Archive for February 23rd, 2012

February 23, 2012

What Labels Are We Placing on Homeschoolers?

Note: This column appeared in the print edition of the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, February 22, 2012.

A number of articles have been circulating lately about the growing diversity in homeschooling families.  Publications such as the Houston Chronicle, USA Today, and Newsweek have each reported on the number of homeschoolers who don’t do it for religious reasons, which has been a stereotype of homeschoolers.

Then in Slate, Dana Goldstein wrote an article titled “Liberals, Don’t Homeschool Your Kids” in which she makes a case that homeschooling violates progressive values.  Madeline Holler responded positively to Goldstein on Babble.com.  She writes, “Homeschooling really isn’t the answer, certainly not for people who purport to value things like civic life and public institutions and who wish for those things to improve.”

While I’m glad the word is getting out that homeschoolers are a diverse group of people who choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons, I fear that more stereotypes are being made.  So let’s review. When you hear I’m a homeschooler, you might assume one or more of the following:

  • I may be an evangelical Christian that wants to indoctrinate my children with a religious curriculum that shuns science.
  • Or, I’m a bleeding left-wing liberal who breastfeeds my children well into their toddler years.
  • If we aren’t religious, then we’re probably atheist.
  • You may think we co-sleep with our infants and that we do not trust public schools to teach our children anything.
  • Or, you may believe I’m a “helicopter parent” who will never let my children flourish independently on his or her own.
  • You might think I silently judge others for making their children spend six hours a day in “prison.”
  • Finally, you may believe that we are “uber-intellectual” parents that have plenty of extra income to homeschool.

For the record, none of those descriptions fit us. But since we are not religious fundamentalists, I guess that makes us liberal homeschoolers, at least in the eyes of some of these writers.

Dana Goldstein writes, “This overheated hostility toward public schools runs throughout the new literature on liberal homeschooling, and reveals what is so fundamentally illiberal about the trend: It is rooted in distrust of the public sphere, in class privilege, and in the dated presumption that children hail from two-parent families….”

She also writes, “If progressives want to improve schools, we shouldn’t empty them out. We ought to flood them with our kids, and then debate vociferously what they ought to be doing.”

First of all, why do I have to be labeled either liberal or conservative?  I have some liberal views, and I have some conservative views too.

When it comes to homeschooling and staying home with my children, I’m more conservative, yet when it comes to rearing boys, I guess I’m liberal because I adhere to a few practices known as “attachment” parenting.  But even then, I don’t fit the mold because I didn’t breastfeed my children until toddlerhood, co-sleep with my infants or ever carry them in a sling.  Where oh where can I fit in?

I respect those who don’t homeschool or adhere to my style of parenting.  More than that, I understand that there are many people who can’t do what I do. Though believe it or not, there are many homeschoolers who didn’t choose to homeschool in the first place.

Having read many forums on homeschooling, I can tell you that homeschoolers are diverse and teach their children at home for more reasons than we can count.  There are single parents, financially struggling parents, and as I mentioned, parents who had no plans to ever homeschool.  They put their child in school, but something went wrong.  I have heard stories about parents who tried to make changes at their child’s school, but they got fed-up and turned to homeschooling.

I think that is more than what those writers can see when they try to lay a guilt trip saying progressive homeschoolers are hurting the wider community by not putting their children in school.

Sure, if I wanted to, I could put my children in school and fight to change them in a positive way, but what kind of energy and time would it take on my part to actually make a difference?  I would have to rally the support of many families, and then we’d have to agree on what changes we wanted.  Do you think we could agree on what changes would make an ideal school environment for all our children?

Part of the reason I’m homeschooling is because I believe children deserve to have individualized attention when it comes to finding out what is the best way they learn.  Another reason is because I want my boys to have more freedom to move and play outdoors.  What works for my kids wouldn’t necessarily work for other kids.

Yet I don’t think of public school as prison.  Despite the problems our schools have, it’s not lost on me that a lot of good goes on there.  I read articles about student’s achievements, awards, and projects.  I know teachers who engage and motivate their students.  Good teachers are important role models and mentors for young people.  I’ll always support our schools, and when I’m able, I’ll do for the greater good.

But I’m not going waste my time trying to change my local schools when my priority right now is my children.  I’m not going to use what little free time I have to serve the wider community when I desperately need to nurture my own mind and body so that I can meet the demands of this household.

You can’t help others before you help yourself.  You have to get your own affairs in order before you can give to others.  Does this mean I’m conservative or liberal?  I believe I’m doing what most Americans are doing – doing what they think is right for their families and what they can to get by.

Note: Since I wrote this column, Dana Goldstein has responded to the overwhelming response she received on her article in Slate.  You can read that by clicking here.  You may also enjoy reading Why Homeschooling Is a Boon to a Liberal Society in The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf.  I also enjoyed reading Liberal Homeschoolers: What We Really Are on the blog, Quarks and Quirks.

Please tell me what you think.

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