Does Homeschooling Equal Privilege?



A friend, Danika Dinsmore (a writer whose Juvenile fiction books are among my daughter’s favorites — so head on over and check this one and this one out), recently wrote a blog post that ventured outside of her typical fare. She discusses education and how homeschooling and other forms of alternative education come with the caveat of being primarily available to people of privilege.

I think Danika, rather than criticizing homeschooling in her post, is genuinely wrestling with the idea of privilege and education. When it comes to homeschooling, though, I often do hear people argue critically that it is only available to people of economic privilege.

At a party once, upon hearing that we homeschooled, a neighbor leapt into a monologue about how important she thinks it is to support the local public schools and how she has made this her life’s passion. In fact, she concluded, it was the reason she and her sons moved out of their former home and into their current one. She elaborated: The schools near her previous home were “awful” and “poorly funded” so she researched school districts. When she found the community with the best schools, she picked up her family, moved there, and got really involved in their educations.

I put down my plate, thought a moment, and asked, “How is it supporting your local school if you move to another town to go to a better one? Wouldn’t it have been more supportive to stay in the community with the awful school?”

She excused herself to get more dip.

See, I feel like this is an area where homeschoolers get kind of scapegoated. We all think education is important. We all want to improve educational opportunities for all kids. We also all want what is best for our own kids.

For many, like my neighbor, that means moving to a community with excellent schools.

For some, that means sending children to a private school.

For others of us, that means homeschooling.*

How are these choices different? All of them assume a level of privilege. I would argue, however, that the third choice, the one to homeschool, is actually the most inclusive of economic diversity and the most accessible to families who are economically in the middle and less than middle.

The first choice implies that a family has the means to live where the good schools are located. The good schools are generally located in privileged areas. The second choice typically means the family has the resources necessary to fund a private school. Homeschooling, however, can be accomplished successfully on a tight budget (In California, I am quickly learning, it can be done quite well for free as parents can receive a stipend to be used for educational materials).

I have known homeschoolers from single parent households, where that parent also worked outside of the home. I have met homeschoolers who live in tiny houses with both parents farming in order to get by. Many homeschoolers live in incredibly modest dwellings, with one parent working outside of the home and the other doing paid jobs from home while homeschooling. And I know homeschoolers who are wealthy. We all homeschool together. We show up at the same classes, meetings, and events. It’s usually pretty unclear which homeschooling family belongs to which economic category.

I think the position of privilege that might best be attached to homeschooling is that homeschooling parents generally come from families that understand the value of an alternative education and have access to the necessary resources, whether at cost or not.

I don’t think homeschooling necessarily accompanies a higher level of privilege than public schooling.


One Response to Does Homeschooling Equal Privilege?

  1. Hi Paula, thanks so much for continuing the discussion. You make great points.

    I don’t think homeschoolers should be scapegoats any more than teachers or schools should be. It’s a complicated issue. I don’t begrudge any parent or student who seeks a better education, even that woman at the party who moved to a new neighbourhood to access better schools. But, as you say, that is definitely not an option for many folks out there.

    This discussion originally started with my posting of that TED talk by Logan LaPlante, the 13-year-old homeschooled boy from Lake Tahoe, who is a lovely and articulate boy who was able to learn in an outdoor environment, studying things like math through skiing. Sounds like fun to me.

    A friend of mine, who has been teaching in low-income schools for many years, said he was “tired of wealthy white people telling everyone what was wrong with education.” He saw it Logan’s talk as blaming teachers and schools. I did not see it that way.

    But I do see that Logan has privileges and opportunities my friend’s students don’t. For instance, one of the things required, according to Logan, to make one happy is time in nature. I completely agree. So, how do we get a kid in some inner city who barely has lunch money this valuable time in nature? I hope Logan and his generation figure this out.

    I agree that home schooling, in general, is a more affordable option than private / alternative schools. And most home schooled kids probably don’t get to learn math through skiing (although I do know homeschooled kids who get music, dance, and tennis lessons – also a treat)

    I know single-parent homeschoolers and several who are just getting by. When I said “privilege” I was definitely talking about more than just financial. There’s everything from family, community, time, knowledge, enthusiasm, education, and access to resources (as you said).

    Every kid deserves to have the education he or she desires, but what if they (or their parents) don’t even realize what that looks like or have the means to find out?

    Thanks again, Paula!

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