Homeschooling's Grassroots

A reader points to this positively-biased and informative article on homeschooling from The Economist from late February. Although the initial driving force was Christian conservatives' disguist of secular public education, the movement now shows a broader demographic including libertarians, blacks, and non-Christian religious groups.

While the public school bureaucracy asks for more and more money to 'fund' standards, modern technology and virtual communities are making individualized learning less expensive by the day.

Some of the blogs I read regularly to learn more about homeschooling and individualized education are Brian Micklethwait's Education blog and Daryl Cobranchi's blog.

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?They give up not just a

?They give up not just a free public education..?

Of course, from the consumer's point of view it is free, since they are not taxed more or less depending on whether they attend. The economic choice my wife and I are presented with is: do the kids go to the county school where books, schedules, etc. are provided at no extra direct cost to us, or do we buy materials ourselves, buy or develop a curriculum, put in the effort to teach and evaluate the kids, and still pay county land taxes to keep the schools running. It's about an even deal as far as we and our two sons are concerned, which says a lot about our perceived benefits of the two choices compared to the obvious difference in costs.

I think that something the government school system proponents and critics ignore is that the system is basically a baby-sitting service that allows both parents to work. Neither side really acknowledges it, but the first responsibility of public schools is to keep kids alive from the time they are picked up by the bus in the morning until they are dropped off in the evening.

The logistics of managing several hundred kids during the day uses most of the resources a lot of school departments can muster. If they do manage to successfully do that, they continue with the objectives of the party that controls their funding, namely county/state/federal governments. Counting, vaccinating and training students how to be a good citizen and the basics of how to hold a job (based on what that meant a generation ago) are the next priority for the schools.

In some cases, a willing teacher and a willing student manage to overcome all of these institutional forces and actually focus on learning. But from my experience, if they have enough motivation to achieve that, they would also be motivated enough to learn in a different system or in no system at all.

The cost of teaching a motivated student is next to nothing, because the student puts in most of the resources required. The cost of babysitting and training unmotivated students asymptotically goes to infinity.

Ugh.. "They give up not just

Ugh.. "They give up not just a free public education.." uh, anyone who looks where their property taxes go would tend to disagree with this statement. It's far from free.

"Just as the teachers' unions provide so many of the Democrats' volunteers, home-schoolers are important Republican foot-soldiers." I see, if you're a Democrat you're a "volunteer," but if you're a Republican you're a "foot-soldier."

"But America's home-schoolers represent an assault on public education that teachers everywhere should pay attention to." Trust me, they are. Teacher's unions are some of the biggest opponents of home-schooling, for obvious reasons. When people start realizing that they can educate their children better than some union member that spends more time arguing for a pay raise or tenure, the teachers should get scared.

"Sociologists such as Max Weber have hailed the state's domination of education as a natural corollary of ?modernisation?." Through most of the 20th century state domination of the economy was considered "modernization," too. They were wrong.

It only makes sense that the

It only makes sense that the cost of education should be falling, along with the cost of moving information. The publick skools are still based on the industrial model of moving raw material into a central location to be processed into "human resources." But as you suggest in your post, it's becoming quite cheap to move information, and to put teachers and learners together in self-organized virtual communities. It's certainly a hell of a lot cheaper to transport information to where the people are than the reverse.

Ivan Illich was making a similar point about self-organized learning networks thirty years ago, when the only communications technology available was the telephone, casette tape, and close circuit TV. I only wish he'd updated Deschooling Society for the internet age.

Unfortunately, the Economist article didn't mention Illich or Paul Goodman in its pedigree of modern-day homeschooling. It did, at least, tip its hat to the role of John Holt in the unschooling movement.