Thursday, March 20, 2008

Enough With the Strawmen Already

Note: Apologies to those who subscribe to my feed and got a ridiculously unfinished version of this post labeled 45. I went and hit the publish post button by mistake before I was done. What's even more embarrassing? I'm picked up by where my post is now listed as 45. Oi.

A gentleman, Stephen Downes, down my way (Closer to Andrea actually I think) has made a video to explain why he doesn't think much of the idea of homeschooling. Dana over at Principled Discovery has a detailed response to his video, Half an Hour: On Home Schooling, which is much better then anything I could write. However, I'm still going to take a stab at two points of his that just annoyed the hell out of me.


Stephen, uncritically accepting the stereotype of the isolated school-at-homer, tells us that:

...I have never envisioned a society in which we simply replace the classroom with a mini classroom in the garage. If we are going to develop personal, deschooled learning we don't want to create miniature instances of that all over society. Homeschooling can be supported, I agree, but homeschooling should not simply be in the home.

He then goes on to detail his vision of community based learning which, funnily enough, looks exactly like what actual, real-life homeschoolers are doing. Forming clubs, sharing resources, searching out mentors, sharing expertise, volunteering and providing community service, building networks in the community to further the education of our children and ourselves...His vision is our reality. True, what we do doesn't happen because of government initiative or funding and isn't subject to oversight by that government but frankly, if we waited for that to happen, it never would.


According to Stephen it's the well off who homeschool. Somehow that threatens to create a two-tiered education system by leaving the children of single moms and the working poor to the public school ghetto. Except Stephen is so wrong about this that he's not even wrong. We started homeschooling when we qualified as working poor. Why? Because we didn't want to deal with the public school system and our only affordable option (cheaper then the local public school it turned out) was homeschooling. Time and time again I've met with people, in real life and online, who are poor are/and who are single parents for whom homeschooling was a blessing because it offered them an educational option that they could afford. Taking away that option would hurt those who Stephen is concerned about the most.

I think this is a man with good intentions who's clearly thought about the issue of homeschooling. The problem is that the image in his head of what homeschooling isdoesn't match what's actually going on in homeschooling families and communities. He needs to contact local homeschoolers and see how it really happens rather than argue against a strawman because we've read Ivan Illich too and while there are lots of people discussing the man's ideas it's the homeschoolers who are out there making them come alive.


Anonymous said...

I thought the title "45" was cool, a little mysterious, maybe even dangerous....:p I was looking forward to finding out what it meant. :D

I believe it is possible that Mr. Downes has good intentions, but I am not going to assume that until I see his response to the comments on his blog so far. There were a number of rebuttals to his first post about homeschooling, and his video response didn't really deal with the issues that folks brought up, and he has yet to offer any support for his statements. IMO equating homeschooling with abuse was hysterical, inflammatory and obscene.

Andrea R said...

Yeah, he's close to me - but I was closer last year before I moved.
I left a comment. I'll probably forget to go back and check unless he replies directly. *If* he replies.

Almost all of the homeschoolers I've met here in the province are the working poor. the ones who homeschool as a last resort because they can't afford Sylvan tutoring or private schools (which uses the same homeschooling workbooks most fo the time anyway).

The other issues HSers in NB are up against (which I didn't mention there) is that there's only one provincial group and they are pretty hardcore fundy. They need a new spokeperson. :)

Dana said...

I have done that so many times it is pathetic (forget to title posts).

I think this is a man with good intentions who's clearly thought about the issue of homeschooling.

I think he has thought a lot about education, but he hasn't really thought about homeschooling outside the context of the most common stereotypes. I thought his emphasis on "deschooling" ironic, not because he necessarily has to become a homeschool advocate even after more research, but because all his objections and safeguards are so typical of the system's status quo.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Downes has posted a short response to the comments on his blog-

I think his calves are going to be sore from all the backpeddling he is doing right now. :)

I'll be glad to see him clarify some more, because now that he has said he didn't mean what he said, I am curious as to what he meant- that is, if he now will say what he means and mean what he says.

Oh great- now I have The Fixx singing in my head. :p