Who’s Afraid of “the Other”? How About Mixing It Up?

Claims have been made that parents who home educate their children are selfish – not giving toward the rest of society – and afraid of their children mixing with those who are different from themselves (e.g., Apple, 2005; Lubienski, 2003).[1] The claimants have been, among others, professors at universities who train those who will be teachers at mainly state-controlled, tax-funded schools and those who consistently advocate for state-run schooling paid for by taxpayers. These accusations and some of the premises inherent to them should be carefully scrutinized. Before the scrutiny, some realistic context should be provided.

 

Context

 

First, conventional terminology implies that state-controlled public schooling is the gold standard in the United States by which all other forms of the education of children and youth should be compared. For example, “alternative education” usually means using schools other than the local public schools. “School choice,” to advocates of private enterprise, usually means being allowed to use tax dollars at a school other than a state-run one.[2] “School choice,” to strong advocates of public schooling, however, usually means parents being able to choose for their children among two or more state-controlled schools in their local community. Talking about one’s child’s education means, for about 86% of parents, talking about which public school he attends and how good (or bad) it is. And “school reform” refers to a decades-long and likely-never-ending discussion about how to improve the 50 states’ and Washington D.C.’s government-run schools.

A second consideration is that although today most educational and schooling environments for children and youth are compared to state-run institutional schools and such schools are the majority norm today, there are at least four aspects to consider related to this fact. One is that state-run public schools were not always the norm in America. Private education (in various forms) was the norm for a long portion of the history of the United States and the colonies that led to it (Hunt & Carper, 2007).

The next aspect is that there was vigorous debate in the nineteenth century and contention about whether state-run (i.e., tax-funded and state-controlled) schooling should exist and about the motives (e.g., control of one group of individuals by another, helping those families who purportedly could not help themselves) of those who advocated it. Further, simply because something is the majority practice does not mean it should be considered the standard. Finally, the burden of proof that parents are giving their children a good education – education being defined in a broad sense[3] – should not necessarily be placed on their parents. Although those of a more statist or “social democracy” perspective might assert that the burden of proof should be on parents, according to many worldviews to which large portions of Americans adhere (e.g., classical liberalism, Christianity of the evangelical/fundamental nature, Judaism, Islam, Protestantism, and Roman Catholicism),[4] the burden of proof should be on others (e.g., neighbors, the state) to establish that the parents are not doing well for or harming their children.

The third and final contextual factor in this introduction is that it is true that parents who homeschool their children (and teenagers who choose to engage in home-based education) have reasons for doing so, just as most people have recognizable reasons for most of what they do. And research shows most parents have multiple reasons for homeschooling. The reasons generally fit one of the following categories:

  1. Providing a customized or individualized curriculum and learning environment that meets the unique strengths and needs of each child.
  2. Ensuring a solid academic education.
  3. Using a variety pedagogical approaches.
  4. Enhancing family relationships between children and parents and among siblings, through more time spent together and common activities.
  5. Offering guided and reasoned social interactions with youthful peers and adults, thus avoiding unnecessary and perhaps harmful peer pressure that may occur in an institutional setting.
  6. Learning and living in safe environment, with respect to physical violence, drugs and alcohol, psychological abuse, and improper sexual behavior.
  7. Parents desiring to teach and transmit their philosophical, religious, or cultural values, traditions, and beliefs, and a particular worldview on a daily and hourly basis.

 

Reading research and popular pieces on homeschooling makes it clear that instruction in a particular worldview or exposure to select pedagogical – and therefore thinking and learning – approaches are part and parcel of the homeschool community. Most home-educating parents and youth would not deny this, just as they recognize that all forms of education – whether state schools, private schools, or homeschooling – are the teaching, training, and indoctrination of children and youth.

 

Findings

 

With the aforementioned context in mind, one can consider select comments and claims by some who appear generally opposed toward parent-led education. Three examples are sufficient for this brief article.

Reich (2002), for example, claims in his piece entitled “The civic perils of homeschooling” that public schooling “… is one of the few remaining social institutions – or civic intermediaries – in which people from all walks of life have a common interest and in which children might come to learn such common values as decency, civility, and respect” (p. 58). He clearly implies that home-educated children are less likely to become adults who are decent, civil, and respectful than are the state-educated.

The next example is provided by a professor of law, Yuracko. She expresses strong concerns that homeschool parents and their children have far too much freedom from the state. She posits that religious homeschoolers have “… a belief in parental control – indeed ownership – of children” (p. 5-6). And Yuracko offers the following warning about parent-led education to American society:

Surprisingly, the social and legal implications of this phenomenon [i.e., homeschooling] have received almost no scholarly attention. For decades political theorists have worried and argued about what steps a liberal society must take to protect children being raised in illiberal communities. They have focused their attention on the extent to which a liberal society must permit or condemn such practices as polygamy, clitoridectomy, and child marriage. Virtually absent from the debate has been any discussion of the extent to which a liberal society should condone or constrain homeschooling, particularly as practiced by religious fundamentalist families explicitly seeking to shield their children from liberal values of sex equality, gender role fluidity and critical rationality. …..  states must check rampant forms of sexism in homeschooling so as to prevent the severe under-education of girls by homeschooling parents who believe in female subordination. (p. 9-11)

 

Finally, Apple (2005) clearly identifies “religious” homeschoolers with those who “cocoon” themselves and who are fearful of “the Other.” He writes the following:

This ‘cocooning’ is not just about seeking an escape from the problems of the city (a metaphor for danger and heterogeneity). It is a rejection of the entire idea of the city. Cultural and intellectual diversity, complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty, and proximity to the Other – all these are to be shunned … In place of the city is the engineered pastoral, the neat and well-planned universe where things (and people) are in their rightful place and reality is safe and predictable. (p. 80)

Furthermore, Dr. Apple caricatures homeschoolers as being strongly motivated by fear.

It should be noted that none of the aforementioned three academics provide documented evidence to support their claims about their implied ills of homeschooling. There is no evidence that the home-educated are less civil, decent, and respectful than the graduates of state-run public schooling; some research evidence suggests just the opposite (e.g., Knowles & Muchmore, 1995; Ray, 2004; White, Moore, & Squires, 2009). No evidence is provided that homeschool parents, more than others, are fearful of others or “the Other.” And this author cannot find where Yuracko defines sexism or sexist, nor can he find where Yuracko provides evidence that sexism or the lack of basic academic education is a problem within the homeschool community.

More importantly, perhaps, none of the three authors above are very clear in their articles that they base their viewpoints and opinions about parent-led home-based education on defined worldviews, nor do they bother to divulge much detail about their worldviews and attendant premises.

 

Conclusions and Cautions

 

Negative critics of parent-led home-based education such as the three cited above are typically not forthcoming about the truth that all perspectives about how children and youth should be educated spring from fundamental philosophical presuppositions that are believed upon by the adherent. Critics such as these professors do as their title implies, they profess – or confess their faith in or allegiance to – a framework of metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology that drives their conclusions about everything, including how children should be educated. They hold foundational beliefs about reality, the nature and grounds of knowledge, and the nature of values and value judgments. They hold beliefs about whether a God exists and whether He (or she or it) has revealed much, if any, truth to humankind. And without acknowledging their own deeply held beliefs and worldview, they can be both confusing and misleading to those who read their works.

For example, if a professor is concerned that all children and their parents should be exposed to or be a part of “the Other” (i.e., those decidedly different from oneself in terms of beliefs and life practices) (see Apple, 2005), then he should encourage all parents, whether black-, brown-, gold-skinned, or light-skinned, whether anarchist, constitutionalist, classical liberalist, neo-Marxist, socialist, or statist, whether poor or rich, whether agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, Christian, humanist, Marxist, Mormon, Muslim, New Age, or Wiccan, and whether of lower or higher education level, to get their children and themselves out of state-run public schools and try home-based education for a few years and mix in with a local homeschool group that is decidedly different from their own family’s demographics, worldview, and station in life. The professor could promote the idea that all children should have two parents, that the husband/father and the wife/mother should stick together through thick and thin even when they think they no longer like each other and adult peer counsel (e.g., a psychotherapist or “family counselor”) tells them it would be better to look for new mates. The professor could vigorously challenge the mother to work outside the home a maximum of 10 hours per week, talk with her children when they rise up in the morning, make her children’s lunches and eat the sandwiches or pasta with them at noon, interact with them while they are writing letters to their grandparents or state legislators at 10:00 a.m., help them study birds of prey at 11:00 a.m., and laugh and talk with them in the subway or the car while on the way to Latin class co-operative at 1:00 p.m.

This same professor could promote to the husbands/fathers that they engage in ongoing, weekly and often daily moments and sessions of dreaming and planning with their wives about the current education and future of each of their children, according to their unique attributes. She would tell these men that it is their job, their responsibility, to make sure each of his children is on task, learning, and eager to learn, to be civil, decent, and respectful to all persons regardless of their skin color, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic status. Further, the professor could exhort the fathers to spend more than five minutes per day with each of his children in thoughtful and special interaction. This might truly shake up the status quo, the norm, the control of one view over another in local state-run schools (i.e., public schools), communities, and society at large, and move the people in this nation (and others) forward to unexpected unity, appreciation for personal and relational diversity, and better things for all.

 

 

 

 

References

 

Apple, Michael W. (2005). Away with all teachers: The cultural politics of homeschooling. In Bruce S. Cooper (Ed.), (2005), Home schooling in full view: A reader. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Hunt, Thomas C., & Carper, James C. (2007, October 25). Don’t make public schools a state church: Education, like religion, must be a matter of freedom of conscience. Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved December 11, 2007 from http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1025/p09s02-coop.htm.

Knowles, J. Gary, & Muchmore, James A. (1995). Yep! We’re grown-up home-school kids–and we’re doing just fine, thank you. Journal of Research on Christian Education, 4(1), 35-56.

Lubienski, Christopher. (2003, January 17). Does homeschooling promote the public good? CQ Researcher [Congressional Quarterly], 13(2), p. 41.

Ray, Brian D. (2004). Home educated and now adults: Their community and civic involvement, views about homeschooling, and other traits. Salem, OR: National Home Education Research Institute.

Reich, Rob. (2002). The civic perils of homeschooling. Educational Leadership, 59(7), 56-59.

Yuracko, Kim. (2007, April 14). Education off the grid: Constitutional constraints on homeschooling. Northwestern University School of Law, Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 07-11. Retrieved 4/29/08 from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=980100.

White, Scott, Moore, Megan, & Squires. (2009). Examination of previously homeschooled college students with the Big Five model of Personality. Home School Researcher 25(1), 1-7.

 

[1] The “Perspectives – News and Comments” section consists of pieces that have not undergone peer review.

[2] For example, vouchers are promoted by some. Some advocates of private enterprise promote initiatives such as tax-funded vouchers despite the fact that many argue that use of the tax dollars would result in making the private school a state-controlled school.

[3] Education is here broadly defined as a person being well developed “… mentally, morally, or aesthetically especially by instruction” (retrieved 5/30/08 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary) according to a system of thought that benefits both the individual and those in society around him or her.

[4] The author of this article adheres to one of these worldviews.