For a couple of this past week’s posts I focused on mainstream news stories relating to homeschooling, and more than once I alluded to a post I’ve been working on which will, hopefully, tie some loose ends together for my readers. Among the issues I wrote about were an all men’s leadership conference scheduled for next March, a silly comment from an ex-schoolteacher turned comedienne on a daytime talk show, and a Washington Post article by Kathleen Parker, which, while not directly about homeschooling, effectively points out one of the biggest problems facing homeschooling families in the months and years ahead. If you haven’t read these posts yet, you might want to do so, and read the links they point to for a better understanding before continuing here.
With the 2008 elections, there has been a rearranging of the political landscape in this country, and a shift of power is in the offing, as suggested in the article by Kathleen Parker. The challenge for us as homeschooling families and advocates has always been how to keep homeschooling from being aligned with a specific ideology, and understanding why that is important, and what effect it will have on our ability to continue to protect, defend, and expand our homeschooling freedoms, and those of our children and grandchildren.
The 1991 series of essays titled “Homeschooling Freedoms at Risk,” referred to in one of my comments, outlined how a specific group of businesses and individuals deliberately destroyed the networks of support and communication which created the early homeschooling movement. But what many people have failed to understand is that, at bottom, those actions had only had a tangential relationship to homeschooling. The overarching goal was to bring together a constituency which would support and expand a specific world view, and to help place that world view into the highest seats of power in this country. Homeschooling families were turned into pawns in a political chess game; how often did we hear chest-thumping claims from HSLDA about how many homeschoolers they could call into action?
I’d like to share an excerpt from a source unlikely to be quoted on a homeschooling blog: Esquire: The Magazine for Men. An article in their October issue, endorsing Barack Obama, included this paragraph:
“More than any other recent election, we are voting this year not merely for a president but to overthrow two governments. The one we can see is the one in which constitutional order has been defaced, the national spirit degraded, and the country unrecognizable because so much of the best of itself has been sold off or frittered away. The other one is the far more insidious one, a doppelgÃ¤nger nation of black prisons, shredded memos, and secret justifications for even more secret crimes. Moreover, the current administration has worked hard not only to immunize itself from the political and legal consequences of the government we can see, but it has also worked within the one we cannot see in order to perpetuate itself.”
What does that have to do with homeschooling? Just this, in the very next paragraph:
“For the past several months, it has worked to make extricating ourselves from the catastrophe it has wrought in Iraq as hard as possible. It has sought to make permanent the culture of corporate brigandage and predatory incompetence that it has made a hallmark of its stewardship of the country and its government. Salted throughout the vast bureaucracy are dozens of little homeschooled land mines, the products of a dozen cheapjack diploma mills selling patent-medicine history to the spiritually gullible. The fantastical hiring practices that only recently have come to light in the Department of Justice are only the most visible example of this, but the poisonous philosophy that has guided this administration is in all the institutions of the government Barack Obama hopes to lead. It is not dormant. It is there, replicating itself like a virus does in the cells of the body, waiting until it can erupt and debilitate him and his administration.”
Read that middle sentence again: “Salted throughout the vast bureaucracy are dozens of little homeschooled land mines, the products of a dozen cheapjack diploma mills…”
The attitude exhibited in this writing is the direct legacy of those businesses and individuals outlined in “Homeschooling Freedoms at Risk” 18 years ago. As homeschoolers, the fears we expressed then about aligning ourselves with non-homeschoooling issues, thereby threatening our homeschooling freedoms, are being met. This is not a “We told you so” statement, but simply a reality we all need to understand and take action to address.
We cannot ignore the central role religion has played in the process of aligning homeschooling with the political ambitions of the few and their narrow ideology. The future of homeschooling has been compromised, and homeschooling has been thrust into the federal spotlight, where it should never have been. But as unfortunate as that is, the far worse consequence is the way in which personal religious beliefs have been usurped and drafted into political servitude. The homeschooling community has had a front row seat to this politicization of religion, starting with the actions described in “Freedoms at Risk”:
“The proponents of exclusivism are wreaking havoc in state after state by breaking down lines of communication, circumventing effective network building, weakening existing networks, imposing artificial organizational structures, co-opting individual responsibility and fostering a dependency on outside groups and individuals. There’s a definite pattern, a self-perpetuating cycle that supports exclusive groups, locking many homeschoolers out of new networks and driving others from existing networks. The formation of this exclusive hierarchy brings the complex underlying issues of religious intolerance and domination into the homeschool community.”
This brings us right back to Kathleen Parker’s article in this week’s Washington Post:
“…like it or not, we are a diverse nation, no longer predominantly white and Christian. The change Barack Obama promised has already occurred, which is why he won.”
The change has already occurred.
The post here earlier this week which pointed out next year’s purported “leadership” conference generated a comment and a link to Mary Nix’s blog, The Informed Parent, where she wrote a good post under the heading “How Do We Combat the Prevailing Fear?” An excerpt:
“Looking at the homeschool alarms from some who continue to claim that the President elect will end homeschooling as we know it reminds me of similar warnings Iâ€™ve read after most elections. I do believe that we need to remain vigilant, that we should always be on watch to ensure our rights are not taken, but I do believe that we must investigate the threats ourselves to see if they are substantial or exaggerated.
“With that said, I am concerned at how some churches and religious groups have reacted this time around. It seems the fears that they were facing before the election are growing and I am worried that their fears will continue to divide us rather than unite us. For example, I donâ€™t ever recall churches proclaiming that if you voted a certain way you were no longer or couldnâ€™t ever have been a member of a certain faith? Nor do I recall church members being told they could not partake in that churches communion if you voted for a particular person, but I have been reading about both these scenarios since the election.
Remember the silly outburst by the talk show comedienne who remarked that a lot of homeschoolers are â€œdemented?” Her comment provoked a call to boycott ABC programming. However “demented” her comment may have been, it is another indication of a too widely held perception of homeschoolers inhabiting the lunatic fringes of society, but that perception is no longer limited to ex-schoolteachers and comedians. The incident has created a small firestorm of distancing oneself from homeschooling, as home education pundit Daryl Cobranchi asks in a post titled “I Am So Embarrassed,” “Is it possible to secede from the ‘homeschool movement?'”
Likewise, homeschooling dad Chris O’Donnell emblazoned his blog with the disclaimer: “I’m not one of ‘those’ homeschoolers.” And his post on the subject of the aforementioned comedienne’s gaffe… well… it’s not for polite company, but he too disavows any further identification with homeschooling families.
I think this is a big mistake, because homeschoolers as a whole should not be so summarily dismissed. Larry and Susan Kaseman described homeschooling families very well in their Taking Charge column for the Nov-Dec issue of Home Education Magazine:
“…Homeschoolers come in all shapes and sizes. The only thing we all agree on is the decision to take responsibility for our children’s education ourselves rather than sending them to a conventional school. That said, we differ on everything else, starting with education. We choose different curriculums, approaches to learning, methods of education, ways of evaluating learning, and more. Then we have differing perspectives on and beliefs about religion, live a wide range of different lifestyles, come from many different cultural backgrounds and economic circumstances.”
What we need to do is simply, as Mary Nix so well defines it, “combat the prevailing fear.”
To that end, I’d like to leave you with a suggestion for further reading: The Kaseman’s column, titled “Keeping Homeschooling Nonpartisan.”
“…We need to focus on the strengths that come from being a varied, grassroots movement that works together to maintain the basic freedom each family needs.”