Monday, February 27, 2012

Is Homeschooling Anti-Progressive?

This recent article written for Slate Magazine says it is. Dana Goldstein writes indignantly about progressive, middle-class, well-educated parents pulling their children out of public schools for either private-school options or to homeschool or unschool them, and says that it is an illiberal 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, in which at least one parent can afford (and wants) to take significant time away from paid work in order to manage a process—education—that most parents entrust to the community at-large."

I bristle a bit at the argument that having time for your children is class privilege. Yes, class privilege makes it easier - doesn't it kind of make everything easier? - but I am a product of a family that homeschooled despite the need for both parents to make an income. My mother ran a large home daycare for the 15 years that she was home and attending to my and my brother's educations. It wasn't easy, it wasn't ideal (we couldn't go out of the house for field trips or to homeschool cooperative classes, etc), but it was still Amazing and she made it work. We learned a lot of great lessons about business, work ethic, etc. from that learning environment. And we were allowed to follow our own interests and grow organically. Later, after my parents divorced when my youngest sister was just 3 years old, my mother still managed to homeschool the last two children as a single mother living well below the poverty line. She made it work.

I'm another example of working-homeschool mother, and I'm holding down a full-time job while also being uber-involved and homeschooling my children. Yes, it is a rare and precious find to get a job like mine, but still. And there are plenty of families living simpler lives and choosing a sort of voluntary poverty in order to homeschool their children.

Goldstein also writes that by pulling our kids out, we are hurting all children: "Nor can we allow homeschoolers to believe their choice impacts only their own offspring. Although the national school-reform debate is fixated on standardized testing and “teacher quality”—indeed, the uptick in secular homeschooling may be, in part, a backlash against thisnarrow education agenda—a growing body of research suggests “peer effects” have a large impact on student achievement. Low-income kids earn higher test scores when they attend school alongside middle-class kids, while the test scores of privileged children are impervious to the influence of less-privileged peers. So when college-educated parents pull their kids out of public schools, whether for private school or homeschooling, they make it harder for less-advantaged children to thrive."

Having been in public schools as a teacher, I really just can't quite buy this argument. I simply don't believe that if I put my 8 year old son with his love of fashion design and stuffed animals into a diverse 3rd grade public school classroom, that his influence would sway the kids toward a greater acceptance of mixed gender-roles and a prolonged childhood of play.

Peer-influence is real. But underlying the individuals involved is a system, and individuals act in the way that the system enables them to act. In an authoritarian system that was designed on the industrial production model, the kids will act a certain way. If you want to change how the peer influence is, you can't just throw the kids of liberal, well-educated parents into the mix and expect that to change things.

I object to a system that treats children like parts to be manufactured and standardized. Yes, the reality is that there are many many families in America who cannot homeschool their children. For them, I passionately hope the system changes. But you can't convince me I should sacrifice my own children, or my own family lifestyle, or that it would even make any difference if I did.

And even if public school was amazing (and I'm sure some are!) and even if there are plenty of people who have been well-served by their public educations (I'm sure there are!), I grew up with homeschooling and I Love it. This lifestyle is so wonderful, so positive and loving, so free and healthy.

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