Does homeschooling destroy the community?

Source:  Daily Kos

One of the anti-homeschooler arguments I have always found peculiar is the argument that parents, by choosing to homeschool their own children, are unfairly depriving the community of their contributions to the education of all.  According to this theory, we are depriving the other children in public school classes of the contributions to the class of our own children.  We are depriving parent teacher associations of our own voices and helpful contributions.  We are depriving fundraisers of our funds.  We are disconnected from the education of the broader community.  Here on Daily Kos I have heard it called a “betrayal,” an unforgivable sin, for progressives to homeschool their children.  Invective has been piled on vituperation.  Homeschooling, we are told, is destructive of the Common Good, in the form of public schools, and we can’t be considered progressives if we homeschool.

I’d like to examine some of the assumptions of this argument. The assumptions necessary to believe that homeschooling is inherently destructive to the community include the following:
your community has a school; parents can be part of a community at that school; your children enrolling at their public school improves education for all; children get an equal education in your public schools; homeschooling hurts the public school community; homeschooling doesn’t create community; and homeschooling isn’t good for the community at large.   I will discuss these assumptions with reference to my recent, personal experience with the public schools available to my children in my community.  I believe that I can demonstrate that homeschooling can support the common good and the community.


Your community has a school.

I live in a city where schools are assigned by lottery.  There is no guarantee, and little likelihood, that your children will go to school with the kids next door.  Going down a street like mine, in a mixed-income, ethnically diverse neighborhood, odds are good that out of a dozen kids in a dozen houses no two unrelated children will go to the same school.  You will find kids driven to parochial school, bused to a white school in the suburbs, driven to one public school, bused to another public school, or attending a private school, all in different neighborhoods.  And of course you’ll find my kid, homeschooling in place.  What you won’t find is any kids walking to a neighborhood school, because it was long ago closed and turned into fixed-income housing for the elderly.

When I was applying to schools for my son, and expressed the hope that he would be able to walk to school, I was considered odd.  It was obvious that I did not grow up here.  I tried to pick (or rank) a school with the most kids from our neighborhood, so he’d have friends from school to play with after school, but it didn’t work out that way.  Nobody within three blocks went to the same school, and the only friends he made there live in other neighborhoods.  Neither of the two neighbor kids who came by just now to see if he could go out to play goes to a local public school.  The kids in the school he went to came from all over the city.

Every few years a local politician makes abolishing the lottery and returning to neighborhood schools part of his campaign.  There is never any follow-through.  The lottery is the remnant of busing in my city, instituted to remediate racially divided and unequally funded schools in the sixties and seventies.  It may be decades before the lottery system is ended, if ever, and until it does very few people anywhere in the city will be able to feel they have a community school.  Kids in the middle-class neighborhoods have difficulty getting into nearby schools, which are over-selected, and parents in the poorer neighborhoods don’t want to send their kids to the nearby schools because they are full of poor kids.  Each year a few schools are closed, a few new ones are opened, and a few are reorganized.  Some schools may have a continuous community to which you could contribute, but they’d be few and hard to get into.  Most students in my city do not and will never have a community school.

In third grade, tracking begins with testing for the “Advanced Work Classes.”  After the test, most of the middle-class kids will leave their elementary schools to be sent to different schools elsewhere in the city.  After fifth grade, all of the kids at all the elementary schools in my neighborhood will be dispersed to different middle schools around the city (there are no K-8 schools in my neighborhood).  After sixth grade, those groups of kids who landed at the same middle school will be broken up as some of them are shipped off to exam schools.  Even if one found community at a local school at the elementary level, it likely wouldn’t last long.  The child who attends the same schools with one other child for the duration of his education in our city is very rare.  The child who actually lives near another child with whom he goes to school for the duration may not exist.  My city has schools, but my community does not.

Parents can be part of a community at their school.

My boy went to one of the nearest public schools (over a mile away) for almost two years, with kids from near and far.  While he was the repeated subject of violence to the point of suffering great anxiety and stress, I tried to be “part of the community.”  I found that the parents’ ability to participate in the community at the school was limited to pickup, dropoff, occasional menial classroom assistant roles, chaperoning field trips, and (for a while) scheduled, formal involvement in a parent-run after-school enrichment program.  We were not allowed on school grounds during or after school unless were were called in or were in one of these few roles.  We were not allowed to have parent meetings using school facilities without paying hundreds of dollars an hour in extra maintenance fees.

Being part of the community in terms of organizing things off-campus was difficult also.  I found our school to be deeply divided.  A small group of middle-class white and hispanic parents volunteered for everything and ran all the groups (including the after-school enrichment programs), meeting at each others’ houses.  Few working-class parents came to any meetings, and they largely resented the folks who ran things, on economic and race lines.  Every decision or initiative was complicated by deep divisions among parents.  Every success brought the larger parent community further apart.  Clumsy attempts at sensitivity didn’t resolve anything.  When middle-class parents would meet for the fundraising committee, they couldn’t consider fundraising appeals that outright asked for money because they might be alienating to people who don’t have money.  They couldn’t consider having a meeting and not providing child care because that could be alienating to people who can’t find child care.  The biggest event of the year was of, by, and for the middle-class parents; it was appreciated because of how much money was raised and simultaneously resented by those who didn’t participate.

Parents and children segregated themselves by race and class lines, sometimes unintentionally.  The middle-class and upper-middle class parents mostly drove their kids to school, and would carpool back to the same wealthier neighborhoods.  The poor families almost all put their kids on the buses, as did I.  The buses were chronically late, meaning there was a group of kids who came early and a group of kids who came late, and they were different.

Outside of school, my son played and plays with children who are rich and poor, black and white, Anglo and Hispanic, Christian and Jewish and Muslim.  He doesn’t care what color someone is, and nobody makes a big deal about it.  At the school, for the most part, the lighter kids played together and the darker kids played together.  School gave an object lesson in racial inequality.  My child came home repeating racist things he’d heard at the school (e.g. ‘so-and-so said that black people are dumber than white people.’)  The school had an atmosphere of racism, and of racial tension, that made me deeply uncomfortable.  The principal used race-baiting as a strategy to preserve her inaction, feeding the flames.  Many parents seemed to pat themselves on the back rhetorically for sending their children to a “diverse” school, but the play was parallel.  The divisions were so deep it sometimes seemed like two schools were operating in the same building.

When my son started to suffer from stress because of persistent bullying, I tried to help the community become a safer place for all the children.  I was given the bureaucratic two-step:  meetings in a couple of months (never permitted at the school itself), followed by vague promises of action with no follow-through.  The bullying problem was so severe there were kids in therapy talking about it, but according to the principal it didn’t exist and parents who suggested it did were racists.  The administrators figured I’d just go away if they stonewalled me.  And they were right.  We did not feel a sense of community from the administration or, when it comes down to it, from the other parents, while we were in public school, and we wouldn’t have been able to help create one by staying.

Your children enrolling at their public school improves education for all.

The way it works now in our city is that the school population is heavily skewed relative to the population at large.  Forty years after desegregation efforts began, many schools are now 97-99% black and Hispanic in this majority white city.  Economic segregation cleaves on the same lines.

White flight hit hard and heavy here, crumbling entire neighborhoods, and home values are still half what they are across the town line to the  nearest suburbs.  In the eighties and nineties, new folks – hippies and hipsters – moved into some of the distressed neighborhoods, and began the process of gentrification.  In the nineties and oughts, these folks faced the hard reality of public schools that didn’t at all resemble the neighborhoods they’d changed.  By and large there was a second white flight when they had children, but many of that generation did stay and try to change things.

The result is that some schools have undergone what is widely described as a middle-class takeover.  The process works like this:  a group of middle-class white people with little kids gets together and plans simultaneously to choose a lesser-chosen school in the lottery, ensuring they’ll all get in .  Once there, they take over the parent associations and fundraising.  The result is public schools with an activist cadre, providing many extra offerings like science, foreign language, art, music, gardening, dance, etc., which most of the public schools in the city don’t have, all funded by the parents.

This process results in better education for those parents’ kids and, to some extent, for the group of kids who attend along with them.  But this takeover can be greatly resented by the former school population.  At my son’s school, a parent stood up at a meeting to complain loudly about “a bunch of white women taking over a black school.”  (Needless to say, that bunch of white women was very offended).

Once a middle-class school takeover has been consummated, it’s no longer easy, let alone assured, that you can get your kids into that school.  As sibling preference is placed in front of everything else in the lottery, the takeover perpetuates itself.  Year by year the proportion of “other kids” gets less and less, until you end up with incoming classes that are majority white (reflecting the city demographic, but not the public school demographic).  These schools are then divided in the way I described above.

As a middle-class parent in my city, there is no way you can participate in public school without participating in this dynamic.  It could be argued that if you gain admission to a school where a middle-class takeover has succeeded, your child will be occupying a spot a working-class minority kid can’t have now – in that sense, you’ll be taking away from education for all rather than adding to it.  Ideally, the kids would be evenly distributed, but that’s very much not the way it works here.  Middle-class parents in my city place a high premium on their children attending an elementary school that has been the beneficiary of a middle-class school takeover, and if they don’t get in to one of the schools, many middle-class parents will just move to another town.

Middle-class parents rapidly figure out how to manipulate the system to their own kids’ best benefit, and as a result the ‘spillover’ of their educational contributions to other kids in the district is limited.  After the first few years of elementary school, tracking begins, and each year the number of white middle-class kids at large in the public school system is winnowed down.  By seventh grade, most of the few white middle-class kids who remain in the system are holding down seats in exam schools, nowhere near the hoi polloi.  They are then not affecting “equal education for all” in the least.

Children get an equal education in your public school.

My city’s school system doesn’t really provide or support the same education for all.  If it did, the few middle-class parents who stay there would probably leave.  If you visit a popular elementary school in my city, you can easily see with your eyes which year tracking begins.  The classes line up on the playground:  mixed, mixed, mixed, mixed, uniform, uniform.  After third grade, when tracking begins, it’s not the same education for all anymore, and it shows. Schools like the one my son went to tend to start out mixed-race and end up 100% minority.  In addition to the many middle-class kids who ship out to advanced work classes at other schools in fourth grade, many other middle-class kids’ parents actually pack up and leave town when their kids don’t make the cut.  This is how we end up with a school population that is roughly 80% black and Hispanic in a city whose population is roughly 40% black and Hispanic.

The kids who go to the Advanced Work classes in fourth grade and the kids who stay behind do not get the same education.  This is entirely the point.  The Advanced Work classes are the fast-track to the Exam Schools, and they offer more rapid progression and much more homework.  Only a few schools have Advanced Work tracks, so most of the kids who test in have to move schools to do it.  It’s not like AP classes, where all the kids have the same homeroom, but some kids might have an AP Chemistry class instead of the normal Chemistry class.  The Advanced Work kids are segregated from the normal population.  At some schools the principals promise they won’t interact at all, and even lunch and recess periods are different.

The district starts such extreme tracking in fourth grade specifically to prepare city kids for exam school testing.  In sixth grade, kids may take the ISEE to see if they test into an exam school.  The exam schools promise free and equal access to all who pass the test.  Before the advent of Advanced Work track, too many of the exam school spots were going to kids who went to private elementary schools, and the city was embarrassed.

The exam school test visibly changes the composition of middle schools and the schools that go K-8.  Some parents jokingly refer to the exam school test as the “see whether we stay in the city” test.  If you think any parent would turn down acceptance into the top exam school, you must be joking.  No other school in the country sends more kids to Harvard.  But if you think that by going there you are participating in a free and equal education for all kids in the city, then you must also be joking.

The differences poor and middle-class city kids bring into Kindergarten aren’t erased by third grade, when they start tracking.  Today the top exam school in my city is roughly 80% white and Asian.  The school system as a whole is about 20% white and Asian.  This is repeated in cities with similar systems. I’d like to see our district become more inclusive, and offer a better education for all. It’s not certain that I’d be helping with that by having my kid ride the Advanced Work track to the exam schools.

If an equal public education for all is to become a reality, it must address the problem of different abilities in the early grades.  In my city, we already have free full-day public kindergarten, but we must go farther.  Free all-day public preschools and other primary services must become a reality.  Unlike so many who flee our district for the suburbs, I am still here and can vote for them.

Homeschooling hurts the public school community.

In my city, somewhere around a quarter of students do not attend public school.  Of these, the largest number go to parochial school, followed by those who go to private school, those who are bused out to rich public schools in the suburbs, and those who go to charter schools.  This 25% does not count what is probably a larger number – the parents who move out of the city once they have kids, or when their kids don’t get into a preferred elementary school, or when their kids don’t test into Advanced Work, or when their kids don’t get into exam schools.  I believe that’s more than 25% of families.  Only a very small percentage (less than a third of a percent, a relative handful) of children in my city are homeschooled.

How does each of these groups affect the public school community?  In every single case, it could equally be said that those departing the district schools display more motivation than those staying behind. If the homeschoolers would have made the public system more healthy by staying, it is also true that the parochial school kids, the charter school kids, the private school kids, and the out-bussed kids – not to mention those who flee the city lock, stock, and barrel – would have made the public school system more healthy by staying.  I’ve been told here that homeschooling your children hurts the public school system of free education for all.  If the homeschooled kids hurt the public school community, the others do a hundred times as much harm, because there are a hundred times as many of them.

In demographic terms, what I saw at my son’s public school was a deep division between a small group of middle to upper-middle class kids and a large group of working class to very poor kids.  There was a clear ethnic cleavage across the economic lines as well.  The parents, as I’ve mentioned, didn’t socialize across these groups much, and for the most part the kids didn’t either.  There were virtually two schools side by side.  Statistically, these groups had different expectations and destinations within the school system.  Some would end up at an exam school that is 80% White and Asian, and some would end up at a non-exam high school that is 99% Black and Hispanic.

It seemed like the quarter-plus of students who had already abandoned our public school system were mostly of two types:  either the rich, who would never consider public school in the first place, or the motivated working class, who sought to help their children escape their unsavory peers.  The inclusion of those children would have filled up the economic spectrum at school to resemble better that of our city.

Talking about how private schools destroy the Common Good is low-hanging fruit. On a national level, there really aren’t that many people who send their kids to “independent” schools.  I know that none of the self-described “progressives” who condemn homeschooling send their kids to private school.  But do they complain as much about parents who send their kids to private schools in proportion to how much they complain about parents who homeschool?  I know it’s not fair to complain about, say, President Obama sending his kids to the exclusive Sidwell Friends School.  He’s the President, and his kids need Secret Service protection.  But this choice isn’t just about being President; a posh fellow like Obama would never send his kids to public school, no matter what he was doing, and neither would his friends.  In Chicago, his children went to the Chicago Lab School, a great place, fulfilling the progressive ideals of John Dewey and costing over 20K a year.  It’s the same place Rahm Emanuel’s kids go, where Arne Duncan’s kids went.  All your favorite “progressives” who live in Chicago send their kids there.  Is there a double standard in effect when people pillory Frothy for supporting homeschooling, but don’t blink an eye when Arne Duncan – who is in charge of our nation’s public school policy – sends his own kids to private school?

If you tour private schools, even places that cost 40K a year will brag about their “commitment to social justice.”  If the parents have “commitment to social justice,” why are they sending their kids to private schools?  Many of these schools go so far to describe themselves as “progressive private education.”  Is that not an oxymoron?  “Progressives” are out there feeling virtuous because their kids go to schools endowed with “a commitment to diversity” or dedicated to “community responsibility” or a school that “embodies the democratic principles of diversity and citizenship,”  or a school that fulfills the mission of a famous leader in progressive education – the Lab School was founded by John Dewey himself.  So here’s a question:  how is it that a private school can “embody the democratic principles of diversity and citizenship” while homeschooling can “betray the Common Good?”

I’m guessing not one of you folks on here blustering about homeschoolers has your kids in a school like that, and every one of you who has poured invective into the comments section on a homeschooling diary would do the same on a diary about private school.  So let’s look at more down-to-earth alternatives, because none of us are so rich we can afford to purchase that level of “dedication to community responsibility.”

My neighbor’s boy, for example, goes outside the city to a very rich public school in the suburbs, as part of a regional desegregation program.  His parents are working-class, visibly ethnic, and well-connected, and were able to shake that plum spot out of the system.  Should progressives blame them for wanting the best they can think of for their son?  I know I don’t.  But does the departure of a motivated working-class boy hurt the district public schools more than the departure of a motivated upper-middle class boy?  That’s a judgement you’re making if you condemn homeschooling but support regional desegregation.

Personally, I’m not willing to say that my neighbor’s contribution to our district schools would be less than my son’s; in truth, I think it would be greater.  Regional desegregation initiatives skim the cream of urban youth, those whose parents are so motivated and knowledgeable that they sign them up years in advance. If departing homeschoolers in our small numbers are making public education worse, the city-suburb “desegregation” programs are doing many times as much damage to our district.  They’re assisting directly in the racial and economic polarization of our urban public schools and taking away from community solidarity.  If a parent posted a diary praising the city-suburb regional desegregation program their child attends, would somebody here call them a traitor to progressive values?

Now how about the charter schools?  People line up for a hundred to one shot in a lottery, and (by and large) the disabled need not apply.  I hear progressives blaming charter schools for concentrating learning disabilities and ELL students in the public schools and taking the most motivated students away.  But I don’t hear many progressives blaming parents for applying to them.  Aren’t those parents hurting public schools even more than parents who homeschool?  These schools are contributing directly to the polarity I saw in my son’s school, which has terrible effects on minority youth who remain in public school.  Are the parents who send their children to charter schools “betraying the Common Good?”  Or do those parents get a special pass not available to homeschooling parents?

In my previous apartment, my neighbor was a taxi driver whose son attended a parochial school down the block, the same one he’d attended as a boy.  The closest thing we have to a community school near my neighborhood is a parochial school in the next neighborhood over.  All the long-time residents send their kids there, all the cops and firefighters, Catholic or not.  Generations have gone there.  The Catholic school alumni are the only people in my neighborhood able to send their kids to the same school they went to.  Are my son’s playmate Johnny’s parents really “betraying the social good” more by having their kids educated in their neighborhood at the same school they went to than they would be by sending them randomly across town?

When his local parochial school closed, my old neighbor ended up moving to a suburb to put his kids in public school there.  Would he really have hurt our community more by staying on his block and homeschooling?  He didn’t just take his kid out of our public school system, he took his income and his vote right out of our city.  In my city, this is probably more common than any other form of abandonment.  And I know this one is country-wide.  When you go look at a house, the realtor is more likely than not to talk about how good the schools are.  Do progressives who berate homeschoolers also go out to those suburbs and chastise all the new arrivals?  When new neighbors move in next door to you and say “we’re glad we got away from those schools,” do you welcome them or do you tell them they’re betraying the common good?

Some prominent critics of homeschooling boast of having attended the finest public schools available.  They were able to do so in many cases because their parents moved intentionally to locations with the finest public schools available, abandoning others where the schools weren’t so rarefied on their way.  This is probably the biggest way in which people contribute to making our public schools less equal.  I hear from progressives that homeschooling does “not comport with crucial social justice values related to investing in the common good, and so I’d urge parents concerned with social justice—both broadly and in terms of their own children’s development—to think twice about making this choice?”  Do you say this also to people who move their families to rich suburbs to avoid the problems of urban public schools?

It’s school lottery season here, and the web boards are alive with panicked people saying their lottery numbers are terrible, crying about being driven out of their neighborhoods, and asking which suburbs they should flee to.  I don’t blame them; I feel for them.  But they won’t be improving public education by moving to a wealthy suburb.  They will be exacerbating divisions in public education far more than we are by homeschooling.

Moving to the suburbs for the schools drives up property values and property tax collections on which public education funding is based, making public education less equal.  This vicious circle is easily visible in the nearby suburbs.  Forty years ago the near suburbs were cheap; now you will pay a half-million dollars for a teardown.  By staying put, we are at least contributing our tax money to our local public education system, and staying connected to the political system that governs it.

If we moved from the community where the public schools failed for us (and where we are now homeschooling) to a wealthy town in Westchester, would we be helping or hurting public education?  You can’t fix American political problems by voting in Canadian elections, and you can’t fix city school problems by enrolling in wealthy suburbs.

We homeschoolers are a minority, and we’ll always be a minority.  But instead of coming after us and  berating us as “a direct assault on the progressive principle of public education for all,” why don’t concerned progressives consider the many, many others who withdraw from public education for all?  If you have ever moved to a different town for the schools, you are part of this group too.  We won’t blame you for it – you’re just doing what you think is best for your child – but please don’t pretend you’re holier than we are.

Homeschooling doesn’t create community.

In homeschooling, we have found more of a community than we did at school.  My son has more friends from our neighborhood, more friends of color, more friends of different religions, and more friends of different ages than he did from school.  For the first time, also, my son studies with children who live nearby.  I have been able to make real contributions to our new community, by hosting programming classes, taking turns at book clubs, and helping new public school refugees get oriented.  We are now working on setting up a coop day.  We parents collaborate in a sense that was not possible at the public school my son attended.  We form relationships that aren’t under the sword of an impending test and dispersal deadline. We don’t hedge our friendships with the expected competition of exam school entrance.  We find community resources and share them with each other.

Parents are frequently competitive about their children, but the incommensurability of our diverse individual programs may help blunt competitiveness with regards to our children.  I don’t feel here as I did in public school, where I felt some other parents were obsessed with class ranking as early as first grade.  I remember one mother calling me after we left school, not with concern about our welfare, but with the misplaced concern that my boy had been allowed to skip to the next grade and hers hadn’t.  Were we friends for her or just competitors?  Nobody has treated us that way in the homeschooling community.

Some of us in the local homeschooling community have our kids study Latin and classics, some of us are unschoolers committed to a lack of teaching entirely, and some of us go at math and science hammer and tongs.  We meet at our points of common interest.  We organize and share activities together, see each other regularly, take care of each other’s kids when doctor visits and such happen, and over the horizon we foresee our kids exploring the city and auditing college classes together.  We don’t feel that we are competing over limited resources (such as seats in the top exam school), but that we are creating resources for each other.

Most of the ways in which we contribute to creating resources would not have been possible in our public schools.  I would not be allowed to teach anything in one of our public schools during school hours.  In public school, I would not be allowed to affect curriculum in the least (even the teachers aren’t allowed to affect the curriculum very much).  As a homeschooling parent, I am already helping other people’s children learn about programming, engineering, and literature, and may start teaching other things in coop.

Bureaucratic regulations and schedules are so slow in our district that if I tried to organize anything meaningful, my child would have moved on to another school by the time I got clearance.  One can try to help, but one can only do so within very narrow restrictions, and must mostly toe the line and keep one’s mouth shut.  We parents were not welcome at the school, during or after hours, and our suggestions were especially not welcome.  When it came down to it, we did not feel that our child was welcome at the school either.

Homeschooling isn’t good for the community at large

I know a lot of progressives who are members of coops.  Not homeschooling coops, because there just aren’t that many of us.  But food coops.  You know, those places you’ve probably been to buy bulk dry goods or spices or organic vegetables.  Once upon a time, you couldn’t get many of the things sold at food coops at supermarkets.  Now we’ve got Whole Foods megamarkets right and left.  But back when progressives had to actually join and work together to get a store in their community with these products, did other progressives tell them they shouldn’t do that, because then the supermarket would never carry them?  Did they say that pulling out of the Piggly Wiggly and buying all your brown rice at the Goodside coop was a betrayal of the common good?

That’s absurd, you may say – homeschoolers don’t provide anything for others, the same way that food coop members do.  But you’d be wrong.  Many homeschoolers contribute directly and substantially to their communities through or because of the process of homeschooling itself.  My wife’s uncle homeschooled his three boys in a rural community.  One’s a lawyer, another’s an educator, and the third is working on his PhD in engineering.  In the process of creating a community in a very real, literal sense (a large group of people living together), which collectively homeschooled the children of multiple families, they ended up giving back to the larger community as well.  The uncle in question is the principal of the local public school, their religious community runs a coffee shop that serves the community at large, and they give music lessons and concerts to the whole community.

My father (with whom I did not grow up) started off by homeschooling my half-brothers, and soon had so many children to teach that he literally built a school for them in his rural town.  The students, all bilingual in English and Spanish, gave back to the community in many ways, including tutoring the children of local farm workers.  This is a much more substantial contribution to the community than he ever could have made by waiting his turn to speak at PTA meetings, or than they would have made by attending the local public school.

In organizing activities and programs for our children, I am much more likely to contribute to something that will outlive my participation or improve the community and education of others than I was by performing menial classroom-assistant tasks or chaperoning now and then in my boy’s short-term school assignment.  I don’t think I’m likely to make as much of an impact as my father or my wife’s uncle, but I feel more connected to my community through homeschooling than I did through school.  Right now we are organizing a homeschool coop, and if we do a good job of it, it will outlive our participation.

I am certain also that in the process of homeschooling, my son will develop a deeper connection to our community than he would have in public school.  For starters, he sees a lot more of it.  He will be in our community all day, rather than spending half his waking hours cloistered in a school halfway across the city.  As he grows, his learning will involve it more directly.  Being available during the day – and not having to wake up at six AM to catch the school bus –  will make it easier for him to participate directly in the life of our community.  Not having his time and cares wrapped up round the clock by school and homework gives him a greater opportunity to contribute to the community.


Given my experience, I cannot help but see the call for homeschoolers to return to public school for the good of the community as a total canard.  It might sound idealistic and socially focused to the person saying it, but to the person hearing it it sounds much more like “shut up and get back in line.”  I’d like to see public education be better than it is, I really would.  But I am not going to make it so by reengaging the battle at a short-term school assignment across town.  And it’s my poor boy who would be on the front line, suffering trauma and stress.

We may not be making a contribution to the Common Good through my boy’s participating in one of my city’s public schools, but neither are a quarter of the other children living in the city, plus who knows how many more who’ve moved out already.  We at least can contribute to the Common Good in our city in other ways, because we stayed here instead of moving to the suburbs.  We have the opportunity to explore social justice as a practical part of our curriculum instead of punting that to a school and imagining that reading a few bowdlerized paragraphs about Martin Luther King in social studies class will check that box.  By finding a good way to stay in our city, we can remain engaged in our city’s many problems.

If we were to join the large number of people who make a significant financial investment in a private school or move to a wealthy suburb, we would not feel more involved in public school than we do now.  If we’d moved to a wealthy suburb, we’d be entirely disengaged from the real problems with public education.  If we’d chosen to pay 30K a year to a private school, we’d almost certainly resent and forget about public schools.  We’d also be much less engaged in our community – private schools seek to become your community, and to direct all your energy and charity towards themselves.  Instead of the steep costs of moving or private school, my basic costs for homeschooling my son (and, soon, my daughter) are about the same as were my total yearly contributions to the myriad fundraising events in public school.  Although our public schools did not work for us, they work for others and we do not resent them.  We are happy to support them with our tax money and our votes, happy to advocate for their improvement, and happy to help create other community resources.  We’re staying in our community.  We’re making it better.

Originally posted to Gareth on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 05:10 AM PDT.

Also republished by Education Alternatives.



Filed under Education

3 responses to “Does homeschooling destroy the community?

  1. I’m a teacher at a public school and have never heard anything, negative or otherwise, concerning home-schoolers. I’m sorry for your frustrations, and glad to see you are able to give your kids the best possible education that you can.

    • These are not my frustrations per se… just found this article interesting (I’m not the author, the source is linked at the top). There’s a lot of positive things in public schools, and depending on where in the USA we live, homeschooling may or may not be the very best choice for kids and their families. Interesting article though, huh?

      • Whoops…sorry! I somehow missed that it wasn’t you. It was interesting…I’ve never heard of anyone actually criticize home schooling (besides the “danger” of making your child socially inept), and I don’t deal with a lottery system in my district, but if one were to criticize it, then this would be a reasonable and complete argument. I sense the author is pretty set against tracking, which I’m not, and I also think that a lot of the blame we put on school, or family, is actually societal, economic, and a lot of that is historical (racial or otherwise). The school tries to handle these truths, but they just mummify themselves in bureaucracy and inefficiency. Just to clarify, I’m talking about the schools that service our toughest, poorest populations…

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