Home School Versus Public School In The Age of Pandemic And Political Upheaval
Supreme Court appointments are a small, but influential factor, in where we go from here
All eyes right now are on the Supreme court confirmation hearing of Amy Coney Barrett. Many fear that Barret will upend hard won precedents concerning equal rights, voting rights, healthcare access (especially for women and LGBTQ), environmental protections, and more. Then there are issues at the fore right now such as election outcomes, and a hugely lopsided supreme court projected to consist of six conservatives to three progressives.
None of these things are directly tied to education. And yet, they are. This is due to the unique circumstance of an independent and influential woman who is well educated, but also considered socially “regressive” in her views. Millions of Americans will be watching and worried about being disenfranchised by partisan alliance.
Spare the God, spoil the child?
Barrett is catholic. She and her children have the best access to private education that privilege allows. Nevertheless, it is expected that she will defend the rights of homeschooling and private school funding programs, whether they are proven to deliver a high quality of education or not.
Add to this the mess of our 2020 landscape. COVID 19 and civil unrest has muddied the waters of what kind of education access all people will receive. At the intersection of role expectations for men and women, gender equality, financial ability, race concerns, and representation in policy, Barrett has many progressives terrified that the intent of a conservative agenda is to roll back the clock to the 1950’s “American Greatness” ideal.
Barrett, in her private faith, which should not be conflated with her policies, advocates complementarianism. The idea in some fundamental religious circles is that the roles of men and women are pre-defined. They complement one another. In the bible, it is affirmed, men and women worked within their separate roles — men as providers and protectors, women as domestic partners and nurturers — and this preestablished nod to separate but equal influence is sacred.
Few people would disagree that women’s domesticity roles should be held in far higher regard than they are. For example, shouldn’t a homeschooling mother be at least as valued, just as a public-school teacher is (or at least should be!)? Should a hard working “non-working” mother be compensated as an earner? And what about paid parental leave?
Of course, as many critics will readily point out, the complementarian doctrine is flawed. Biblically, it hails 1950’s AD ideology as a template more-so than 1250 BC. In the bible traditional marriage and role models allowed for concubines, polygamy, slavery, marital rape, and routine disenfranchisement. The separate spheres were not equitable in any sense, and, as it has been pointed out, a handmaiden was often a sex slave or a domestic servant, not an equal. That, and all women of biblical times, homosexuals, and “outsiders” were always suspect. What we teach our children about such roles is incredibly important.
It might be argued that some homeschooling education that follows this model is more indoctrination than education. When we teach children to follow authority, it surely is contradictory at best, and misleading at worst. Can we teach them to always question authority, but also hold it in highest regard?
Science and social progress after all, depends not upon strict adherence to the status quo, but constant questioning, and challenging of it.
History of Homeschooling
It may be useful to note that the modern homeschooling movement is not very old. It began in some ways not as an alternative to find creative ways to teach science, math, literature, and critical thinking skills, but to thwart modern interpretation of those teachings.
Objections to teaching evolution in schools had increased since the famous 1920 Scopes Monkey trail. Prayer in school was outlawed in the 1960’s. Integration of schools, striving for racial and sexual equity, also left many parents feeling severely discriminated against according to the tenants of their faith.
In the 1980’s, John Holt and Raymond Moore took up the crusade to devise learning materials and home curriculums that parents could easily follow. They decried the shortcomings of public education such as overcrowding, focus on testing, funding, and rote learning.
Their approach was not entirely faith-based.
But by the early 1990’s this perspective had changed, influenced by such movements as Focus on the Family, Mega churches, and evangelical influence. Mike Farris and Mike Smith, both right leaning thinkers, established the Home School Legal Defense Fund to meet external legal challenges and to help parents feel supported as homeschool providers.
Enter the computer and information age, and all new problems, as well as education access emerged. While more and more knowledge and information has become available to homeschoolers, so have challenges to the quality of teaching, especially in regard to integrated social immersion, critical thinking skills, the value of scrutiny to science, STEM, and environmental concerns.
What is the correct approach to mitigating climate change, for example, if a narrow teaching platform explains it away as “natural cycles,” or even more dubiously, “God’s mysterious plan”?
For a few homeschoolers, definitely not all, a curriculum that ignores accepted science, such as our four-billion-year-old geologic origin, or our shared biology through our DNA with all other living organisms.
Today is a bigger mess
Now we are in the grip of a global pandemic.
Science and medicine are up for debate in a way that horrifies some educators. Vaccination and mask wearing are just two “debates.”
How we address the education and edification of today’s children is more critical than ever before. Every day parents are challenged by the reality of limited parental roles, isolation of kids from other kids, limited online access, and shortages of time, materials, and focus.
It is not out of the question that computer and online access problems should face some of the same kind of examination that John Holt looked at critically in the 1970’s. More than a few parents advocate going back to the three R’s, reading, (w)riting, and (A) arithmetic. While a few others maintain that another R, religious freedom, is at stake.
Coming full circle all the way back to Judge Amy Barrett’s confirmation trial, anyone with learning aged children, including adult students with debt, is rightfully concerned about the outcome of how fundamental human rights, such as access to healthcare and choice, will merge with fundamentalist Christian belief.
It is very telling that few people were too concerned about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or Bernie Sanders’ Jewish faith. Nor should we shy away from realizing how very differently we would scrutinize a judge of Muslim faith, or even an agnostic, or atheist, one.
We need to begin to study and understand these issues not as separate, but as intersectional concerns that affect each individual freedom, but also with global consequences.
Looking at the many challenges to providing education in the era of climate crisis, pandemic, and sociopolitical upheaval should be very educational, indeed.