What can homeschooling learn from the political divide?

Cocking a Snook asks an interesting question that I started to answer in her comment box: What can Homeschooling Learn from Our Present Political Stories? It started with some musing about how Ron Paul seemed to unite extremists on both the left and right behind him over on Spunky’s post NEA endorses Obama. I was never particularly surprised by Ron Paul’s apparent unifying ability at the extremes of both ends of the spectrum, but I’ll get back to that after sharing JJRoss’ quote from “The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics & Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire,” by Matt Taibibi:

The Ron Paul candidacy was an extreme example of outsider politics on the left and right merging…retreats from the mainstream that traveled in opposite directions but were parallel in substance….Both groups were and are defined primarily by an unshakable belief in the inhumanity of their enemies on the other side…

I have not read the book and am only reacting to what was shared. I disagree with the assessment, but I think the surprise that people from seemingly opposite sides of the political spectrum were able to so passionately come behind the same candidate demonstrates something deeply wrong with American politics.

The trouble is, we have all fallen into this “unshakable belief in the inhumanity of [our] enemies on the other side.” Conservatives have cast the liberal as public enemy number one. In fact, they aren’t even really liberals any more. They are God-hating secularists trying to push their homosexual agenda. Conservatives, on the other hand…well, we are “seduced by homophobia and a lust for war.” * Or, as Thomas Frank says in What’s the Matter With Kansas (as if voting Republican were some sort of mental illness), we lack the ability to make “certain mental connections about the world.”

Libertarians have long had a difficult time identifying themselves on the Left-Right spectrum of American politics. Because their political views are not so typically defined by the freedom to/freedom from debate that drives so much of the philosophizing against conservatives and liberals. They embrace both, and the libertarian party has long been split by those who vote Republican and those who vote Democrat. For an essentially libertarian candidate to have united these groups is unsurprising. To have attracted a few people who probably have libertarian leanings whether they realized it or not is unsurprising. Realizing that American political views do not really work along a Left-Right spectrum goes along way in quelling the surprise.

To realize that conservatives and liberals have similar goals shouldn’t leave people standing in the grocery store shocked that a single candidate was able to unite despite seemingly polar opposite political beliefs. We all want liberty. Certainly we define it a little differently. Certainly we see differing roles for government. But conservatives do not want to leave children and the elderly starving in the streets and the rest of the nation without health care any more than liberals want to make us all dependent on the welfare state in order to increase their…I don’t know what exactly. I haven’t quite figured it out because I stopped reading that kind of “reporting.”

What has this all to do with homeschooling? Too much, I’m afraid. Julie left a comment on my post Homeschoolers Threaten Our Cultural Comfort which rings true to the way we often go about advocating our positions.

Well, I think perhaps some of the defensiveness people feel against homeschoolers is legitimate…I started reading homeschool blogs shortly afterward, there are quite alot of entries that more than imply that the only acceptable educational choice is homeschooling.

And if you need an illustration, here is a nice one from the forum over at OneNewsNow (link moved, emphasis and misspelling in original).

My children my choice right? Never will I sacrifice my children upon that alter of mid control and manipulation. I propose bringing against any parent that willing allows thier child to attend a public school up on charges of neglect and abuse. I am raising men and women, not self-centered gender confused diversified evolved sin toleraters.

Is that what we really believe? Charges of neglect and abuse against any parents who let their children attend a public school? No wonder people get a little defensive at the mention of homeschooling. I realize that this is in direct response to the educational anarchy comment by the California Teachers Association, and a few people in the forum were a little insulted by it. But what does this sort of language serve to accomplish?

What certified teacher would read that and be persuaded? What parent of a public schooled child would read that and wonder if homeschooling might be for them? The point of this kind of speech is not to promote understanding, find common ground or really engage the opposition at all. Its sole purpose is to draw a clear distinction between parties and rally supporters behind the “flag.” It is a call to war, not to reason.

All too often, homeschoolers engage the public with the same “unshakable belief in the inhumanity of [our] enemies on the other side” that conservatives and liberals adopted long ago. We engage each other in that fashion, promoting a divide between religious and secular homeschoolers that does not necessarily have to exist. So we are surprised when friendships develop across the divide? As if our views on the origin of life were the dominant theme in our lives?

I am not surprised when I find myself reading secular blogs and agreeing with a lot of what they say. I am not surprised when I find more points of agreement than disagreement with the secular homeschoolers who occasionally participate in the discussion here. We are “polar opposites” to a greater degree than a Republican and a Democrat meeting in a grocery store. But we are parents. With a goal of raising our children in the best way we know how.

What can we learn from the “present political stories?”

Perhaps that we do our own cause a disservice when we march on the public with the same sort of passion that we march on the capitol. That nothing is gained by boxing those we disagree with into a dehumanizing label even as we react to the stereotypes placed on us. That those who appear to be from opposing “camps” very often have similar goals, just a different means of getting there. That homeschooling would get on a little better if we could more effectively engage fellow parents rather than shallow, materialistic people more interested in their careers than their children. Fellow educators rather than purveyors of mind-control and manipulation. Children rather than mindless automatons raised by the state.

* Recorded in Superior, Nebraska by Denis Boyles, p. 14

Update: Dawn at Day by Day Discoveries adds some thoughts.

0 comments
  1. Dawn

    Thank you! I’m starting to get really, really tired of this willingness to be polarized, especially in the homeschool arena. See a post that implies something not so wonderful about homeschooling? Leave a negative comment or blog about it and subject it to ridicule.

    Why not reach across and simply discuss the matter with the writer? Why not engage them? Why not invite them over to your blog and the blogs of homeschooler you admire?

    The risk of that approach is always that you’ll fail to reach the person and think you’ve been left looking like a fool (I’ve felt this a few times) but when you stick it out and it works, the rewards are great.

    I have gotten polarized at times and I am pretty good at clever sniping but truthfully, I don’t feel so good afterwards. I’m hereby committing to the firm and unshakeable middle ground and volunteer to be a smiling (though not uncritical) greeter to the world of homeschooling.

  2. JJ Ross

    “It is a call to war, not to reason.”
    Exactly.

    Which (thank you for the insight!) makes me notice that nowhere on Gardner’s list of seven levers we use to change minds — our own and each other’s — does WAR appear. The world-famous education researcher apparently teaches that we can’t change minds with warfare. Good lesson in that for homeschooling, surely.

    I also thought of the annual PDK/Gallup poll on education attitudes, similar to the Harris poll you blogged last week about how people see homeschooling compared to other education categories. It’s a cliche by now that parents everywhere consistently grade the local school their own child actually attends as much better than schools generally, all the rest of the nation’s schools that they aren’t connected to and only hear about in the media.

    Lots to think about. It’s good to know other homeschool parents who want to do that thinking. 🙂

  3. Life On The Planet

    This comment may be slightly of topic, but then when am I not. 🙂

    St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” I thought of that quote when I read this. It’s how I feel about homeschooling, with a minor twist. Here is my take:

    “If you do your job as a homeschooler at all times, then words are seldom necessary.”

    There are those who will never convert (for lack of a better word) to homeschooling, and that’s okay with me. The only time I usually feel it necessary to “use words” is when the government gets their panties in a knot over homeschooling.

    I have found that my children are excellent ambassadors of homeschooling. It was harder when they were younger and the results were still in question. However, now that they are older, earlier naysayers have started to realize that the proof is definitely in the pudding. It isn’t that often that I have to “use words” to get others to realize that, at least for us, homeschooling works.

  4. JJ Ross

    Good point LOTP. And I’d take it further — farther? — to say it’s the reasons and reasoning behind it, the spirit in which you’re doing it, the whole “power of story” that makes any family’s homeschooling work (or not).

  5. Dana Hanley

    True, LOTP. And I think that is why public opinion generally becomes more favorable toward homeschooling over time: people begin having personal experiences with homeschoolers. Unfortunately, that works the other way, too. How many people “knew a homeschooler once” and that homeschooler was weird? There just is not that large of a sample size so a single interaction can taint someone’s view of homeschooling for many years.

  6. Dana Hanley

    And that isn’t to say that tomorrow I’m not going to find some stellar bit of writing on par with the free content generated for spam blogs like Katie Criss and find myself unable to resist a slightly more sarcastic answer.

    See, I’ve decided I only want to be taken seriously when I want to be taken seriously.

    Actually, I’ve also decided I don’t really want to be an ambassador for homeschooling. I don’t want everyone examining me under a microscope and judging “homeschooling” by what they discover.

    I just want to be someone else who happens to homeschool. But it doesn’t seem to quite work out that way. 🙂

  7. April

    Hear, hear! Very well said. I’ve decided to stop giving “reasons” for why we homeschool and just say we like being weird. Which is 100% true, and my reasons can sound a bit snotty. (I know, you’d never believe it of me!)

    But you’re right, Dana. Katie was too bad (good?) to pass up.

  8. JJ Ross

    That gives me an idea for a new response! We come up with something like the “carbon credits” movement, and start saying we homeschool because we’re being socially responsible, not wanting to consume more expensive, scarce public school resources than we really need, and also not being interested in schooling as status symbol like a Hummer-equivalent private school. That would stop the conversation cold with some fringe liberals I’ve known! 😉

  9. Dana Hanley

    Great post, Dawn. I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently as well. Among all the stereotypes, which are the “worst?” That is a subjective topic to be sure, but the super homeschooler is one that bothers me the most.

    Anyway, I added the link to the end of my post since Blogger doesn’t automatically send out trackbacks.

  10. Dana

    Well, I’m glad a link is worth something. 🙂

    And April, I can see you on CBS telling the nation you homeschool because you are weird and you like it that way.

    And the silence.

  11. Life On The Planet

    More off topic…we’re on vacation. (The visiting the family kind.) Spent the day in the pool. Ate good food. Didn’t think about homeschooling stuff once.

    A break is a nice thing, every now and then. 🙂
    Just saying.

  12. Dana

    Well, I hope you are getting rested for next week. I found a song about a cat to play, but she was singing about leaving her husband. So I thought maybe not.

  13. Leslie

    I have been homeschooling for 8 years and the first few years, I told people the reasons (they were legion) we homeschooled. After awhile, I just said I was too lazy to run the public school gantlet(alarm, breakfast, lunches, buses, homework, etc)and left it at that. Now that I have a graduate, on his way to a university to play soccer, and a 16 year old ballerina taking CC classes, people ask me what we do. Funny. Words, really weren’t necessary. I don’t think I will say a word about the younger ones. 🙂

  14. Dana

    You know what I say? “Oh, my husband really wanted to so I decided to try it. Now we love it.” Conversations generally proceed rather amiably from that point because even people who think homeschoolers are nuts have a hard time saying that to our faces, I think.

    It sort of depends who is asking. And how they ask. And whether we are sitting in a waiting room or in the checkout aisle.

  15. Dana Hanley

    I’m going to think of you two now every time I read in some discussion “Well, I knew someone who homeschooled because she was too lazy to get the kids ready in the morning.”

  16. Sunniemom

    Ditto on not wanting to be an ‘ambassador’ of homeschooling. I want to be a ‘good example’, but areas of character such as honesty, compassion, patience, etc… are more important to me than how I am viewed as a homeschooler (although one could argue that those things are closely linked).

  17. Julie

    I just tell people I got tired of going to IEP meetings, which is partially true. But, I have to say, the impact of home schooling on our family has been quite positive. Neither my husband or I are anxious to get back on the public school mandated schedule or scope-and-sequence. We plan to keep David and Beverly home too.

  18. Dana Hanley

    I can imagine. The few IEP meetings I had were not fun and it was particularly hard because the parents didn’t really know what to do or how to advocate for their child.

  19. Rational Jenn

    Coming into this late, but just wanted to say that I thought this was a very fine post. We are certainly polar opposites in many ways, but as I have been reading your blog, I find that I rarely (if ever) disagree with you on homeschooling issues. Rational discourse, and education (not the formal kind!) will persuade much more than insults and rallies ’round the flag.

    Thanks for writing such thought-provoking posts–I really enjoy them!

  20. Dana

    Thanks, Rational Jenn. 🙂 It is easy to find agreement and cooperation among differing groups when you stick to a single topic important to all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge