While I was on vacation in snowy Minnesota, I finally had time to tear through my latest issue of Bitch (luckily it's a quarterly so I feel less bad about not getting to it right away). Unfortunately, Bitch is still in the process of re-launching their website, so I can't link to the article, but they had a story in this issue called "Learning Curve" about radical homeschooling feminists. These women are disillusioned with the school system, finding it lacking in gender studies analysis or not sensitive to their children's special needs or interests, so they choose a path they call "unschooling," or breaking down education and tailoring it to individual student needs.
I have to admit, I was a little jealous of the zine making curriculum one hip mom designed for her kid, but the whole article was framed in a way that focused on how these women square being a feminist with quitting their job to stay at home with the kids to teach them, even if it is a radical kind of teaching. The article's author, Maya Schenwar, asks, "Does being a feminist mean you have to have a paid job? What does it mean to raise a feminist kid? Is there a feminist definition of success, and should there be?" These are all certainly relevant questions for feminists to answer for themselves, but I was surprised by the questions the article didn't ask. What's wrong with our current educational system, and how can we fix it? If these women have lost such faith in public education -- a pretty popular position these days -- then there must be something pretty wrong. By taking their students out of the educational system, it's a little like a frustrated voter saying he's going to protest government by not voting. Then, nothing will ever really change.
Granted working on altering education can be frustrating. Between all the regulations and federal, state, and local funding perpetually hanging in the balance, it can be a depressing thing to try to change. I tend to have faith in the ability to customize education. After all the school district is one place where thoughts of parents are taken very seriously. These women could start and after school zine making club, and open up the opportunity to explore alternative disciplines to all students, instead of catering only to their own children. They could go to PTA meetings to ask teachers to include some feminist, race, or gender studies texts in English or history classes so students get a more diverse experience in the classroom.
I don't pretend that these radical unschoolers alone can change the way we do education, but I guess I'd like to see the discussion framed in a perspective that includes all children. After all, the unschoolers are women that can afford to stay at home and take charge of their children's education -- and children's education is extremely important. There are many women that cannot afford such a luxury and I'm sure lots would like to see the school system changed for the better.