• Catherine Luke


At the beginning of the twenty-first century, alternatives to public education are many and varied. In most Canadian communities, our children can attend neighbourhood public schools, various alternative schools within the public system, independent schools that receive some public funding, independent schools that are entirely outside the public system, or can remain at home to be taught by their parents. This spectrum of alternatives is offered to us in the name of choice and in the service of the principle of diversity.

As in other public service sectors, the words diversity and choice have moved to the centre of discussions about system reform. The many educational options that have been created to address diverse needs provide answers for everyone who cares to enter the debate but may prevent us from clearly articulating our expectations of the publicly-funded system or making the more fundamental changes that may be needed. By definition, a publicly-funded system -- such as our education, health, or social service system -- is based on principles of universality and aimed at providing common services at a common level. It is indeed a conundrum to provide this common service to a population that we know to be wildly heterogeneous; but does the answer lie in simply creating a multiplicity of systems until we reach some sort of diversity saturation point where everyone can find his or her individuality served in one or another of its forms?

In this paper I will be exploring one alternative to the public education system -- home schooling. While home schooling is at a considerable distance from and runs counter to many of the central principles of the public education system, I believe it has the potential to offer us an important and challenging critique of that system. Rather than dismissing home schooling as a choice that is irrelevant to public school reform, I believe educational reformers, administrators, and teachers have something to learn from parents who choose to teach their children at home. 

Although home schooling is heavily reported in the news media as a sort of heretical movement, home schooling has received limited research and scholarly attention. Literature on home schooling falls into three categories -- how-to books, first-person testimonials aimed at convincing readers of the merits of home schooling, and a very few research-based studies that aim at scholarly objectivity. This lack of research may, in part, be due to the fact that home schooling represents an overt challenge to the public school system and is thus not apt to be targeted with public or corporate research dollars. In the absence of a consistent and reliable body of research data, this paper focuses on the ideological foundations of home schooling and its place in the menu of choices that currently defines educational policy in Canada.