Last week at Slate, Dana Goldstein offered her views on how homeschooling is in opposition to good, progressive values. The headline and sub were not subtle: "Liberals, Don't Homeschool Your Kids: Why teaching children at home violates progressive values."
Goldstein, well, she's peeved about folks like writer Astra Taylor who has a print essay in N+ about her experiences with unschooling under super-hippie parents, as well as Taylor's explorations of off-beat education options such as Albany's Free school.
But, writes Taylor's fellow-lefty, Goldstein, pointing out the rigidity and excessive rules that often come with public schooling is a "caricature."
This overheated hostility toward public schools runs throughout the new literature on liberal homeschooling, and reveals what is so fundamentally illiberal about the trend: It is rooted in distrust of the public sphere, in class privilege, and in the dated presumption that children hail from two-parent families, in which at least one parent can afford (and wants) to take significant time away from paid work in order to manage a process—education—that most parents entrust to the community at-large….
Homeschooling is so unevenly regulated from state to state that it is impossible to know exactly how many homeschoolers there are. Estimates range from about 1 million to 2 million children, and the number is growing. It is unclear how many homeschooling families are secular, but the political scientist Rob Reich has written that there is little doubt the homeschooling population has diversified in recent years.* Yet whether liberal or conservative, "[o]ne article of faith unites all homeschoolers: that homeschooling should be unregulated," Reich writes. "Homeschoolers of all stripes believe that they alone should decide how their children are educated."
Basically, if you do have the privilege or the luck or the hard-work or whatever it is to be able to homeschool, you should feel very guilty about that. What's frustrating even from a moderate standpoint is that Goldstein is not even critiquing so-called radicals who might want to abolish the public school all-together. Goldstein disapproves of homeschooling simply as an option. In the progressive world, we all go down together.
And though Goldstein mentions that nobody wants to sacrifice their child on the altar of fixing a bad school, she basically says that's what real progressives must do. No exceptions for physical or mental disability or behavior problems or learning problems or horrible schools or, God forbid, religious or political reasons needed. Simply, if you feel yourself drawn to the left side of the aisle and drawn to homeschooling, ask yourself, as Goldstein does "Could such a go-it-alone ideology ever be truly progressive—by which I mean, does homeschooling serve the interests not just of those who are doing it, but of society as a whole?" She says no. (Goldstein, we can assume, makes serious decisions about herself and her family only after considering the effect it will have on society as whole.)
Taylor, by the way, wrote an online response to Goldstein which demonstrates that she is no education anarchist. She approves of public schools and even condemns supposed "austerity." She also, however, make this libertarian-lite argument:
This is why I think unschooling poses a fundamental challenge worth considering—even if it is utopian and uncompromising and undesirable on a mass scale. Today, conventional wisdom has it that the solution is more, never less. We need more teachers, more textbooks, more discipline, more preparation, more class time, more tests, more metrics, more accountability, more excellence and success (but again, according to what standard?). Since the 1960s the school day and academic year have both lengthened considerably. The amount of homework assigned to a first grader has more than doubled since 1981, a surge that has even caused the New York Times to sound the alarm. Too many schools have become warehouses holding hordes of young people who are monitored by security guards and police, subjected to an ever-increasing number of tests and pre-fab programs of study, and offered diminishing educational opportunities in the fine and liberal arts….
What intrigues me about the history of radical pedagogy and the unschooling tradition is that its proponents were and are not afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom, to dream of different ways of doing things, to take seriously words like "freedom," "autonomy," and "choice"—inspiring and important ideals that have been all but ceded to the political right in recent decades. Unschooling, I'll readily admit, is not the answer to our nation's educational woes. But taking a closer look at the radical margins may help us ask better questions about what we really want from our educational system and how to go about getting it.
Atlantic's always-dependable Conor Friedersdorf offers his own refutation of Goldstein today. Friedersdorf is also less-than-radical (though he does break out a Hayek quote!) and is entirely sensible. Friedersdorf writes that with all the questions of which school system is best, "I'd bet on the diversified system, the one where there are always competitors with different models to measure public schools against." With all of the problems in the world, it's just irritating that Goldstein would bother to disapprove of homeschooling as simply one more option of many. We could debate many more radical education solutions, but how can you fight against people so completely disinterested in even a modicum of choice?