The New Homeschoolers, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 23 2012 @ 9:23am

Readers with firsthand experience join the debate:

I grew up in a VERY conservative southern Baptist family and interacted with other homeschooled kids from a wide range of social situations. There was the interracial family who had to home-school because the daughter kept getting into fights and was kicked out. A hippie family who made baskets and most of their own food. Seventh-Day Adventists, Catholics, Baptists, and a single "unaffiliated" family. Our group was bound by a certain religious aspect, but more so in the idea of giving their child what they felt was the best education for them. North Carolina law requires annual testing to maintain grade level so, there aren’t many issues of blatant truancy.

Now, as a 30 year-old, gay grad student graduating with a Master’s in Brand Management, I find those ideas of small-minded opponents of homeschooling such a canard. My education was tailored to my interests and personality. We do this in basically every section of life, from shoes to cars; we can pick and choose what will make us happy. Why must education fall into a "someone else knows better" category?

Another writes:

I read Dana Goldstein's wholly uninformed piece at Slate the other day.  I also read the mildly entertaining, quasi-anthropological article about homeschooling in a recent issue of Newsweek ("If you thought it was weird that some of your urban neighbors are raising chickens, here's something even stranger: homeschoolers!").  My general reaction to both articles was "Ho-hum, here we go again."

Once or twice per year, homeschooling pops up in the media.  My guess is that some writers, casting about for new topics, stumble upon this peculiar new "homeschooling" trend, fail to notice that homeschooling is neither new nor terribly interesting, and decide that it would be a grand idea to share their discoveries about this secretive movement with the rest of society.  Some writers think homeschooling is interesting; others are certain that homeschooling poses a threat to society.

Who does Goldstein think she is that she should be entitled to decide what the "best option" for my child or anyone else's child is? I would argue that most parents want the best for their children and will make decisions based on what they think is in the best interest of their children.  Is that selfish?  I think it is natural. I also do not think the desire to do what is best for one's child and the desire to make a positive contribution to society are mutually exclusive.

But, you know, there are a lot of homeschoolers out there.  Instead of acting as if they are watching homeschoolers from behind glass or through a microscope, why don't writers try actually talking to us.  We don't bite.  Most of us have had our shots.


"The New Homeschoolers" are not really that new.  Change a couple of names, numbers, and dates, and Taylor and Goldstein’s articles on homeschooling could have come right out of a print magazine from the mid-1990s, back when our liberal, progressive family was first venturing into the homeschooling arena. While this particular debate may seem fresh to many of your readers, it’s old news to most in the homeschooling community.

Liberal progressive families have always been part of the modern homeschooling movement. In fact, they invented it.  As Linda Dobson and many others have written elsewhere, the “unschooling” movement dates back to the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and actually predates the influx of fundamentalist Christian families into the homeschooling movement by a decade or two.  This odd juxtaposition of the far left and far right has created much cultural tension within the movement for 30 to 40 years, with no end in sight.  However, a large and growing percentage of homeschooling families today are not motivated by ideology of either extreme; they simply are looking for an educational alternative that works for their child.

The argument about liberal, progressive families ruining public education and/or society by turning to homeschooling is nothing new either.  The education reformer John Holt wrote extensively and eloquently on this topic back in the 1970s in the early days of homeschooling.  Holt inspired many liberal, progressive families to withdraw their children from public school. The homeschooled/unschooled children of those pioneering families are now middle-aged adults who surely have some valuable first-hand insights on the impact of homeschooling on society and social justice issues.

Goldstein bemoans the potential impact of homeschooling on public education. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to draw the lines between homeschooling and public education these days.  In many states, a significant percentage of "homeschooled" students are actually enrolled full time in public school cyber charters or are taking traditional or online courses part-time at or through their local public school.  To further confuse matters, a growing number of public school students are now able to take courses from home through online instruction.  Are these children "homeschooled" or "public schooled", and where do you draw the line? 

Also, the old-fashioned labels of "homeschooling families" or "public school families" increasingly miss the mark in today’s educational a la carte society. Families today may utilize multiple educational options and providers over the course of their children’s educational careers.  For instance, a single child might attend public school in one state, private school in a second, then homeschool in a third before eventually returning to public high school in his home state.  Or a family might homeschool one or more of their children while simultaneously sending one or more of their other children to public or private school.  And this doesn’t even address other popular educational options that a family might employ, such as using an accredited distance learning program, hiring certified tutors, or using cyber charters.