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Homeschooling, Liberty, and Libertarianism

Matthew Hennessey on potential threats to the freedom to homeschool:

 “It’s a free country” may not continue to resonate with Americans for much longer either. As Obamacare’s individual mandate was predicated on the notion that costs incurred by an individual but borne by society necessitate government intervention, politicians in this country could easily be convinced—by, say, teachers unions—that homeschoolers are no different than the uninsured in the costs they impose on the rest of us. Doesn’t society suffer if kids aren’t being properly socialized? Don’t institutions suffer if children aren’t being properly educated into citizenship?

In fact, the argument is already being made. In a 2010 paper in the journal Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly, Georgetown Law School professor Robin L. West characterized homeschooling families as a political “army,” whose objective “is to undermine, limit, or destroy state functions. . . Also sacrificed is their exposure to diverse ideas, cultures, and ways of being.” Others see homeschooling as a potential threat to public health; a 2008 USA Today article claimed that some families homeschool in order to avoid mandatory vaccinations.

Stanford University political scientist Rob Reich has argued that homeschooling should be strictly regulated both to ensure that children become good citizens and to prevent them from becoming “ethically servile,” or victims of their parents’ blinkered worldviews. His idea is founded on what he perversely calls the “freedom argument.” Of his proposed regulations requiring parents to check in with the state he writes, “The minimal standard will include academic benchmarks as well as an assurance that children are exposed to and engaged with ideas, values, and beliefs that are different from those of the parents.”

This morning my oldest son Matthew starts a new classical homeschooling program in Baton Rouge. He and his classmates will have two mornings of instruction per week by a couple of former college professors. It is not true that my child won’t be receiving exposure to points of view different from those of his parents. In fact, I’m sitting in my home office looking at some of the books Matthew and his classmates will be reading from over the next year: the works of Livy, Herodotus, Aristotle, Plato, Sophocles, Plutarch, and Thucydides. Are those points of view sufficiently diverse for these ill-informed homeschooling critics?

Similarly, we homeschooling parents hear all the time that our children aren’t being properly socialized. Funny thing is, I’ve been around lots of homeschooled kids in different parts of the country, and if anything they are more comfortable talking to adults than their peers are.

And, re: Prof. Robin West’s concern, I certainly do hope my children learn from their homeschooling experience that their role in life is not to conform blindly to whatever the state (or church, or any institution) demands of them. Conform when what is asked of you is reasonable and just, but stand your ground when it is not.

Look, I get that many people worry about homeschoolers. Not all homeschoolers, or homeschooling programs, are the same. Are there homeschoolers who do it to indoctrinate their kids with religious fundamentalism and anti-intellectual values? Yes, there are. Are there homeschooled children who are so sheltered by their parents that they don’t know how to relate well to others? I suppose so, though I haven’t yet met them. But it’s clear to me that among some, there is such an ideologically-driven fear and loathing of homeschoolers that they take the very worst of homeschooling culture and treat it as normative.

Similarly, you can find among some homeschoolers an ideological view towards public schooling that considers all of it bad. This is ignorant and wrong too.

I am not a libertarian at all, but I find that the whole homeschooling phenomenon is pushing me towards being a functional libertarian in order to defend practices — e.g., studying the great works of our civilization in an orderly way tailored to my children’s varied learning styles — that I am convinced is a great good for my children. In other words, to protect my ability to educate my children in a conservative way, I’m learning a strange new respect for libertarianism.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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