Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Feminism and Unschooling

Ever had people ask you, "How can you be a feminist and stay home all the time?"
 I have. Here is an interview I did with Becky Ellis in March 2008 for the Briarpatch Magazine.
What do you think the public perception is of homeschoolers, in regard to women and family structure? 
The response I often get from people is"Wow! you're brave!" This can mean that they genuinely think "I admire you. I wish I could do that."  This response, I think, is derived from an awareness of the negative aspects of school, it's not necessarily coming from a place that honours authentic learning- learning that honours the passionate interests of the leaner.
Or the response might mean, "You must be crazy; or stupid."  Seriously,  I actually had a guy say that to me.
Then they're thinking "Why the sacrifice lady?  Why would someone actually want to hang out with their kids for such a large hunk of the day?  Weird. Give up your freedom and your chance at a career?"
They forget that there are many ways to have a full and satisfying life. That children can be a significant part of that satisfying life.
 From a feminist point of view, do you feel that homeschooling provides benefits to mothers and/or children? Please explain:
If feminists care about a good future for women then looking at institutions that oppress and degrade women and children ought to extend into looking at the places where some of these have their beginnings; namely the school.
If, as a facilitator of your child's education you're modelling self-directedness and initiative to your child, and if you are encouraging your child's curiosity, inquisitiveness and questioning of all that they see, then I think you can raise some pretty tough minded feminist children -  female or male.
From a feminist point of view, do you feel that homeschooling provides any challenges for feminist mothers or to feminism?
The challenge for many women who have taken this route is that often the family has to live on less-money, as often they are full time at homeschooling or working part time hours (often from the home). In our society where worth (including self worth)  is measured by how much money you make you can see that homeschooling poses a problem.
Also if you are at home you tend to be making more messes and those messes need to be cleaned up. Who cleans them? The woman. Sadly, doing chores still does not inspire admiration. So you certainly don't get an overabundance of positive strokes.
 Is there tension within the homeschooling movement between feminist homeschoolers and more conservative homeschooling families? How do these manifest?
I don't know. I tend to have my own group of people my family and I do things with and they tend to be more of the unschooly type. I think the same can be said about conservative homeschoolers. So there is a fairly distinct divide, two largely separate spheres of influence driven largely, I'd venture, by isolationist and/or ideological parents, rather than the children.
Have you received (or heard of) critcisms from non-homeschooling feminist or other progressives about homeschooling? What are they and how did you respond? 
 I have heard this criticism: that the idea that it is an unfair situation since not ALL families can benefit from this kind of education (either they are economically disadvantaged, or there is illness, or less educated, etc), so why should only some?
The concern is that it is only an elite that can do this - and where is the social equality in that?  But I respond "it's like saying free people shouldn't have helped those escaping from slavery because not every enslaved person could be helped."  That makes no sense at all!
Please share any other thoughts, ideas, and experiences: 
Homeschooling or unschooling are just one way of getting educated, there's a lot of choice out there. It's great to have many alternatives available because we all learn differently and at various stages of our lives we might need a different approach. So that flexibility is great to have in the way culture approaches learning.
What I like best about unschooling is that my kids really have the freedom and the time to engage in meaningful ( to them) learning. For example, my nine year old has just come up to me asking me to help her with a campaign to alert residents of our town about the plight of species facing extinction due to climate change. They are curious and confident and not afraid of trying out new things. I think that's a pretty good way to be in this world.


Anonymous said...

But what about your career? How can you be a feminist and not make your own money?

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post! It addresses all of my concerns, and the things that give me qualms about unschooling, even though I see it as a very positive thing. My husband and I are working out exactly how we're going to manage it.

rfs said...

@anon-the ability to make money does not make you a feminist.
@profswife-So glad it was of some help to you. We have to get to the heart of what our kids need and no mix this up with worrying about how we are going to be perceived by others.

Lily said...

For me, the lack of significant independent income is the drawback of full time motherhood and home education. I have so far been unable to replicate even a tenth of my pre-child income.

I have been a feminist since I was a teenager, I've been involved in campaigning for women's rights, I've read the core texts, studied women's literature and the history of gender inequality and have held down a full time, well paid job in the equalities/ human rights field. I am still a feminist even now that, in my forties, I am a full time mother.

In some ways I am more of a feminist today because now I experientially understand how the physical realities of carrying and birthing babies (and being neuro-chemically driven to care for them in the early stages) create a distinctly different experience of life. For instance, it was not my partner who spent almost all of our daughter's gestation lying in a bed (under doctor's advice) losing thousands of pounds worth of work in order to save our child's life.

I am not suggesting that men do not have their own particular life challenges but that the economic model our societies work to inevitably place the greater proportion of the financial drawbacks of parenting on the mother.

Frankly it stinks that my status is now nearly zero and that I am no longer financially independent. Yes, I have made the decision to stay home and home educate. However, I do not kid myself that this is an ideal financial outcome for any woman.

What do home educating women do if our relationships break down? If our partner leaves us? If he dies? I can't help thinking that most of us would financially suffer and find ourselves compelled to take any job going and to send our children to school (that is already happening in the UK as the state benefits system reduces financial support for single parents once a child reaches 'school age'.)

Frankly, I rather think that feminists let down our biological reality when we gave up the argument of independent incomes for mothers and started down the path of leading a life framed by
an employment and income model that benchmarks each of us against a particular model of male biology.

Gosh, I could go on but I think maybe I need to blog about this myself! I'll link to you if I do. Thanks for raising the issue.

Hamilton Climate Challenge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rfs said...

@Lily-Indeed this is the crux of the problem with home-education. I too had no income (my husband's income was what we lived on). Now that i have two in high school and home educating one, I work for $$ and she does a lot on her own. I have written a post that has some parallels with what we are talking about:
I am going to write a post responding in more detail to what you are talking about and yes- please! Get that blog going!!!

Anonymous said...

So basically, unschooling ends up teaching kids a mixed message- they can do what ever career they want in life-follow their dream- but the mother is at home NOT following her career! So the mother is sacrificing herself for the children. That is my impression. The mother puts herself at risk during the years she is unschooling. What happens when dad decides he has had enough? The mother will not be employable!

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