Friday, July 22, 2005

Culture and Counterculture

I've just finished a book called Kingdom of Children, by Mitchell L. Stevens. It's the work of a sociologist who spent a decade getting acquainted with the homeschool movement, looking at it not from the perspective of what happens to the children, but what happens to the parents. Why do they do this? How do they form social networks to support what they do? And how do their ideas fit in with society at large?

Interestingly, although most people (inside and outside) think of homeschooling as a radically countercultural thing to do, he concludes that homeschoolers primarily operate from an especially deep commitment to an idea that is omnipresent in our culture--the sanctity of the individual, not just the individual's rights, but his core identity and uniqueness. The centrality of guarding and developing your child's individuality pops up constantly not just in the group he terms the "inclusives," who tend to come out of liberal social causes, alternative schools, and to emphasize unschooling, but for "believers" as well--the conservative Protestants who make up the largest and most visible segment of homeschoolers.

Despite this common commitment, "believers" vs. "inclusives" are usually rigorously divided, and getting more so. He concludes, after watching the rift develop through the nineties, that this is primarily the result of comfort with different organizational structures. Inclusives stay true to the commitment to democracy and consensus they brought from the social movements of the 60's and 70's, which results in a very loosely-structured group; believers prefer a more hierarchical structure with definite leaders and roles, like they find in their churches and evangelical ministries. The latter being more efficient, the believers have been out building multi-million dollar enterprises while the inclusives are still trying to figure out a board meeting date that won't conflict with anyone's holidays.

The believers also have the advantage that mothers staying home is commonly encouraged in conservative Protestant circles, with the bonus that homeschooling gives them something intellectually challenging and significant to do while they're at home. Inclusives tend to have feminist backgrounds, which gives them much less of a natural base for justifying staying home with their kids.

Definitely an interesting read if one is curious about what the homeschooling movement looks like as a whole, from the outside, or just in how people's beliefs influence the structures and lives they create.


the Joneses said...

I've read Kingdom of Children several times, and I think the author did a very good job at presenting a balanced view of the entire movement. Not that I always agree with his interpretations, but I've recommended it to numerous people.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recomendation, I'll see if I can find time to read it. It sounds fascinating!

Queen of Carrots said...

So, DJ, did you ever get to meet the author when he came through HSLDA?

the Joneses said...

No, I think he came through before I started working here. Too bad.