The United States military lists candidates for enlistment into one of three tiers. Tier I candidates have or will graduate from a traditional high school or have 15 or more college credit hours. Tier II candidates are typically high school drop outs who have earned their GED. Tier III candidates are high school dropouts who have not earned their GED. Interestingly, despite the superior academic outcomes of homeschooling relative to public schooling, the US military has historically classified homeschoolers as Tier II candidates, making it more difficult for them to enlist or to break into certain career fields.
Under pressure from homeschool advocates, Congress passed a bill in 2006 which exempted homeschoolers from the requirement to obtain a GED and replaced it with a requirement for a high school diploma along with a parent-generated transcript of the candidate’s high school record. In addition, while the minimum scores for enlistment on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT or ASVAB) test range from 31-36 points (depending on branch) for traditional high school graduates, homeschool graduates must score at least 50 points (or in the 50th percentile). If homeschool candidates score a 50 on the AFQT, they will be treated as if they were Tier I candidates, but they will still be classified as Tier II.
Curiously, the military holds homeschoolers to higher standards not only relative to enlistment candidates from traditional schools, but also relative to what the Harvard and Stanford admissions departments hold their candidates to. Neither Harvard nor Stanford nor virtually any other highly selective university requires a high school diploma from homeschoolers. These universities recognize that high school diplomas mean nothing, that they are just pieces of paper that public schools use to validate their existence to themselves, the public, and the parents of the kids that get pushed through the system. These universities make admission decisions based on the intellectual vitality, tangible academic accomplishments and various other traits of the applicant; a diploma is irrelevant to them.
The reason why the military demands more of homeschoolers could perhaps be explained by the fact that the military is a bureaucratic nightmare with hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen to manage. It is easier to manage all these people if they are stripped of their individuality and identified by the various collective buckets they may fit in, whether it is by sex, race, time in service, or education. If we wanted to make a lazy argument, we could argue that the military is too lazy to judge homeschoolers by their various competencies, and instead prefers to assume that homeschoolers are not as well educated as traditional school enlistment candidates. Or the military wants to keep the process as simple and systematic as possible, and because homeschoolers are a very diverse group with very rich but varying experiences, they overly complicate the enlistment process.
A much stronger argument for the contrasting treatment between homeschoolers and traditional school candidates is that homeschoolers are less likely to conform to military life. Enlisted soldiers are expected to follow orders, to sit around and wait for hours and hours at a time, to complete laborious and sometimes mindless tasks without hesitation, and to dress and act exactly as prescribed by the military. Public schools condition students to do exactly that. Perhaps that is why the US Army states that “the best single predictor of an individual’s likelihood of adapting to the military is a traditional high school diploma.” Homeschoolers on the other hand grow up questioning why things are the way they are. They are less likely to accept mere proclamations by authority figures or experts, they search for answers themselves. Their existence as homeschoolers challenges the status quo, and because adherence to the status quo is essential to an efficiently run military, homeschoolers are a threat to military efficiency. The military cannot outright ignore and reject all homeschoolers, not when there are over 2 million children being homeschooled in the country today, but they can apply different rules to homeschoolers to keep their numbers down.
It should be noted that not all homeschoolers wanting to join the military are placed at a disadvantage to traditional school students. The Federal Service Academies are much friendlier to homeschool candidates. Both the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy provide guidance on their websites for homeschool applicants. However, the Federal Service Academies are training future military officers, not enlisted soldiers. These officers will be expected to fall in line and execute on orders received, but they will also be expected to plan, coordinate, manage and lead. For these reasons, the military is willing to accommodate homeschoolers as future officers at the Federal Service Academies, with the expectation that they will be able to effectively condition and indoctrinate these homeschoolers when they become Cadets and Midshipmen.
* This post is not an anti-military rant. Instead, it reviews the potential factors behind the military’s approach toward young adults who have been homeschooled. In advance of personal attacks that may be launched at me, I feel it is appropriate to highlight that I graduated from the United States Military Academy and then served for five years on active duty as an Airborne Ranger qualified Engineer officer. I served one tour in Kosovo and another in Iraq before resigning my commission and being honorably discharged.