I have long been an opponent of mandatory education, especially that which is taught in public schools. There is far too much focus on studying for "the test," and too little attention paid to developing critical thinking skills. Past the basic educational skills necessary for survival such as reading, writing, and 'rithmetic, grades K-12 do nothing more than bombard students with facts that are no more helpful than knowing which Friends alum starred in films with Bruce Willis. (It was Matthew Perry) Not to mention the ridiculous knowledge teachers and curriculum designers decide is necessary for one's development in American society. Well, they won't be able to understand a cost-benefit analysis of liberty versus security, but by God! they will know what the water in A Tale of Two Cities references.
Critics of non-traditional education claim that learning outside of a public (or private for that matter) school building would be detrimental to the child's social development. How can children learn to interact with people of all creeds and backgrounds if they are segregated by learning outside the masses? Studies have found that self-esteem is hardly different, and in some cases better, in homeschooled students than in traditionally-taught students. Since self-esteem is often used to guage one's social skills--whether they are confident, friendly, capable of having a conversation with others--it seems that this would be a good source of data to use.
Others claim that it is important for kids to be with "people their own age." This further stimulates their social abilities. But as a graduate of a mostly-traditional education, I can say that being with students my own age did little to further my own ability to succeed in life. First, people my own age will almost always have the same problems as me. The success of overcoming a problem in the midst of peers with the same problem is highly dubious.
Second--and this applies more to secondary school students more than primary--kids in public school are over-indulged, self-absorbed, neurotic attention-seekers. This ties somewhat into the first point; if they are surrounded by other kids who are the same way, there is little motivation for them to change. It wasn't until I got to college that people from my high school past began to act friendlier to me, as if they were ready to cast off the clique-oriented persona that had encompassed their entire teenage life.
By participating in "unschooling," students interact not only with other kids that are also being unschooled, but with adults as well. There is no emphasis placed on age-base classes; everyone talks to everyone. People come together because they are interested in studying the same thing, not because they were born the same year.
"Well what about kids getting indoctrinated? Shouldn't we stop parents from turning their kids into racists or bigots?" some people might ask. I can't give nearly as good a response as John Holt did, but to sum it up:
"The first question we have to answer is, do we have a right to try to prevent it? And even if we think we do, can we? One of the main differences between a free country and a police state, I always thought, was that in a free country, as long as you obeyed the law, you could believe whatever you liked. Your beliefs were none of the government's business. Far less was it any of the government's business to say that one set of ideas was good and another set bad, or that schools should promote the good and stamp out the bad... One of the reasons why growing numbers of people are so passionately opposed to the public schools is that these schools are in fact acting as if someone had explicitly and legally given them the power to promote one set of ideas and to put down others."
Public schools are far more dangerous and likely of indoctrinating young minds than any homeschool program. For starters, they have the potential to reach many times more children. Public schools, whether by purpose or accident due to time or budget constraints, also tend to have very specific curricula, and can leave out vital parts of information that would be necessary to encourage critical thinking and the establishment of one's own opinion.
As someone who was homeschooled for a few years, I think it's fairly easy to say that it doesn't damage one's ability to remain sociable (Editor's note: at the time of publishing, the test results had still not been compiled). In fact, one of the main reasons I chose to graduate high school one year early (contrary to the popular belief that I was some sort of genius boy) was because I was tired of all the social politics and bigotry that I encountered on a daily basis at public school.
The only problem I can find with non-traditional education is that it produced one of my main nemeses, Little Timmy Tebow. But if students are actually being taught to think for themselves, and that it's not the knowledge itself that's important, but the ability to learn, then even the retinal cancer I develop everytime Tim Tebow comes on SportsCenter is worth enduring.