Record: Kristan Morrison, “Homeschooling as an Act of Conscientious Objection.” Journal of ThoughtFall-Winter 2014: 33-56. [Abstract]

Summary: Kristan Morrison is an Associate Professor in Radford University’s College of Education and Human Development. In this article she considers how homeschooling may be considered an act of “conscientious objection.”

The overarching premise behind the term “conscientious objection” is that a person is compelled to follow his or her ethical beliefs (one’s conscience) even if those beliefs run counter to society’s laws and/or normal practices and understandings. While the term has traditionally referred to an individual’s refusal to be conscripted into the military, it has also been used to talk about the anti-vaccination movement, the sending of children to private Christian schools (in objection to secular public schools) and even consumers who boycott a specific business. To develop her thesis that homeschooling is almost always a form of conscientious (moral/ethical) objection, Morrison begins to discuss various parallels between conscientious objection to military conscription and conscientious objection to homeschooling.

The first parallel between homeschooling and conscientious objection to the military is that there are similar motivations involved. Namely, there are religious and secular objections to both practices. Furthermore, Morrison says that both practices are aiming to change something in the greater society. While the goal for military objectors is typically to end war in society, the goal of homeschoolers is less clear. Nevertheless, Morrison argues that some homeschoolers believe that the world will be a slightly better place because of the person that homeschooling will help their child to become.

The second parallel between homeschooling and conscientious objection to military conscription is that both practices have followed similar historical trajectories that consisted of three similar stages: (1) intense hostility and minimal accommodations, (2) continued suspicion and skepticism with an appearance of some tolerance, and (3) mainstream legitimization.

A third category of parallels is that each follows a similar taxonomy in the strength of beliefs and the degree of willingness that people have to cooperate with the government. For example, some people are opposed to all wars, while others are only opposed to particular types of weapons (i.e. nuclear). Likewise, some homeschoolers are opposed to all forms of institutionalized schools, whereas other homeschoolers only homeschool when acceptable schools are unavailable (i.e. people who homeschool due to a lack of access to Christian schools).

The fourth and final parallel is that the people who participate in both forms of objections share similar characteristics. Demographically, both groups have higher levels of education than the general population. Furthermore, both populations experience feelings of doubt about their decisions.

Next Morrison moves into the differences between conscientious objection to military service and homeschooling. First, military conscription has traditionally only involved males, while in homeschooling, females play a much greater role. Second, there is a difference in that people who oppose war typically find it fundamentally immoral. However, most homeschoolers don’t consider the concept of school, at its core, to be unethical. A final difference between the two stances is that homeschoolers are much more likely to say that they’re homeschooling just because they think that it’s best for their family. They don’t always view themselves as part of a bigger opposition movement as opponents to a war might.

Now Morrison finally gets to the question that everyone is probably wondering: Who cares? Why does such a comparison matter? Morrison says that besides the academic challenge of comparing two dissimilar topics, this discussion might help us to better understand the power of homeschooling to bring about social change. If the increase of conscientious objectors to conscription led to the foundation of the AVF, the All-Volunteer Force in the U.S., what could homeschoolers achieve in the area of public education?

Service of the greater good is an essential component of conscientious objection. Does homeschooling serve the greater good? Opponents of the practice would say no because they view homeschooling as a selfish action that hurts repressed populations. Furthermore, some would argue that homeschooling reinforces stereotypical gender roles since the vast majority of parent-teachers are women. On the issue of gender roles, there are homeschooling mothers who view homeschooling as a way for them to defy modern expectations, reshape motherhood in terms of individual choice, and gain agency that otherwise would have been unavailable to them. As for the complaint that homeschooling only benefits a select view, some have argued that homeschooling reduces the burdens on public school systems, that homeschooled children become more involved in civic life, and that institutionalized schooling does a poor job of creating good public citizens. Morrison concludes by saying that there is still much to explore. For example, we need more research investigating whether homeschoolers view their decision to educate at home as a political act.

Appraisal: At its core, this article dealt with an important topic: Is homeschooling a political decision? This is certainly a topic that is worthy of discussion. However, while the parallel to conscientious objection is interesting, some of Morrison’s arguments are a bit thin. For example, she explains that one of the similarities between the proponents of homeschooling and opposition to conscription is that both groups are influenced by both religious and secular rationales. Since religious and secular are two halves of a whole, what other motivations could possibly exist?

It is worth mentioning that many authors such as Robin West would disagree with Morrison’s conclusion that homeschooling is a form of conscientious objection that benefits society. Furthermore, there is evidence from the Cardus surveys and Hill & Den Dulk (2013) that homeschoolers may not be as civically engaged as Morrison claims. While this evidence on engagement is not conclusive by any means, it does pull Morrison’s argument into question.

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