Monday, March 28, 2011

An Expression of Liberalism and Liberality

Excellent piece at First Things by David Mills on Homeschooling Freedom and why homeschooling went from being viewed as part of the counter-cultural cool to kooky in the eyes of many liberals:

So I was surprised some years later to read the kind of people with whom I’d grown up, and others like them, suddenly alarmed at the growth of homeschooling. (And I first read them with such surprise when we still expected to send our children to the public schools.) The critics treated it as a threat to...well, exactly what it threatened they rarely made clear, beyond some expressed concern, surely dubious, for the homeschooled children.

The critics found themselves so alarmed, of course, because now politically, culturally, and religiously conservative parents were educating their children at home and rejecting the influence of a system in which the critics—so many of them former counter-cultural types themselves—were heavily invested. And also from which, in many cases, they drew their income. Teachers who explained American history in terms of commercial self-interest were not heard admitting, much less condemning, their own self-interest in maintaining the educational order and the systems of control over others it required.

The homeschoolers were no longer a few hippies and leftists, whose numbers were always going to be small and their influence marginal. Now the homeschoolers were a growing number of average parents, whose counter-cultural commitments were of the conservative and not the leftist sort, whose numbers might well increase and their influence grow strong enough to challenge the public school’s monopoly. (Not to hammer home a point, but the same teachers who railed against monopolies in business were extremely defensive of their own. Even the ones who would privately lament its effects in keeping incompetent colleagues and unnecessary administrators employed.)

Now people who have no obvious stake in the matter, like most of the people I described at the beginning, tend to side with the establishment against the parents. They’ve somehow absorbed the key elements of the ideology, like the concern for “socialization,” which is either a faux concern for the children’s well-being or a real concern for their being educated outside of and probably against the ideas public schools (with exceptions, I realize, as in some communities in the rural Midwest where the public values and the private still coincide) inculcate and impose.

Before someone remarks that some homeschooling parents are very odd or inept or (in a very few cases) dangerous: yes, of course, it is not a perfect system. But that doesn’t answer the question of who should educate the children. And it’s not, most definitely not, an argument for the public school monopoly.

This new criticism is, to someone like me, a very strange reversal. Homeschooling is an act of the kind of freedom I was taught our country provided, a freedom of self-determination that was one of its great glories. Even leaving out the idea I was also taught, that removing oneself from the system was a laudable act of counter-cultural liberation, with which I still have some sympathy, to teach one’s children oneself, being able to choose curricula and readings and custom the teaching to every child’s needs and gifts, is the kind of thing I was taught, by teachers of impeccable liberalism, to praise. It is, as it was once understood to be, in public affairs.