Reportedly, some progressive circles have seen calls for homeschooling in response to Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as United States Secretary of Education. I suspect that this is primarily a made-up controversy. The pattern was predictable—first, several news articles showcasing a handful of tweets, and then a slew of conservative think-pieces mocking liberals for a supposedly widespread movement toward homeschooling in reaction to DeVos.
Given that I was homeschooled and now have a daughter in public school—and given that I was raised conservative and am now progressive—I am inclined to provide my perspective on this nonetheless. First, homeschooling in response to DeVos makes no sense given that it actively furthers DeVos’ goal—privatizing education. Second, I know what it is like to be homeschooled as a political statement made by my parents, and I don’t recommend it.
I am not anti-homeschooling. If your child wants to be homeschooled and you have the drive, the resources, and the interest to make it happen, more power to you! It is with homeschooling as a response to DeVos’ confirmation that I take issue. If you want to oppose DeVos—and I am with you 100% on that—the most effective way to do so is to support your local public schools (something you can do whether or not you have school-age children).
Let’s be clear here—DeVos has made no secret of her goal to privatize the United States’ education system. I read one interview where she refused to state that she supported public schools, preferring to say she supported public funding of education. This is actually an idea I heard growing up in a conservative home—the argument was that we should abolish public schools entirely, replacing them with private schools; the government would assign a certain amount of money to each child to use as a voucher, to attend the private school of their choice.
What’s wrong with this vision? Well, for one thing, the lack of accountability. Many states provide no oversight whatsoever, and as a result, there are private schools out there with the poorest of standards. Did you know there is a Christian school curriculum designed specifically to eliminate the need for a teacher, replacing the teacher with a classroom monitor? And then there is the problem of abuse going unchecked in private schools, due to a lack of public accountability and transparency.
I am by no means saying public schools are perfect in these areas, but at least we can create federal or state policy initiatives designed to fix problems and improve education. Without standards, public money will flow into private schools that do a poor job of educating their students, sometimes miseducating them entirely (don’t get me started on the problems with much of the Christian school curriculum out there).
There’s more wrong too—what options would secular parents have when choosing a private school in the Bible belt? it is easy to imagine full swaths of the country where, without public schools, Christian schools might offer the only educational option. What of Muslim families, or Jewish families, living in these areas?
If you believe that public schools are an important part of a democratic society based on the separation of church and state—and those who support DeVos typically believe exactly this—the best way to oppose DeVos’ plans is to support your local public school. One way I support public education is by sending my children to our local public school and volunteering there regularly. Individuals without school-age children can support their public schools as well—many schools need literacy tutors, or individuals willing to assist with school clubs. Attend school board meetings. Find out what supplies your local public school needs and make a donation.
Become involved in your local public schools.
I am not saying that progressive parents have to send their children to public schools, or else they betray the cause (or some such). I would never suggest putting support for public schools ahead of a child’s wellbeing. There are times when homeschooling or private or charter schools are in a child’s best academic and socio-emotional interest. But homeschooling for these reasons is different from homeschooling in direct response to DeVos, and it doesn’t forestall being involved in your local public schools in the ways outlined above.
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