Community-Minded, Liberal Parents Don't Homeschool?
February 27, 2012
Dana Goldstein’s Slate article contending that homeschooling is antithetical to progressive social values has hit a nerve. Homeschooling supporters Astra Taylor, Conor Friedersdorf, and Stephanie Baselice have offered rebuttals. Since we are leaning toward homeschooling Bess and Harry, I am eyeing the debate with interest.
Goldstein’s thesis is this: Truly community-minded, liberal, progressive parents enroll their children in public school, become involved in the PTO and/or school board, and work to make things better. I used to see her point. I have come to understand that no amount of money or parent involvement is going to make public education anything other than what it is: too big and dysfunctional to be fixed. I believe with every fiber of my being that each human being on this planet deserves an education. American schools contain children but, unfortunately, fail to educate them in fundamental ways.
For what it’s worth, here are my two cents:
The number of homeschooling families who fail to support public education with their children’s presence (an estimated 1-2 million children) represents only a fraction of the children not enrolled in public school. There are 5.5 million children enrolled in private schools, yet the focus of Goldstein’s argument is on homeschoolers. Why should this be? Is there some fundamental difference between withdrawing from the public school system and placing your resources in a privately funded school as opposed to no school at all? Is her gripe really about taking resources (i.e., children) out of public school, or out of school altogether?
Homeschooling parents will be the first to tell you that it is hard work and it isn’t for everyone, but that even single parents and families who struggle financially can make it work. This does not stop Goldstein from accusing homeschoolers of exercising class privilege ”rooted…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.” Does having money make it easier? Of course it does. But wealth or unemployment are not requisite.
Molesters in schools are bad for PR, but they aren’t driving people to homeschool. Parents are afraid of school violence and bullying. These things are not rare.
Homeschooling is about teaching children to respect and trust themselves. If that means having a distrust of public institutions, maybe that lack of trust is justified. When children starve and go without medical care in the richest country in the world, when lies are used to justify sending people to war to kill other people, such trust is hard to defend.
Low income children attending middle-class schools may earn higher test scores, but correlation does not imply causation (Statistics 101). Is this a peer effect as Goldstein argues? Or is it that middle-class schools have more money, resources, and good teachers? If you created a school with identical conditions and filled it with disadvantaged children, would they perform just as well? And what of those low-income kids, anyway? Their test scores may be higher if they go to school with middle-class kids -- but what does that mean for them in real life? Anything? Nothing? Just because school is capable of addressing poverty doesn’t mean it actually does.
Goldstein declares that public school makes children better people. As evidence, she cites research suggesting that “adult graduates of integrated high schools shared a commitment to diversity, to understanding and bridging cultural differences, and to appreciating ‘the humanness of individuals across racial lines.’” Though I did not read the research, I think it is safe to assume that the comparison is between individuals who attended integrated high schools and those who attended homogeneous high schools. I wonder what such research would find if they compared either (or both) of these groups to homeschooled children.