Is Homeschooling Unfair to Other Children?

Published: Tue, 01/05/16

Is Homeschooling Unfair to Other Children?

Hello, , from NHERI and Dr. Ray.

The Context

Do parents unfairly advantage their children by paying for private schooling, reading aloud to them at bedtime, or homeschooling them? Just when you thought you (as a parent) were doing something good, philosophers construe it to be bad.

Professors Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift got themselves into a heap of trouble – with some observers – with their book Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships and articles like the following:

We wrote Family Values because we had both worked on justice in education and argued for strict limits on what parents could legitimately do to purchase advantages for their children (e.g. paying for elite schooling). But we did not object to parents reading bedtime stories or spending time with their children, even though that also creates unfair inequalities. To explain the difference, we needed a general account of parents’ rights, of what parents should and shouldn’t be free to do to, with and for their children. That led us to the fundamental question of why children should be raised in families at all. Why not in communes or state-run childrearing institutions?  …..

We conceive family values in terms of ‘familial relationship goods’ – the good things that parent-child relationships contribute to human lives. For us, governments should be concerned about how those goods are distributed, which has implications for various areas of public policy. While many invoke ‘family values’ to resist egalitarian redistribution, we argue that those who really care about family life should support it.[1]

To be fair, Brighouse and Swift do write some things that are respectful of classical liberal rights and prerogatives of parents (versus those of the state) and a biblical perspective on parental duties and rights. Much of what they write, however, is antithetical to freedom-loving and biblical thinking.


Brighouse and Swift are in search of a theory or set of criteria to be used to determine how to raise children the right way. They want a “good” way for parents and society to bring up children. In doing so, they conclude the following:

‘What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children’.[2]

It can simply be all theoretical. Their ideas do not have to be based on facts and real-life effects. No experiments are necessary. But they are entitled to their opinions, valuable or not.


Based on Swift and Brighouse’s theoretical model, they believed they had to make some decisions about what parents should and should not do for their children. They concluded that sending one’s child to “private schooling” or an “elite private school” is wrong. Such action, they claim, gives children an unfair advantage in life over other children.

On the other hand, reading stories at bedtime is allowable despite the fact that this also bestows advantage on children. It appears they think that this is an “unfair” advantage but, nevertheless, an acceptable one in the big picture of things. They realize that not all decisions about rearing children are easy to make, according to their collectivist- and statist-based philosophy.


The obvious question for those who study and ponder parent-led home-based education – that is, homeschooling – is this: Does homeschooling confer an unacceptable and unfair advantage on children? To some readers, this will sound like an absurd. However, it is likely that Brighouse and Swift would consider homeschooling a bad thing based on their theory of the ethics of parent-child relationships.

Before the reader becomes aghast at such a thought or think it rather ridiculous, he should consider that other scholars claim a similar thing. For example, academic Christopher Lubienski argues that homeschool parents are essentially selfish as they epitomize the trend to make choices for the best education of their own children even though it might hurt other children’s chances.[3] Further, professor Michael Apple opines that it is bad for Black parents to homeschool because it will not advance his personal philosophy for society even thought it might help these individual parents’ children.[4] Scholar Robert Kunzman wants the State to have more power and control over homeschooling, and all private schooling.[5]

In conclusion, one must remember that all scholars are pushed forward in their books and articles by their own presuppositions and biases. Further, they promote government policy that is based on their biases. Never let them fool you into thinking that they are unbiased or über objective and right gods.

For example, one can clearly see Brighouse and Swift’s biases for government indoctrination of people, including adults, in the following:

One possible solution to the challenge of intervention [with parents] against cultural norms is universal provision. The United Kingdom’s health visitor program—which, among other things, sends nurses and midwives into people’s homes—is seen as a resource rather than an intervention because it is available to all through the National Health Service. Nobody is stigmatized by it, and, incidentally, its universality protects it politically. Of course, universal programs are also more expensive, which is why the economic efficiency and workforce productivity aspects of Heckman’s case for early intervention are so important. His suggestion that services could be provided universally but charged on a sliding scale by family income—an approach known among Brits as “progressive universalism”—is a realistic way forward.[6]  

That is, they promote the State actively re-educating citizens to conform to State values – that is, the values that Brighouse and Swift hold dear. I doubt they would want the State indoctrinating parents and other citizens into my worldview.

--Brian D. Ray, Ph.D.
National Home Education Research Institute

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[1] Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift's "Family Values." (2014, September 24). Retrieved January 5, 2016 from
[2] Gelonesi, Joe. (2015). Is having a loving family an unfair advantage? Retrieved January 5, 2016 from
[3] Lubienski, Christopher. (2000). Whither the common good?: A critique of home schooling. Peabody Journal of Education, 75(1 & 2), 207-232.
[4] Apple, Michael W. (2006, December 21). The complexities of black home schooling. From Retrieved first paragraph 5/25/07 online, and retrieved 6/22/07 online
[5] Kunzman, Robert. (2009). Understanding homeschooling: A better approach to regulation. Theory and Research in Education, 7(3), 311-330.
[6] Swift, Adam, & Brighouse, Harry. (2012, September/October). Response: Progressive Universalism. Retrieved January 5, 2016 from