Forming Character in Moral Ecology for Homeschools

Forming Character in Moral Ecology for Homeschools

von: James Davison Hunter, Ryan S. Olson

BookBaby, 2023

ISBN: 9781667896182 , 78 Seiten

Format: ePUB

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Forming Character in Moral Ecology for Homeschools


Homeschooling: Habits of the Heart and Hearth
As proponents of homeschooling like to point out, education was predominately conducted in the home for most of history, until mandatory state-sponsored schooling emerged in Western countries in the nineteenth century. Prior to that, most formal and informal education occurred in the home, around the hearth or table, led by parents or, if the family was so privileged, a tutor.
As public schooling became the dominant model, home- schooling as we think of it today became almost unheard of. By the middle of the twentieth century, institutional schooling was the norm.
But the social and cultural upheaval of the 1960s in the United States provided fertile soil for critiques of institutional schooling, and by the late 1970s, the modern homeschooling movement had emerged on opposite sides of a cultural divide. On the one hand, the countercultural Left in the 1960s and early ’70s offered critiques of institutional schooling as too traditional, structured, and authoritarian in books like Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society and John Holt’s How Children Fail and How Children Learn.1 On the other hand, an emerging countercultural Right of conservative Christians in the 1970s and early ’80s experienced a growing alienation from the public school system over Darwinism, sex education, and Supreme Court decisions banning public prayer and bible reading in schools.2 Despite fundamental differences, both sides now share an antiestablishment streak and a bitter disillusionment with “government schools,” as many homeschoolers call public schooling.
The population of homeschooled children in the United States has grown rapidly in the last 30 years: The National Center for Education Statistics estimated the figure at 1.77 million for 2012,* while the nonprofit National Home Education Research Institute estimated it at over 2 million for 2010.3 The NCES data suggest that compared with other American families with children, homeschooling families are whiter and larger, with a higher percentage of two-parent homes and college-educated parents.4
Although Conservative Protestants were the dominant public face of homeschooling in the last decades of the twentieth century,5 the movement has diversified over the past 15 years. At the same time, homeschooling, though certainly still an outlier, has become a more mainstream and culturally legitimate educational option in the United States, attracting people with a host of different motives and backgrounds. Today, parents choose homeschooling because of their religious convictions (Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Muslim), their preferred pedagogical approach (classical learning, unschooling), their child’s special needs (learning challenges, food allergies), their desire to pass on an ethnic heritage (Afrocentrism),6 or their unusual work circumstances and homeschooling’s flexible schedule.* And there are families that choose to homeschool for several of these reasons.
The growing literature on homeschooling covers a lot of ground. Excellent book-length studies examine the cultural origins of homeschooling (Mitchell Stevens, Kingdom of Children), the world of Conservative Christian homeschooling (Robert Kunzman, Write these Laws on Your Children), and cultural understandings of motherhood in the homeschooling movement (Jennifer Lois, Home is Where the School Is).7 Other work looks at homeschooled children’s relative academic performance, socialization, or success in college. The comparative literature is mixed, and it is clearly challenging to get representative samples to make adequate comparisons.8
This study of homeschoolers included 62 interviews from 35 families in 11 states around the country. This study targeted specific regions of the country for participant recruitment, and we made initial contact with local home-school groups, usually at the state level. As interested participants responded, they answered some general screening and demographic questions so we could build a targeted, purposive sample that captured the diversity in the home-school population within the limits of our small sample size. It should be noted that given the constraints of this sampling procedure, the study sample is not representative of the home-school population.
The moral cosmology of homeschooling is varied and diverse, but there is a shared, deliberate focus on the formation of children. Charles Taylor, following G. H. Mead, writes about the dialogical character of social life—socialization occurs through those with whom we are in dialogue, beginning with our parents and family and moving outward.9 Homeschoolers are intentional about these dialogue partners for their children. The result can be a process of social control, or in the case of “unschoolers,” simply a process of allowing children to pursue their own interests unhindered by cultural pressures to conform.
Either way, this intentionality about dialogue partners is precisely what bothers some critics. Choosing dialogue partners, critics argue, is a kind of private selection that impedes a more public interaction with people different from us. The concern is that the environment—the “plausibility structure”*—is too controlled and thus prone to abuse or isolation. Theoretically, these criticisms seem plausible: Homeschooling does withdraw into the “private” interests of the family and disengages from the “public” realm of the local school. But homeschoolers implicitly press us to interrogate our assumptions about the private and the public, the common and the particular, and even the purpose of education itself.
As the home-school sector includes a highly diverse group of people, a plethora of varied moral ideals are held within it. A few, however, seemed to be shared across the sector. For example, Julie Scott, a home-school mom we interviewed, described the age integration her children experienced with her parents living in the family’s basement. She noted that John Taylor Gatto, one of the leading thinkers of the unschooling movement, has said that “school teaches children to envy those who are older and have contempt for those that are younger.” Homeschooling, she thought, avoided both. Julie noted that although homeschooled children get criticized for not being “socialized,” it’s “really hard to overcome that kind of socialization if you’re schooled.” She continued,
And [my parents] get to come to things. They’re part of things. My dad especially likes to tell us his stories. The kids know how to be with old people.… So these kids, they get to interact with people who are really, really different on every level and [learn] how to respect a baby, how to respect an old person who doesn’t know what they’re saying anymore. So you get to spend time being with people who are dramatically different. When I say diversity, I mean every kind of diversity.
We also saw families use and work within several moral frameworks.10 Since many families in the home-school sector seemed to utilize several moral frameworks at the same time, it appears best to understand the underlying moral logics as highly pluralistic and even flexible, fitting the needs of particular families and personalities in particular stages of life. However, the two most common moral frameworks evidenced in families in the sample were the expressivist orientation and the theistic orientation. In the expressivist framework, judgments were made “in accord with the expression of certain subjective states or satisfaction of certain emotional or psychological need,” as sociologist James Davison Hunter has described it.11 In other words, decisions were based on what felt good or seemed to best express the individual’s emotional sensibility. In the theistic moral framework, decisions were rooted in a religious authority, such as scripture or tradition.
For the most part, homeschoolers using an unschooling approach drew from an expressivist moral logic. For these families, the blossoming of the inner nature of the individual was the primary goal of homeschooling. Despite this expressivist moral framework, the unschooling families in our sample appeared to depart slightly from common understandings of expressive individualism.12 As the home-school mom Julie noted previously, part of the beauty of the unique age integration in homeschooling activities was the way it forced students to see things from others’ perspectives and to learn to care for people with needs (and strengths) different from their own. Thus, while unschooling was clearly focused on the individual student, it also seemed eager to develop an ethic of care outside of the self. In Julie’s mind, the cultivation of a creative, independent self was not at odds with...