Sunday, September 23, 2012

'Out of Control': The Intersection Between Homeschooling and Feminism


A recent follower of Not Another Wave requested an article about homeschooling and feminism and well, aren’t you in luck? I was homeschooled for ten years and I happen to be a feminist. I should perhaps caveat this article by stating that I don’t usually discuss my homeschooling history with many people anymore. People tend to have very firm opinions on the subject, and out of all the topics to pick a fight with me about, home schooling hits my buttons. I got into too many fights about it, so I stopped telling people; this is the first time for me to publish my views on the subject in the volatile sphere of the Internet.

Homeschooling, by it’s nature, is a unique educational experience, every child who was a part of it probably had a very different experience in how they were taught and how they think about it now; to that end, this article will be more of a personal history about my experience with it and how that experience ties into my feminist values now.

To start, let’s cover the basics, three weeks into first grade my mother pulled me out of public school; I have a September birthday, so I’m always the youngest in my year and apparently, I was just too young for school, I was having difficulty sleeping and was obviously just not the happy kid I had been before. Now this was twenty years ago and homeschooling was still considered a very off-kilter thing to do; my mother fought against a lot of people in order to homeschool us, many believed she would forever disable to her children by not allowing them access to stable education and good socialization (nice, huh?).

So, from the time I was six years old until the end of my sophomore year of high school, I was homescshooled through a charter school known as Horizons (here’s a link to explain exactly what a charter school is). During the early years, we had small group classes in a variety of subjects with other homeschool children, once I reached high school age I started to attend larger group classes a few days a week. When I was fifteen I finished my high school credits and began attending a local community college; two years later I moved on to Brigham Young University and received a BA in Humanities and an MA in English literature.

Now, remember, during this time homeschool was a fledgling idea and the resources for homeschoolers were very slight—my mother can legitimately be considered a pioneer in the homeschooling movement in California. She helped to build up the charter we were associated with, also being a prominent voice in campaigning for parents’ rights in the state of California.

In many ways this article is more about my mother than anything else, since any consideration of my time spent homeschooling must feature the woman who implemented the lifestyle in my house, a lifestyle which would completely define my ideology in many ways. And while my mother would not use the term “feminist” to describe herself (mostly because of the negative associations that the word has) to me she is a brilliant example of feminism. My mother is without a doubt, the most independent and competent person I have ever met. She fiercely believes in social activism and responsibility for our political actions, hence, in California, state senators know her, California state laws have been the recipients of her input, and large insurance companies fear her.

I grew up marching on the state capital, going to protests, and watching my mother campaign for the things that she believed were important, whether it be to maintain our community garden, or fighting against the power-hungry machinations of one anti-homeschooling California Superintendent of Education (more on that story later).

My mother’s motto? “Never take no for an answer” and they were words she lived by. This leads me into the one of the first values my mother taught me: anti-authority. It didn’t matter the position of the person telling her “no”, if she believed that her cause was right, she would do everything in her power to accomplish that; my mother would never do something just because someone told her to.

Many years ago, Delain Eastin, the California Superintendent of Education, believed that homeschooling should be illegal and called homeschooling parents, “Out of control parents.” Big mistake. As it should be, my mother was livid, because what does “out of control” mean? Someone you can’t control.

Feminism has always been about stepping beyond the bounds of patriarchal control: control over women’s bodies, women’s choices, women’s education, women’s sexuality. The few who believe themselves to be gifted with the superiority to be in change often have the intention of superimposing their own beliefs upon the public, seemingly believing that the ability to raise a lot of money and pander to lobbyists as being a sign of their divine destiny to lead and “control” their constituents. Not in my home. And my mother taught me that.

Along with the anti-authority background came the importance of not following the crowd, the value of our unique identity, personal experience and beliefs was constantly reiterated, and my mother was proud of our non-conformist lifestyle. Case in point, do you remember the Power Rangers? During this period, Power Rangers were the thing, the thing that you had to watch. My mother, not wanting us to be like everyone else, believed we should only watch the show if it was something that we really liked, not just because everyone else was watching it.

Homeschooling often receives a bad rap as producing awkward or badly socialized children. To me, this is an offensive lie that pisses me off (hence all the fighting about homeschooling in my early years).  While there are PLENTY of seemingly awkward people who were homeschooled at some point in their childhood, you cannot tell me that there were not seemingly awkward people at your public school. Some people are just a little bit outside of social norms, who cares? And making broad generalizations that incorrectly characterize the way that they were brought up, is not only rude, it’s ignorant.

Today, there are hundreds of studies regarding the socialization of homeschool students versus traditionally schooled students (look here for a great bibliography). One of my favorite studies, completed by Larry Shyers, Ph.D (Comparison of Social Adjustment Between Home and Traditionally Schooled Students) states that homeschooled children actually have significantly less behavioral problems which stems from their more varied socialization with adults and children of other ages, rather than just with the children of their same age.

RANT: (In response to my confession of being homeschooled as a child, countless people have said to me, "You're very normal for a homeschooler." They say this with the nicest of intentions but it is one of the rudest, most condescending things that people can say. As if they are the authority on childhood socialization and as if they have a RIGHT to patronizingly pass off on my life and behavior.)

I remember when I was preparing to attend community college, many people warned me that I would struggle with culture shock. They were full of bullshit. Not only did I not struggle with culture shock (either from my “sheltered” childhood or from my “lack of socialization”) but I actually thrived in a college-type environment having learned from an early age how to be self-motivated in my education. In short, I was well-prepared and very successful at college and I have the transcripts to prove it.

In fact, homeschooling offered diverse educational opportunities: gymnastics, scuba diving, sailing, historical reenactments, whale watching, horseback riding, soccer, golf, swimming and a variety of other activities were all a part of my education. My mother fiercely believes that experience, whether in or out of the classroom, is the basis for any curriculum; that education is a lifestyle, not a twelve-year period of schooling.

Feminism requires social activism; it requires independent and strong-minded women who recognize the importance of education and the value of individual experience. It demands that we think outside of the box and seek to remove ourselves from the boundaries of control, those placed upon us by the expectations of society and the machinations of the government. It requires women and men who aren’t afraid to speak up for themselves and the dictates of their conscious. In many ways, homeschooling taught me those ideals.

During those early years my homeschool group once participated in a space exploration program, it was basically a simulation of a space flight (mission control and astronaut) with each child being placed in a different role and conducting tasks associated with that team. During the month of preparation classes for the experience I remember one of the teachers commiserating to another, “These home school kids really don’t do well with instructions, do they?”

While she intended it as a criticism of the way we had been educated, despite the fact that I am a teacher myself, I consider it to be a compliment. No, I don’t always follow instructions well, most of the time because I think that those instructions are stupid. Or sexist. And that is a good thing. That’s what keeps us free from the bonds of authority, governmental control, and patriarchy.

Sir Ken Robinson in one of my favorite Ted Talks, discussing public education and how it could be improved.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Question of the Week, or Rather Month

Dear Readers, it seems that international travel, moving from the country of Utah to the strange new land of Georgia, and avoiding Colorado fires have all combined to slow the blogging prowess of me, Erica, and Rachel.

So, given how slow (but steady!) our posts have been in coming of late, we want to make sure we're still hitting upon the most pertinent issues on your minds. In theory, you can email us questions at any time, but if you've been emailing us through the official blog email address any time in the last two months, we probably haven't read it yet. Sorry.

So, what are you interested in hearing about? Any questions you hope Erica's professional experience as a social worker can answer? Any TV shows you're hoping I'll rant about or movies you're hoping Rachel will review? Any religious questions on your mind?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Links from the Web

Hello readers!

In an effort to get back to our regularly-scheduled programming, I bring you a collection of links from the news and the Internet spectrum for your rage and entertainment. Enjoy!

First up is the personal account of a blogger who regularly experiences "street" harassment on the Metro, which she frames with the goal of giving cis-man readers insight into how scary it can be to be a cis-woman sometimes. I think the cyclist story (read it and that'll make sense) would be scary no matter who you are, but I agree with her overall point.

Next is a great article from RiotsNotDiets on body ambivalence and making room for personal experience in fat activism. Why do I love this piece and link it here? Because it's really damn hard to change a worldview overnight. I grew up in a weight-conscious household in the United States, and to this day- in spite of working very hard- I have trouble shedding the sense of self-worth that I attach to my size, my shape, and my numbers on the scale. It's validating to know that the journey away from fat-hating and body-shaming isn't one I'm taking alone.

Jezebel brings us a great breakdown of Cosmo's latest stupidity in the realm of sex advice. This time, Cosmo decided to foray into BDSM, which is at both heartening and facepalm-worthy. Heartening? BDSM is given so much flak in popular (vanilla) culture, where people routinely confuse it with domestic abuse (warning: this makes my blood pressure spike uncontrollably). Facepalm? The advice is piss-poor and could lead to a lot of people getting hurt. If you're actually interested in learning more about BDSM, check around for classes or "coaches" (read: friendly teachers) in your community. Don't rely on the vacuous hypotheses of Cosmo.

For more blood pressure action, check out another Idiot Moment from the GOP, where Tennessee state senator Stacey Campfield claimed that you can't contract HIV through heterosexual intercourse. I want to know who these people are and what edition of "Medical Jargon for Dummies" they're reading, because they keep spouting the most incredibly stupid- and easily disproven- statements I've ever heard.

HuffPo, managing to overcome its previous problems with publishing bigoted crap, brings us an interesting take on the whole Kristen Stewart/Robert Pattinson relationship drama. I'm not a fan of either of them- I'm reasonably certain that they could be replaced by sock puppets and the acting would improve- but the author makes an excellent point about our slut-shaming culture and the unhealthy obsession we have with cis-women practicing infidelity. As the author notes,
"Almost no one will blame the much-older guy you cheated with, and it might actually make him more famous andhelp his career. Few will care that he was your boss and in a position of authority or that he may have have taken advantage of your youth and relative inexperience. Everything is your fault, and your life will be threatened over it."
Like I said. Worth a read.

In actual news-news, the FBI released its updated definition of rape in January. I'm disappointed that no one's really talked about this on the news, given that the previous definition meant that "rape" could only refer to forcible penetration of the vagina by a penis (seriously), but better late than never! Spread the word and begin celebration!

And finally, if you haven't had a good laugh at this yet, enjoy the awesome side of the Internet as Amazon reviewers flock to Bic's "For Her" line of pens and mock the hell out of it. As disappointing as it is that some marketing team somewhere came up with this idea and then produced it, public backlash is entirely worth it. Suck it, Bic.

Have a wonderful week, readers, and we'll catch you next time!