Does Homeschooling Effectively Transmit the Christian Faith?
By Dr. Brian Ray, Crosswalk.com
Nearly thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Cizek (1993) wrote a paper entitled, "The mismeasure of homeschooling effectiveness: A commentary." He asserted, "Nothing has been done to assess any outcomes related to the movement’s primary, self-selected objective ..." which is "... the perceived spiritual, moral, or religious needs of their children" (p. 2). Cizek held that researchers should address objectives other than simply academic achievement and measures of psychological development as they had been doing up to that point and have been done since (e.g., Ray, 2017).
Therefore, one might ask, how is the Christian homeschool community doing, compared to those who put their children in institutional schools, in terms of transmitting the faith of the parents to their offspring? Two salient studies come to mind.
One study was based in Canada, and the other in the United States. First, Pennings, Sikkink, Van Pelt, Van Brummelen, and von Heyking (2012) studied 2,054 Canadian adult residents to enable a better understanding of the outcomes of the various government and non-government schooling sectors. Of their sample, 34 were classified as having been "religious home-educated students" (p. 18). They addressed topics such as family strength, engagement in neighborhood and community groups, rate of volunteering, civic engagement, and religious commitment.
The other study is by Ray (2022), in which he examined adults, ages 18 to 38, who were churched while growing up to understand the key influences (e.g., family relationships, church experiences, cultural inputs, and the school choices of their parents, such as years in homeschooling, Christian school, private secular school, and public school) that either encouraged or deterred them from believing and practicing the Christian faith of their parents and to determine their attitudes and actions toward the use of various school choices for their own children. There were 8,794 participants involved in this project.
Pennings et al. found that "religious home education graduates reflect attributes of religious conviction, spiritual formation, and practices that one would expect of those who are religiously motivated (with schooling effects having contributed positively to those results)" (p. 6). That is, those who were homeschooled were stronger in terms of these attributes than those who had attended public schools or Roman Catholic schools.
The data that Ray collected indicated that involvement in Christian practices while growing up, positive relationships with parents while a teenager, and a number of years homeschooled are consistent and positive predictors of Christian beliefs, Christian behaviors, and having similar beliefs to one’s father and mother as an adult. Contrariwise, a number of years spent in youth group and a number of years in private secular school are consistent negative predictors of Christian beliefs, Christian behaviors, and having similar beliefs to one’s father and mother as an adult. The number of years in public school was not significantly related to Christian beliefs, Christian behaviors, and having similar beliefs to one’s parents.
Dr. Cizek’s call three decades ago for studies on the spiritual lives of the home educated has barely been answered. Many more studies—both quantitative and qualitative—are needed on the topic. To date, empirical evidence is limited, but what is at hand speaks positively about parent-led home-based education when it comes to passing on the Christian faith of the parents.
Speaking biblically, it is not parents or homeschooling that saves children or causes their conversion, but there does appear to be a positive association between having been home-educated and the strength of Christian beliefs and behaviors in adulthood. It will be for future researchers (or theologians) to confirm, or contradict, this finding and to help us understand the theory of action behind it.
Cizek, Gregory J. (1993). The mismeasure of homeschooling effectiveness: A commentary. Home School Researcher, 9(3), 1-4, https://www.nheri.org/home- school-researcher-the-mismeasure-of-home-schooling-effectiveness-a-commentary/.
Pennings, Ray; Sikkink, David; Van Pelt, Deani; Van Brummelen, Harro; & von Heyking, Amy. (2012). Cardus Education Survey: A Rising tide lifts all boats: Measuring nongovernment school effects in service of the Canadian public good. Hamilton, Ontario, Canada: Cardus.
Ray, Brian D. (2017). A systematic review of the empirical research on selected aspects of homeschooling as a school choice. Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform, 11(4), 604-621. Retrieved December 12, 2017 from https://doi.org/10.1080/15582159.2017.1395638.
Ray, Brian D. (2022). The transmission of culture, religion, and affinity for four school choices to adults who were homeschooled, public schooled, and private schooled, NHERI Working Paper 2022-02a,https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4046167.
Copyright 2022, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms. Read The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com, or download the free reader apps at www.TOSApps.com for mobile devices. Read the STORY of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine and how it came to be.
Dr. Brian Ray is president of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI.org). He has published numerous articles and books, been repeatedly interviewed by major media, served as an expert witness in court cases, and testified to legislatures regarding educational issues. Dr. Ray is a leading international expert in research on homeschooling. He holds a Ph.D. in science education from Oregon State University. Brian and Betsy have been married for 43 years and have eight children, all of whom were home educated, and they have 17 grandchildren. You can donate to the nonprofit NHERI (www.NHERI.org/donate) and sign up for free research updates.