Homeschooling & Feminism

Though I spent my entire childhood as a homeschooler and my own children are also homeschooled, I find I rarely have the urge to write about it. Homeschooling for my own children felt like a “given” to me—I didn’t feel like doing any reading or soul-searching about making the decision, as it had been made in my mind before ever even becoming pregnant with our first child. Indeed, the decision was made when I was a child myself. When I had been married for about two years, I remember telling a friend that maybe I wanted to wait a little longer than many people do to have children after getting married, because once I had them, I knew I was in it for the “long haul.” There was no, “well, after they’re five, then I’ll have six hours a day to myself.” I knew without a doubt that once I had kids it was going to be a 24/7, 365 gig. She said, “well, you don’t have to homeschool you know. You always have a choice.” I said, “you know. I really don’t have a choice.” And, while I do know that in truth one always has choices, homeschooling was a completely foregone conclusion for me. (Breastfeeding was the same way—I didn’t “choose” between feeding methods, I was born to be a breastfeeding mother. There wasn’t a choice about it for me in my mind—much like if someone had asked me whether I was going to go with “artificial blood” or regular blood in my own body! Hmm, thanks, I’ll take what my body makes of its own accord!) Another Molly at the blog first the egg asked a couple of weeks ago for input about homeschooling and feminism—i.e. where are the homeschooling feminist mothers. I raised my virtual hand, but said I don’t really write about it and she essentially said, “get started.” I’m surprised by how many good “nuggets” exist at my old blog, just languishing and waiting to be mined into new blog posts here and I discovered that I had, in fact, done a little writing about homeschooling there. So, with minor modification, here are some thoughts about homeschooling and feminism…as primarily separate topics though, not intertwined…

Natural Life magazine often has good articles about homeschooling. A couple of years ago, I enjoyed one called “Education is Not Something That’s Done to You” and it addresses the (false) assumption that learning “can and should be produced in people.” It addresses the assumption that children won’t learn on their own, but must be made to learn by being kept in confinement with others their own age day in and day out. She notes that even homeschoolers often fall into the trap of thinking education must be “done to” children. I marked the conclusion to share: “What we should not do is create new schools—be they charter schools, private schools, or home schools—which perpetuate old assumptions of how children learn or who controls children’s learning.” I have to remind myself of this sometimes—if I start to feel like my own children “should” be doing something specific, or think “most 5 year olds can XYZ…” or if someone asks my boys if they’re getting ready to go back to school or remarks on how “is your mommy or your daddy your teacher,” that I reject that system—why would I try to use its values to define our experiences?

The other article I enjoyed in the same issue is  The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Rocks the Boat: Life learning as the ultimate feminist act. In it, the author quotes social commentator Susan Maushart as asserting that “motherhood needs to be at the center of human society, from which all social and economic life should spin. Society needs to ‘acknowledge that bearing and raising children is not some pesky, peripheral activity we engage in, but the whole point,’…Warehousing kids in daycare or school so mothers can get on with what they see as their real lives is not part of that vision, but we need to find ways to ensure economic security for women of all classes, and extend the vision to include fathers as well.”

While thinking about feminism and homeschooling, I had an epiphany while facilitating a series of women’s spirituality classes. The theme of one week’s session was “womanpower.” A point was emphasized several times during this class that in feminism the view of power is different. A patriarchal view of power is that of “power over” or control over—you have power, someone else doesn’t. You can use your power to control others, or to take their power away, etc. A feminist view of power is of cooperation—“power with” as well as inner power. When you have inner power, you do not need power over someone else. A hierarchical version of power falls away and is unnecessary. I reflected on the times I have heard women say, “I’m not a feminist, but…” and how I’ve always *boggled* at that. How can you NOT be a feminist, I’d wonder. Now, I think it is because of a misinterpretation of values—an interpretation that views feminism as wanting to “take over” or to “dominate” men or to prove that “women are better than men.” This is flaw in understanding—using a worldview rooted in “power over” concepts, instead of a totally different worldview or a reinvention of how society operates/what it’s values are. My epiphany is that this is just like homeschooling—you can’t use the “lens” of public school to understand homeschooling and you can’t use the “lens” of patriarchy to understand feminism. These different lenses are why you feel like you are banging your head against something when you speak to someone who is coming from a fundamental misinterpretation of the values at work. Feminism and homeschooling both involve alternate value systems to that of mainstream society and a revisioning of social structures into new kinds of systems (healthier ones).

Another issue of Natural Life had an interesting article about free schools called U of Free. Some points I liked: “most come with the free school philosophy of solely pursuing an interest, rather than for a degree or other recognition of knowledge. They resist the consumer-driven mentality sweeping traditional schools, where students vie for exam hints and quick solutions to get to the next step, with their ultimate goal being an exit out – their graduation. At Anarchist U, the students are all about learning itself. Without the pressure of exams and marks, students can relax and savor their learning moments.”

And on the same topic: “In his classes at U of T, he encounters a chorus of students whose sing-song refrain ‘is this on the exam?’ puts his pedagogical ideals out of tune. The classroom conductor laments that these U of T students are looking for a quick study guide ‘because they need the credit from my class to get the piece of paper.’ Instead of enjoying the educational experience, his students are disengaged, shrewdly seeking the quickest route out of the system.”

I struggle to cope with this in teaching college classes—I want to work with people who are excited to learn, not people who are trying to just get the grade and get out. I see this as the whole point of homeschooling/unschooling—to create a way of life that involves learning for intrinsic reasons, not extrinsic ones. This was very much true for me as a homeschooler and I carried it over into college—I didn’t understand why people were there for other reasons than to learn. It didn’t make any sense to me to hear someone recommend a class because it was an “easy A” (but had a teacher who was so boring and so pointless as to make you wish to be unconscious under a rock rather than listen to him any longer). What is the point of an easy A?! Hello! It also didn’t make sense to me to have to take classes that I wasn’t interested in (and I did have to do this), but I made the best of them by studying the stuff and trying to get it/like it. Someone at our craft camp one year expressed surprise that I was “self-taught” at the classes I was teaching—“so, you just learned this by teaching yourself?” Yes, I did! Why? Because I like to learn stuff—no one has to make me do it or show me how! I study and learn things all of the time, because I like it. I’m a very self-motivated, self-disciplined, self-directed person and credit that to my homeschooled/unschooled background (thanks, Mom!). I long while ago a heard a friend say about herself that if, “no one is making me do it, I won’t do it/learn it.” I thought that was incredibly sad as well as incredibly telling about the drawbacks of our current social methods of education as something that is “done to” people, rather than a self-directed process.

Pulling my two seemingly disparate subjects back together, I return to Wendy Priesnitz’ article in which she says this: “In short, schools – and society in general – treat children the way women don’t want to be treated. They don’t trust children to control their own lives, to keep themselves safe, and to make their own decisions. In this way, feminism and life learning are one and the same because they trust people to take the paths that suit them best. ” (emphasis mine)

Isn’t that just delicious?


Two pictures from our lives this morning:

Artists at work!

Pensively patting

7 thoughts on “Homeschooling & Feminism

  1. I’ve been reading your blog a lot lately and rarely say anything but I’m so glad I read this today. Thank you for putting that last quote there. I often have felt the resulting effects of just that environment and it does indeed feel like I’m slamming my head against a brick wall. I hope to see more posts on these subjects from you. Thank you.

    • Thanks for commenting, Lori! I’ve been thinking about giving up blogging and then to read your comment today made my day–it is good to know that the things I share do, actually, mean something to people.

  2. Hey Molly,

    I really appreciate this. I just sent in my letter of intent to homeschool my oldest and I have to tell you that getting to this age of “officialness” has thrown me for a bigger loop than I expected.

    For years I’ve been calmly knowing we are homeschoolers–just like you explained (it’s so much like breastfeeding in that way), but lately I’m a little unnerved. Between my son (6.5) going through a really restless age and my very active work life I’m a little nervous.

    On a philosophical level we’re life learners all the way, but I’m feeling a little lost at the moment. I want to keep trusting that he’s learning all the time (b/c he is!) but I also want to provide him with really great resources.

    Are you using specific curriculum or how do you frame your days?

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