dagNotes: On homeschooling/unschooling
I was asked: How do you feel about Homeschooling or rather Unschooling? I’ve always thought the effectiveness of the former to be severely limited by the mind of the parent (or whomever is doing the homeschooling). But I was wondering what your opinions on the two were.
Homeschooling. I wouldn’t want to only homeschool my child, but I’d consider homeschooling for a time. Praise and I have actually talked about this. Probably not a shocker. We’re both educators. I think public primary school and homeschool during the middle school years, and then we’ll see what’s up for high school. Public school was important for both of us. I was snagged up on a poor-kids’ scholarship for a private college-prep school. From 7th grade until my sophomore year, I studied as hard as I’ve ever studied save for my graduate work. I also learned what rich people were like. Public school made me scrappy, a result of my neighborhoods and neighbors, and I learned some street smarts and to respect labor and teachers, especially. Prep school taught me the value in books and study and how to be a disciplined student.
I learned how to work with others and on my own in both private and public schools. Maybe that sounds trite, but it’s not. I learned to be proud of my intellectual skills and work in both places. Public school was much more regimened and not because of curriculum, but because of the teachers I had. I was ambitious, especially with my writing, and public school teachers really couldn’t handle it. The curriculum isn’t to blame. That’s a teacher’s fault and parents aren’t less likely to experience this problem than teachers. Most importantly, I learned about difference and wealth and class. I went to three high schools because my father moved us around a lot. (Economics.) If I were homeschooled, I would have missed out on a lot. That said, I learned absolutely nothing at all in my senior year of high school. NOTHING. I was bored and full of anxiety. I was ready for something high school couldn’t provide. I was punished for that readiness. Working at home that year would have likely changed my life.
Public school does a few things I really like that I don’t think homeschooling is likely to do. Not that it can’t, just that it’s not likely. Homeschooling is more likely to exacerbate the social problems of privilege whereas public schools admit the problem whether or not they properly address it. Homeschooling in capitalist society becomes a practical tool for capitalist indoctrination. Anyway, homeschooling and unschooling ignore something we take for granted with education as a project. I’ll try to get at it below.
Unschooling. Unschooling is a stupid word, in my opinion. Dubious, at least, unschooling is about an ideal pursuit that should sound wonderful to all of us. I get why it’s popular. However, it illustrates to me that people really have been schooled (check it before you wreck it) by bullshit capitalist notions re: individualism, self-reliance, experience, society, and human action, in general. Education, by definition, is removed from “natural life settings”. For fuck sake, thinking is a movement away from the thing being considered. Who the hell are we kidding? Exploration may lead to experience, but education is more than experience. Education is organized and communal experience with a purpose. I explored more than I was supposed to as a traditional public school student. I was encouraged to by my parents. I was encouraged to work at school and in my community but to think for myself and to consider what was going on around me. This is the goal. Homeschooling/Unschooling doesn’t improve the chances that this will happen for any given student. In fact, it purposefully removes students from public discourse, which I believe is the result of ignorance about how the public sphere works. Something about competition here that I would want to flesh out if I were writing at length. Homeschoolers and public schoolers and private schoolers are competing in the public sphere for a kind of legitimacy that lacks an attention to curricula and pedagogy yet attends to capitalist cultural pursuits.
I believe a curriculum is an important part of our education. It accepts that to educate we produce a kind of social space and it insists that we have to cultivate a rhetorical space to consider any social space. Moreover, it insists we do this with others and together. It insists that social difference leads to consensus. Homeschooling/Unschooling is about relieving the conflict that social differences cultivates within classrooms. It lets parents (importantly, not students) off the hook. Home-schooled students remain absent members of a community. I mean to recall being present or being absent here. Public school is a call to be present in many ways to something homeschooling rejects as oppressive and unnecessary, namely public discourse. Nowadays, home-schooled students decry their absence via social networks, where they often share their book knowledge and betray their inexperience.
Schooling. Homeschooling, unschooling and public schooling propose to do the same thing. What, then, is different? I think there’s a dangerous element to unschooling that Newt Gingrich illustrated during his comic campaign to become the next Republican candidate for POTUS. Gingrich insisted that poor, black kids earn their keep at schools so that they could learn to understand the value of labor and money. Super offensive, right? Well, that sort of thinking about what students should do while learning is the backbone of unschooling. Rather than mediated classroom experiences about life and learning, unschooling proposes it can access natural life settings. Gingrich insisted that kids learn in their natural environments and by doing things. It’s a problem for me. Unschooling in a very significant way pretends that behavior can be unregulated but regulated.
I like the notion of a couple of years of homeschooling because I would want my child to have access to specific things as a young learner that I know a public school cannot provide. However, the notion that I can provide a more natural setting for learning than in a classroom is fantastic horseshit and purely political. John Holt famously claimed that unschooling was about allowing children the freedom to learn in the world as much as their parents could bear. Right? Anyone who’s read about this movement knows the statement. Don’t you see the problem with this? It permits what homeschooling always permits: a cultivation of parental comfort we can observe through their children’s studies. Public school embraces this problem, and for all its faults, it insists citizens recognize citizenship. And all my “anarchist” friends are kidding themselves when they talk about smashing the state. We have come to our radical-ized notions about social life and the conditions for our existence within a highly structured social sphere that will not vanish with the traditional state. We will always have a state and that state will have a public.
I was just arguing with a Christian friend on facebook about this. I told her, be religious. I don’t care. But church is for church. Your labor is for the people. I believe that much motivation behind homeschooling/unschooling is to find a way to deny this fact about labor and society.