Issue 40 / October - December 2002
Kingdom of Children
Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement
Although, there is a lack of theoretical and philosophical background to understand the homeschooling movement I would like to use some philosophy of
teaching theories to understand and analyze counter-culture and controversies in Mitchell L. Stevens' book. The author tries to offer a broad understanding in the North Eastern American states in the homeschooling movement. The author focuses to answer why the homeschooling families walked away from one of the most central institutions of modern life and what do those families think about conventional schools. Stevens continues by saying that We inherit traditions of meaning that help define what we think and lend words to what we fell. I wanted to learn about the intellectual traditions from which home schooling had grown (Stevens, 2001, p.15). When I reviewed the book I wanted to discover what kind of inherited tradition and mentality he found or didn't find in the book while I was writing this paper. The author's perspective about the homeschooling movement seems to be more narrative and insightful than theoretical and philosophical, which a sociological study is supposed to rely on.
On the cover of the book Stevens talks about the great successes of home schooled children, their making headlines by winning national spelling bees and excelling at elite universities, but he does not extend the argument far enough. He does not talk about the experiences of these children, their feelings and ideas about being home schooled, or the structure of their educational curriculum. Although he mentions some studies about those children by saying that home schooled children are academically successful and remarkably well socialized he does not explain how and why homeschooling brings these results. This shows that Stevens is more concerned with the adult movement in homeschooling than with how it will affect the children's world contrary to the title of the book.
While the book states that the vast majority of homeschooling parents were conservative Christian or evangelical Protestant there are some exceptions to that which make the movement harder to understand. These exceptions include families who are atheist, gay or single parent rather than all conservative Christian. I see a shift toward theories based on a postmodern approach because many parents have become skeptical about other types of modern schooling. Homeschooling families place great emphasis on their children' showing initiative and being physically and psychologically healthy. For homeschooling families' modernism does not have a capacity to fulfill the needs of young children because there is so much influence of commercial culture, including overly sexualized and secularized materials. While homeschooling families unmask the secular political ideology in regular public schooling, they come with their hidden agenda (religious or non-secular education) unlike in postmodernism. This is because postmodernism gives great emphasis on individual intention. Hlebowitsh says that postmodernists stress the value of individual initiative, the recognition of human intention, the unmasking of political ideology in knowledge, the taming of social control mechanism in the school, and the general idea that society is marked by conflicting interests of class, gender, and culture (Hlebowitsh, 2001, p. 119). Postmodernism is skeptical to see things as all good and perfect, but homeschooling families are pretty sure what they want out of home schooling. According to many homeschooling families, in this modern world individuals are not conscious about God and the importance of family ties, especially mother and child/children, are uniquely important. Consequently, the movement in the book seems to be not so new and very similar to early colonial New England School tradition in terms of its being exclusive and based on Bible lesson plans. In chapter three, entitled Natural Mothers and Godly Women, Stevens recalls Dame schooling that is based on women educators (widowed or unmarried) in the New England early colonial era. These women did not necessarily train to be a teacher but taught to read the Bible and lessons based on its Scriptures, which is very similar to the homeschooling movement today. Stevens book fails to do this, or describe some other types of historical ties behind the movement. I wonder if he intents to make this connection on page 15 by using the term inherit tradition in the homeschooling movement.
In the Homeschooling Journal, Debra Strayer (Stevens, 2001, p.66) says that:
As teaching parents, we are presented with a huge array of educationally important things to serve our children. Many things are considered essential, such as phonics and math. Many are deemed very important, such as writing and science, with our study of the Bible as the central diet. As we consider the many things our children simply must have, we tend to eliminate those things that are cumbersome and difficult to schedule
In this quote Strayer expresses the feelings of many homeschooling families by saying that other types of schooling are more heavily weighted on unnecessary courses and scheduling than core subjects' courses. The homeschooling families like to eliminate those things from their children's learning experience. While they make these arguments on the surface they tend to be subject-centered rather than child-centered. This is similar to one of the conservative philosophies of teaching theory, which is essentialism. In this type of teaching philosophy learning is primarily based on the transmission and protection of common core cultural knowledge. This common culture relies on the values of Western civilization and the ideal learning experience is strictly based on academic discipline. While those statements translate the homeschooling movement, the author does not tend to make any type of historical or philosophical connection to interpret and understand the movement. Because these parents do not count on their children's ideas and feelings, they ignore the real view of their children and they only think of molding them into the shape that they want them to be. Thus, parents, not the children, have the authority to make the choices and offer selections.
According to Rousseau, who is the father of the child-centered approach, children are best educated in a free environment and schools tend to destroy the natural learning process. Having an educational agenda undermines the individual's natural and spontaneous learning process. As is seen in this statement, what Rousseau proposed with child-centeredness was totally different than what homeschooling families intend to do. I think the author needs another term instead of child centered at page 88. I believe those children are successful because of subject or discipline centeredness of homeschooling movement but not because of the child-centeredness of the movement.
Although I find Stevens book very enlightening, I see some gaps in terms of its theoretical and philosophical background. The author perceives homeschooling as a new social movement, but the question about what type of new social movement stays unclear and/or unanswered. I also realize this gap comes from the nature of the homeschooling movement. Even though, I try to understand Stevens' book based on some teaching theories, it is hard to frame the movement because of a wide range of homeschooling families' backgrounds and their expectations from the movement. Stevens' book offers a very insightful approach to understanding homeschooling families. One of the strongest sides of his book is its vast range of homeschooling designs and the richness of his survey sample distributions. In terms of his methodology, this increases the accuracy of the information he provides through surveying. This shows that the author reached out to many homeschooling families and learned a lot about their world. Finally, I find Stevens successful in his ability to reflect his experiences insightfully with homeschooling families behind the movement.
Hlebowitsh, Peter S., (2001). Foundations of American education (3 ed.). Wadsworth T. Thomson Learning. Belmont, CA
Stevens, Mitchell L., (2001). Kingdom of children: Culture and controversy in the homeschooling movement. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey