Slate Magazine Dumps on Homeschooling

Slate published this inflammatory article against homeschooing, entitled "Liberals, Don't Homeschool Your Kids. Why Teaching at Home Violates Progressive Values."

It follows standard critiques of homeschooling without offering any perspectives as to why some of the famous liberal educators of the sixties, such as John Holt and George Dennison, came to support homeschooling after years of trying to make schools better for kids. So much to say, so little time to do so! Here's my brief attempt at a comment to this article.

There are so many assumptions about the value of compulsory school attendance and biases against children’s abilities to learn built into this article that it is difficult to rebut in a comments section. As an unschooling family we always offered our girls the choice of attending school and all three of them moved in and out of public school as they wanted to throughout their years of learning at home and in our community (as does Astra Taylor, though the author neglects to mention this). We, and the many homeschooling families we know, never pretend to be our “child’s everything” nor have we ever thought of unschooling as a go-it-alone ideology. Do-it-Yourself-With-Others is the ethos I see most often in the home- and unschooling communities. Further, studies indicate that many homeschooling families only homeschool for about three years, so homeschooled children are moving in and of school, mixing with others, etc. without causing school or society great distress, and have been doing so for decades.

Schooling is directly correlated to income, and schooling creates economic class differences, as a recent Stanford study about the growing education gap between rich and poor indicates. Ivan Illich and John Holt, in particular, wrote about this in the 1970s and eventually concluded it was better to create a new way to help children learn and grow than to try to reform schools, something they and many others before and since have tried to do.

John Holt saw the culture of testing and the distrust of children prevalent in schools then, feared it would get worse, and decided to help those who wanted to try something different with their children to do so. As Holt wrote, homeschooling provides schools with all sorts of valuable information about how children learn and how parents can be involved in their educations. But, as this author indicates, school must be able to control and predict everyone’s learning or else, somehow, civil society will devolve into the haves and have nots—but isn’t that what has already happened?

Holt and Illich offer many other reasons for people to embrace the idea that learning is natural and schooling is optional. Illich wrote how the school delivery system—whether liberal, conservative, socialist, capitalist, or communist—is essentially the same in all those countries, only the content changes. Indeed, educationists who insist we need compulsory schooling for democracy to work ignore the fact that our country was founded and grew without any form of compulsory education until the mid nineteenth century. In the 1970s the white Rhodesian government prevented black Africans from voting because of their lack of education—schooling is not a neutral force. Americans have more years of schooling and degrees than at any time in our history, but our problems keep growing, and some of them are caused, not erased, by increased schooling.

Must our humanity and our participation in our government be linked to our ability to consume education in state-approved settings? Must only school-approved reforms be allowed? Should children have a say in the matter of where and how they want to learn? Homeschooling is an answer to these questions that any liberal should consider. It isn’t perfect and it isn’t for everyone, but it does show us another way that we can live and learn as individuals and communities, instead of just being graded products of alma mater.