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Does Home Schooling Hurt Kids?

Aired September 3, 2001 - 19:30   ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, reading, writing and arithmetic in the rec room? As kids head back to school, a growing number are staying home to learn, but does home schooling get such a good grade?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Tucker Carlson. In the crossfire, Michael Ferris, general counsel to the Home School Legal Defense Association, and Gerald Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. Fall is coming and for millions of American children, that means it's time to head back to school. Thousands of others, however, won't make it past the kitchen table. They're home schooled, taught by their parents. And they're more now than ever, over a million, by some counts. That's more kids that attend all the public schools in 10 states combined.

Why the growth in home schooling? Supporters cite a safe environment and enhanced academic achievement. On average, home schoolers score 80 points above their public school counterparts on the SAT.

Critics, notably the teachers unions, say home schooling prevents children from learning vital socialization schools. In other words, kids who learn at home tend to grow up weird. Home schooling, the debate is heating up. And as the President's education bill heads to Congress, it's bound to get hotter.

Bill Press.

PRESS: Michael Farris, why do you want to punish kids by making them stay home with their parents all day?

MICHAEL FARRIS, HOME SCHOOL LEGAL DEFENSE ASSOCIATION: I don't think it's a punishment. I think it's a great opportunity for kids to get a terrific education academically and to learn real life socialization. Real life doesn't occur in age segregated herds that we have in the public schools and institutional schools. Generally, so as an alternative to that, that's good for some kids. We think that home schooling is great on all counts, socialization included.

CARLSON: Gerald Tirozzi, how you in the world can you argue against children spending more time with their parents? This has got to be the most perverse position anybody could take?

GERALD TIROZZI, SECONDARY SCHOOL PRINCIPALS ASSOCIATION: Well, I'm not taking a position parents shouldn't spend more time -- children shouldn't spend more time with their parents. I think the more time parents spend with children is great. I just step back and make it clear that while -- I don't have a problem if parents want to make a decision to home school their children.

However, I think this is only for a very, very limited number of parents. And that has to be clearly understood. It's not the answer for 50 million public school children in this country.

PRESS: Now Michael Farris, you said so much there in your opening statement that was wrong. I don't know quite where to start. But let me start with the general premise. And I'm going to say, too, with Mr. Tirozzi that, you know, this is perfectly legal. It's a parent's choice. And I've got no problem who make that choice. I just don't think it's a best choice for parents and all kids. And it seems to me the first fatal flaw is the assumption that all parents are qualified to be good teachers.

You know, some are and some aren't. That is simply not true. So a lot of kids are going to suffer.

FARRIS: Well, first of all, very few parents want to home school. And it's really a self-selecting qualification. If you have the desire to home school, and are willing to work hard, and you're basically literate, that is you can read and write and do the basic math operations, and are really willing to work hard, you can a successful job. And the statistics show, the studies show, that high school kids who are taught by moms who are high school graduates test higher than kids who go to public schools and are taught by certified teachers. So the proof's in the pudding.

PRESS: That's not true. I mean...

FARRIS: Well, you can say it's not true, but it's true.

PRESS: And I mean if you applied that same standard to private and the public schools for teachers, I mean, there would be an outrage. I mean, at the least in schools, you've got people who are trained to be teachers, which include more than knowing a subject. It certainly has to do with how to do deal with kids. You've got people who are certified then, to pass an exam to be a teacher. And you've got people who have some oversight and are tossed out if they're not good teachers. All of that is lacking in a kitchen or a living room.

FARRIS: Well, the techniques that you're taught in group socialization and group dynamics and how to take care of 30 kids at once isn't really relevant to the home schooling setting. It's tutoring, in effect.

And you don't need all that educational psychology mumbo jumbo, a lot of which is dubious in origins to begin with. But nonetheless, I think that public school teachers, my sister being one currently, my dad's a retired school principal, I think they do a great job under difficult circumstances.

What I'm saying is that parents who want to home school their kids and who are willing to work hard and are basically literate can do it. And you can say it's not true if you want, but the statistics show otherwise.

CARLSON: Mr. Tirozzi, the bottom line is, that according to the information we have, home schooling works. Home schoolers on average beat the national average on the SAT by 81 points, national average being both public and private schools. On a Iowa test of basic skills, home schoolers scored in the 75th percentile, as opposed to the 50 percentile for your average student. It works. How can you argue against it?

TIROZZI: My issue there, and I go back with Michael to the state of Connecticut when I was commissioner. And my sense is a percentage of parents who home school are very well educated folks. I mean, they have a strong background. And you know, if you look at any semblance of reason, if you do a one-on-one tutorial and you grill youngsters day after day, yes, I think you're going to see some scores.

This is a highly selective student population and it's a group of parents, I mean, who just give their all. But to step back and say any high school parent, I mean, has the potential to do this, to teach chemistry and physics and foreign language, I think defies logic. And I think that has to be brought into clear focus as parents listen to this and try to make a conscious decision as to whether or not home schooling is for them.

CARLSON: Oh, I understand why the education cartel is afraid of home schooling. I understand why the teachers unions are, but I'm really struck by the ferocity of it. I want to read you something. This is from the National Education Association. Every year, that group, head teachers union group, passes a series of resolutions having to with home schooling. Here's one of them, passed every year.

"Home school students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in public schools."

So essentially, the teachers' unions are saying we're going the punish the children, whose parents choose home schooling, simply because we disagree with home schooling. This is indefensible.

TIROZZI: Well and again, I'm not here to defend to the NEA or the AFT. I'm here to, you know, just talk as an educator, my feelings on the subject. My sense is that board policy should dictate the extend to which kids can be involved in extracurricular activities.

I think where the real tension comes in, if home schoolers remove themselves totally from the academic program, totally. They don't adhere to state standards. They take the same assessments, it makes it very difficult for a school principal, the group I represent, to really see how they can get the can get these kids involved, to be fair to all other students in the school.

You're operating with two different sets of rules and regulations here. And I think this becomes the inherent problem and contradiction. I mean, in fairness, the NEA may go a bit far. I think personally, there are ways this can be worked this out in terms of the local board policies that can, I mean, get the students involved. I'm not opposed to them being involved at some level. But I think if they're going to be involved, they have to play by the same rules as the other kids play in that school.

PRESS: All right, Mike, so I want to come back to my second -- what I think is the second fatal flaw. I talked about the parents not being qualified. Well, let's look at the kids. I mean, there is more to schools than school books. I got the most out of -- when I was in school by singing in school musicals, right, by working on the school newspaper, by being a member of the school debate team, by playing baseball in the eighth grade.

These kids who are stuck home all day lack all of those kinds of experiences. Why do you make them suffer that way? I mean, you're cutting them out of growing up.

FARRIS: As a journalist, you should know to ask whether those factual assumptions are true. There's a home school debate program that has thousands and thousands of kids in it. There's a program that I started five years ago. There are home school choirs. There are home school basketball teams and football teams.

There are other ways, besides in the classroom, to get socialization. And so, if you want to have kids in Scouts and sports, as the vast majority of home school kids are, there are ways to do it.

PRESS: No, Michael, you're smarter than that. You know what you're talking about. You're talking about adding on. I'm talking about the complete experience. I mean, part of it is not just you stay after school and you work on the paper, but you're there all day long with these kids. You're interacting. You get your lunch money stolen. You know? You get a fight in the schoolyard. You have to stay after school for kissing the girls or something. It's that whole experience that these kids totally lack.

FARRIS: Well, the word totally is simply inaccurate. You get some of that experience when you're on a sports team. You get some of that experience when you're in Boy Scouts. But frankly, there's a lot of bullying that goes on in the public schools that people want to shelter their six and seven and eight-year-old kids from. And I don't think that every child benefits... PRESS: Is that good?

FARRIS: Yes, I think it is good at some point in time. You know, the whole idea, the question that home schoolers are asked a lot of times is, what about socialization? Well, I think it's about time that we asked the public schools. What about socialization is the kind of group dominated socialization that makes a lot of kids feel terrorized and a lot of kids feel bullied in the public schools.

I think we need to rethink that and maybe go back to more the one room schoolhouse, where you have cross ages as the dominance, rather than just simply these little age segregated herds that we have in the normal school system.

CARLSON: Mr. Tirozzi, you just heard Bill Press defend bullying, bold stand.

PRESS: You'd never be ready for CROSSFIRE if you were schooled at home. You could not...

CARLSON: That may be right, but I'm not sure the purpose of education is to prepare people for cable television.

PRESS: Yes, it is. Yes, it is.

CARLSON: But anyway, the point is, a lot of parents don't want their children to be bullied and they don't want their children to choose as role models their peers. And I want, as an example, you to you listen to one mother who chose to home school her children, the father rather. And this is the father describing one of benefits of home schooling. Here he is.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I don't want that 12 or 13-year-old going to another 12 or 13-year-old for advice. I want them coming to me.


CARLSON: That's right. I mean, it's not parents who teach their kids to smoke or use profanity or you know, any of the other unattractive habits.

TIROZZI: But the real world environment within which we live is getting along with our peers or interacting with our peers. And I'm not here to defend bullying. I think it's horrible.

Having said that, I mean, if bullying does take place, how you adjust to that, how you handle that, how you work with school officials to handle, I think is an important part of, as you said, growing up. I mean, how far do we extend this out? Does it become college at home and life at home?

I mean, you need to go out in the real world at some time. And I would agree with the premise that there are a significant number of parents who provide other activities. I would also suggest there are a significant number of home schooled parents who don't provide these social activities.

CARLSON: Well, I mean, there's a lot of armchair psychologizing going on here. And you often here it when people argue against home schooling. I want to know what empirical evidence you have that home school children aren't socialized. Is there any?

TIROZZI: Well, there are -- I've seen studies that say both, that say they do fine. I've seen other studies that say they don't. So I mean, there isn't. CARLSON: That say what? That they grow up to become serial murders or knock off liquor stores? Or what exactly happens when you don't get bullied at school?

TIROZZI: I don't think we have enough data for enough period of time to really make any final decision in terms of how well this is going or not going.

I want to go back to my original premise. I think parents have to have sit down and really analyze whether or not they want to make this decision and really look at their credentials to provide the environment, look at what their child is going to go up with, even getting along in the school with teachers. I mean, just learning to adjust to different personalities.

And I'd go so far as to say, even if you have a bad teacher, how do you handle that? Because in college, you might have a bad professor. How do you handle that? So I think we have to see this as a continuum of learning. And personally, it's a bias I have. I just don't see how in a home school environment, in the kitchen or in the living room, you just provide the total life experience.

FARRIS: On the subject of empirical data, if I could, I have been the head of the largest home schooling organization in the nation for 18 years. And I've read, I think, every study that's ever been done. There's not a single study that suggests that home schoolers fail in the area of socialization.

There are no both studies. There's only one way studies.

PRESS: Well, I'd invite you to read the August 27 issue of "Time" Magazine.

FARRIS: I read that.

PRESS: Which is by the way, hugely positive about home schooling, but also has "a lot of kids who are home schooled who talk about what they feel that they missed by being home schooled." But I want to move onto something else...

FARRIS: The quotes in "Time" Magazine are not empirical data. I mean, you know that.

PRESS: Well, listen, there was evidence.

FARRIS: That's two kids. Reread the article. It's two kids.

PRESS: Do you think they're the only ones?

FARRIS: Yes, I think...

CARLSON: Well, two quotes, two quotes, make a scientific study, is it? Right?

FARRIS: Yes, that you're talking about empirical data or we talking about anecdotes? PRESS: There's also the study that's quoted in "Time" Magazine also from the University of Florida, which says that the kids, who are home schooled, don't adapt to life as well as kids who are -- go to public schools.

FARRIS: You need the read the study yourself.

PRESS: OK, I will. But I want to move to something else "Time" Magazine talked about there, which is the effect on family life. And it describes one family. I'm not saying it's a typical family. But it's a family out here in Columbia, Maryland. The father works a graveyard shift so he can teach math and science in the morning. The mother works in the afternoons as some kind of -- or she teaches in the afternoon. She works in the morning as some of clerk.

And what "Time" Magazine says, it describes their life. "The parents hardly see each other. The family seldom eats dinner together and they're constantly exhausted." I mean, is this any kind of family life? Wouldn't they be better off sending their kid to school so they could at least see each other and have a normal family life?

FARRIS: First of all, it's a very unusual home schooling program. The vast majority of home schoolers, moms are teaching their kids, 99.9 percent, moms are teaching their kids in the daytime, but there are a lot of families where the dad has to work the graveyard shift. And there's a lot of families where mom has to work the day shift. And they don't see each other.

And that situation can apply to a lot of two parent working families. If we simply just lower the tax burden on the parents in this country and let them stay -- more moms stay at home as would like to, we could eliminate a lot of this problem.

PRESS: Oh, yes, tax cut are the solution to all problems. All right, gentlemen, we're going to take a break. When we come back, let's look a little closer at home schooling and find out if maybe the hidden agenda to home schooling is a religious agenda. We'll be right back.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. So what happens when you turn the living room into the classroom? That's our debate tonight.

The number of parents teaching their kids at home is growing every year, but is it good for the kids and good for the parents? And what's the impact on public schools? Let's get back into it with two home schooling experts, Michael Farris, general counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association and Gerald Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Dr., Mr. Tirozzi, you have heard Bill Press. Home schooling is difficult. It can be expensive. It's time consuming. It's a hassle. Isn't this right there prime facie evidence that it draws only parents who are really interested in their children's education? And doesn't it follow logically that a parent that interested is going to do a better job, on average, than somebody who went to a teachers college and studied education and is thrown for pay into a classroom to teach 40 kids. I mean, doesn't it make total sense?

TIROZZI: Well, I think really, that's an affront on the teaching profession. I think we have thousands, countless thousands of hard working, conscientious teachers in our public schools. All parents love their children. And I think all parents -- I mean, not all parents, a significant majority of parents in this country are behind public education.

The latest fight Phi Delta Kappa poll, for example, made it crystal clear that we're moving away from any issue regarding vouchers. And more and more parents are attesting to having -- really supporting our public school system in this country.

You know, I think the bottom line is, you know, parents send to the schools the very best children that they have. They don't keep the best ones at home. And schools, you know, as Michael said earlier, we have to serve lots of kids. We serve kids from all types of different types of backgrounds.

We have this huge issue now of more and more foreign languages coming into our schools. We have to handle that as well. We're talking about 50 million public school children that we're talking about here. And you know, I don't know the final number we were discussing earlier, somewhere around 800,000, 1.25 million kids. It's a significantly small number of kids. And the problems of public education are not going to be solved by home schooling.

CARLSON: Well, wait a second, I mean, but the idea that every person who's employed as a teacher is great at teaching is not true. I mean, there is not a single school district in this country, I'm aware of, in which veteran teachers are tested on their aptitude on the subjects they teach.

Massachusetts tried to test teachers who teach math in schools where more than half the kids are failing their math tests. The teachers' union called the tests, as you probably know, discriminatory, which of course it was against inept teachers.


CARLSON: I mean, there's no guarantee that people teaching in schools are any better than all than parents.

TIROZZI: Well, I would agree there would be a number of people who would fall into that category. But when you look at the thousands of teachers, you know, I would defy. If you have a calculus teacher teaching in high school, your average home school parent can't teach calculus the way that teacher can teach calculus or U.S. history or physics or science or foreign language.

And again, like any profession, lawyers, doctors, and we have some who are great and some who are not so great. I think that's true of teachers as well. But when you -- lately, my sense is over the last decade, we're seeing I think, more and more better folks coming into the education field. And I do want to say as footnote, you know, we don't want to talk about this in this country, but if you're going to pay $28, $30,000 a year to someone, and we're going to use this language to recruit the brightest and the best, I think it's a contradiction and an oxymoron that has to be addressed.

PRESS: Michael Farris, let's be honest here. You know, where this all started. I mean, the movement toward home schooling started when the Supreme Court said no prayer in public schools. Isn't that still what it mainly is all about is people who are religious conservatives who want to able to preach and teach at the same time, and they know it's not going to happen in the public schools, so they can keep their kids home?

FARRIS: There's elements of truth in what you say. There are -- about two-thirds of the home schoolers in this country are home schooling their kids because they want to communicate their faith and because the public schools are prohibited by constitutional decisions of the Supreme Court from doing that.

That's the same motivation for a lot of religious schools in this country as well. And so, that's something we have in common with a lot of the private schools. Nothing different there. The difference is, parents want to invest a lot of personal time with their kids on top of their religious motivations, but not all home schoolers are religious. And not all home schoolers are Christians, but a good number are.

PRESS: OK, and I'm not saying there's nothing wrong with that. But now I want to see how far we go in recognizing that. For example, what is taught at home? As you know, there's no mandatory curriculum. Kids can decide in many homes what they want to learn. And in more and more homes, there's this thing called unschooling.

The parents decide what they want to learn. So they'll say, "Gee, our kids are going to learn more from building a new cedar deck on the back of the house or laying new tile in the bathroom, than they would by learning math or learning literature." I mean, how far does this go? This is absurd. Child labor laws, for example.

FARRIS: Well, the unschooling movement, child labor laws don't apply to building something in your own backyard.

PRESS: Maybe they should if they're keeping them home from school to do it full-time.

FARRIS: I don't think that building a deck in the backyard is an appropriate full time educational activity. As a shop activity, I think it's great, but the -- maybe a little mathematics and geometry as well. But the unschooling movement is a tiny little fraction of the home schooling movement is dominated by the secular component of it.

Home -- the Christian movement, which you tried to blend those two things together. They don't blend. Christian home schoolers and unschoolers are two different strains of the home schooling...

PRESS: But shouldn't there be a curriculum for mandatory, basic, minimum for all home schools?

FARRIS: No. There should be a list of subjects, as there are in every state, of the subjects you have to teach: mathematics, science, history and so on. And some of the examples that you read about in "Time" Magazine, it sounds like those people were not teaching some of the required courses. And that's not appropriate.

CARLSON: Mr. Tirozzi, just in the 20 seconds we have left, explain to me why home schooling is growing at 11 percent a year. If the public schools are doing their job, why are people turning to home schooling?

TIROZZI: Well, I think in fairness, I think a lot of people are just jumping at it as something new, something different. And in fairness, I think there are some real inherent contradictions here compulsory school laws. I mean, requirement to attend school from roughly ages 7 through 16.

And I think as Bill was saying, how does a public school know if these kids who are being home schooled are in fact getting an equal educational opportunity. I think there are some serious inherent questions.

CARLSON: By trusting the parents. But we're going to have to -- I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there. Gerald Tirozzi, Michael Farris, thank you both very much for joining us.

Bill Press and I will be back in just a moment to debate home schooling when the one room school house is the living room and our closing comments. We'll be right back.


CARLSON: You know what I notice, Bill? People who are most adamantly against alternatives in education, people who want you to have to send your kids to public school, always send their kids to private school. Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Jesse Jackson. Their kids go to PS whatever? No dice. They go to expensive private schools. They don't want anybody else to have the same option.

PRESS: Well, look, everybody's got the choice.

CARLSON: That's true.

PRESS: Everybody's got the choice. If they want to make the choice for home schooling, that's their choice. I think it's a bad choice. And you know, Tucker? The most important thing I learned in school is this, don't let your studies interfere with your education. These kids may be getting studies. I doubt they're getting everything they need. They're not getting an education.

CARLSON: You're totally missing it. I think if you're home schooled...

PRESS: I got it. CARLSON: have more time to play outside, catch frogs, build a tree house, mess around in your own backyard, rather than taking orders from some person who went to teachers college. That's a nightmare scenario.

PRESS: You know what? Wait, you have the worse possible life. You are stuck with your parents all day long.

CARLSON: Look, if your parents are home schooling you, they're cooler than your average parent.

PRESS: Life is too short. They're crueler. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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