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Learning Curve

Learning Curve
Article by Maya Schenwar, Illustrated by Aya Kakeda, appeared in issue Lost & Found; published in 2008; filed under Social commentary; tagged children, education, homeschooling, radical parenting.
Radical “unschooling” moms are changing the stay-at-home landscape

Not long ago, homeschooling was thought of as the domain of hippie earth mothers letting their kids "do their own thing" or creationist Christians shielding their kids from monkey science and premarital sex. As recently as 1980, homeschooling was illegal in 30 states. Despite the fact that such figures as Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Atwood, Sandra Day O'Connor, and, um, Jennifer Love Hewitt were products of a home education, the practice is still often seen as strange and even detrimental.

These days, homeschooling is legal across the country, and parents are homeschooling for secular reasons as well as faith-based ones: quality of education, freedom to travel, their kids' special needs, or simply a frustration with the educational system. Most significantly, many progressive parents are taking their kids' education into their own hands to instill open-mindedness and social consciousness along with reading, science, and math.

For these parents, "unschooling" is an attractive option. In this approach to homeschooling, kids choose what they'll study and investigate their questions outside the confines of a classroom. In traditional homeschooling, parents play the role of teachers, determining the curriculum, handing out assignments, and administering tests. Unschooling parents, on the other hand, act as facilitators, guiding their kids' explorations. Even though the diy approach may appeal to progressives who identify with the anti-establishment ethos of the punk movement, homeschooling still raises tricky questions for progressive mothers.

Namely, this one: Can women trade their careers for their families without sacrificing a few of their feminist values—the very values that inspired many of them to homeschool in the first place? It's no wonder that punk feminist moms like Kim Campbell, who has homeschooled her kids for seven years, occasionally feel like walking oxymorons.

Despite her indie values, Campbell worries that her economic dependence on her husband could set a bad example for her daughter. "The first half year that we homeschooled, I had a complete identity crisis over the matter," she says. "At the time I knew that I was making a great decision, but I couldn't figure out how to square it with what I'd always considered my feminist sensibilities." For Campbell and a growing contingent of other feminist unschoolers across the country, educating their kids has also been a process of figuring out how homeschooling jibes with their feminism.

Nina Packebush, a Washington state mom of three and self-described "radical parent," started teaching her son at home because he was dyslexic and had ADHD, and his school wasn't providing the personal attention he needed. As Packebush sought out teaching resources, she discovered a gaping hole in standard history textbooks.

"I noticed that women and people of color were virtually nonexistent," Packebush says. "Don't even try to find any mention of lgbt people in history. One thing led to another, and soon I was homeschooling because I was a feminist." When her youngest child reached school age, Packebush chose to keep her out of the classroom solely because of its gender-biased curriculum.

Instead of using the standard Houghton Mifflin textbooks, Packebush provides a variety of mass-market books, like Freedom's Children, for her kids. Beyond that, she follows where her kids' interests lead; unschooling emphasizes that learning opportunities can pop up at any time. When Packebush's older daughter became interested in zine-making, it became their curriculum. Packebush even started up her own zine, The Edgy-Catin' Mama.

Sarah Schira, who maintains TheDenimJumper.com, a website for "sassy secular homeschoolers," says that simply hanging out is one of the best routes to consciousness building. "One of the strengths of homeschooling is the incredible amount of time we spend together," she says. "We listen to the news on the radio all the time, and they hear our reactions, the political discussions it raises. We talk a lot about societal institutions and the role that larger, almost invisible factors play in shaping events and free choice."

Spending an "incredible amount of time" with your kids is great when they're 8 and 10, like Schira's. But what about when they're 12…or 17? Can homeschoolers encourage the development of their kids' social consciousness without dictating it? It seems that the answer comes back to unschooling and the notion of parents as facilitators, not commanders-in-chief. Granted, kids will always be influenced by their parents' views, but if parents stress self-realization as a family value, kids may be more motivated to apply their lessons and grapple with important issues on their own terms.

That doesn't mean that freedom can't be a hard pill to swallow, even for a radical parent. At 18, Packebush's son Jason announced that he planned to become a porn star and asked what she'd do to stop him. "Well, I won't see your movies," she replied, biting back cries of rage. Eventually, Jason lost interest in the porn-star dream, and Packebush chalked up a couple of coolness points. "It's important to trust your kids," she says, "even if they choose something that hits you right in the guts."

As challenging and rewarding as homeschooling may be, some don't see it as real work. A slew of recent books, including Leslie Bennetts's bestseller The Feminine Mistake, argue that while stay-at-home moms, like homeschoolers, may believe they are choosing to leave the workforce, their decisions are actually influenced by insidious patriarchal forces. Many homeschooling moms counter that removing themselves from the marketplace means freeing themselves from its many sexist influences. If they have the financial means—or the ingenuity—to opt out, they'd rather live outside the workforce. Schira says that by rejecting the idea that success is all about money, she's reconceptualizing what happiness means. "I have come to recognize that I don't want the kind of life being offered by our culture," she says. "I don't want things. I don't want status. I want interdependence, harmony, new solutions to old problems."

Of course, resorting to one income brings out the five-ton mammoth in the room: most homeschoolers are women and most of their income providers are men. Packebush, who was married when she began homeschooling, says that even in her "hip, alternative, feminist marriage," she was the one doing most of the childcare and teaching. "The vast majority of the people doing homeschooling are women," she says.

Often, that's because moms want to be their family's primary teachers. But raising radical, revolutionary children isn't feminist if the mom's individuality is getting lost in the lives of her kids. It's tough for homeschooling mothers to maintain their free time. Forums for homeschoolers abound with tips for dealing with burnout. The workload can be overwhelming, and even with a "fuck money" attitude, it's natural to feel undercompensated at times. Homeschooling mothers must negotiate a fine line between protesting capitalism and becoming unpaid labor.

Considering progressive parents' efforts to break with capitalism—spending less, living alternatively, working cooperatively—it makes sense that many homeschoolers don't want their kids going anywhere near the mainstream school system. For Coleen Murphy, a New Orleans mom who was homeschooled herself, the negative social aspects of public education are a major reason she homeschools her two young boys.

"I see the school system as largely reinforcing the very worst aspects of societal norms, such as classism, racism, sexism, and good old mean-spiritedness, while limiting or removing access and opportunities to experience the best of what happens when human beings come together—acting with compassion; helping others because your help is needed, rather than to win some gold stars or other false rewards; asking questions because we want to know the answers rather than in order to display which of us knows the most how to please authority figures."

Along with the question of self-expression comes gender expression and unschooled kids are prone to ignoring (or at least toning down) the gender distinctions that rule most schools. Take Diana, a homeschooled 17-year-old from New Haven, Connecticut, who swears by Kate Bornstein's book Gender Outlaw and is very grateful to have missed out on the school social scene. "Not going to high school or middle school, I've never had that onslaught of pressure to do all sorts of pointless competitive things, like lose my virginity before I wanted to, or be sexy so men will like me, or be queer for the enjoyment of an audience," she says.

Avoiding homophobia is central to many parents' decision to homeschool. Packebush thinks queer, feminist homeschooling is on the rise because parents see it as an escape from the rampant sexism, homophobia, and transphobia of public schools. "Gender construction is one of the biggest reasons I keep my kids out of school."

Unschoolers' conceptions of gender are shaped not only by their open-minded parents, but also by their immediate environment. Having fewer kids around may mean less of a tendency to stereotype by gender or other handy labels. On the other hand, most schools also bring together individuals from different backgrounds, and although the routine clashes based on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation can make a mainstream school a shitty place to be, that diversity can also be instructive. It's easy to be color-blind when you're not exposed to racism; it's easy to "ignore" gender when you're not confronted with sexism. Getting to know a varied group of people at a young age—and seeing how discrimination impacts everyone—could build awareness of the conflicts inherent in our society.

For this reason, many feminist homeschoolers make a concerted effort to expose their kids to a diverse crowd. Though many homeschoolers roll their eyes at the most prominent pop-culture depiction of a homeschooled kid—Lindsay Lohan's character in Mean Girls—Jesse Cordes Selbin, a 19-year-old who was homeschooled for seven years, says she identifies with her. Selbin spent a considerable portion of her teens in Sweden and says interacting with a wider world helped her put the often-brutal social scene of many schools in perspective. "My parents homeschooled me so that I could get more experience in the world, not so that I could shelter myself from it."

As the feminist homeschooling movement gains momentum, mothers will increasingly be faced with tough, identity-defining questions: Does being a feminist mean you have to have a paid job? What does it mean to raise a feminist kid? Is there a feminist definition of success, and should there be? It's important to keep in mind that a homeschooling mom is many things besides a homeschooling mom—even if she can't stop talking about her kid's latest papier-mâché dinosaur. Forging these more complex identities entails recognizing all the hats they wear besides "homeschooler." Packebush is a zinester, Schira is a webmaster and writer, and so on. They're Marxists, or anarchists, or punks, or please-don't-define-me-the-reason-I-homeschool-is-to-get-away-from-this-label-slapping-bullshit human beings.

As for Kim Campbell, she's still unschooling and still fighting critics of her decision with a vengeance. When others question whether her decision to "stop working" is feminist, she responds, "Honey, you don't know from work!"

Maya Schenwar is a reporter for Truthout.org, and was a contributing editor for Punk Planet magazine until its recent demise. She lives in Chicago and still has nightmares about middle school.

Comments

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Yea, this is all fine and

Yea, this is all fine and good to shelter the little snowflakes from gender construction intolerance... but first, do these mothers realize their "radical" actions are doable because they are upper middle class? Good luck to a poor or lower middle class mother who wants to do the same thing for her children.

Second, I think these mothers are overprivileged yuppies. If they really wanted to shake up the system, they'd try and change attitudes in the public schools, maybe by volunteering for afterschool programs or becoming teachers themselves. As the child of two teachers (I guess my parents are "the man" or whatever), I think this is bullshit, and I don't see these mothers as any different from the "hippies" and "Christy" types this article not so subtly mocks.

some of us are poor and queer

Blueviolet,
Please see the comment I posted after you posted yours. I have been homeschooling my kids since my 21-year-old was in 1st grade. I am a poor, single, working, queer mom. I am not middle-class nor do I have a partner to support me. I also do not shelter my children in the least. I feel that they are exposed to much more than the average public school child and I do not unschool my kids because I think that public school is evil, rather I do it because it is what works best for my family. Isn't that what feminism is all about? Choices.

Again please read the comment that is posted above yours.

they don't give foodstamps to the upper class

Hi,
I'm a queer single mother of three, on foodstamps, working my ASS off to pay my bills with my job and my small business. Your reply is a little insulting.

I unschool my oldest kid. She is not a sheltered snowflake(more like a wise shard of glass.) I choose to focus my energy on my family,as opposed to the system, because honestly, as a lower class mama, I've got my energy going in a million directions already. Certainly you understand that.

I don't see your parents as "the man." My middle kid is in public school and I have LOVED her teachers. I have friends who are teachers who I respect very much too.

This is my CHOICE for my family and I'm not sure if you are a mother yourself, but that comes before anything I might do to shake up the system. I think the day to day ways of living, the small and large impacts we make on eachother, the space we give our kids to grow are revolutionary.

also

I wanted to say that it seems that people assume all homeschoolers homeschool from K-12 which is not the case much of the time. Right now, my oldest is 12 yrs, which makes it much simpler to unschool than if she were 7yrs or something. In a few years I'll give my middle kid the choice to unschool.

I don't know any homeschoolers who preach that their choice is the best. We all work it into our lives in the way we can, when we can. It's definitely a lifestyle, and for someone like me(broke and single) it's just a matter of being open to it and taking the opportunity to live this way when it's available to me. Right now this is what I'm doing and I wish people, especially feminists, could respect that.

Volunteering won't screen your kid from 7 daily hours of BS

When I worked in public schools through the Americorps program, they suggested that the best thing you can do to support public schools is to send your kids to them. But having worked in three of them, I was convinced that there is no hope for our schools.
Our public schools treat students like prisoners and look for ways to punish them at every turn. Double standards are ubiquitous. In these places, learning is not something you do to better yourself but something you do because if you don't, you will never be able to get a good job and your life will be a failure. These threats start as early as first grade.
And is it any wonder? They were first started as a way to assimilate Native American children and turn them into a Puritan workforce.
There are certainly good teachers but it is hard. Despite all the money thrown into the system, teachers are overworked and underpaid and it is hard to maintain a positive outlook in a culture where many teachers have confided to me that this or that student is bad because their parents don't beat them enough. If anything, it is classist to assume one parent can go into one of these schools and entirely change the culture and policies of all the people that run it. Hundreds of Americorps graduates try this and fail year after year.
The YUPPies you are referring to move to the suburbs so they can send their kids to the "good" public schools. They join the PTA not so their kids won't be indoctrinated but so they will be indoctrinated properly. The only way to keep your kids from being taught life is about working for Peter so you can pay Paul is to keep them out of public schools.

"You can't be neutral on a moving train."
--Howard Zinn

radical momma here....

I find your comments rather interesting considering I too am a radical unschooling momma of three boys who has made it my business to create revolutionary learning experiences for children everywhere! I have three boys of color and there is no way I believe that public school education is best for them and so I have woven my children and their learning experiences into everyday life, including my business CREED Center, Create Revolutionary Educational Experiences Directly, an online center of resources for students and educators. I agree that it is a lot harder for the majority of "lower class" families to tap into this mode because of financial and time constraints, but that's where I have come in... I do believe that resourcefulness and creativity do come from those without and those who have a vision..... this is a movement not a publicity stunt, I agree that those with money can afford to "experiment" a bit and then tutor their young, but those parents who can't can and do succeed at providing meaningful opportunities to their children as well. I am thrilled to be a part of this conversation because this country needs not just educational reform but a REVOLUTION and all aspects of this topic need to be explored including the one about those with money. In the immortal words of Margaret Mead, "My grandmother wanted me to have an education, so she kept me out of school..."

"Mommy, you're magic!"- Apsu age 6

Check out the Revolutionary Educator's site www.creedcenter.org and http://creedcenter.org/blog

"Mommy, you're magic!"- Apsu age 6

When my daughter failed most

When my daughter failed most of her ninth grade classes, I decided to home school her. I had always worked full time and that did not change. We are not upper middle class. Attempting to change the attitudes of our local public school system was like banging your head against the wall and I was tired of doing it. It's an option that can work. It might be politically correct to credit schools with properly teaching our kids but parents can see when they don't.

Response to this is all fine and...

Obviously your response is not based on any facts or real life exp. There are PLENTY poor, working class parents who homeschool. I am a single mom and I unschool my son. I am on a few online email groups that have members who are also poor or single parents. I babysit full-time with my son. All our money goes to rent and food. We buy our clothes second hand at thrift stores. I would live on the street to keep doing what we are doing, because I see how much it works. It goes deeper than this article even touched on. Schools can't provide the best education. They kill all the subjects-teaching them in unnatural ways, they destroy creativity and many a child's love of learning. Numerous brilliant minds have seen the absurdity of school. Einstein included. It's not for everyone, but those who choose to homeschool are definitely not making a mistake!

FYI

I think it is interesting that so many people assume you MUST come from a place of privilege to home or unschool. I know many working and work at home parents who un or homeschool as well as many parents who use public charter schools via the internet so they can afford to home or unschool. We are not rich, but we manage with items given to us by those whose children are older and by buying used items. Did I mention how fabulous our local libraries are? They have free passes to local museums and attractions as well as resources like videos and books. I am going back to work full time, from home, because we need more cash. My three children will still be learning from "home", though really we tend to be out and about. I have a master's degree in education because I worked my rear end off and paid for it myself, not because someone paid for me to go. That is not privilege, that is determination.

not all of us are stay at home moms

.” My name is Nina Packebush and I am one of the women interviewed for this article. I think the author left out a critical fact in writing this story. The article seemed to focus on the struggle that feminist unschooling mothers face when deciding to stay home and educate their children. Are they living up to their feminist ideal by choosing to stay-at-home full time? What the author failed to mention is that I have never been a stay-at-home mom or depended on one income. I have never struggled with being an unschooler and a feminist because it was unschooling that brought me a place of radical feminism. I am, in fact, a queer, radical feminist, single, working mom that is supporting my family on my own. I know one of the other women interviewed is also a single, working mom. I feel that by omitting these facts the author gave a rather skewed version of feminist unschooling.

I find unschooling to be very much in sync with my feminist ideals. My children are not sheltered from such things as racism, sexism and homophobia as the author elluded to. They are indeed out in the real world seeing and experiencing these things first hand and learning how to deal with them and work for change. Unschooling is not just a way to educate children, unschooling is a way of life and one that meshes very well with feminism. I hope your readers will understand that unschooling is not just for the privileged and it is not only for two parent families. Unschooling is not easy for a single parent, but it is certainly possible. Not all of us are partnered and not all of us have the ability to stay at home with our children, but we make it work and can’t imagine life any other way. Your readers can check out my blog at: www.edgychronicles.blogspot.com if they would like more information on what life is like in a feminist unschool.

thank you for the helpful reply

Your reply is very helpful and enlightening, Nina; thanks. I agree: the omitted information does skew things a bit!

I homeschool and run my own business from home. I built experience at a corporation, then I started my own small freelance business, and now I work and homeschool. I am not wealthy! I have friends who homeschool while working; friends who homeschool while relying on their partner's income, and friends who send their kids to public school while relying on their partner's income. As for me, I experience no feminist angst. I am doing what I want to do.

Interesting

I found this article interesting. I have a sister-in-law who home schools, which makes me very nervous for her children. It's good to hear that there are more home schoolers than just the Christian types.

My mother was a stay at home mom, without home schooling. She was also a crazy Christian, yet I still learned all my feminist ideals from her, as I certainly didn't learn them in public school.

Why the vitriol against the middle class anyway?

And how is public school capitalist? It's socialist...

sooooo capitalistic...

Well considering how public schools are being privatized- public school is certainly capitalistic.... where do you think we get all of the worker bees or prisoners for that matter? Now, I know that some public and charter schools are working hard to change that, but let's face it they are going up against big corporations who serve the food, provide curriculums, even provide services to the school......
Children are tracked from 3rd grade on into worker bees, middle management or prison... of course this is the one dimensional comment, but seriously lets look at why radical education is so important as an option. I will try to write more later, but got a crying babe to nurse.

"Mommy, you're magic!"- Apsu age 6

Create Revolutionary Educational Experiences Directly @ www.creedcenter.org or http://creedcenter.org/blog

"Mommy, you're magic!"- Apsu age 6

Those "Crazy Christians"

You know, I get so damned tired of people calling Christians "crazy". Granted, there are some dummies who deserve it, those who hate and are anti-women, etc.. but if I call myself a Christian, I deserve some respect just like you. I'm normal, I don't hate anyone, AND I'm a feminist. It gets pretty lonely sometimes because I get hammered by many so-called Christians (who are basically frothing at the mouth when I have the audacity to call myself a feminist) and by Feminists who scoff at me because of my faith. Seriously, I get so frustrated sometimes. What happened to tolerance, acceptance, open-mindedness? I am all of those AND I'm a Christian AND I'm a FEMINIST and I'm pro birth-control, against violence, hate, ecetra ecetera... And if I choose to homeschool my future kids (I haven't made up my mind, and I don't think I will), but if I do--no one has the right to judge me. It would be my CHOICE. And I can believe in whatever I want. Even though I follow Jesus' teachings, I don't shove my beliefs down other people's throats,I am still a Feminist (who believes Jesus was a feminist also), and I would like some acceptance here. End rant, lol :)

We're Here, Not Queer

My always unschooled teen daughter and I were interviewed at length for this piece but do not fit this strong queer-punk angle, which unfortunately mirrors other media stereotypes we read about ourselves, just reversing the image as mirrors do.

Someone who did make the article yet still felt the reflection didn't do reality justice, gave her bloglink above for fuller perspective. So here's a feminist unschooling teen blog left out of this mirror image altogether, her radically individual identity not hippy, Christian, queer nor punk thus so unsuited to stereotype that she apparently has no reflection at all, like a vampire who can't even fit the mold-breaking mold. (Does that make her "post-moldern"?)

My progressive, feminist unschooling mom blog -- with a longtime online partner who also is not hippy, Christian, queer or punk -- is Cocking a Snook!

JJ Ross, Ed.D.

Homeschooling Out of Necessity

Sherri
"Be the change that you wish to see in the world" - Mahatma Gandhi

I think the author missed a couple of important points about home-schooling. First, not all of us are upper-middle class or married. Personally, I'm single and broke, and I work my butt off for what I earn. Secondly, not all of us home-school out of some value, feminist or religious. Some of us do it out of necessity for what is best for our children.

I home-school my son out of necessity. He was driven out of the public school system and expelled from a private school, at which time I had had enough. He has bipolar disorder and extreme anxiety. He also has a learning disorder that doesn't seem to compute with the school system - he can't process complex oral instructions, he has to READ them himself. Most students are believed to have a reading disability.

He was an A-B student in school until 4th grade. He failed 4th grade, repeated it, and then was expelled from 5th grade for falling asleep in class (boredom).

I think school is terrific through the third grade. Teaching methods for young children are about fun and use all the senses to create a well-rounded learning experience. In 4th grade, they change the game. They expect students to sit in their seats and watch Powerpoint presentations and take notes. What used to be hands-on and fun just became empty and boring. If your child is an extremely visual and/or kinesthetic learner, he or she is screwed. My son is a kinesthetic learner. He has to do it to learn it.

I am a writer and math/science teacher after having been laid off from the chemical industry. I write from home and tutor after school and late into the evening. Almost all my students have a visual or kinesthetic learning preference and many also have ADHD, a mood disorder, or other learning disability. I'm in great demand because I work with a child's learning style and disabilities rather than against them. When material is presented in a form they can process, they learn easily.

School is not set up for the students' learning needs. It's set up for the convenience of the system. You conform or you fail. School also makes you focus on what you're weak at doing, not on your strengths. It doesn't allow you to excel in your great areas, it pushes you to bring your weaknesses up to a minimum level. It's the most socialist institution in the U.S. And don't get me started on "No Child Left Behind". It makes the system even more socialist. We are a society leading our children into mediocrity.

It's no wonder so many teens have low self-esteem and the number of teens dropping out is on the rise. It's also no wonder why many more parents are fed up and are taking the education of their children back from the system.

On Being the Change I Wish To See

Sherri
"Be the change that you wish to see in the world" - Mahatma Gandhi

surprised

As a longtime reader of Bitch, a feminist, a mother (a homeschooling one at that) I was pleasantly surprised to see mention of homeschooling at all.

It does feel REALLY odd to be a homeschooling mama. As a matter of fact it feels strange to be called a mother at all for me. The feminism I grew up with quietly told me that I could not be successful or feminist if I was married or had children. I spent most of my teens and twenties saying I WOULD NOT be a mother, no way, not me!

Then I became a mother and all the feminist theory I read and loved (especially Shulamuth Firestone) clearly became THEORY to me and wasn't so much relevant to real life...I still love it though and some of it is starting to speak to me again.

I'm 35. I'm a mother. I'm STILL a feminist . I'm still passionate. I'm still all about DIY. I'm not rich. I'm not unemployed. We live modestly. We're just trying to eek out the living that makes sense to us and when our boychild turned 5, sending him off to school just didn't seem right to us.

We now have a son and daughter and none of us are over privileged or sheltered. We're just doing something different. I'm confident that I can raise feminist children even though my choice to educate them may seem unfeminist to some. I suppose it all depends on your definition of feminist.

So, while I am slightly surprised by some of the hostile comments, I'm happy to see we feminist homeschooling mothers are on the radar of Bitch.

Thanks !
Kimmy Certa
Richmond, VA
http://www.shimmerglimpse.squarespace.com

Changing the world

We are lesbian moms of an unschooled son who has just started college. I've always worked part-time and my wife has supported us. I also coordinate unschooling conferences.

My 18 year old son is a cool, smart feminist guy. He spent a year working for MassEquality to keep same sex marriage legal when he was just 17. He's now majoring in Music and Social Justice.

I think one of the things unschooling does is to change the argument entirely. When you get into the zone it's not just about the kids -- it's about having a family where each member is supported in doing what they really want to do. There's an enormous amount of trust on all sides, and everything just looks different. Each member of my family supports the other members. For some people a career is a goal, for others it's time and space to create art, write, or change the world.

Kathryn J Baptista

Reality check

Feminism is about having choices and you aren't less of a feminist if supported by a man.

Having said that, it's really irritating to read about assumptions that all unschoolers are some middle or upper middle class yuppies. Most of the families I know are making the best of tough financial situations. One of my best friends has unschooled for many years as a single, low-income Mum. Personally, we've been in the "low-income" bracket for most of our unschooling years too.

As a middle class citizen, unschooling Mum AND full-time makeup artist, I only wish I could be financially supported! What about the parents who work from home? Or the homestead families who don't need a steady income? Are they somehow hurting the feminist movement too? Puhleez.

Public school is a cookie cutter world created to churn out cookie cutter workers. I want better for my children. They were born to learn and I trust they will do just that, in their own way and time.

The choice to unschool isn't about trading in feminist values. It's simply about what you value. My children and their right to choose win out everytime.

Why is Christian a bad word to feminists?

First of all as a feminist and a Christian it really irritates me that "Christian" is so often used as a derogatory term in feminist articles. I understand that there are some extremists. To me it is the same as when someone hears that you are a "feminist" and automatically assumes you hate men and babies. I assure you that one can be both and "Christian" and "Feminist." My husband has a masters in biblical studies, and was a youth pastor for a year, but is by all means a feminist and a complete advocate for equality between not only the sexes but all people. In fact I believe if someone were to actually study what Jesus actually said about people they would see that he held "feminist" ideals... but anyways that would be a whole other story.

I thought this article was pretty interesting, despite the aforementioned... I had never considered home schooling as an option for my as of now hypothetical children. It seems to be a viable option, does anyone know how colleges look at home schooled children? I wonder if colleges look down on home-schooled kids because they think the kids wouldn't have had as good of an education...

No civilization can be perfect until exact equality between man and woman is included. Mark Twain

No civilization can be perfect until exact equality between man and woman is included. Mark Twain

It's unfortunate

The way I see it, there are two main categories of Christians. First there are those who practice what Jesus said. Then, there are those who do what they please and look for Bible verses to support them. ( Any verses that condemn what they do are "outdated", although they may use verses from the same book of the Bible to support something else. ) I'm not a Christian, and although I think Jesus was a pretty awesome guy, I am not a fan of those people who say and do hateful things and who use the Bible as an excuse to do so. I don't know whether they are the majority or not, but they sure are a lot louder than the reasonable Christians. I guess that's true for any group, though.

homeschooling and college

Many many colleges are now seeking out homeschooled kids because they are so much more capable at thinking outside of the box and studying independently. There are many books, blogs, e-lists, and websites that do a marvelous job at describing homeschooling in it's guises.

More hating on our schools...

What's with all the anti-socialist comments? I am not a socialist but I certainly wouldn't say that socialist=insult. The problem with the schools is not that they are socialist but that they are, from top to bottom, authoritarian. Kids are punished for not passing tests. Teachers are punished for not having enough passing grades. Whole schools are punished as "failing". If kids aren't learning enough, it must be that we are not testing and punishing enough. So now we have schools that stop teaching after the big tests are over. Now we have competency tests that start in Second Grade. Now we have schools that lose their funding and all the workers in the community are replaced because a school has not had a "passing grade." As long as the state thinks the answer to our woes is to test more and punish more, it doesn't matter what the economic model is, the schools will continue to worsen.

BTW, I reccommend Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto, How to Survive In Your Native Land by James Herndon and Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. Three fantastic but very different books on the disaster of public schools.

"You can't be neutral on a moving train."
--Howard Zinn

Lies my Teacher Told Me

I agree with the recommendation of Lies My Teacher Told Me.

I did a report on it in high school (I went to public school), and followed it up with A People's History...
It was so great! I got a C, however.

I blame all of it on my republican history teacher, who had us spend most of our time memorizing the faces of famous men.

the faces!

he's the head of the department.
ohhhhh small town public school.

black schooling

i'm black, i home- and un-schooled for 5 years, till they went into high school, 10 years ago, unfortunately a rare thing for black families despite the fact that we know that the worst place for a black child to grow is in the often racist, negative social environment of schools - private and public. I got my then husband involved - he did a little science on the weekends and some evenings - it is important to share the "teaching" if at all possible. I don't buy into the idea that children need to be exposed to racism or sexism to build awareness...there's time enough for that when they're more able to understand, analyze and externalize it. I wish more black families would/could consider going this route. Great article! Thanks.

huewoman

thanks for this post...some

thanks for this post...some really interesting takes here.

firstly, it's great to see that it's not only middle and upper-class feminists who homeschool. i truly admire those single working mothers who make it work for their families. as a teacher in an underserved school, i know how costly education is, as i end up spending quite a bit of my own money on classroom materials. and while i'm sure there are plenty of people of greater means who homeschool, it is also a response to oppressive school environments that has traditions among poor communities as well. the idea of homeschooling is similar to the freedom schools movement in south during the civil rights movement, and i'm sure to countless other educational initiatives undertaken as part of liberation movements globally.

second, there's this tricky question of sheltering. as a white, hetero middle class male, my upbringing brought me into little contact with any concept of marginalization. school was on the whole a safe environment for me, and i excelled. however, it wasn't until college when i first began to take an interest in meeting people whose background was different from mine that i began to question things. a few people here have made comments about exposing their homeschooled kids to a diverse environment, but no one has mentioned specifics (i'm not attacking, just wondering how it's done). my fear is that, for people such as myself, homeschooling might fill them with progressive ideas, but leave them sheltered and clueless as to how those ideas actually play out in the real world.
however, there's the other angle. i am a proponent of the right of marginalized peoples to insulate themselves. it is a vital experience for those clueless privileged ones such as myself in my youth to be exposed to diversity. however, while the diversity remains on the terms of the dominant culture, it can be undoubtedly detrimental for "others" to be exposed to diversity. thus the thorny problem of, for example, all-girls schools being a potentially beneficial environment for girls, but all-boys school leading to disastrously lopsided and patriarchal boys.
so i guess what i'm saying is that homeschooling is tricky because yes, it can keep some children from the harmful dominant-culture focus of most schools. and, to be sure, they will still face oppression in society, but hopefully can feel more empowered as a result of their homeschooling. on the other hand, it can keep dominant-culture children from experiencing through enough real interaction with people different from themselves.
wow...long winded, sorry. oh, and one other thing. someone mentioned how education methods through third grade are great. i agree (depending on who the teacher is). i found it so funny, enlightening and encouraging that all the things i've learned about how to educate kids in the primary grades seemed to be echoed in what bell hooks calls for at the higher ed level in "teaching to transgress".
it is certainly difficult to counter our educational system from the inside, especially when i have to critically examine my own attitudes and actions constantly. but i do feel that more involvement in our schools by those concerned is a vital way to work for educational change.

What a wonderful article. I

What a wonderful article. I fall under the category of "low-income feminist mom" -- my daughter is just 2, but I'm already making the decision to unschool her. It's funny--in my family, I'm the one with the "useless" Bachelor's degree in English (with honors to boot) and no job, while my husband supports us off of a one-semester trade certificate. I was always the smart girl in school, people expected me to go places--and now I'm going to be staying at home as a facilitator? It's a troubling dilemma. I still haven't mentally resolved it.

You ARE going places! :)

Hi! Please, please, please, don't undervalue what you want to do! I graduated 5th in my high school class and with a 4.0 from my undergraduate program. I have two master's degrees and just decided to leave a nationally high-ranking doctoral program at a major research institution. What am I opting for? Freelance writing and work with young children. While training for a research career, I took work as a teacher and assistant teacher for two year olds. I worked one summer as a therapist for two boys with autism. I currently nanny for an infant and work with two little girls with autism. And, I've loved it all--the work has challenged my intellect, left me questioning what I was taught, sent me on a quest for answers, and all while giving expression to my capacity for love and nurturing. Please don't underestimate the value of what you plan to do--children need strong, smart, loving people teaching them! I wish you and your daughter all the best on your exciting journey. :)

A Question That Hasn't Been Answered

I'm happy to have stumbled across this article. Parents always have tough decisions to face; what sort of schooling to give your children is an agonizing one and I have empathy and respect for what we decide as long as those decisions are made from love.

Here's where I'm disturbed though, and for what, yet, I have seen no answer: If all feminist families were to take their children out of the public schools (say we could afford to) in order to protect them from, or expose them to, certain situations mentioned in the article, aren't we in effect worsening the school system? Meaning, instead of getting involved in the schools in great numbers and making it so that the schools MUST BE safe and tolerant, non-sexist and non-classist, aren't we making the educational world worse by taking away the badly needed voice of diversity?

True, the educational system has it's faults (and how!) but don't we, by showing up and having a voice, make it better? If we show up, and overwhelm the negative, isn't it so that one day, in the not-to-distant future, we will have schools that FIT and NURTURE our children instead of crushing them into mindless, sexist, ethnocentric, xenophobic, world-raping, homphobic drones?

Disappearing into our homes, as far as I can see, is not the answer. Coming out in full force is.
We can always counter the negative lessons at home, but we only help our own if we withdraw.

Children as sacrificial lambs...

Many people have asked me why I am depriving the local school system of my energy and ideas. I have been told that I could make great changes in the local schools. All I have to do is put my children in the school system and then start fighting the good fight. Well, that is just a great idea, but why should my children be put in a box that I believe to be fundamentally unhealthy and detrimental to their development?

While I would love to fight injustice some more (I was a social worker for a bit more than a decade), I am too busy being quietly revolutionary raising my children in the real world. They only have to see occasional glimpses of sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, etc. to know that it is wrong. They are being raised by a family with love and their best interests at heart. My daughter is a strong willed girly girl who is training in dance and kung fu. My son is a quiet, shy boy who is very imaginative and much more socially confident since he began sparring in kung fu. They have been free to develop their own personalities without the pressure of 'fitting in'. They have learned what is important to them (and occasionally to me) at their own pace.

Why would I force my children to conform to a school environment that is a poor fit for them? So that I can change the system? People have been trying to change this system since before I was born, and I am 42 now. My children need the freedom to learn and grow now, not when they manage to graduate from a broken system.

Don't let the term homeschooling mislead you...

We do not stay home.
I am a working, Unschooling mom of one. My son and I go everywhere, we spend time with a diversity of people of all ages and backgrounds, I don't make a lot of money, but we make do by going to a lot of thrift stores.
We started at a non traditional public school and lasted about 3 months, during that time I was discriminated against for my appearance, my job, familial background, income, and my son's special needs, I realized that I was being scapegoated and could not change that situation.
Unschooling is what we found that works for us, we have total freedom to do what we want, when we want. My son can work at his own pace and apply the concepts as he studies them.
I take him most places I go and use everything in our world.
He is thoughtful, kind and unassuming, I wouldn't trade that in for anything.
Unschooling is a term coined by John Holt. Please research it before you assume you know anything about it.

<3 Mimi Vaunderbroad

<3 Mimi Vaunderbroad

stereotype?

In the illustration that accompanies this article we see that the Mother has a book, the girl has a craft project going on and, as always, it is the boy child that's got a handle on the numbers. Thanks for perpetuating the stereotype that men do math and women make babies and art. I expect more from this group.

Very Interesting

I've read the article and the comments made on it and I find all this extremely interesting. As a 20 year old whose gone through the public system in Canada I never thought about homeschooling my children (when I have them!). My mother did however stay at home, and I intend to do so aswell. By having my mother available to me 24/7 not only was I able to absorb her feminist values, but I firmly believe that all the skills I posses are due to the learning I did with my mother.

I will be graduating from University with a BA in June. My BA is useless to me, I can't apply it in any way- it's total BS. I dare say, so was my highschool education. From neither institution have I learned anything I feel that I can apply, or that has helped me in my foray into the "real world". In the fall I'll be starting my Early Childhood Education diploma. Here I feel is where I belong- educating children, and helping them become productive, well rounded adults. I've been defending my choice NOT to go to teachers college to so many people I'm quite frankly sick of it. I don't feel as a "teacher" I can do the kids any good- but as a facilitator outside of the school system, yes.

So maybe I'll look further into home schooling. Maybe for my children it'll be the right choice- but I won't know until I have them. But my knee-jerk reaction is that if it's possible for you, getting your child out of that stifling environment is the best thing you could possibly do for them.

Unschooling.

here is a link to a good unschooling site.
It's not just about a less stifling environment. It's about the freedom to make your own choices, even if your a child.

http://joyfullyrejoycing.com/

Many unschoolers start out "homeschooling" but it is an overall lifestyle choice to treat your family with respect and as equal. It doesn't require that anyone take on a forced role or do compulsory work. It always gives the child a choice to not do what doesn't interest them or apply to their goals.

So if you are learning

So if you are learning algebra painting a room, or geometry quilting, or whatever other nonsense you "unschoolers" have your children partake in, then what will happen when little Ms I love everyone and I can build a lego replica of the ifle tower gets into the real world? What if they have to either A. take a real test to get into or stay in college or B. someone calls them a mean name. What will they do then? Piss their pants?

Sad.

I'm aware of the date of the comment I'm replying to, still I'm taking the time to respond for future readers who ponder the same questions.
I Unschool, or whatever you wish to call it, my 2 children ages 13 and 8 in Pennsylvania. According to our state laws we are required to take "real tests" at different grade levels in addition to receiving yearly reviews from our local school board. My kids have both always received high scores well above average on these tests and reviews. This mentality that unschoolers sit inside all day knitting (etc.) is ridiculous. My children are both very well read and pursue many subjects, including math, entirely of their own choice, driven by their own interests and desires, which they actually learn, absorb, and apply, much different from mere memorization most schooled children exhibit. Socially we are well aware that not all people are capable if learning in a typical school environment, in fact few actually can yet we continue to run schools the same way we have, no doubt because it's simply cheap to do so. Unschoolers have so many more resources available to them, well beyond being "chained to a desk", swallowing forced "learning" which unfortunately is usually limited to one generic and biased book per subject, and coming home exhausted and discouraged like so many school students do. Of course that doesn't even begin to take account of bullying, teacher bias, peer pressure and other fantastic daily torture.
As for being incapable of handling negative people you are under the strange impression that every person an unschooled kid encounters has the disposition of Mary Poppins and somehow at any groups, clubs, playground, supermarket, movie theater, or plain old fashioned outdoor neighborhood kid gatherings, insults are never uttered. How realistic.
Shocking as it may seem I have found unschooled children are capable of handling themselves appropriately, sometimes far more maturely then their peers. Who they are, their personalities, form the basis of how they conduct themselves, not because of where they spent their day learning. If you don't blame schools for pumping out uneducated children, as plenty schools do, as well as criminals, poorly emotionally adjusted kids, and a plethora of others negativities, then why unfairly blame unschool/homeschoolers for it?

I will never understand the ridicule and negative assumptions of matters which people know little or nothing about. It must be frustrating. I am so thankful I don't pass ill judgement so quickly.
Please pardon any errors as I am typing on my phone and have limited viewing of my words.

Eiffel. Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel.

Eiffel Tower.

Nice article. "Can women

Nice article.

"Can women trade their careers for their families without sacrificing a few of their feminist values—the very values that inspired many of them to homeschool in the first place?"

I am a single, poor, homeschooling parent. This feminist doesn't see a having a career as part of her feminist values. Our capitalist system is unjust, someone always has to be doing the free, cheap, grunt work. Whether it is housewives, Filipinos, women in maquiladoras. Joining this system is not part of my feminist ideals (though I do work in it very part-time out of necessity). Many many many many mother's I know would prefer to stay home than clean offices, pick fruit....basic drudgery that makes rich people richer. Being part of a system mostly created by white males is not what I want. Creating alternatives is what my feminism is about. Community learning, not government workers teaching my children.

"Despite the fact that such

"Despite the fact that such figures as Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Atwood, Sandra Day O’Connor, and, um, Jennifer Love Hewitt were products of a home education, the practice is still often seen as strange and even detrimental. "

Also the fact that the reading the law education that Lincoln has is nearly gone.

Wonderful article, thanks for

Wonderful article, thanks for putting this together! This is obviously one great post. Thanks for the valuable information and insights you have so provided here.
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