Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

What Santorum's Homeschooling Stance Says About His Education Views

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum waves with his family after addressing the CPAC Conference on February 10. Mr. Santorum and his wife enrolled five of their children in an online charter school about a decade ago. He's been a supporter of homeschooling.

It’s not that the the other candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination have been particularly complimentary of President Obama’s education policies.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, however, hasn’t limited his criticisms to Obama administration stances, lashing out against public schooling in general during campaign stops in recent days.

Criticizing the current public education system as “anachronistic,” Santorum promised to homeschool his children in the White House — prompting the LA Times to label him “the most prominent homeschooler in America.”

Santorum’s feelings about homeschooling appear closely related to his feelings about public education — and indicate his willingness to support a diminished federal role in education policy.

As The New York Times quoted Santorum from a stump speech:

“The idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic. It goes back to the time of industrialization of America when people came off the farms — where they did homeschool or have the little neighborhood school — and into these big factories, so we built equal factories called public schools.”

Sen. Santorum and his wife Karen enrolled five of their children in an online charter school roughly 10 years ago, Valerie Strauss writes at WashPo’s The Answer Sheet.

Santorum’s support of homeschooling and his criticisms of the “weird socialization [kids] get in public schools” have drawn quizzical looks from interviewers in the past.

As David Gregory on Meet The Press asked Santorum, “You want to be President of the United States, public education is one of the foundational parts of our country, and yet you say the ‘weird socialization’ is kids being in school with kids their own age?” (See a video at This Week in Education.)

On the Fordham Institute’s Choice Words blog, Adam Emerson wonders whether Santorum’s stance is doing homeschooling advocates more harm than good, painting extremes when a more nuanced position may be necessary:

What the press largely disregarded was the unoriginality of the candidate’s argument. Santorum is hardly the first to call for a transformation of our one-size-fits-all public education system, and one can go back to Ronald Reagan to find a more influential threat to reduce or eliminate the federal role in education. But Santorum is our presidential candidate today, and he’s feeding extremes to a hungry national debate on a cause that, at least among a growing number of followers, is searching for the center.

What do you think of Santorum’s support of homeschooling? Do you agree that the current public education system is “anachronistic”?


  • Hsferret

    I hate to break it to you, but Santorum was NOT homeschooling his kids. Charter Schools are PUBLIC schools. Do your homework.

    A lot of homeschooling families are tired of being painted with The Santorum Brush.

    • StateImpact Indiana

      Hi Hsferret. You’re right, charter schools are public schools, and I take the point that there’s a difference between enrolling in a charter school online and traditional homeschooling. But for the purposes of Santorum’s argument, isn’t that distinction rather finite?

      For the record: I didn’t say “Santorum has homeschooled his kids for more than a decade.” I wrote “Santorum enrolled his five kids in an online charter school.” I didn’t obscure that fact. The candidate himself invites the comparison with homeschooling and paints himself under the “homeschool” label.

      In a post comparing homeschooling to online schooling (about which, actually, Emerson has some interesting things to say in his post which we link to above), this distinction might not be as inconsequential — but the purpose of the post is to highlight how he uses homeschooling to talk about Santorum’s view of the federal role in education.

      Do you homeschool? And if so, what do you mean by “The Santorum Brush”?

  • Len

    We homeschool and have for almost three years. I believe what Hsferret is trying to point out that amongst “homeschoolers” there are two different classifications. There are those that homeschool, meaning ordering, paying for, planning and teaching their own curriculum (me for example), and then there are those who seem to be under the homeschool label but are not “true” homeschoolers” (the Santorum Brush), their curriculum comes from a publicly funded program, they take state mandated/funded tests, report to certified teachers, and have a predetermined work load that has to be completed each year. I personally don’t feel that Santorum’s homeschool should even qualify as homeschool, are they home yes, but it is still a publicly funded program. I receive NO $$ for our resources, I mandate what and when we learn, we personally finance all testing and material/resources. This has nothing to do with your reporting, Santorum (and others) are very quick to label themselves as homeschoolers, when in fact they are public schoolers taught at home.

    • StateImpact Indiana

      That’s more helpful Len, thanks for illuminating the distinction more. Let me look and see if there’s anyone else who speaks to this point, it may be worth a follow-up post on my part.

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