Emily Matchar

Emily Matchar

Homeward Bound

What's Up with the Homeschooling?

Why so many progressive women are homeschooling their kids

Posted Mar 27, 2013

A healthy chunk of the women I've talked to about new domesticity are either homeschooling their kids, or interested in doing homeschooling some day. Homeschooling is, in fact, on a crazy upward spiral in this country - in 1999 there were about 850,000 homeschooled kids in the US. By 2007 there were 1.5 million, and some experts put the current stat at more like 2.5 million. And all these new homeschooling parents aren't the Creationist, libertarian French braid n' ankle-length skirt crowd either. Most of the women I talk to are progressive, educated people who worry that conventional school just isn't right for their child for one reason or the other - it squashes creativity, teaches bad values, forces kids to learn things they're not interested in yet, the cafeteria serves crappy food, etc. etc.. Plus, many of them say that they simply like having their children around all day, which seems to be an extension of the home- and family-focused ethos on the rise these days.

I HATED school from Day 1. School, in my experience, was one big exercise in creativity-squashing, if not total soul-crushing. My Durham, NC public school was so overcrowded that we had classes in trailers and spent huge amounts of time sitting boredly on the rug watching videos. I was always the only Jewish kid in class, and I had teachers who would call my mom to ask if it was OK for me to watch the nativity cartoon they were showing for Christmas, or should they have me sit alone in the hall instead? My second grade teacher told me I was a "readaholic" and that reading too much was a disease. Public school, people. So then I got sent to a very feelings-y liberal private school, which promised to nurture our creativity through hands-on learning and doing interpretive drawings of Bach sonatas in crayon. I hated that one too - too much embarrassing song-singing (Cat Stevens!) and weird Freudian scrutiny (are you chewing your pen because you're feeling anxious, Emily?). Hated it so much I managed to get myself expelled in the middle of 7th grade. Back to public school. Boredom. Bullying. Dumb teachers who TOTALLY DIDN'T UNDERSTAND CATCHER IN THE RYE. Used to cry and hyperventilate while putting on my makeup at 6am. My first day of high school, I told my mother I wasn't going to stay there for four years, no way. I didn't. Left when I was 16, finished my credits through a postal correspondence course. 

If homeschooling had been an option (and my mother would NEVER have dreamed of doing that, not to mention the fact that she had a full-time job), would I have wanted to do it? Part of me feels like angst and the struggle to fit in and the trials of dealing with authority figures who piss you off is just part of life. I definitely spent a lot of time being bored in school, but I also wound up being "forced" to learn things I never would have thought I'd be interested in, but ended up (eventually) finding fascinating (or at least useful), stuff like chemistry and Spanish verb conjugations. My school experiences certainly helped make me the person I am today, and I consider myself not only functional and creative and happy, but tough and resilient too. Would I want to protect my own kids from the kind of painful experiences I had? Is it even possible to protect kids from that? Might I not have been an angst-y homeschooler as well? I don't know.

I also wonder about the moms (and the vast majority of homeschooling parents are women - as high as 99 percent, I've heard) - what does it mean for YOU if you're now committed to spending your day being not just a mom, but a teacher as well? What are the opportunity costs for them?

And does the move towards homeschooling mean that schools will be drained of some of the smartest kids and the most engaged moms, the ones who might have otherwise been big PTA advocates or lunchroom volunteers? Will public schools suffer? After all, most parents have neither the ability nor the interest to homeschool their kids, and a strong public school system is a damn important thing...again, it's the whole "(perceived) individual good vs (potential) common good" conundrum...

More Posts