PRESENTING: MARALEE MAYBERRY
I am currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Oregon. Since I began my doctoral studies in 1984, I have been extremely interested in the sociology of education and have focused on this area in both teaching and research. A recently published article, “Ideology,
reproduction, and legitimation: The case of corporate-ponsored economic education,” presented a critical look at corporate influence in public education (MEP, 1987). [Contact author for complete citation.] That research set the stage for my increasing involvement in sociological analyses of educational ideologies, policies, and alternatives.
During the past two years, I have become primarily interested in the various mechanisms people choose when expressing their resistance to the content of public education. Home education is an exemplary case of one form that such resistance may take. In thinking about this issue while
reviewing the literature on the history of educational alternatives, I developed a number of theoretical notions that illuminate the sources behind the current enthusiasm for home schooling. From there, a number of interesting and researchable questions emerged. A summary of my study follows.
The purpose of this research is to provide an in-depth analysis of the objective characteristics and subjective motivations of a growing number of families who are removing their children from public schools in order to educate them at home. I suggest that the home schooling movement reflects a growing tension between ideologically diverse groups doing battle over the cultural meanings transmitted through educational institutions. The diversity of groups involved in home education reveals that this conflict affects people from various social, political, and economic backgrounds. Thus, in order to understand what motivates people to choose home education, we must first identify the social, political, and economic
characteristics of the home schooling population and then examine why public education is not meeting the needs of these families.
In order to be more theoretically specific, my research proposes that the application of the concept of “status” or “life-style” politics can help us account for the wide variety of groups opting to educate their children at home. The concept of life-style politics, adopted from Weber’s (1968) narrower discussion of status-politics, suggests that social movements and groups engaging in political struggle do so in an attempt to maintain some degree of control over their cultural beliefs. That is, they are attempting to defend a “way of life” (Page & Clelland, 1978, p. 527). Interpreting decisions to home educate as a life-style issue helps illuminate why neither purely economic nor prestige issues emerge as fundamental elements of this decision. In fact, the rationales given for home schooling often revolve around the general issue of who is to control the socialization process of a child and what values are to be taught in that process. These overriding concerns indicate that the decision to home educate is often centered around the issue of
“cultural protection.” I suggest, therefore, that the study of home education provides a case study in the response of various public groups to a value orientation and life-style which is perceived as threatened by the public education system.
Using this framework, the general goal of my study is to learn something about the social characteristics and sets of interests and ideologies held by home educators. That is, what are the structural conditions informing this group’s educational ideologies and value orientations? A more specific objective
will be the examination of the “reasoning• behind a subject’s decision to home educate. Thus, an examination of the “structural” as well as “phenomenal” conditions of home education will frame my research.
In attempting to examine these issues, I have chosen to survey and interview home schoolers in the State of Oregon. With the assistance granted by Educational Service Districts, the State Department of Education, an Oregon based home education magazine, and numerous home schooling support groups, I have been able to distribute my survey to a substantial number of home schoolers (as approximately 2,000 have been mailed). The questionnaire is designed to tap a variety of demographic, social, religious, and political characteristics. Next, from the survey results, an in-depth interview will be conducted on a small representative sample of this population. These interviews will serve as a follow-up to the survey data, enabling me to provide a rich portrayal of the religious, moral, and political values that guide the decision to home school.
The first phase of my research, constructing and mailing the survey, has been completed. To date, I have received more than 300 returned questionnaires from families throughout Oregon. Phase two, coding and analyzing this data, is now under way. I hope to have a summary of these findings available by the end of the summer. If you would like to participate in this research (or know someone who would) and have not received a survey, please let me know. I will be happy to mail one directly to you.
Page, Ann L., & Clelland, Donald. (1978). the Kanawha County textbook controversy: A study of the politics of life style concern. “Social Forces,” 57, 265-281.
Weber, Max. (1968). “Economy and society.” New York: Bedminster.
You may contact: Maralee Mayberry, Department of Sociology, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403.
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