Home Education Magazine
March-April 2004 - Articles and Columns
Publisher's Note - Helen Hegener
Over the last twenty years we've written many editorials which have explained the virtues of homeschooling with enthusiasm while describing the problems with public schooling somewhat gingerly. We've found ourselves in the unenviable position of homeschool advocates who don't want to alienate readers who may have children (or other interests) in their local schools. We haven't adhered to this ideal in the strictest sense; anyone who's read our writing for several issues might remember passages like "...Schooling easily consumes the bulk of childhood: Five to six hours per day or more, five days a week, for three-quarters of each year, for twelve long years. So much of a child's time; so much of a parent's rightful joy." (March/April, 2003)
We've certainly let our heartfelt preferences slip, but we've tried to keep our harshest criticisms in check. In truth, we've mostly contented ourselves with the knowledge that public schools are so bad, and are such a terrible way to treat children, that most people with an interest in homeschooling will already be aware of the problem. For the most part, people come to this magazine because they and their children are unhappy with school and are seeking something different. We started this magazine because we believed those who felt as we did, that school was no place for children to spend their formative years, needed support and encouragement to step away from the norm, the conventional, the system.
Even so, we've tried to be fair and respectful in our writing about schooling, even when a persistent doubt kept us struggling with the concept. Because we have very strong personal views about the inherent rightness of homeschooling as an approach to living with children, it hasn't been easy to maintain a balanced perspective or to turn a more-or-less blind eye to its greatest threat, but we've generally felt it was in the best interests of our readership to do so. In spite of everything we've felt to the contrary, we've thought for twenty years that maintaining a "live and let live" attitude was a valid editorial approach.
We're not so sure of that any more. In fact, we find ourselves wondering if we haven't done our readers a grave disservice by walking that narrow path between schooling and homeschooling too well, smoothing the way for the line between the two options to be blurred... grayed... and potentially erased. We find ourselves wondering if we shouldn't have written more - or more persuasively - about why schools and schooling are increasingly problematic to homeschoolers, and indeed, to society as a whole.
Of course, many writers with far greater skills than we possess have managed to write very convincingly about the reasons why school is a bad idea. Author and Growing Without Schooling founder John Holt inspired a generation of parents with his sharply critical analysis of schooling: "It's not that I feel that school is a good idea gone wrong," he wrote, "but a wrong idea from the word go. It's a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life."
Holt worked among a respected vanguard of school critics and outspoken writers such as Ivan Illich, Paul Goodman, Nat Hentoff, Jonathan Kozol, Alfie Kohn, George Dennison, Herb Kohl, George B. Leonard, and Stephen Arons. Their books, articles, essays and speeches inspired today's most brilliant education reform writers, like award-winning ex-teacher, author and popular speaker John Taylor Gatto, who wrote: "I don't mean to be inflammatory, but it's as if government schooling made people dumber, not brighter; made families weaker, not stronger; ruined formal religion with its hard-sell exclusion of God; set the class structure in stone by dividing children into classes and setting them against one another; and has been midwife to an alarming concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a fraction of the national community."
What's going on here, and why? If schooling is such a "nutty idea," as Holt termed it, why has it been so widely embraced and promoted? If we agree with anything the school critics have to say shouldn't we all be asking questions like "How did we get ourselves into such a mess in the first place?" Of course we should. And we should be working to change the status quo, the paradigm, the system.
It's complex and far from easy to understand, but the bottom line is that as a society we've negotiated a long series of tradeoffs, compromises, and buying into a system that promises (but does not deliver) a prosperous economy and a stable society in exchange for our - and our childrens' - personal freedoms and liberties. Even though the arguments of writers like those mentioned here are shocking and compelling, they have not been enough to change the course we've set for our collective selves. School is still the societal norm. Homeschooling is still viewed by many as an aberration, a departure from the "natural order" of things.
In truth, much of our society is now so far removed from the natural order of things that many people can't even recognize a sensible family decision like homeschooling as natural and right and good. The accepted standard is doing what everyone else does, and too few people recognize that for what it really is: the legacy of schooling. So what can be done? How can we most effectively work for change? We - as in we the publishers and you, dear readers, already are.
We are raising our voices and speaking out at meetings, conferences, on radio talk shows, or just with friends and neighbors and family members who will listen. We are putting pens to paper - or electrons to cyberspace - and sharing our concerns, our experiences, our thoughts and ideas and suggestions for doing things differently by writing articles, letters, essays, or just sharing via email discussion lists and web-based forums. We are spreading the word, sharing our perspectives, helping others understand why we've made the decisions we've made, and showing them how, if they're so inclined, they can make similar decisions for themselves and their families.
But perhaps most importantly, we are doing what we believe is right for our families. The simple act of teaching our children, or helping them learn what they want to know, is intrinsically powerful, and has already changed hundreds of thousands of lives.
© 2004 Helen Hegener
March-April 2004 - Articles and Columns
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