Monday, December 31, 2007

Radical Home Schoolers

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.


Ahermitt said...

I am not exactly a radical feminist unschooler, but I can answer your question. You only have so many years to educate your child. It takes a great many years to effect change in schools. Meanwhile, a child can get lost.

As a parent it makes more sense to educate the child first then to try to effect the educational system.

Unknown said...

I went to an "unschool" cooperative for a year when I was young -- first grade-ish. One of the best educational experiences I've had and spread the work around.

- Becks

Tammy said...

There are three things I'd like to point out:

1) There are many ways to change the face of education in this country without trying to fix a system where we are basically the customers. It's like trying to help people get a better diet and trying to change how McDonald's does business by setting up healthier food options at my McDonald's down the street. A better way would be to promote healthy eating on a bigger scale.

2) There are a lot of people who don't vote. It's not against the law not to. So many people make the implicit or explicit choice not to vote. Because most people do vote, those who don't vote, don't really make a dent in how the system works. School, is the same way. A few of us deciding not to send our kids to school isn't going to make a dent in the school system.

3) I did not have kids so I could fix the school system. I had kids because I love my husband, I love my kids. Ultimately, my family's well-being is the most important to me. I would guess that everyone would agree with me that their family's well-being is more important than the school. I won't sacrifice my family's sanity, money, time and closeness so that I can help my local school have an extra after-school class.

4) Some people have told me that all the work I do would be a great benefit to the school down the street. I told them that, ya, maybe I would do some good there, but they would NOT want me there. I disagree with about 90% of what they do to the kids there, and I'd be the biggest darn thorn in their side. And I would hate it there. So, why should I go there if none of us would be happy?

5) Besides, unschooling is so awesome, I'd have to be in a pretty dire situation to be willing to go to a system where our lives are dictated for us, and someone is constantly wondering where our homework is. No thanks.

So there ya go :) A feminist unschooler's POV on why I don't put my feminist power to work in the schools. :)

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