Is homeschooling illiberal? Part 2

homeschool child outdoors learning

image courtesy of flickr user spree2010

(My continued rant about Dana Goldstein’s Slate article, “Liberals, Don’t Homeschool Your Kids: Why Teaching Children at Home Violates Progressive Values”)

No one thinks that teachers or administrators are out to oppress parents or children.  It is the system that is, inherently and fundamentally, oppressive.  Public school staff are placed in an impossible situation.  They are given large groups of children who vary from each other in every imaginable way (except for chronological age) and are expected to teach these children the information they need to perform well on standardized tests created by people who know nothing of their particular students or situation.  Their schools’ funding, not to mention their jobs, depend on their ability to achieve this task.  No matter how hard they work, how much they sacrifice, they are told they are not doing enough.  Curriculum becomes increasingly standardized, laws become increasingly strict, and ultimately schools become little more than child management facilities.  No amount of vociferous debate will change this central fact.

How could it be any different?

If “government is the only institution with the power and scale to intervene in the massive undertaking of better educating American children” – the government that allows children to starve while bazillionaires drive around in private jets, that is more concerned with playing party politics than enacting legislation that will benefit its people – then we are doomed.  Perhaps other Western democracies enjoy a greater investment in public education because in other Western democracies the public enjoys greater government support.  Other countries provide guaranteed health care and paid family leave to citizens.  Other countries take food and environmental safety seriously.  Perhaps other Western democracies have earned their citizens’ trust.

As a counterpoint to Betsy Blanchette, I proffer the story of my friend F. whose son has Down syndrome.  At the time he was required to enter school in order to continue to receive special services, he was non-verbal.  He did, however, have an extensive sign language vocabulary; unfortunately, that did not do him any good.  You see, his school district refused to hire an aide who was fluent in sign language, saying that it was not necessary for this three-year-old boy who could not chew or reliably use the toilet to have the ability to efficiently communicate with a responsible adult.  Despite his parents’ retaining counsel and entering into litigation with the district, exercising their legal recourse, the school would not budge.  I have heard similar stories from other parents of special-needs children.

Are you f*&%ing kidding me?

Luckily, his parents had the means to move to a different school district, one more in touch with its “expertise, resources, and legal responsibility” with respect to this child.  But what if they hadn’t?

Broad scale buy in followed by kicking and screaming at school board meetings is unlikely to cause any meaningful shift in the behemoth that is American public education, at least not any time soon.  On the other hand, is it possible that the best way for education reformers to be heard is to homeschool – boycott if you will?  Gandhi, King, Chavez…need I go on?

Frankly Ms. Goldstein, your judgement regarding social values practiced versus preached is offensive.  Your accusation that I either enroll my children in public school or practice piecemeal philanthropy is disrespectful.  I want my children to grow up to be kind, compassionate, honest, generous, courageous, self-disciplined, wise and principled individuals who are motivated and passionate about making this world a better place.  After my daughter’s short time in our public school (in one of the top-rated districts in our state) it is clear to me that although lip service is paid to these qualities, they are not really valued.  Obedience, academic performance, and conformity are most highly prized.  In order to be taught, they must first be subdued.

If you can convince me that children who are trained to obey, conform, and be people-pleasers are well situated to bring about broad social change, then I am willing to reconsider the whole public school thing.

Good luck with that.

  • Jenn McCollum

    The bit about your friend’s child with Downs really struck me.

    “Bringing about broad social change” is one of my visions for education. I am an educator. At university. My. We have a long way to go.

    • Kelly DiNorcia

      In a perfect world, that would be one of the functions of public education. As it is…I think that’s more of a possibility if I teach my kids at home, because I think the current system is structured to achieve the opposite. Sad that kids have to suffer.

    • Kelly Coyle DiNorcia

      Jenn, wouldn’t it be lovely if that were everyone’s vision of education?

  • P Flooers

    I can think of two possible ways to improve industrial schools.

    1) Return to smaller schools with lower student/teacher ratios, shorter days, fewer days, and fewer subjects taught.

    2) Rearrange industrial schooling format to open campus situations where resources are well stocked and staffed and children are able to freely choose what to study and when to study.

    But first someone should prove the best way to make children smarter as they grow. To my knowledge, this has never been done. Industrial school teaches through implication they already know the best way to grow the smartest children. No such thing has ever been proven. Most children get smarter as they age simply because that’s the general order of neurological growth. I believe quality love, food, and appropriate access to our diverse world are most important in the quest to grow the smartest children. None of which are a goal of industrial education.

    Given a lack of credible science regarding how to grow the smartest children, parents are forced to guess. The overwhelming majority of homeschool parents seem to be well pleased with the results they see in their children, judging by the rapid and consistent increase in homeschools over the last 10 years.

    • Kelly Coyle DiNorcia

      So true! When I went to enroll my daughter in public kindergarten, I came home and told my husband that the whole place just isn’t human scale. It’s an institution. Who can thrive in that environment? And as for the public school model being accepted as the standard against which everything else is measured or compared…isn’t that true in so many areas of life?

      • P Flooers

        People get upset when I use the phrase Institutional School. But it is an institution in every sense of the word. Fine, perhaps, for grownups. But when did humans get so divorced from reality (or greedy for second income) that it began to seem okay to institutionalize the children? Its weird, when you step back and look dispassionately at the system. If you start reading historical philosophy of pedagogy–it becomes downright chilling.

        Historical theory, some might argue, is not pertinent in a discussion of current schooling. But I can never escape the fundamental truth that its all based on the posturing theories and hot wind blowing from a bunch of academic suits. And by suits, I do mean men. If the system is not inherently patriarchal, it was certainly designed during an enormously sexist, racist, narrow point in history. So the big rich white men got together and decided to tell us the best way to educate children? They were making it up as they went a long.

        THEY WERE MAKING IT UP AS THEY WENT. Amazing, huh?

        And if the system is no longer inherently patriarchal, it is certainly hierarchical. Which is not a good system for raising sane loving balanced caring people. Its fine for adults, but not for raising children. Consigning children at the age of 4 or 5 to institutional hierarchy for the next 12-14 years has had ghastly results on our population, in my opinion. Ironic, considering the essay that originally began this discussion.

        Who can thrive in that environment? Indeed.

        • Kelly Coyle DiNorcia

          Your comment reminds me of another thing that drove me crazy the first time I was in the school. LOL Everyone calls everyone else “Mr.” or “Mrs.” or “Dr.”. The kids of course address all the teachers and administrators that way, but the staff addresses the parents that way and the parents address the staff that way. With one exception: even the kids call the custodian “Jose”. SO hierarchical. Personally I’m not into honorifics – my kids’ friends call me “Kelly” (as long as it’s okay with their parents) and I have no problem with my kids calling other adults by their first names…but what’s good for the principal is good for the custodian!!!

  • Kelly Coyle DiNorcia
  • Andrea Trombley

    I pulled my two kids 4 years ago, and the further away from the school system we get, the harder it is to ever imagine going back. And, the harder it is to see other children enduring such institutional conditioning. A gold sticker, a piece of candy, a pass on a quiz for “good” behavior? What kind of adults are schools trying to produce? Not the type to question or do for themselves, that is for sure.

    Good luck on your journey.