Lately, I just want to stay away from the computer. I homeschool my kids, and it seems like every time I check my e-mail someone has sent me a link to the latest article bashing the practice.
I suppose I should look at this as a good thing, right? All publicity is good publicity? If nothing else, it’s provided plenty of fodder for the Facebook page maintained by the non-profit organization for which I volunteer, Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts.
No need, lately, to go searching the internet for material to share with our friends. We can’t keep up with posting all the opinion pieces, responses, rebuttals, and rants.
We shared Newsweek’s story on “Why Urban, Educated Parents Are Turning to DIY Education.” That one was a nice piece of fluff. Linda Perlstein, the author, seemed to at least retain an open mind, although she didn’t manage to overcome the temptation to generalize about the whole lot of us, or throw in dumb explanations for why she herself chooses not to homeschool: “…my husband and I are loyal to what we call ‘detachment parenting’: we figure we are doing a good job if Milo is just as confident and comfortable without us as he is with us.” Actually, attachment parenting, a philosophy certainly not limited to homeschoolers and not even practiced by all homeschoolers, aspires to create a foundation for confidence and independence, not clingy brats. Still, small beans in an otherwise nice portrayal of a few homeschooling families.
A week or so later came the New York Times’ Room for Debate focus on “Should Homeschoolers Play for High-School Teams”? Some thoughtful points of view presented there. My only mistake was reading the comments, which provided a stark reminder of how venomously angry some people get at the very idea of homeschooling.
Hot on the heels of that came USA Today’s “Home-schooling demographics change, expand,” which pointed out the fact that not all homeschoolers are religiously motivated — i.e. conservative Christians. News to them, maybe. Not to homeschoolers.
Then we shared Conor Friedersdorf’s “Why Homeschooling Is a Boon to Liberal Society” and Astra Taylor’s “Learning in Freedom.” Both were responses to Dana Goldstein’s Slate piece “Liberals, Don’t Homeschool Your Kids,” a piece of work whose obvious bias and fantastical logic was topped only by Goldstein’s follow-up, “Further Thoughts on Homeschooling, Liberalism, and Special-Needs Kids.” Apparently, she doesn’t think homeschooling should be illegal. She just doesn’t think anybody should do it. When she complains that “…homeschooling does not comport with crucial social justice values related to investing in the common good…” I gotta wonder about her feelings toward another, waaaaaay larger group of parents who choose not to send their kids to public school. I mean those who, um, send their kids to private school, including our, um, liberal president.
In her articles, Ms. Goldstein says she is “concerned” about essays and statements by “progressive homeschoolers…in which schools are compared to prisons and public school educators are depicted as vicious enforcers of class and race hierarchies…” Her worry is that school bashing by progressive homeschoolers, whatever that means, is going to lessen support for public school.
This reminds me of the ludicrous charge a family member leveled at me once. “You’re turning your kids against school!” he complained after one, in response to being confronted for the umpteenth time about why he didn’t want to attend school, said something negative about it. Yup, it was all because of his homeschooling mom and her school bashing. It had nothing to do with the fact that every school kid he met, upon learning he homeschooled, responded with “You’re so lucky!” Nor did it have anything to do with the books and movies about rotten schools and mean teachers that seem to pop up every time you turn around. For the record, I don’t happen to think that public school teachers are all miserable, controlling adults that are THE ENEMY. But you don’t have to look far into our popular culture to find schools and teachers portrayed that way. The practice dates way back to before anyone even heard of a “progressive homeschooler,” so I think maybe Goldstein’s worries are a little misplaced.
Might it be too selfish for me, as a homeschooling parent, to be a little concerned about essays and statements by journalists and experts that are going to shape thousands of people’s views of millions of homeschooling parents and children? In other words, me and my children? Of course it would. Goldstein and her ilk are concerned about society, after all — not people.
I confess, I didn’t finish Goldstein’s second piece. I – just – had – to – stop. I had to take a few deep breaths. I had to ask myself, why this, why now? And I thought I had the answer. In a word — Santorum. Not more than a few days later, my hypothesis gained validity, when a link to Dick Cavett’s rant “Schooling Santorum” showed up in my inbox.
This piece, if it wasn’t so loaded with ignorance and bigotry, might be funny. Some homeschooling parents I know (the ones who managed to sidestep being offended by Cavett’s insults), got a laugh or two out of this: “I think of the mournful home-school kid watching his friends board the school bus, laughing, gossiping and enjoying all that vital socialization we call schooldays.” No, folks, that wasn’t a satirical joke. The guy really means it, to which I have only one thing to say: Cavett’s depiction of homeschooled kids has about as much truth in it as Mr. Santorum’s views on global warming – both are total fantasies.
Well, I and my fellow homeschooling parents will survive this little media trend. We’ve certainly heard it before, and it will pass. In the meantime, I have just a little more steam to blow off. When it comes to minorities, small-minded people (and at least in this instance, Cavett has shown himself to be one) tend to judge the entire group based on their limited experience with a few of its members. As a member of a minority, I’m used to this. Now that Rick Santorum is front and center in the GOP presidential race, and has mentioned the fact that he is a homeschooler several times, small-minded people will inevitably think he’s speaking for all homeschoolers.
He’s not. Not even close. If I may be so bold as to make one sweeping generalization about my clan, it’s this – we’re notoriously independent-minded. I can guarantee that all million-plus of us homeschoolers are not rooting for Santorum just because he homeschools, too. Some might choose him, while others might favor a libertarian like Ron Paul, or the current Republican front-runner, Mitt Romney. There are even those that will happily vote for the Democratic incumbent. The only thing I know for sure is that broad-based categorizations of homeschoolers, their politics, beliefs, and lives don’t really work. The group is too diverse.
There’s something else I have to wonder about when I read attacks on homeschooling such as those circulated by Goldstein and Cavett, and the really nasty comments that so many feel compelled to share publicly. How deeply do they understand that there are actual people – and a lot of them – involved? It takes no courage for Cavett to call me and so many others misguided fools from behind his impersonal desk. It’s sport for an intellectual like Goldstein to turn us into abstractions in the service of her arguments. It’s easy for anyone sitting at a computer to anonymously type hate messages in response to an article.
What if they started looking at homeschoolers as real people? We’re everywhere, after all, in all walks of life, neighborhoods, and just about every nook and cranny of society you can think of. Maybe a colleague at your place of employment was homeschooled, or maybe the nurse or doctor who cared for you last time you sought medical treatment, or maybe even the public school teacher who’s at this very moment instructing your children. I personally know at least one young adult homeschooler who’s a great public school teacher, and there are certainly others.
My guess is that there are people that Cavett, and all the other mean-spirited commenters dissing homeschoolers, already know and respect that never went to school. Homeschoolers don’t grow up and wear a big red “H,” after all. They just go about the business of living their lives, like everyone else.
Sometimes, people who’ve been carrying around an image of homeschoolers grounded in fantasy, prejudice, or media portrayals, find out homeschoolers are in their midst. Then, when those homeschoolers turn out to be “normal,” or likable, or admirable in some way, views evolve. Minds change, and understand, and accept. This is a slow process, a long road with many bumps, but it’s the only path to the outcome which I hope for, and look forward to – that someday, we can say without hoopla, “Some kids go to public school, some kids go to private school, and some kids homeschool.” Someday, I hope homeschooling will be seen simply for what it is, one educational option among many.