So. On the advice of multiple therapists and after failing to get a transfer to the one in-district school that I thought might work for Pseudonymous Kid, and likewise failing to find a private school within reasonable distance that looked like it would work for him, I am becoming a Homeschooling Mom this academic year.
I know I said I was homeschooling PK before, but I wasn’t, officially; he was on what our state calls “home hospital,” which means that a teacher was coming in for a few hours a week to make sure he “kept up.” He and I were doing some stuff on the side, but he was still enrolled in the public system. This week, though, I am going to call and “unenroll” him.
The up side, from the purely selfish point of view: I’ve had about nine months of research time, and have found some awesome resources. Whether or not I can get PK—who is currently spending as much of his summer as I will allow him (which is more time than I care to admit) playing Half Life and Minecraft and Portal—to get interested in them is a separate issue, but they are there. If one wants to be optimistic and positive, one can easily see home schooling as keeping alive the flame of progressive education until the public system rediscovers it in a decade or two.
The down side, however, bothers me a lot. Based on what I have read so far, and the homeschooling forums I’ve been joining, I am not seeing anyone really interrogating homeschooling as a social, political, or pedagogical movement. Somewhere, I’m sure, this has to exist, but so far the only thing I’ve found is a series of articles from Psychology Today, all based on a single survey: “What is Unschooling,” “The Benefits of Unschooling,” “What Leads Families to Unschool Their Children,” “The Challenges of Unschooling.” (Note that, although homeschoolers themselves differentiate between home- and unschooling, I’m going to use homeschooling as the inclusive term.) They’re all quite interesting, but they’re a pretty thin basis for an educational system (?) that was teaching 1.5 million students at last report.
It is, of course, possible that I just haven’t found work on this stuff yet; if anyone reading has any knowledge of studies of homeschooling, please do let me know. Based on what I know right now, it seems to me that homeschooling is an educational approach that is deliberately and purposefully amateurish; not just because most of the people teaching their own kids don’t have teaching credentials (or graduate degrees), but also because there is a very strong belief that the public system is not only functioning badly, but is actively inimical to education.
Which is a really problematic presumtion, no? If we think that education ought to be universally available (which I am going to assume), then a system that explicitly or implicitly claims that parents ought to be their children’s primary (only?) academic educators has some real difficulties that need addressing: what about kids whose parent(s) did not themselves receive adequate educations? What happens to kids whose parent(s) are unable, unwilling, or uninterested in educating them? Do we believe that “proper” educations ought to be provided/available only to children whose parents are willing to make their children’s education a full-time job? What, if anything, is to be done about homeschooling parents who abuse or neglect either the children themselves or their children’s education? Is homeschooling a reproducible, universalizable system of education at all, or is it just an option that’s available to the most motivated parents? And if that latter, then what does that do or say about our sense of public citizenship?
It’s tough to bring up any of these discussions in homeschooling circles, it seems to me. So far, my experiences of doing so (and you will have to take my word for it that I have been as diplomatic and gentle as I can possibly be) have resulted in (1) being completely ignored; (2) an assurance that “many homeschoolers” care about these things, with no further discussion; (3) a single presumably homeschooling dad who spent several days telling me that I was being illogical and unfair and homeschoolers do better than “government schooled” children and oh, by the way, evolution is no more scientifically based than intelligent design—at which point I said that I didn’t think this discussion was going to get anywhere, which of course merely proved that I was not really interested in discussion or open inquiry. Or something like that.
I know that there are homeschoolers who, like me, are interested in and care about education as a profession; in fact, there are homeschoolers, like me, who are former academics (and many who are former K-12 teachers). But so far all I can find are personal / anecdotal explanations of homeschooling. Many of which are useful to me from the practical point of view as a homeschool “teacher”; none of which are really helping me to think about the consequences, implications or meaning of homeschooling.
I’m finding it truly bizarre that a movement that so clearly values independent research and learning is so unselfconscious and uncritical about what it’s doing.