…[an] overheated hostility toward public schools runs throughout the new literature on liberal homeschooling, and reveals what is so fundamentally illiberal about the trend: It is rooted in distrust of the public sphere, in class privilege, and in the dated presumption that children hail from two-parent families, in which at least one parent can afford (and wants) to take significant time away from paid work in order to manage a process—education—that most parents entrust to the community at-large.
Take, for instance, Sonia Songha’s New York Times account of forming a preschool cooperative with six other brownstone-Brooklyn mothers, all of whom “said our children had basically never left our sides.” Indeed, in a recent Newsweek report, the education journalist Linda Perlstein noted a significant number of secular homeschoolers are also adherents of attachment parenting, the perennially controversial ideology defined by practices such as co-sleeping with one’s child and breast-feeding for far longer than typical, sometimes well beyond toddlerhood. Meanwhile, in suburban New Jersey, one “hippy” homeschooler told the local paper she feared exposing her kids to the presumably negative influences of teachers and peers. “I didn’t want my child being raised by someone else for eight hours out of the day,” she said.
Recent reports of teachers and teachers' aides in Los Angeles and New York molesting children only flame the fans of such fears. But these stories make news exactly because they are so rare; there's something creepy about giving in totally to terrors of the outside world harming one's child. In a country increasingly separated by cultural chasms—Christian conservatives vs. secular humanists; Tea Partiers vs. Occupiers—should we really encourage children to trust only their parents or those hand-selected by them, and to mistrust civic life and public institutions?
Slate pieces have a tight word limit, so I didn't have space to address Astra Taylor's discussion of the radical private school the Albany Free School, a 1960s holdover that embraces many of the practices of lefty homeschooling—the curriculum driven by children’s curiosity, the lack of strict discipline, the purposeful ignoring of state academic standards—while still offering students the social benefits of teachers and peers. The school serves some poor children, but it manages to do so by paying its teachers just $11,000 annually, a “stipend.” This is hardly a scalable model for national school reform. There simply aren't enough radical anarchist or trust-fund baby teachers willing to work for so little and also able to do a good job of it. Nationwide, 3.2 million teachers work in public schools; every day, about a sixth of the U.S. population either attends public school or goes to work inside public schools, which serve 90 percent of American children.
Educating children–especially poor children–is ridiculously expensive. We need government involved to help foot the bill, and to bring best practices to scale.
Anyhow, I hope you head to Slate to check out the entire piece.