When I first heard that children in Hong Kong were doing school online, I thought, “Gosh, this is great. Finally a lot of families will have a glimpse of what homeschooling is like. And maybe they will enjoy it. This could be the beginning of a major cultural shift.”
Now the coronavirus hysteria has made it the United States, and conservative political sites (like The Federalist) and some websites that make money off of selling homeschooling as a lifestyle are rejoicing. America is suddenly a nation of homeschoolers!
As someone who has legitimately homeschooled our daughter for several years now, I feel … Conflicted.
On the one hand, I have been an advocate forever for allowing employees (parents in particular, and new mothers really in particular) to work from home. I think the destruction of families is the source of many problems in our society – and, beyond that, just the general nastiness in our society – such that allowing more people to have a more home-centered life would be an unequivocally positive development.
This is not just about education. I think it is a horrible, horrible practice to separate babies from their mothers. I had my hair done yesterday, and my hairdresser was telling me about how she has a 10-month-old son that she leaves in day care every morning. She is worried sick about him these days. But she’s not the worst, she says. There’s a 3-month-old preemie in the infant room at the day care, among kids who have spent the week projectile-vomiting. As the mother of a former preemie, oh my God, I almost started weeping right there. I’m not kidding. I was shaking at the thought.
On the other hand, I am more than a little offended that conservative pundits have reduced homeschooling to being about the physical location of where someone’s kid does school work. No one goes into homeschooling thinking “Gosh, my life would be easier if Junior did algebra at the dining room table.” In fact, many homeschoolers are not even homeschooling at home. The ability to travel is now one of the top reasons to homeschool.
Homeschoolers are people who have decided to take control of their child’s education in its entirety. Doing Common Core at home is not homeschooling. A parent who has spent hours researching curriculum and putting together reading lists is homeschooling. A parent who cares that their kid understands traditional and symbolic logic and Latin is homeschooling. A parent that works the Bible or the Koran or the Upanishads or Aristotle into their day is homeschooling. This is the personal investment that homeschooling is about. It’s not doing government school in your pajamas.
As I have written before, one of the most alarming aspects of the “quarantine” mentality these days is actually how totally detached so many parents are from their children’s education. They are so far removed from their kid’s education that they don’t even understand how to help their kids with their homework. These are exactly the kinds of parents who should not try homeschooling. Their kids are better off with someone who actively cares about what they are learning. I’m not at all sorry for saying that.
Homeschooling is not a strict ideological undertaking. Not all parents make good homeschoolers. Telling parents that homeschooling is easy and requires no personal sacrifice is a goddamn lie. Being responsible for your kid’s education is the single most serious thing you will ever do. Some people are up to that challenge. Some people are not, and their kids will end up back in government schools eventually when their parents find that out. Acknowledging this reality is not a threat to school choice.
I would hope that anyone seriously considering homeschooling would not look to the American political chattering class for advice on how to do it – even the pro- school choice chattering class crowd. Talk to someone who is actually doing it, and really beyond that, someone who has been doing it for a long time. Not someone who is “nature schooling” a preschooler, but someone who has been in the situation of trying to figure out how to teach a mature child math or chemistry. Someone who has legitimately taught their child to read. That’s the reality of homeschooling. That’s where you are going to learn if it is right for your family or not.
As I have alluded to in other posts, there a lot of conservative pundits that I think are making a lot of dangerous comments trying to exploit this moment. I’ve stopped reading a lot of people because I just can’t with the ideological-garbage-in-a-crisis stuff anymore. Homeschooling is not fundamentally about hating public schools, and anyone who starts and ends there is the last person you should take advice from about educating your child. If that is where your mind stops, you need to do some major soul searching.
Homeschooling is about what you think education should do for a child. That is not a small question. This is not a small responsibility that you accidentally stumble into.