Should Home Schoolers Take Tests For Tax Breaks?

01/05/2011 05:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Kate Fridkis Author of Growing Eden, blogger at Eat the Damn Cake

The New York Times online feature "Room for Debate" recently held a discussion about home schoolers and taxes: Should home schoolers get tax breaks?

Two of the respondents (Rob Reich and Chester Finn, Jr.) said yes, but only if they take regular standardized tests.

One of the problems with comparing school and everything that "unschooling" encompasses is that, well, they aren't comparable. For a lot of unschoolers, not taking tests is part of the point. The main point. Learning shouldn't be measured by generic standards. It's individual, it's paced differently, it's organic. That can all sound a little gooey. My husband, who went to conventional school and did extremely well on every test he ever took, thinks that tests are pretty great. They are useful for evaluating progress, they force kids to learn to perform under pressure, and they teach everyone...important things. OK, I forget the rest of his argument.

As I like to remind him in my brattier moments, both he and I graduated college summa cum laude. My GPA was a little higher. I only took one test as a home schooler, and it was the SAT. More than that, if I had been tested, randomly, during my childhood, there's a good chance I would have appeared hopelessly, irredeemably behind on some subjects and almost improbably ahead on others. I would have looked ridiculous. To summarize: People can arrive at the same place from different paths. They do it all the time.

I actually don't think it's important that everyone perform at a certain level at any given point. I feel radical saying it. Lockstep learning is only important when you're dealing with a ton of kids, and you have to move them through a ton of material and get them out the other side without losing your job. But the idea that everyone should be on the same level is strange, taken out of the context of large conventional school classrooms. Even inside many of those classrooms, teachers are struggling to accommodate different skill sets, learning styles, and information-processing rates. It will always be a struggle, because school isn't set up to be accommodating.

Maybe people are concerned that unschoolers will come out the other end illiterate and incompetent. Illiteracy and incompetency are real problems. But they aren't concerns that have anything to do with unschooling. Of course, there will always be individual families who neglect and abuse their children. Families who ignore their children's intellectual, emotional, and physical needs. But those families do not hide among the ranks of untested home schoolers. They're everywhere.

To imagine that the few situations of total educational failure that might result from inappropriate unschooling necessitate widespread standardized testing of all unschoolers is as ignorant as imagining that the constant testing of children in school is preventing all of them from slipping through the cracks. It's not. It can't. To imagine that home schoolers have to "earn" tax credit by proving that they are exactly in line with their schooled peers is to grossly misunderstand what it means to be unschooled.

But the tax breaks would be nice.

Crossposted on Un-schooled.