Notes from underground

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Home schooling and bigotry

I participate in an online forum that deals with English usage, and one fairly new member mentioned that she homeschooled her children. This prompted a (to me) quite extraordinary display of bigotry and prejudice.

I was aware that, for some people, homeschooling is a controversial topic, and that some are quite vociferous in their support of the practice, or their opposition to it. I just didn’t expect quite such a degree of bigotry from people in that forum. Many of them are professionals in the natural sciences, and they sometimes refer to the “scientific method”, which I thought meant that one should investigate a phenomenon to find out what it is, rather than jumping to conclusions, and, like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, pronouncing the sentence first, to be followed by the verdict, with the evidence coming later, if at all.

I remarked on this in that forum, and would have left it at that, but then yesterday a local talk-show host tweeted,

Tim Modise@TimModise 14 Jan

Would you home school your children or do you prefer a traditional school?Coming up we chat about the pros & cons of home schooling.

And I thought perhaps there is more to say, though for me the important question is not so much the pros and cons of home schooling as the bigotry and prejudice that surrounds it, making it very difficult to have a rational discussion (and so much of the bigotry seems to emanate from those who like to emphasise the importance of rational discussion).

For an example of the “con” bigotry, here is something from a blog I read regularly. I sometimes agree with this blogger, and sometimes I don’t, but in this particular instance, I think it is a prime example of the kind of bigotry I am talking about. Homeschooling as a Form of Child Abuse | Clarissa’s Blog:

I have been asked by several people to share my opinions on homeschooling. Well, what can I say about this atrocious practice that cripples children socially and intellectually in order to serve the needs of fanatically religious, racist, or socially unadapted parents? When I first heard about this practice, I couldn’t believe that a civilized country would allow such a huge percentage of children to be deprived of the benefits of secondary education.

By way of contrast, I quote from a web site of some online friends Home education in the UK:

What made our family decide to home educate?

Short version: we moved to Cyprus in 1997 when our sons were eleven and nine years old, and decided to home educate for a few months while we settled in. We liked it so much that we continued. They are now 27 and 25. One works in a media group in the UK after spending four years working on a ship. The other achieved a high 2:1 in his degree course in the UK, completed an MA at Notthingham University, and is now working in Cyprus. Neither has any regrets about not having been to secondary school.

To categorise all parents who teach their children at home as “fanatically religious, racist, or socially unadapted” is sheer unadultrated bigotry.

homeschooling

I’m not a fundi on home schooling or home education, but from what I’ve heard and read about it it is a pretty varied phenomenon, and people do it for a wide variety of reasons, so it is both simplistic and unjust to dismiss all those who do it as “the bad guys”, the “black hats” of the old Western movies.

Perhaps the tendency to do this is part of an American cultural trend, to categorise everyone into “good guys” and “bad guys”, and treat them accordingly. Certainly a lot of recent US foreign policy seems to have been  run on this principle — President Bashir Assad is a “bad guy”, so those opposing him must be “good guys” and must be supported in bringing about his overthrow.

For myself, I don’t feel qualified to make blanket judgements on whether home schooling is a good or a bad thing. A lot depends on circumstances, including the quality of the public school system, and the quality of the teachers in it, and the ability of the parents to teach their children.

In South Africa I know that, in some cases at least, racism is a motive for homeschooling. Back in the apartheid days the education policy of the government was based on “Christian National Education” (which, according to B.J. Vorster, was called Fascism in Italy and National Socialism in Germany). Parents who didn’t want their children indoctrinated into the apartheid ideology could send their children to private schools, or teach them at home. The government, aware of this, nationalised church schools for blacks, and stopped subidising those for whites.

When South Africa became a democracy in 1994, some erstwhile supporters of the state school system became advocates of home schooling, because the education system in state schools would no longer have a racial basis.

So some people have undoubtedly become advocates of home schooling because they were racist, but by no means all advocates of home schooling are racist.

The site I referred to above suggests some reasons for parents wishing to educate their children at home, but those reasons will surely vary according to the quality of the schools and teachers in that place, and according to the children and their family, and the ability of the parents to teach. Illiterate parents will not be able to teach their children to read, and so on. All this needs to be taken into account rather than issuing blanket condemnations and pontificating about “child abuse”. Sometimes child abuse can come from sadistic teachers and bullies among the fellow pupils.

The same also applies, mutatis mutandis to those fanatical advocates of home schooling who have nothing good to say about the public education system. For them there are no “good” schools, but all are uniformly bad. It’s still black hats and white hats, but instead of the boot being on the other foot, the hat is on the other head.

Deschooling Society (I Grandi dell'Educazione)Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich

Those with a naive faith in the public education system, who think that all home schoolers are socially maladapted child abusers should perhaps add this book to their reading list. Perhaps it was something in the public education system that made you so closed-minded, and perhaps you should check to see what it was. You might need to do a bit of self-education to remedy that.

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4 thoughts on “Home schooling and bigotry

  1. Thanks – you’ve said it all as I think it should be said. Our children were mostly homeschooled and none of us has regretted it. The children themselves, now that they are older, wouldn’t have done it any other way. It was just a way of educating that worked for us!

  2. I think if the parents have the knowledge and are up for it they are more able to teach their children a world view. This world view can be stifled through the education system…

  3. I’m glad you touched on this topic, Ntate Hayes. I never considered homeschooling until it was clear that the public school system was not equipped to help my ADHD son. He was labeled as one “who could not be remedied”, and today he averages his Maths with A’s.

    The fact that I can now sit and talk to my kids about faith and life is a positive side effect because they are no longer bombarded with homework and never ending assessments.

    The decision to homeschool should be about what is best for the child, and not out of fear. I wish everyone could b as graceful about homeschooling as you are. Despite it having been legalized for some decades now, the government seems to be keeping it under wraps, leaving the general population to believe that it is somehow wrong.

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