Saturday Night Home School Fever

Confessing my own bias as a big supporter of unschooling, I read Dennis Danziger’s piece, “Home School Fever”, in the April 24 edition of the Huffington Post, and it seemed to push more buttons in me than I even knew I had! I recall that classic Saturday Night Live “Weekend Edition” bit where Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd do a “Point-Counterpoint”, and after Curtin dresses down Aykroyd in every possible way he grits his teeth and responds, “Jane, you ignorant slut!” Not sure if Danziger is playing the Curtin or the Aykroyd part in this encounter, but grrrr!

I know the Post has a wonderful contributor, Peter Gray, who is an eloquent homeschool/unschool advocate (and just had that great interview with unschooler Kate Fridkis published in Psychology Today). So if the Post is trying to provide “both sides” of the homeschooling issue, they sure picked an uniformed, unthoughtful spokesperson for conventional public “schooling”. My initial reaction is that it rises to the level of hate speech, but that may be my buttons talking.

So I’m trying to parse his bilious words while re-initializing this previously unrevealed array of triggers in my psyche that he so expertly managed to activate with a mere 514 word rant. Certainly for sheer “button per word” efficiency, Danziger must be up there with the best of show. (Take a deep breath Coop… exhale… once more… okay?… yes… good… let’s proceed.)

Danziger intros with an anecdote that inspired his piece…

The other day after listening to a friend extolling the virtues of her home-schooled son and his exquisite sensitivity (he found a tree branch in the backyard, named it Tree Willy, and asked if it could move inside and be part of their family), I got to thinking about how much that boy could use some time on a playground hanging out with, well, other kids.

Sounds like a person Danziger’s perceiving as perhaps the stereotypical liberal tree-hugger mom of some economic privilege pushing his own buttons, though he’s not candid or thoughtful enough (not sure which) to note that and share this self-revelation with us. Instead it launches him into a delicious or hateful (depending on your own button configuration) rant of one-liners (more Curtin or Aykroyd… you decide).

I thought but didn’t say: Being home-schooled is a great idea if your father is a blacksmith.

Such restraint! Presumably if your dad’s a blacksmith you can learn a practical trade at home (if its the 18th freakin’ century!)

I always thought one advantage of attending school was to go into the world and meet people who are not blood-related… You know, socialize. Figure out who to befriend. Who to avoid.

Oooh… slam that button! Like all us homeschoolers are keeping our kids locked in the basement, at best xenophobes if not child abusers. I’m thinking but not saying, “Like its some sort of social paradise being jammed in a middle school classroom with all those other 13-year-olds, comparing oneself unfavorably!” Just because most kids in school spend most of their day locked up in classrooms doesn’t mean kids who “homeschool” are similarly confined to their parents’ homes. There’s actually a whole interesting world out there one can partake of!

I thought people went to school to read books that they might not find in their parents’ library. You know, books that don’t include words like “thou” and “begot” or phrases like “he dwelleth in the land of Canaan all the years of his life which numbered 848.”

This pushes that button in me that makes me want to blurt out “religious intolerance” and even “hate speech”. It’s the worst of that “us and them” thinking that some of my fellow progressives can descend into when they forsake the Golden Rule.

Before this evening I had never met anyone who home-schooled her children, probably because I don’t hang out with the Amish or with the well-to-do in Topanga.

Add to religious intolerance a loathing for rich liberal tree-hugging ex hippies. Danziger’s got to be into some serious projection there!

The home school mom reminded me of what I, a public school teacher, observe every day: the splintering of America, the intentional segregation of America’s youth.

Okay… finally… a legitimate point here worth discussing, if we can lose all the knee-jerk stereotyping!

Every morning as I head to work on the west side of Los Angeles I see kids in uniforms hurrying toward religious day schools. Some of these families fall in line with liberal Kennedy-style types, while others attend schools where the instructors are Santorum-style true believers. Still others attend Orthodox Jewish day schools that pledge allegiance to God and Israel before America. Still others send their kids to culturally Jewish schools so they’ll connect to the Judaism their parents abandoned years ago.

Ow… maybe not! Is Danziger defensive about his own religious belief or loss there of? There’s also a lot of secular private schoolers on that same west side. Is Danziger afraid of people who don’t look exactly like him and his kids, that aren’t homogenized?

What I do know is that the concept I was taught in elementary school — the idea of the melting pot, the dream of a nation of people of different colors and religions and ethnicities and classes coming together to be stronger for being united, has all but vanished… Whatever happened to “e pluribus unum?” Out of the many, one.

Okay again… back to that real issue!

Some of us in America still resonate with the idea of a “melting pot”, that wherever you came from and whatever your former beliefs, when you come to this country you transform into something new – an “American” – adopting a new set of shared beliefs. This was certainly the vision of Horace Mann, who championed the cause of and launched universal mandatory public education back in the first half of the 19th century. At that time the U.S. was a predominately Protestant country beginning to absorb a huge influx of Catholic immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. The stated fear among many Protestants at the time was that the Catholics would owe their allegiance to the Pope rather than their adopted country, and change the nation’s prevailing Calvinist values.

Others of us have reframed America as a “salad bowl”, where we encourage and celebrate that diversity rather than trying to melt it all down somehow. I must admit I fall more in this second camp, but I appreciate my comrades who feel we need strong shared values to be a cohesive and functional society. Certainly it appears our current “red vs blue” ideological differences have led to a certain amount of dysfunction in our political and legislative processes.

But yes… point taken! Let’s continue to have this very important discussion! But please, thoughtfully!

3 replies on “Saturday Night Home School Fever”

  1. As a former public school teacher and a homeschool parent. If I learned anything during my teaching, it’s that everyone is different. School works for some people. Homeschooling works for some people. The important thing is to find what works for the child and then do it. But then I have a huge child led learning bias.

  2. Catherine… thanks for your comment! I agree we are all different, and I think because of that, we are best served if there are the widest variety of educational paths available.

    And I also share your bias to learner-directed learning, whether by a child, youth or adult!

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