Santorum (home)schools opponents

One of my friends is an impressive campaign operative. He flies across the country each week advising campaigns, from congressional races to presidential ones. He’s smart and savvy and has energy to burn. And even though he’s much younger than I am, he’s been doing it for more than 15 years. He started as a young homeschooler.

The oldest of six, he began working on campaigns as a way to get practical experience and work skills. He turned out to be really good at it. I’ve covered races he’s been involved with and I’ve met many other former homeschoolers on staff. It’s a real thing (and not just in the way that increasing numbers of families are turning to homeschooling in general).

So I was delighted to read Daniel Burke’s piece on “Rick Santorum’s secret army: home-schoolers” via Religion News Service.

He begins by pointing to a “ragtag but politically potent army” helping out the campaign, organizing rallies, posting favorable features on social media and ringing doorbells:

“Santorum has been very aggressive in reaching out to the home-schooling community, especially in the last month,” said Rebecca Keliher, the CEO and publisher of Home Educating Family Publishing.

Drawing on his experience as a home-schooling father of seven, the former Pennsylvania senator has also sought to rally enthusiasm by pledging to continue that course in the White House.

“It’s a great sacrifice that my wife, Karen, and I have made to try to give what we think is the best possible opportunity for our children to be successful,” Santorum said during a March 1 campaign stop in Georgia. “Not just economically, but in a whole lot of other areas that we think are important — virtue and character and spirituality.”

Rallying home-schoolers could provide a huge boost to Santorum’s bare-bones campaign. The tightly knit and predominantly Christian communities are famous for furnishing favored candidates with hundreds of steadfast foot soldiers. Studies show that home-schoolers are disproportionately likely to vote, donate and volunteer for campaigns.

Well, considering that this country is predominantly Christian, it’s not exactly helpful to know that homeschoolers are too. Thankfully, we get some stats:

An estimated 2 million children are home-educated in the U.S., according to Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute. Nearly three-quarters have conservative Christian parents who seek to instill the moral and religious values that they believe are lacking in public schools, according to Ray and other experts.

Despite their growing diversity, home-schoolers also tend to be politically conservative.

Different friends of mine who were also home-schooled, used to intern at political offices (albeit not campaigns) at pretty young ages. They loved the chance to interact and learn from others as well as hone their office skills. The article addresses how home-school families see the benefit in what they do:

Home-schooling families often use campaigns as real-world civics lessons, with mothers taking their children along on afternoons as they make calls and volunteer at campaign headquarters, Keliher said.

“And you have triple or quadruple the effort when they bring the children,” she added.

We get some info on “one of the country’s most famous — and largest — home-schooling families” who are campaigning with Santorum.

The story also points out that some home-schoolers support Ron Paul and explains why they don’t support Santorum. On that point, the story also did a good job of explaining the appeal of Santorum’s social conservatism to the conservative Christian home-school families.

Just a great campaign story — and so different than most of the on-the-trail stuff you read.

Image via Shutterstock.

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  • Chris Bolinger

    Excellent article.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    A positive GetReligion post.

    (Crickets chirping. :-) )

  • MJBubba

    Mollie, thanks for this post. I liked the article because I have read an awful lot of junk about homeschoolers and this seemed well-informed and neutral. I do have a complaint though, since it brought up complaints about “public cyberschool” right near the end and that made the story seem truncated to me. I suspect most readers would need some more information on the complaints. I fail to see how distance learning somehow doesn’t muster as real homeschooling, and the complaint is not explained. If Pennsylvania supports it as a program, then why fault Santorum for taking advantage of it? These complaints are just presented without any explanation of the issues.

  • Jerry N

    @Bobby: touche! “If it bleeds, it leads” applies to critics of the editors, and not just the editors themselves.

  • sari

    Overall a good article, though I’d like to see attributions for the studies.

    MJBubba, I can’t speak for Santorum, but many homeschool parents I know use online courses instead of face to face, parent to child teaching, especially when the parents lack mastery of their children’s coursework.

  • Loud

    Lol, army is right! Did you ever see a cluster of elementary level homeshoolers at a group meeting decide that they want to start a game of Red Rover or Peter the Rock of the Church? Woah to the older child/parent in charge in charge if they don’t play a good Peter!

  • MJBubba

    sari (#5), exactly. I didn’t see any merit to this criticism, which was included with no commentary:

    “In spite of all of his rhetoric about the evils of public schooling, Santorum had his children enrolled in a public school but called it ‘home-school,’” Catherine Dreher, a home-schooling mother in St. Charles, Mo., wrote on her blog, “The Tiny Libertarian.”

    The public school in question keeps up a cyberschool, and the Santorum kids were hundreds of miles away, doing their schoolwork independently under parental supervision. When we were homeschooling we used a couple of online classes. We sure never thought of that as any less valid a homeschool experience than the classes where we simply obtained a teacher’s guide to use with a standard text.


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