’ve always kind of possessed as a, as a thinker, as an adult? What convinced you personally of the need for alternatives?

Kerry: Yeah, I, you know, I went to a K to 12 public schools. Never knew a homeschooler, never knew anything about homeschooling or alternative education and broadly. But when I went to college, I was an economics major. I became increasingly interested in education from the lens of economics and particularly in particular the choices that parents made or could not make regarding education given the sort of government monopoly system of mass schooling. And so I began to take more education classes as an undergraduate. One of these classes, I had a chance to do a research project, independent research project, and I discovered that a classmate of mine had a family member who lived nearby who was homeschooling. And this was in the late nineties. Homeschooling had just become legally recognized in all 50 States a few years prior. By the mid 1990s, 1999 was the first year that the us department of education tracked homeschooling numbers and counted about 850,000 homeschoolers at the time.

Kerry: And I remember, you know, shadowing this homeschooling family for that semester and being completely enchanted by what I saw, just learning outside of schooling authentic socialization in the community, interacting with people and places in the community. And it was really in stark contrast to that same semester I was doing a student teaching practicum in a local public elementary school. And seeing that contrast, even though I had been through K to 12 schooling, I had never seen sort of outside learning possibilities and conventional schooling in that same frame of time. And that was just really eye opening to me. So then I went to graduate school in education policy at Harvard and became more interested in alternatives to school and homeschooling and unschooling and education choice more broadly.

Paul: So you, you know, master’s degree in education policy from Harvard at the time. And like you said, this is still a relatively a relatively young movement in terms of its legal access and quite, quite a big chunk of the United States. How open were education policy scholars to these alternatives while you were in graduate school? I mean, was there a lot of resistance at the time? What did you encounter?

Kerry: Right? Well, at the time that I was at Harvard, which was right, the turn of the millennium, they if you were interested at all really in alternative education, charter schools were what you focused on. They were, you know, sort of coming on the scene in having some more broad impact. And so that’s where I really focused a lot of my coursework and some of my internships was in the charter school movement, education choice school choice area. But as part of that I always was thinking about homeschooling and unschooling and alternatives to school as part of that broader landscape of educational freedom for families. And it was about a decade later when I, you know, became a mom and was looking at education choices for my own children that I realized that, you know, homeschooling particularly where we are here in the city is really an expansive opportunity.

Kerry: I mean, I felt like if I were to send my kids to school, their learning would contract. They would end up in the same classroom and the same with the same age segregated group of peers, the same static and full of teachers, the same standardized curriculum. And instead I really wanted them learning throughout the community taking classes through local museums and libraries and organizations that offer these incredible homeschooling pro programs at affordable costs and interacting with mentors and meeting with tutors for topics that are interesting to them. And so I felt like I wanted to make sure my husband and I both felt that we wanted to make sure to give our children that freedom to learn outside of a conventional classroom.

Paul: Now, since you’re a Harvard alum, I thought I’d ask you about an article in the Harvard magazine, which is one of those like university alum PR fundraising outlets that went viral in kind of education policy circles recently that was titled the risks of homeschooling that detailed the research of a Harvard law professor named Elizabeth Bartholet. And she claimed that there should be a presumptive ban on homeschooling because it, among other things fomented child abuse and undermined the creation of good citizens. What was your reaction to that piece and to Bartlett’s kind of stance more broadly?

Kerry: Well, like many people, I was shocked by the Harvard magazine piece. It’s in the may June issue of, of the Harvard magazine, the alumni magazine. And, and really focuses on Elizabeth Bartholet, it’s 80 page Arizona law review article that she recently published that goes into more detail about her case for a presumptive ban on homeschooling. I wrote a letter to the editor of Harvard magazine expressing my disbelief at the one sided portrayal of homeschooling that’s really not at all characteristic of the U S homeschooling population today. And I republished that [at] fee.org. And so really there’s so many pieces to the law review article in the Harvard magazine article that create a caricature of American homeschooling everything from indicating that it twice in the Arizona law review article and then again in the Harvard magazine article indicating that up to 90% of homeschoolers are driven by conservative Christian beliefs.

Kerry: When that’s just not at all true. I mean, even federal data the most recent federal data from the US department of education, for example, shows that the top motivator for today’s homeschooling families, the motivator that they indicate most often as their reason for choosing homeschooling is concerned about the environment of other schools, including safety drugs and negative peer pressure. The the number of families indicating that homeschooling for religious reasons was their top motivator was like 16% of the overall homeschool respondents. So it’s just not backed up by data that, that most of these homeschoolers are driven by conservative Christian beliefs. Of course, I would also say to that, you know, even if they were, why would that matter? Why would that be a reason for a presumptive ban? And one of the things that Elizabeth Bartholet, you know, makes the case for in, in her law review article and in Harvard magazine is well young, you know, young people need to go to public schools so that they can learn to be tolerant of other people’s viewpoints.

Kerry: And yet he or she is being very intolerant toward these other viewpoints. So there was so much there and then I think doesn’t get into it so much in the Harvard magazine article, but in the Arizona law review article, you can tell a toward the end that this is really an effort to sort of shift the interpretation of the us constitution that has historically upheld the Liberty interest of parents to raise and educate their children as they choose. And Elizabeth Bartholet in her law review article says that the constitution concept constitution is outdated and inadequate and she urges re-interpretation of the constitution that moves from our historic model of negative rights of individuals being protected from state intervention to positive rights where the state grants rights and takes a much more interventionist role in individual lives and in particular in the lives of families and children. So I think there’s so much more to this particular policy recommendation than just homeschooling.

Paul: There’s a whole back story of attempts to use the public educational system to suppress ideological and political dissent and to create a certain vision of the American, of the American citizen, of the American family, of the American community. You know, the efforts. So once upon a time, this meant preventing the concern was not so much, you know, I don’t know ever evangelicals or Protestants like it is now. In terms of opposition, homeschooling today, it was concerns about Catholic parochial schools, right? That we need to keep to be a good American means to not be Catholic. So if we force Catholic parochial schools to close, we force Catholic families to send their kids to Protestant run public schools to use the Protestant version of the Bible.

Paul: Well, that’s how we can create good American citizenship. So I find that whole appeal to what does it mean to be a good citizen? We need to use schools to promote citizenship, really quite insidious and drawing on a, a long history of, of kind of questionable, questionable use of public schools to suppress people who don’t quite fit in, you know cultural, religious minorities. So I found that that part of it was disconcerting when I looked over her Arizona review article, but I suppose she’s correct that public schools can be a tool to create a certain kind of citizenship, but whether or not it’s a citizenship that we should admire, whether that’s a project we should be part of. As another question.

Kerry: Well, although I would, I would argue that public schools may not be doing a great job of that. I mean, the university of Pennsylvania came out with a study in 2017 surveying adults and various civics content. And they found that 37% of Americans could not name one, right protected by the first amendment of the constitution. They couldn’t name one. You know, so it’s our, and then we look at our recent NAPE scores the national assessment for educational progress often called the nation’s report card. You know, two thirds of young people I in fourth and eighth grade CA are not proficient readers and their civics is even worse. Very few students are, are are excelling in physics, are proficient in any kind of understanding of, of government and civic life. So, you know, I would take issue with the idea that somehow public schools are where young people will learn these skills when in fact a lot of research on homeschoolers find that homeschoolers are the ones who are often more tolerant and have more respect for divergent viewpoints.

Paul: Right? Yeah, it’s the call for to encourage tolerance being used to actually discourage tolerance. I mean that, that’s the, that’s kind of the part of the perversity of the argument. I, that’s, so one thing that struck me as I was reading Bartlett’s article was her appeal both in Harvard magazine and in her Arizona law review piece was the appeal to Tara Westover book, which is very well written Fred at myself educated. And so what was striking to me was the similarity. I mean it’s a coincidence I suppose, but the similarity between the book title educated and your book titled unschooled. So, you know, there’s a, a certain similarity in language there. What was your take reading Westover, his book, it’s, it’s gotten a lot of, you know, has a large readership cause it was, you know, a bestseller. And why do you think Bartlett’s taking very different lessons from that story then? I think a lot of homeschool homeschooling advocates do

Kerry: Well. Westover, his book is phenomenal. It’s been on the New York times bestseller list now for 115 weeks. It continues to be a popular book and it’s just beautifully written. Just a compelling memoir really of her experience. You know, she, her story really, it lives on the margins you know, certainly of homeschooling, but even within her own religious community and their own kind of ideal ideology very much on the margins. And yet, you know, here is this woman who ends up being incredibly successful, goes on to college, goes on to get a doctorate from Cambridge university, writes this bestselling book. Two of her siblings also have doctorates. You know, clearly her childhood was very, very challenging, many cases abusive. And it is odd I think to point out this one anecdote that’s so clearly on the margins as you know, Barthel, let’s kind of rallying cry for why we need to have a presumptive ban on homeschooling.

Kerry: Sort of having the exception drive the rule when of course you know, most families who choose homeschooling are trying to ensure their child’s wellbeing. In many cases, families are removing their children from school because of abuse in that school, whether it’s rampant bullying that’s occurring or tragically abuse by school teachers or administrators, I mean headlines abound of public school teachers or school officials who are being arrested or convicted for physically abusing children in school. And then a 2004 US department of education study found that one in 10 public school students would be sexually abused by a public school educator by the time they graduated from high school. So this again, this idea that public schools are somehow safer and more nurturing and that’s why we need to ban homeschooling is simply untrue and we need to break, make sure we’re retaining that exit ramp in homeschooling for families that are removing their children from these abusive school environments.

Paul: There is a, I suppose it’s a habit of thought. It sometimes feels like a critics of homeschooling and advocates for a mandatory public schooling. There’s a mindset that rather than schools existing to serve children and families, that families and children exist to serve the interests of the school. Therefore, you can’t take children out of the school system because it might hurt the school systems finances or their performance. But that seems to have the order of operations backwards. Have you encountered that mindset? Anywhere else?

Kerry: Well, I mean, I think it is peculiar that even in the Harvard magazine article Bartholet explains that she’s concerned about authoritarian control of children by their parents. And yet you could argue that there is a lot of authoritarian control of children through government school systems as well. Not to mention how authoritarian is to call for presumptive ban on homeschooling. You know, so, so I think that that, that’s another contradiction in Bartholet piece. And there was just a wonderful rebuttal by Patrick Wolf and Angela Watson and Matthew Lee of Bartholet Arizona law review piece that was published in education. Next, really taking apart the argument and, and pointing out so many of its flaws.

Paul: Mm, excellent. We’ll have to put a link to that in the show notes so our listeners can, can read, read both if you want. You can read both Bartlett’s piece and the rebuttal before we go here, I thought I’d ask you. So my family, like millions of other families across America are, are suddenly engaging in remote schooling, homeschooling right now. You already mentioned a bunch of resources that have popped up for homeschooling families, you know, museums and websites and the like we’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well. Do you have any other practical advice that you’ve learned after homeschooling for years that you can impart to those of us newly embarking in this adventure?

Kerry: Well, this is a really stressful time for everybody. I think even potentially even more stressful as the weeks go on and we get more and more stir crazy and more and more, you know, ready for a change. I think it’s really difficult. To the extent again that families can disconnect from schooling and really enjoy time with their children, read books or watch a documentary together. There’s many free documentaries that are now being streamed and linger over breakfast, go for a walk outside together. You know, those are the things that I think families will cherish. They won’t. You know, I think the important message I like to say is instead of focusing on learning loss during the pandemic, which are a lot of headlines are, you know, making it sound like this is an educational calamity and there’ll be the Washington post saying a whole generation of young people will be set back because of this time away from school.

Kerry: I disagree. I think we should focus instead on what is gained during this time, not only in terms of learning and using a lot of these incredible online resources, but in terms of reconnecting as a family you know, remembering that this is a historic moment for all of us, but in particular for our children, this will really define their childhoods and shape their future for decades to come. And so if we can acknowledge that there’s so much learning and so much to experience during this time at home and time of social distancing then I think that it’ll take the pressure off and make it a much more fulfilling experience for families all over.

Paul: On the individual level, we’re all exp. So many American families are experimenting with homeschooling for the first time on a T to go out to like 10,000 feet. What do you think the effects of this kind of grand national experiment will be for the future of homeschooling?

Kerry: Well, I think we’re really positioned for a dramatic education transformation. I think of Terry Mo’s book, the politics of institution institutional reform. Terry Moe is out of Stanford, writing about the impact of hurricane Katrina. On new Orleans back in 2005 and how that massive disruption to the city and in particular to the public school system led to new Orleans becoming an almost all public charter school system. And he argues that that really couldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the level of disruption caused by hurricane Katrina. That really broke down a lot of these sort of bureaucratic and institutional fetters that had prevented a lot of change or education experimentation in that city. So I think we’ll see much more of that. Some of it will be by necessity of course. I think we’ll continue to see districts improving their virtual learning capacity and delivery mechanisms.

Kerry: I think that even if schools are reopened this fall or you know, whenever they reopen, there will still be some children who may not be attending those schools. For example, if they perhaps live with elderly grandparents they may not be going back to school or there may be staggered attendance policies to allow for social distancing in schools. So I think we’ll still see certainly at the K to 12 public school level, much more in terms of digital learning and these virtual learning possibilities. I think along those same lines, a lot of the stigma around virtual learning will go away just because we’re all doing it now. You know, I mean, I think adults are getting more comfortable working from home and, and being at home. And that might also, you know, transfer over to their children as well. And there may be more of this openness to explore some of these virtual schools, whether they’re private schools or public schools.

Kerry: I think of one in particular is that Arizona state university prep, digital, ASU prep digital, which is a high school program affiliated with Arizona state all online that allows young people to take a diploma, get a diploma, take classes, high school classes, heading towards a diploma while also accumulating college credits. So they’re graduating all online, graduating with a high school diploma affiliated with Arizona state as well as getting college credits to either use at Arizona state or to transfer to any other college or university, which of course to phrase the cost of college this is free for students in Arizona. It is a low cost for out of state students. I think families will start to look at more of these options and say, wow, you know, this is a great alternative and my child seems to be thriving. Let’s look at these other other possibilities.

Kerry: And I think other programs like the air, ASU prep digital will begin to sprout as well. I think also we might see a resurging interest in these micro schools, sort of smaller more personalized schools because of the social distancing requirements that will be in place in these larger public schools. I think there may be more interest in that forest preschools or outdoor kindergarten programs might also become more popular as again, families are looking for other ways to learn. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens. And I think finally I’ll just end by saying that because there, there’s a lot of speculation that virtual working working from home will continue post pandemic as employers and employees see benefits to that. I think that that might also open up some more flexibility for families to look at these other options, but if they’re not required themselves as workers to go to a building all day long five days a week, that they may be able to expand some of that freedom and flexibility to their children for their education as well.

Paul: Hm. Arizona’s come up a lot in our conversation. Why has Arizona seemingly led the way in terms of openness to homeschooling education alternatives programs like ASU prep? W why have they been such a success story?

Kerry: They have a real culture of valuing education choice. Their legislative policies have focused around expanding charter schools and expanding school choice mechanisms. Florida is another state that leads the way in terms of education choice. And I think those are the States that we’ll see continuing to offer many of these experimental models. They’re not afraid to invent new ways of learning and then realize that there’s tremendous demand for that from parents.

Paul: In the end, I honestly don’t know whether more families will end up homeschooling because of COVID-19 or not, but I do hope the experience helps people realize that there are alternatives to the way we currently educate our children. There are parents who feel locked into failing school systems all across this country and we should, as a society, push for options that can provide kids with a better, fairer, and more equitable education. Next episode I’ll be talking about COVID-19’s effects on colleges and universities with contrarian economist Bryan Caplan, but until then, be well.