02/29/2012 02:21 pm ET | Updated Apr 30, 2012

The Moral Status of Homeschooling and Public Schooling Motivations

A debate regarding the moral status of homeschooling is once again upon us. I basically agree with Conor Freidersdorf's defense of homeschooling, which is itself a reply to Dana Goldstein's criticisms of homeschooling and, to a lesser extent, those of Freddie deBoer.

Goldstein and deBoer accurately point out many dubious reasons for which a family may choose to homeschool: a misplaced or overinflated distrust of the public sphere, a preference to exercise privilege by exiting the public school system instead of using sociocultural capital to help reform it, a desire to insulate one's children from religious, racial, and/or socioeconomic diversity.

As someone primarily concerned with the moral issues surrounding this issue, as opposed to the policy issue, I have the following question: why examine the motivations of homeschooling parents any more rigorously than those of parents who choose the prima facie more progressive, egalitarian, and diversity-minded option of public schooling?

Just as there are a plurality of reasons why a family may choose homeschooling (including potentially legitimate ones, such as to better respond to special needs of one's child), so too there are a plurality of reasons why a family may choose public schooling. These motivations also run the moral gamut, from praiseworthy to reprehensible. On the positive side, parents may wish to confer positive peer effects on their student's classmates, even if their child in particular may have benefited from homeschooling. However, parents may also simply be lazy, and their children end up in public schools by default.

I grew up attending the public schools in Cobb County, an affluent suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. My parents and those many of my peers chose this district and its schools at least in part to avoid the exposure of their children to socioeconomic diversity, not to pursue it! And due to the religious makeup of the area (i.e., Bible Belt), students attending Cobb County schools were not typically exposed there to any religious diversity, or secular challenge of religion (indeed, this is the district that placed stickers in biology textbooks claiming that "Evolution is a theory, not a fact").

It's easy to assume that those who share our educational philosophies are motivated by sound considerations, and that those who oppose them are motivated by illegitimate ones. But let's not fail to take seriously the multiple motivations upon which parties to all sides of the issue may be acting.