Plus: Listen to Melinda and me introduce “The Fog,“ November’s article of the month
Hello everyone! This is my first time commenting. It appears I am the first homeschooler to enter this discussion (I don’t think any of the authors of the articles were homeschoolers themselves).
While I share the fears mentioned in the articles and the thread about the multiple threats our democracy is facing, I do have a different perspective about how homeschooling often works; also, in some ways, I feel our fears are misplaced. I hate seeing those who are leaving oppressive situations and finding joy, learning, and community blamed for bigger, society-wide problems.
Regarding the fear that the rise of homeschooling puts us at risk of becoming a society of people who don’t know basic skills or how to communicate: there is now plenty of data to show that in fact, homeschoolers across demographic backgrounds do well on standardized tests and in college. While we do have society-wide challenges with making sure all kids are literate, critical thinkers, there is no indication that homeschooling makes this problem worse; if anything, the above-mentioned data suggests that it eases the problem.
As for the weight of childrearing and education-support falling on mothers, this, too, is a society-wide problem that mothers inside and out of school struggle mightily with. I’ve recently had a friend leave her job because her child was getting sent home early from Kindergarten most days for reasons of neurodiversity that the school has no plan to support. Another took a leave when her child experienced violence from another student. Many mothers I know find it a job in itself to support their children in school and find some relief in the relative lack of conflict of life outside of school.
Lauren Markham’s wonderful exploration of the world of unschooling (in Tune In, Drop Out, Homeschool) ends with her suggestion that we can support public schools while learning from the ways that homeschooling often better serves children than mass schooling. I share this thinking and will return to her point. Markham herself fears that “If I spent the majority of my time concocting the best, most individualized experience for my white kid, I would, at the end, be fomenting and perpetuating inequality.” This fear does not correspond with the community-oriented lifestyle we experience in the homeschool world. I feared the same thing myself, as a parent of two white boys. But it turns out my energy does not have to go to concocting an education, because, as most homeschoolers will tell you, kids take over their own learning pretty quickly and most homeschoolers become less and less “schooly” over time. We free up many hours that way to invest in after-school activities, and in neighborhood or social justice or community groups that are sadly empty of school-aged families whose time is very full with homework (a practice whose efficacy is not borne out by studies) and fundraisers and grumpiness and schedules that may not fit well with the parent’s jobs and the children’s biorhythms. We can’t do it all; meanwhile, the medical, judicial, and agricultural systems, and/or any of the systems we are enmeshed in, need our intergenerational attention as much as schools do. (And while we’re at it, let’s touch on the fact that what we currently imagine as the heart of democracy is still far from embodying that ideal. School kids undergo a many-year experience with hierarchy that supports neither a desire nor a skill set for participatory democracy).
So let’s remember Markham’s discovery that homeschoolers have a lot to teach our culture about joyful, effective methods of teaching and learning. We need to restrain ourselves from blaming those who opt out of school for what we can acknowledge are widespread problems: lack of support systems for mothers and families, and a broad dissatisfaction with mass schooling that is shared across the political spectrum.
There are excellent systemic solutions that could bring many homeschoolers back into the school mix and improve things for everyone else while we’re at it. I’m in favor of a community college model for K-12 schools, in which you have the option to be on a “degree track,” or to instead sign up for classes offered a la carte, such as foreign language or PE or the school play. Or how about a course on participatory democracy? I’d have sent my kids to these programs in a hot minute if it did not mean sacrificing the self-directed learning and community life they were carrying forward in the majority of their time.
We homeschoolers don’t feel like we’re giving up. Many of us feel thrilled to find multigenerational lives of flexibility and meaning outside of the school system. Like many who are out of school because they are grown, we are at volunteer work, community college classes, or various jobs; many of us are rarely at home, at all.
(And a big thank you to Mark for all the sharing you do with us!).
Mark, the book about free cities is: Crack-Up Capitalism: Market Radicals and The Dream of a World Without Democracy, by Quinn Slobodian. Remember Milt Friedman, who brought his Chicago Boys (a cadre of group-think, diehard capitalist financial wizards at the U. Of Chicago) to Pinochet in Chile, who were complicit in the disappearances of 10K citizens? Well, his rabid grandson takes the lead here. Their goal is absolute: democracy must be eliminated so that capitalism can thrive. I’ve never read a fictional work as chilling. And I’m certain that as soon as people read “free cities,” they’ll be convinced it’s just the very best thing. GAAAH
This topic is fraught in every direction. I had read about the surge in homeschooling, and I understand ALL the reasons why parents might want to have their children homeschooled: starting, of course, with school shootings and the violence of bullying. My biracial children were made so unbelievably miserable in Catholic schools that in high school it became obvious even to the white students, who soon rioted and had one school shut down for good. My older child always told me she learned best in a group, where ideas could be exchanged and, being intellectually gifted, she could help others learn at the same time. Yet she was so burned by her school experience, she grew into her career by teaching herself, online. Teachers bypassed my younger daughter because they thought she was dull when she was simply bored.
Vouchers are squeezing more and more funds from public schools thanks to Trump’s education secretary Betsy Davos, but really, since public education is tied to local taxes, the poor have always been given the shortest end of the stick. I applaud Black parents who want their kids to know our actual history. I believe completely the parents of non-binary students or those who don’t fit the standard mold for whatever reason--the one size fits all approach of education just DOESN’T fit all. But I am deeply concerned that this trend in homeschooling falls most heavily on mothers, especially those with careers--and let’s not pretend being a homemaker isn’t in itself a very difficult job. And there are aspects of social learning students absolutely cannot experience solely in the insular home environment.
What’s more, if this trend grows to overwhelm education in public schools, in future I expect we will see we’ve built a Tower of Babel with homeschooling in the USA; today’s children will be essentially unable to communicate with each other as adults in a world that will require globally advanced technologies and cooperation such as we have never yet known. Today’s students must have a solid foundation to share with students from around the world--in my opinion, they will not, cannot, achieve that by being taught at home. I not only agree with Horace Mann that public education is the pillar on which democracy depends for survival--in fact, I think Earth’s survival itself may depend on it.
I wish we would adopt the indigenous idea that every decision must be considered for its effect on the next seven generations.
Fascinating, wow, I had no idea of the extent of it.