Liberals, send your kids to school

Homeschooling and unschooling is the wrong choice for liberals and progressives, writes Dana Goldstein in Slate. She’s responding to Astra Taylor’s unschooling memoirin N+1, which urges parents to “empty the schools,” freeing children from “irrational authority six and a half hours a day, five days a week, in a series of cinder-block holding cells.”  Homeschooling is fundamentally illiberal, writes Goldstein.

It is rooted in distrust of the public sphere, in class privilege, and in the dated presumption that children hail from two-parent families, in which at least one parent can afford (and wants) to take significant time away from paid work in order to manage a process—education—that most parents entrust to the community at-large.

Liberal homeschoolers don’t want to let go of their children, Goldstein writes. She cites a Newsweek story on urban, educated, secular homeschoolers who’ve chosen do-it-yourself schooling. They believe “children are individuals, each deserving a uniquely curated upbringing,” writes Linda Perlstein. “That peer influence can be noxious. Many practice “attachment parenting,” which “involves round-the-clock physical contact with children and immediate responses to all their cues.”  One woman breast-fed her youngest till she was four.

OK, that sounds creepy. These kids are going to find the world very frustrating, if they ever get to live in it.

But Goldstein isn’t just trying to liberate overparented kids from Big Mommy. She argues that educated progressives should send their kids to racially and economically integrated public schools to pull up the achievement of their less-privileged classmates — and to learn to appreciate diversity.

If progressives want to improve schools, we shouldn’t empty them out. We ought to flood them with our kids, and then debate vociferously what they ought to be doing.

I doubt that progressive parents want to use their own children to improve public schools, if they can afford alternatives. However, homeschooling always will be a minority choice. Few parents have the time, energy, motivation and ability to teach their children at home.

All Your Children Are Belong to Us, responds William Jacobsen.

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  1. Goldstein is some sort of classist to think that poor people can’t, shouldn’t, or aren’t inclined to homeschool. I happen to know poor, single-parent family homeschoolers. Goldstein also obviously knows very little about homeschooling if her original article confused the two Robert Reiches.

    And as to the fact that some people don’t want to homeschool? Um, so what?? That has zero to do with anything. I don’t want to feed my kids some days, or do their laundry. Or send my children who go to public school out the door on time. We do what we feel is best for our children because we are all grown up and are the parents. It’s called parenting.

  2. Send them to the Sidwell school.

  3. If 90% of American children attend public schools, how would it be possible for lefty homeschoolers to “flood” the schools? What percentage of the nation’s school children are “lefty homeschoolers”? Maybe 2%, on a good day?

    • Homeschoolers represent about 5% of the nation’s school children overall. I’d guess that folks who are at least somewhat conservative and/or libertarian outnumber liberals in the HS community by at least 2:1. It’s hard for me to judge the national trend because I live in one of the bluest of the blue areas in the country (San Francisco Bay Area). Here I’d say that probably at least 75% of the HS families are left of center, but it *is* a lower percentage than the families we know with kids enrolled in private or public schools (that’s probably 90% liberals). I presume that Ms. Goldstein lives in a similar blue bubble and is thinking of the folks she knows even if they are in the minority in the overall HS population.

  4. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I think the point is “If you want your children to grow up to be progressives, send them to school.” It’s inefficient to attempt to indoctrinate your kids in progressive beliefs in a home school situation– what you do instructs your children more than what you say— and so homeschooling teaches them to be dangerously individualistic and libertarian.

    We’ll ignore the fact t hat most big name ‘progressives’ did not go to public school and did not send their kids to public schools….

  5. bandit @11:34 am: +1 🙂

    “…to pull up the achievement of their less-privileged classmates.” Really? noblesse oblige..It’s tough being an upper class lib. So many tedious obligations.

    • Renegade dinosaur that I am, I call that immoral. Kids should never be sent to school for the benefit of other (less-enlightened) kids; they should be sent to the school that best meets their needs, keeping in mind that all kids do not have the same needs, even those from the same family.

  6. I know very, very few wealthy homeschoolers. Wealthy folks tend to send their kids to private schools, which apparently are OK with progressives. Most of us seem to be middle-class to poor, and how to make ends meet this month is a frequent topic at my park day group. Quite a few of us work to for income to keep things going, and there are of course single parents as well. Homeschooling while single isn’t easy, but quite a few people do it.

    That article was so awful. So many bad stereotypes and wrong assumptions…

  7. George Larson says:

    I did not think liberals and progressives believed in noblesse oblige. Don’t they believe that government should fix social problems?

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    noblesse oblige means a sacrifice of some sort. Libs and progressives can push this because it’s not them making the sacrifice. They have their kids walking point in the culture wars. Not the first time. I suspect that one of the motivations for this article is the fear of a cohort of kids growing up not brainwashed by progressive public ed. Many national elections are decided, in one state or another, by only a few percent. You can see the problem for the progs.

  9. I also live in a blue area and see people homeschool for a variety of reasons.

    It isn’t a choice I would have understood before my own kids started school…but I definitely see what motivates people now.

    As far as Goldstein’s point about progressive parents sending kids to more racially and economically diverse schools…that doesn’t happen where I live . Liberal and progressive parents ultimately choose the schools they believe have the best academics…just like many other parents. I’d suspect that same sort of elitism exists elsewhere in the country

  10. Stupid stereotypes in the article… equally stupid stereotypes here in the comments.

  11. Frankly, the only thing illiberal here is Dana Goldstein’s highly perverted use of the word liberal.

    Un-progressive? Sure. But to suggest that not subjecting one’s kids to public school, exercising one’s liberty is in fact illiberal… It boggles my mind how twisted that word has become in this country.

  12. Homeschooling Granny says:

    “OK, that sounds creepy. These kids are going to find the world very frustrating, if they ever get to live in it.”

    From this statement I’d guess that you don’t know many kids who had been raised this way. From what I’ve seen the attachment parents who breastfeed until the kid is four are meeting their particular small children’s dependent needs. Needs met go away. These kids turn out fine, in my experience anyway.

    I’m not arguing that it is the only way, or even the best way, to raise kids; only that it is a viable way.

  13. Stacy in NJ says:

    I live in a blue state with relatively decent public schools. Many parents pat themselves on the back because their kids attend both diverse and academically high quality public schools, but this is a comforting lie and hypocrisy. Most of these schools are aggressively tracked. Most of the white and Asian kids are on the honors/AP/academy track. Most of the black and Hispanic kids are on the lower performing “B” track. They couldn’t be more segregated. These schools provide the appearance of “diversity” and allow parents to congratulate themselves on their tolerance and broadmindedness without actually sacrificing their kids’ education to their progressive beliefs. I doubt these schools really promote racial integration and tolerance because they simply underline the glaring differences in performance and the kids know it.

  14. Stacy in NJ says:

    “liberate overparented kids from Big Mommy…”

    Tha’ts just funny and a nice piece of writing. I love the phrase Big Mommy.

  15. When progressives defend the status quo, are they still progressives or have they become arch-conservatives…

    I loved reading the comments. How far we’ve come from the days when most left trending types were virulently anti-homeschooling. Now, many are embracing it.

  16. Anonymous in Carolina says:

    Schools practice age segregation and track children by achievement. Children learn to sort themselves in a pecking order that ends up being racially divided. They develop a puffed-up sense of pride of being better than others. How is that promoting compassion, which I believe is far more important than bean-counting diversity?

    Why not simply model how to view a person as a person. To teach your child by choice of books you read for their curriculum and your own actions to treat people with respect because of who they are, not how they look. My children wave at the hard-working janitor at our church who is a single parent. They greet the people we deliver meals on wheels without any thought of race. They pass out cards for folks at the integrated nursing home without consideration of who is what color or class. We treat the overworked clerk at Walmart and waitress at the Mexican restaurant with as much kindness as a friend from church.

  17. I’m so torn about the situation w/ our schools and how to ensure my daughter gets the best education possible — which isn’t necessarily at the school with the highest test scores. I’m a HUGE advocate of public schools , teachers unions etc, but the current move to larger class sizes, standardized testing, and ALEC leglisation etc feels like such an avalanche that I don’t necessarily want to have my kid trapped in.

    My daughter will be in kindergarten in 2013. Public schools will be our first choice, but she’s a quiet kid w/ social anxiety who needs some special considerations and might get overwhelmed in that type of an environment which sometimes turns into “Lord of the Flies.” These concerns are real and not always a case of “Big Mommy” overparenting. Not to mention some of these schools are skirting the line b/w church and state — and winning their lawsuits. So what do I do? Send her to a stressful environment that doesn’t meet her needs in order to be consistent with my stance on public schools? I care deeply that all children in my community receive a great education and that public schools stay in the public sphere BUT my child’s individual needs do have to trump that. Even if I send her to private school or homeschool, I will continue to fight for public schools. Am I wrong or hypocritical to educate my daughter elsewhere but still try to change the public schools so maybe they will eventuallly be the best option?

    BTW breastfeeding until 4 is really not all that weird.It’s longer than I would do it, but 2 yrs should be standard. I think more of our problems are caused by the fact that a lot of kids have not formed proper attachments. Yes, kids need to be able to separate but challenging the norms and questioning whether it’s wise to spend so much time away from families etc is not necessarily a bad thing. As always though,some take it to extremes. Although I don’t agree w/ everything in this article, I AM glad that someone is reminding people how much we will lose if our public schools continue the road to privatization and that this is a right wing movement that will have dire consequences. Many progressives are participating in this whether they realize it or not.