One of the things that kind of weirds me out about homeschooling is that, unlike teaching, there seems to be little to no internal critique of it in homeschooling circles (at least, from what I’ve seen so far). Like, on one of the FB pages I follow, someone asked yesterday if “the dads” were involved in other people’s homeschooling. A couple of people said no, a few said that they help on weekends, and after about a dozen comments I said that, because men still have much greater earning potential than women, I too was the primary homeschool parent and that this was one of the things that bothered me about homeschooling. (I then went on to say that the husband does x, y, and z with PK and that although I’ve historically seen this as just part of “being a dad,” surely now that we homeschool it’s also part of PK’s “education.”)
No one responded to what I said, unless this–“I know a couple of families where the dad is the primary care-giver and the mom is the primary money-earner. I know a few more families where the parents are both involved in both. My husband does some things with my son, but I do most of the schooling”–was intended as a response (if so, it’s extremely indirect). Eventually one father commented, very briefly, to say that he was the primary homeschool teacher, but that his wife did all the research and organization.
I wasn’t trying to troll, but it’s odd, to me, that homeschool forums seem to be so unselfconscious about homeschooling itself. They also tend to be very “positive” and upbeat–even when someone is asking about a problem they’re having, most of the responses seem to be, in effect, “everything will be fine!” There’s one exception to both the lack of critical discourse about education itself and positive thinking: public education, which is “okay for some but not for us” at best, though more often it’s irredemable–a whole other topic that I need to think/write about.
My guess is that the upbeat tone and lack of critical self-awareness are both artefacts of the fact that “homeschoolers” are a broad group with a fair bit of potential for strong disagreement lurking right under the surface: there are those who prefer “christian” curricula, athiests, and those who see education and religion as distinct arenas, anti-public-schoolers and former public school teachers, etc. So obviously if discussions are to be had about curricular approaches or shared resources, it’s going to be important to shelve what could be potentially devastating arguments about those kinds of differences. There’s also the (not at all unrelated) social imperative that women who don’t know each other well avoid conflict, and having seen plenty of online forums self-destruct when differences of opinion got too personal for folks to tolerate, I can certainly see why this happens. (It’s interesting, btw, that I have yet to see overt monitoring of comments or messages–people seem to police themselves pretty carefully. Though I have no doubt that if someone were openly critical of someone else’s opinion/approach, there would be a moderator from somewhere who would step in.)
So I get why it happens. But it’s kind of discomforting, especially in an educational context. It bothers me because it feels weirdly anti-intellectual not to have open discussion of the cultural context in which homeschooling is happening, or the goals of the movement (and it is very much a movement), or its social/political effects.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t homeschoolers who are politically active as homeschoolers–there are–but so far that seems to be simply around ensuring that home schooling is legally protected, and again, those discussions seem to studiously avoid questions about the potential for “homeschooling” to be a cover for indifference towards and neglect of education. (I assume that homeschool activists would say that public schools are perfectly capable of being indifferent towards and neglecting education, which is true, but doesn’t address the problem.)
It’s an odd little subculture that I’m finding my way into. And I worry about the indirect and possibly (but not entirely) unintentional lessons it’s teaching us about the relationships between the individual, the nuclear family, and the broader societies we are part of–even while acknowledging that it is itself the result of broader social difficulties we have with those relationships, difficulties that obviously many parents think are being taken out on our kids.