Monday, December 1, 2008

Are Homeschoolers Motivated by Racism/Ethnophobia?

According to Dr. Gene V. Glass of Arizona State University, homeschoolers:
"appear to be motivated by a fear of mixing with the opposite class or race."
Pretty strong statement, no? One that a reasonable individual would want to see backed up with some compelling evidence when put forth in a scholarly work such as Dr. Glass' recent book Fertilizers, Pills, and Magnetic Strips: The Fate of Public Education in America, wouldn't you agree?

The only thing Dr. Glass uses to support his claim is the 1998 study of homeschooling done by Dr. Lawrence Rudner. There are several problems with using Dr. Rudner's study. The first is that it was done a full decade before the publication of Fertilizers, Pills, and Magnetic Strips. The second was that it was a self-selected sample of fewer than 12,000 families recruited from among the membership of the Home School Legal Defense Association. Dr. Glass may not be familiar with HSLDA, but those of us within the homeschooling community know that the membership of that organization is not particularly representative of all homeschoolers. It'd be akin to polling the membership of some suburban PTA and using that to generalize about all government-run school families.

In 2003, the National Center for Educational Statistics did a survey of homeschoolers that came up with a quite different demographic makeup than the earlier Rudner study. The percentage of non-Hispanic whites in the NCES study was 77% vs. 94% in the Rudner study. The percentage of blacks was 9% vs. only 1%, and the percentage of Hispanics was 5% vs. <1%. The makeup of the overall school-age population in 2003 was 61% non-Hispanic white, 14% black, and 17% Hispanic. Blacks and Hispanics are therefore somewhat underrepresented among homeschoolers, but it's not nearly by as much as Dr. Glass would have his readers believe.

Furthermore, I'm not convinced that the fact that non-Hispanic whites are somewhat overrepresented among homeschoolers is proof by itself of racism/ethnophobia. Is there any evidence that homeschoolers are disproportionately likely to reject integrated schools? I'm not aware of any research on the topic, but anecdotally it doesn't hold true for the homeschoolers I know personally.

For example, the school my children are zoned to attend is only 2.8% Hispanic and a mere 1.8% black. Low-income students of any race/ethnicity make up only 3.2% of the school's enrollment. So obviously my decision to homeschool is not due to a "fear of mixing with the opposite race or class" because there are hardly any black, Hispanic, or poor kids at our neighborhood school. In fact, I'm pretty sure the percentage of black and Hispanic kids in our homeschool support group actually exceeds the percentage at the school (it's certainly not less).

Out of all the homeschooling families I know personally, only one lives in a neighborhood where their kids would be zoned to attend a school with a significant Hispanic population. And they are strongly Fundamentalist Protestant and therefore wouldn't send their kids to the "Godless" government-run schools in any case. All the rest live in neighborhoods similar to mine.

Dr. Glass has a highly annoying tendency throughout Fertilizers, Pills, and Magnetic Strips to claim racism/ethnophobia as a motivation without providing much in the way of objective evidence to support his assertion. He even admits as much in the appendix, noting that his personal preference is:
"for psychoanalysis to explain many of the most important aspects of human behavior...I do see something akin to the 'defense mechanism' at work in intellectualizing of motives of both experts and ordinary people around questions of racial and ethnic segregation in public education. No one likes to be accused of being prejudiced, but most of us are."
Such conjectures have no place in a scholarly work. Stick to the facts, please! If I want psychobabble, I'll turn on Dr. Phil.


Alexandra said...

It's like people doing these studies couldn't possibly believe that we choose to homeschool because there might actually be something wrong with public schools. There just has to be something wrong with us....frustrating!

Alasandra, The Cats and Dogs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alasandra, The Cats and Dogs said...

Great post.

I do wish people like Dr. Glass would stop telling us why we homeschool and actually listen to the reasons we homeschool.

In the public school my kids attended briefly there was 1 minority student in my eldest son's class and 0 in my youngest son's class. Racism was so not an issue in our decision. Stupid school board policies on the other hand...............

ChristineMM said...

Great post.

That accusation by Dr. Glass is ridiculous and unfounded.

Kristina said...

More to the point is the fact that the majority of homeschool families have two parents. Unfortunately, it is true that there is a disproportionate number of single parent homes in minority families. It is difficult enough to homeschool in a two parent home. It is that much more difficult to homeschool in a single parent home. Perhaps that should be taken into consideration.

As far as racism is concerned, I'm sure there are some racist homeschoolers. On the other hand, there are racist public schoolers, too. It's rediculous.