Pretty much every time I read or hear a discussion about homeschooling, somebody says something to the effect that they know some people who homeschool and that these people are crazy (anywhere from somewhat antisocial to raging, wild-eyed religious fanatics). Alright, suppose for the moment that these reports are true, i.e., that the person speaking really does know crazy homeschoolers (myself, I’m inclined to doubt some of these reports, but that’s perhaps neither here nor there since I am confident that there really are some crazy homeschoolers around somewhere). I take it that these reports are somehow supposed to be part of an argument against homeschooling. For example, in an oral discussion the person who makes this sort of observation will subsequently look at whoever was defending homeschooling as if the defender now ought to make a response. But it beats me what the argument is supposed to be. Does someone want to take a stab at filling in the argument, i.e., supplying the missing premise(s), so that it would at least approach being reasonable?
In order to avoid some false starts, let me point out a few reasons why I have a hard time seeing how this observation about crazy homeschoolers is going to provide for much of an argument. First, there are obviously also crazy people who, say, send their kids to public schools. To be sure, most people who send their kids there are normal, decent people. But not all of them. So does the fact that some crazy people decided to send their kids to public schools entail that it’s a bad idea to send kids to public school? Surely not.
But, you will say, I missed the point. The point is that there are far more crazy people among homeschoolers than among public schoolers. It’s that comparative claim that is relevant. Okay, perhaps. But now the claim being made is a great deal more controversial. Figuring out whether this comparative judgement is true will require a good bit of research and statistical analysis. Importantly, the people who report knowing crazy homeschoolers are making entirely irrelevant observations in exactly the same way that somebody who defends smoking by noting that he had a chain-smoking 90-year old uncle in good health is making an irrelevant observation. For these sorts of comparative claims to be meaningful, we’re going to need a whole lot more data than a couple of acquaintances.
But suppose we find such data. Suppose some researcher does a very good study with a large population sample and with impeccable methodology and so forth, and finds that, say, the percentage of crazy people is twice as high among homeschoolers as among public schoolers. So what?
Suppose a study found that there were twice as many rapacious monsters out to conquer the world for their own benefit among those with a college degree as among those without (a college degree helps with the conquering). Does this mean that the rest of us should decide that it would be bad for us to go to college? Surely not. College may be good for more than one thing and I may know that I have different motivations for going. Or suppose a study found that there are twice as many people with cancer among churchgoers as among non-churchgoers. Does this mean that we should worry about going to church? Of course not.
So why exactly should the presence of wild-eyed zealots among homeschoolers make us worry about the merits of homeschooling? I’m sure there is a better argument to be made from this premise, but I’m not seeing it. Can anyone suggest how this premise is relevant?