What did Paula Rothermel really say about the sociability of home educated children?



I mentioned yesterday a quotation by Mike Fortune-Wood, typical of many which supporters of home education make when citing Paula Rothermel’s research to prove their points. He said:

Home educated children have been shown to be highly social, balanced and to mix well with other children and adults. (Paula Rothermel’s work).’


I then suggested that the sample used to establish this by Rothermel was small and that the instrument used was not in any case an accurate way of measuring the sociability of home educated children. In fact, Paula Rothermel herself agrees with both points; although for different reasons than mine. I don’t want to get drawn into a long debate about the precise numbers tested. There are discrepancies in the figures used, but I want to forget that and adopt a wholly different approach. Let us begin by assuming that the tests used by Paula Rothermel were in fact wonderfully accurate and that the samples she surveyed were perfectly adequate. In other words, I am conceding, purely for the purposes of debate, that we should accept all the conclusions to which this research points. Where does that leave us on the question of how balanced and social the home educated children at whom Rothemel’s work was directed, really were? Let us look at what she actually said.


Here are a few quotations from Paula Rothermel’s findings that you will seldom hear being bandied about in home educating circles:



‘the home-educated children here emerged as mostly 'Abnormal' in terms of their 'Prosocial Behaviour'.’




‘Socially, the SDQ found 61% of the home-educated children to exhibit 'abnormal' social behaviour,’


‘the home-educated sample demonstrated more signs of aggressive behaviours than the schoolchildren from the Rutter et al study, particularly for home-educated girls where aggressiveness was at 22.7% as opposed to 5.3% for Rutter's girls’


‘Theft amongst the home-educated boys was substantially higher than for the schoolchildren’


‘A comparison with the home-educated sample's data and that provided by Ekblad (1990) relating to previous studies, revealed that the home-educated children were more aggressive than the norm and that the girls' levels of anxiety was higher than those found in other studies.’



What has happened of course is that those in favour of home education select bits and pieces from the research which support their own views. It is perfectly possible to do the same if you wish to use Rothermel’s research to denounce home education! For example, she found that a quarter of the home educating sample had behavioural problems; far higher than the proportion found in most surveys of schoolchildren. How Rothermel wriggles out of these uncomfortable findings is a wonder to behold. Having carefully chosen the tests, she then discovers, when the findings are not as expected, that it is the tests themselves which are at fault. Obviously, one cannot expect home educated children to behave in the same way as school children. True, the children came out within the normal range overall on the psycho-social tests, but on purely social aspects, there were found to be serious difficulties.

I said nothing yesterday that Paula Rothermel has not herself said about this research. I drew attention to the small size of the sample and she admits that the sample was small. I queried whether the SDQ would give an accurate picture and she says that it does not. I am busy today, but I shall be writing more on this topic in a day or to. In the meantime, readers should look once more at the quotations by Paula Rothermel which I give above and ask themselves why they are unlikely to see them anywhere other than this blog.

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