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Progressive Fatwa Against Homeschooling

Dana Goldstein says that liberals have no business homeschooling. [1]Why not? Because it is anti-egalitarian. Excerpt:

Of course, no one wants to sacrifice his own child’s education in order to better serve someone else’s kid. But here’s the great thing about attending racially and socioeconomically integrated schools: It helps children become better grown-ups. Research [2] by Columbia University sociologist Amy Stuart Wells found that adult graduates of integrated high schools shared a commitment to diversity, to understanding and bridging cultural differences, and to appreciating “the humanness of individuals across racial lines.”

One hardly knows where to begin with this nonsense. This is a liberal shibboleth: the idea that “diversity” is a measure of quality. I have worked in offices in which lower-quality work performed by a minority was endorsed on the grounds that “diversity” and “inclusiveness” is a positive good. The idea that people should put their children into a school that they have reason to believe will poorly educate them because they will learn a commitment to “diversity” is therapeutic crackpottery.

I once lost a liberal friend over this issue, not long after we had our first child. When she found out that we planned to homeschool, she launched into a tirade about how unchristian we were for doing so. She didn’t listen to anything we had to say about our hopes for our child’s education, why we thought we could do better by him, or anything. To be sure, our reasons may have been mistaken, but she didn’t address them. She just went into hysterics — literally, she started crying — about what bad people we were to turn our back on Diversity. It was an entirely emotional reaction. By considering homeschooling, we had turned our back on the Community of the Righteous. I expected people to make rational cases against homeschooling, but I wasn’t prepared for that reaction.


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90 Comments To "Progressive Fatwa Against Homeschooling"

#1 Comment By Darwin’s S*list On February 18, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

I have two problems with the leftist diversiphiles. One, they fail to recognize that, like nearly all other good things, it also has costs.

A real world example: my employer is a very large corporation. It’s recently been decreed that if you’re interviewing candidates for an opening, you must ask all of them questions from a corporate-approved script, and you must ask all candidates the same questions from that script. No one even pretends that this has anything to do with hiring the best candidates – given the pointless nature of many of the questions, it gets in the way. It’s to keep the company from being sued for discriminatory hiring. Is it good that we’re prevented from discriminating? Yes. But does the interview process increase the chance of not finding out things about job candidates that might be useful to know, or otherwise get in the way of getting the best candidates? Yes.

The other problem is that they don’t take their own happy-talk seriously. If it really provides all of the benefits that the diversiphiles contend, then the 1964 Civil Rights Act is pointless. Under their logic, those institutions and individuals that “embrace diversity” will flourish; those that don’t will wither. But instead of taking that tack, they demand clunky bureaucracies full of legal fictions and petty coercion to force everyone to partake of its supposed advantages.

Finally, some speculation. When people like your former friend get worked up, I don’t think that they really believe that poor minority kids will be helped by sitting next to yours, or that your kids will be particularly helped by sitting next to poor minority kids. Its importance to her lies in what it validates: her worldview and her confidence that her friends are enlightened. Her reaction was an overwrought exercise in “Don’t touch my belief system; it hurts.”

Rod, I admire your forbearance. If I’d had someone say that to me, my response would have been limited to 1) clarifying that it’s my family and she ain’t invited and 2) something anatomically impossible.

#2 Comment By Jayhawk10 On February 18, 2012 @ 5:02 pm

What’s really striking to me about Goldstein’s article is how far from either the New Left or the roots of liberalism “Progressivism” has really become. The unschoolers of the 70s and early 80s, who included my mother and father, advocated homeschooling to allow children to develop their individuality without being pressured to conform to the consumerist and militaristic culture that grew up in America after WWII. This was a goal on which the New Left could make common cause with more traditional forms of conservatism.

It was also, at least as intended by unschoolers like John Holt and as executed by my parents, who were by no means well off when I was younger, intended to allow children a much wider range of social interactions than were possible in the public schools. I was able as a child to spend a great deal of time interacting with adults, older and younger kids of all races and classes, the sort of thing that one would think a real advocate of diversity would approve of. Interestingly enough for Goldstein’s argument, as an adult I converted to Orthodox Christianity and my career involves working with a large number of Hispanics (my ethnicity is Anglo and Jewish). I believe unschooling, when done right, can make children more respectful of real diversity than products of our increasingly class-segregated school system like Goldstein can easily conceive.

#3 Comment By JonF On February 18, 2012 @ 5:04 pm

Re: The elementary school used to be where all of those people met over the education of their children.

No so much the elementary school. Even in a town like mine, too small to have more than one high school (hence, automatic integration at that level) housing patterns meant that black folk often had their own grade school(s).

#4 Comment By Martin Snigg On February 18, 2012 @ 5:06 pm

Secularist cult hates independence: [3]

“On June 25, 2009, a seven year old boy was abducted at gunpoint from his terrified parents. They had just boarded a plane to fly to the country where the boy’s mother had been born, they were leaving their own country for good, because they had grown weary of the harassment they suffered there from a syndicate of well-placed thugs. They had broken no law.

The boy’s name is Domenic Johansson. He is now going on ten years old, and he has seen his mother and father only very briefly since. The thugs, officials of the Swedish government, have allowed the parents very little opportunity to visit. Domenic’s mother has suffered a nervous breakdown, and is now quite incapacitated. The foster-woman into whose care Domenic was given has informed the boy that she will never let him return to his mother and father, no matter what any court might say. Domenic, once a cheerful little boy, looks haggard, crushed, dull, as if the heart had been ripped out of him.The crime was simply that the Johanssons, a devout Christian couple, had pulled Domenic out of the state school and were educating him at home. It was, we should note well, perfectly within their rights by the Swedish law then in force to do this. It was also within their rights as specified by the European Union”

#5 Comment By JonF On February 18, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

Re: But, first of all, liberals back then could still be married with kids, live in the country, and call themselves Christians – meaning neither we nor they would likely identify them as liberals by today’s standards.

But back then it’s also true that conservatives believed in and actually practiced balanced budgeting, belonged to mainstream churches (e.g., the Episcopalian Church AKA the Republican Party at prayer) and were very suspicious of promiscuous American interventionism, even flirting with isolationism. “We step not twice in the same river” I guess.

#6 Comment By EngineerScotty On February 18, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

Parents should educate their children as they see fit–it’s that simple.

#7 Comment By Joanna On February 18, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

Fatwa, blacklisting, War on… Rod is trending to hyperbole this week.

He should provide another tasty recipe preferably involving the noble pig in penance!

#8 Comment By Joanna On February 18, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

Homeschooling is a form of diversity. I could not have had the experiences that I did (studying with a shaman, starting a small business) if had been traditionally educated.

I mean small town public school is pretty homogenous. Maybe living in a small town is a *ahem* fatwa against diversity.

#9 Comment By Peter B. Nelson On February 18, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

How about if, instead of sacrificing some of our children for the good of society, we sacrifice a little bit of society for the good of some children?

#10 Comment By The Sicilian Woman On February 18, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

The co-opting, manipulation, misuse, etc., of the words, “diversity” and “tolerance” have turned them into a joke; they have become a false, or at least badly misguided, measure of All That Is Good. I work in education where these words have become sacraments-in-action and the hypocrisy I see is amazing.

Rod, you are better off without your former friend, though it would be very telling to see where she is in her state of life, where’s she’ll living, and where she’s sending her kids (if any) to school.

There is not one, well-to-do white, self-proclaimed liberal (or progressive) of whom I know personally who has not made a point of settling in neighborhoods whiter than us both. The kids in these neighborhoods don’t go to community colleges, either, as I did. Just sayin’.

#11 Comment By Peter B. Nelson On February 18, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

Another thought: progressives wouldn’t actually want all of us smart selfish upper-class conservatives attending “their” schools after we started running them.

JonF, great wisecrack, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.

#12 Comment By Stef On February 18, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

Jayhawk10, thank you for bringing up the unschoolers, who were some of the first homeschoolers in the entire USA.

Re: the diversity point; Charles Murray thinks the ‘elites’ should sacrifice their own children’s education by putting them in inferior public schools in poorer neighborhoods (in other words, “for diversity”), and conservative publications have given him a lot of attention.

Of course, those who argue against homeschooling on the basis of ‘diversity’ usually don’t have the temerity to take on the wealthy non-parochial private schools, where the elites usually send their children.

Personally, though, I found homeschooling to be depressingly non-diverse, because if you weren’t the ‘right’ kind of Christian (i.e. a conservative one), and didn’t have the ‘right kind of lifestyle’ (ditto), you were on the outs, and so were your kids.

#13 Comment By Monterey On February 18, 2012 @ 6:57 pm

You were judged “unchristian” for choosing homeschooling? I thought leftsts claimed they were for choice. But really, it’s only if you want to “choose” to kill your child. Otherwise, they are more concerned with who’s teaching your child than whether they are learning anything.

Leftists really are the most intolerant beings of all.

#14 Comment By Dave D. On February 18, 2012 @ 7:09 pm

Look, if we’re going to play the “nothing is more important than my children card,” we should be consistent in our libertarianism and accept that “nothing is more important than my right to be married,” from SSM couples. We can’t say “Society has no, or has a weak claim on the individual and his family,” for homeschooling, and then turn around and say “This non-violent social behavior should be prohibited because of the harm it does society in the long term” for one we don’t like.

As for diversity, good lord. Isn’t the post 2 or 3 posts down bewailing Buchanan’s firing and the lack of conservative diversity at MSBNC? If diversity is so overrated in education, again lets be consistent and not complain when it’s missing from the NYT’s editorial board or MSNBC’s pundit line-up.

I think you could sum up the Slate article’s argument as just that. Be consistent with your beliefs. It feels too much that we hold libertarian beliefs when the alternative causes us potential trouble, and communitarian beliefs only when they bring us direct benefit.

#15 Comment By J On February 18, 2012 @ 8:29 pm

She just went into hysterics — literally, she started crying — about what bad people we were to turn our back on Diversity. It was an entirely emotional reaction. By considering homeschooling, we had turned our back on the Community of the Righteous.

This was probably not the homeschooling by itself. She seems to have realized at that moment that her and your commitments taken as wholes were in fact too incompatible to reconcile much longer.

#16 Comment By Hippimama On February 18, 2012 @ 8:35 pm

Love our homeschool co-op. Much more diversity than our local public school, with 100 percent of parents who care that their children are learning.

#17 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 18, 2012 @ 10:50 pm

“I have worked in offices in which lower-quality work performed by a minority was endorsed on the grounds that “diversity” and “inclusiveness” is a positive good. ”

Oh, true enough. If there is any value to diversity, it definitely does NOT lie in the notion that substandard performance is to be admired. Dr. Charles Drew, during his teaching years at Howard University, would make great sacrifices of his time and resources to help students master the medical school curriculum, but he gave NO breaks on learning everything required to be a competent physician. Many of his students did start out with a less than desirable academic foundation. That is why they got extra help — it was not an excuse to skip a few requirements.

There is value in diversity though. I attended public schools in a district where everyone was of European descent, except for one girl of Chinese ancestry, one young man who was Iranian, and one family who were Mexican. These individuals were simply individuals — there weren’t enough of them to be a cultural sub-group. The real diversity was that children of college professors, paper mill workers, office executives, car dealers, auto mechanics, truck drivers, home heating business owners, masons, carpenters, construction company owners, accountants, and dozens of other white and blue collar backgrounds all lived in the same neighborhoods and went to the same schools. Yeah, some liberals looked down their noses at the millworkers kids, but those millworkers turned out for George McGovern. Thank God I was not bottled up with a bunch of kids who were all just like me. That would have been insufferable… and by the time I turned 18, I would have been too.

#18 Comment By elizabeth On February 18, 2012 @ 10:58 pm

The idea that you automatically consign your child to an inferior education if you choose public school is lame. As another commenter noted, children whose parents care about education and encourage and expect good performance do just fine. There are many good reasons to home-school, but assuming public schools can’t deliver is not always one. Didn’t Rod’s dear sister make a career of changing lives in public school?

Home-schooling was not in the cards for us. We removed our son to a parochial school as the middle schools in the public system were not promising, but he returned to public high school. He’s currently in his first year of graduate school, having secured full funding for his master’s degree in a quantitative discipline. IOW, in public school he learned to read, do math and science, and reason well.

His exposure to poor and poorly raised kids only appears to have made him aware that some people didn’t have things as good as he did at home. Hardly a bad thing.

#19 Comment By AnotherBeliever On February 18, 2012 @ 11:20 pm

David, yes, indeed R Lee Ermey is the real deal. He actually was a Drill Instructor in the Marine Corps. 🙂

#20 Comment By AnotherBeliever On February 18, 2012 @ 11:34 pm

I agree with Elizabeth. Not most of you, but a couple of you are arguing that sending your kids to public schools is sending them into the lion’s den. Unless you live in a truly apocalyptic neighborhood (and I will not deny that such neighborhoods exist!) this is not accurate. Public schools will provide a middle class kid with an adequate education. I attended public schools and turned out fine. Got into a perfectly decent liberal arts college, which the military paid for, and am doing pretty well in life. I would definitely have learned math better if I had not moved and thus switched curriculums several times though. Our public schools aren’t perfect. They should be more rigorous. The curriculum should be more standardized. They should spend less time on busy work and more time on original sources and real literature. We need to work on them. But they get the job done for the majority of the people who keep the country running.

#21 Comment By sal magundi On February 19, 2012 @ 12:51 am


#22 Comment By Mike On February 19, 2012 @ 9:41 am

when i told friends we were considering homeschooling, it got very emotional – something akin to rejecting vaccinations. tearing apart the social fabric. that’s not america. all kinds of bad feelings.

#23 Comment By str On February 19, 2012 @ 11:16 am

>>It’s not a “fatwa.” It’s an argument.<<

And what exactly is a fatwa?

In Islamic jurisprudence, it's an authoritative expert opinion on a certain matter.

If think it means something else, don't blame Rod for it!

#24 Comment By Guest On February 19, 2012 @ 11:21 am

So why do rich liberals send their kids to private schools? Is it because they think high priced private schools do a better job at delivering a good education? Is it because they believe that behavioral issues that occur in most public schools, even lily-white suburban public schools are less of a problem at highly selective private schools? Face it: Rich liberals send their kids to private schools because they believe it will give their kids a better education and an advantage over others when it comes time for college. So what is homeschooling?–private school for the less well off.

#25 Comment By str On February 19, 2012 @ 11:27 am

Dave D.,

The article does not bemoan diversity but endorsing it over quality standards.

“Look, if we’re going to play the “nothing is more important than my children card,” we should be consistent in our libertarianism and accept that “nothing is more important than my right to be married,” from SSM couples.”

It’s non sequitur day today.

Schools and marriage are existing social institutions. Making the one cumpulsory for one age group is not quite the same redefining the other so that it includes something different.

“We can’t say “Society has no, or has a weak claim on the individual and his family,” for homeschooling, and then turn around and say “This non-violent social behavior should be prohibited because of the harm it does society in the long term” for one we don’t like.”

Whoever talked about prohibiting anything?

Now, I am not a home-schooling advocate but schools are there for pupils to learn something that expert can teach better than parents. If (public) schools fail in that regard, I don’t think it surprising that parents wish to take matters into their own hands. Whether they are allowed to do so legally, is a question of whether schooling is compulsory or not.

#26 Comment By str On February 19, 2012 @ 11:29 am

“This was probably not the homeschooling by itself. She seems to have realized at that moment that her and your commitments taken as wholes were in fact too incompatible to reconcile much longer.”

It’s rather a sad statement that someone doesn’t seem to be able to be friends because of such matters.

#27 Comment By Andrea On February 19, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

Judging by the test scores from some of the area schools, she probably has a point about kids from lower income families doing better in schools where they’re surrounded by kids of middle and upper income classmates. I also tended to notice that kids who transferred from the poor, all Indian reservation school to my school who had been A students there tended to get lower grades once they were in the newer school. The reservation school had more behavior problems and teachers were more likely to be less demanding because of it. Once they were in my school, they tended to do better both behaviorally and academically.

I don’t know that that’s a good reason not to home school, since parents need to be concerned primarily with their own children, but it says something about diverse classrooms being good for society as a whole.

#28 Comment By Crotchety Young Man On February 19, 2012 @ 2:40 pm

Most folks in my experience, perhaps especially public-school teachers, accept the whatever’s-best-for-the-student (ed-school mantra) when it comes to home schooling.

As far as community-based arguments for/against home-schooling… Today’s public-school systems came of age more or less during the heyday of positivism, Social Darwinism, and Progressivism, and their practical purposes, especially in cities, were to babysit kids while their parents worked (and simultaneously, in conjunction with anti-child-labor laws, to keep those kids out of the work force) and to assimilate immigrant children. In other words, this “good idea” that the Progressives had is superficially community-minded but fundamentally aligned to a very individualistic concept of society committed to dislocating children from their families. “Society” itself is a pretty contentless word, and a traditionalist conservative could argue that families and home-schooling communities are far more meaningful communities, on the whole, morally speaking, than most bureaucratically constructed public-school “communities.”

As someone extremely skeptical about the whole mass-democracy project and unchecked individualism, there’s no way I’m sending any kids of mine to public school. Moreover, it’ll save them the time that I’ve had to spend unlearning lots of the nonesense that was fed me through high school (which made it harder to deal with the worse nonesense fed me at university). From experience I’m confident that virtually no public-school teacher means to indoctrinate anyone; it’s just that they can only see things from their worldview, which is almost never a traditionalist one.

And I’ve experienced some excellent public schools with excellent teachers and administrators in very upper-class neighborhoods and innovative teaching approaches, but just like in our politics, teaching is defined by the least common denominator. The institutional pressure in public schools, especially since No Child Left Behind, demands it. How is that the “common good”? Really?

#29 Comment By Crotchety Young Man On February 19, 2012 @ 3:03 pm

And I learned to spell “nonsense” correctly on my own, too! Sorry ’bout the typos.

#30 Comment By Dave D. On February 19, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

STR, the point is that both are the same arguments: you need to sacrifice an immediate good (top-notch homeschooling, sexual pleasure/sanction) for a social good (experiencing diversity, more stable marriages, etc) You do this in part because of the social good, and in part to be consistent with your beliefs.

If Rod is going to argue the immediate good trumps the social good here, I think it’s fair to ask why shouldn’t it also do so for things he expounds upon at length. If anything there’s probably more of a case for the social harm caused by a mass school flight by the well-to-do than there is in allowing SSM. I also do not agree with promoting SSM. Once you use that argument, it has a way of boomeranging back.

If we are going to withdraw from the world, we really should give up trying to scold it.

#31 Comment By sal magundi On February 19, 2012 @ 7:46 pm

“In Islamic jurisprudence”

why not western? there’s a perfectly accurate word, “responsum.”
so why choose islamic terms?
i just cannot imagine why.

#32 Comment By str On February 20, 2012 @ 2:05 am


the actual point I tried to make (but then forgot to explicitely include) is that fatwa and argument are not mutually exclusive but that a fatwa actually makes an argument.

The term is islamic but it can be transferred to other cultures and situations as well.

Why use it here: because the article can be seen as an authoritative opinion within and based on a certain worldview. And face it; the term fatwa is much better known in the Western world than responsum. Yes, its connotation indicates that Rod doesn’t like the opinion. I hope he’s still allowed to do that…

#33 Comment By str On February 20, 2012 @ 2:24 am

DAVE (or rather: Dave).

“the point is that both are the same arguments”

As I have shown above, the two are not the same arguments.

Making school attendance cumpulsory involved coercing parents to send, pupils to attend. (And I am not in principle opposed to that.)

Upholding that marriage is what it is is not coercing anyone. Anyone is free to enter a marriage or not. If someone is not interested in marrying – e.g. because he or she is rather interested in partners of the same sex – he or she doen’t have to and can do something else.

But even if both cases could be described your way “sacrificing a immediate (individual) good” for the sake of “social good”, your we must treat both cases equally is unfounded to the extreme. There may always be tension between individual goods and social goods – are you saying that we either have to always prefer the one to the other? Why the tendency in the modern world to turn human being with a capacity for reason(ing) into automatons following a programmed routine?

But in your latest posting you rephrase matters: “I think it’s fair to ask why shouldn’t it” is fair enough. But a) you didn’t write that from the start, and b) it shouldn’t be a rhetorical question. c) issues should not be mispresented by making this about “prohibition of non-violent social behaviour” where none exists.

“If we are going to withdraw from the world, we really should give up trying to scold it.”

Isn’t “withdrawing from the world” a bit hyperbolic? Is defending an institution that is time-honoured and working (and arguably rooted in natural law) against vicious attacks really akin to “scolding” the world?

#34 Comment By Jim On February 20, 2012 @ 10:49 am

I always viewed homeschooling as one of those issues that crosses the left-right divide. I do believe that the first modern homeschoolers were 60s-ers hippie types and even today there are lefties who homeschool. Progressive parents who don’t want their kids exposed to military recruiters, intelligent design, anti-gay bullying, the cult of varsity sports…the list is endless.

#35 Comment By Maria On February 20, 2012 @ 10:59 am

Privatize all schools. It is a conflict of interest for any government to meddle in the education of their children. Besides, government subsidies always – ALWAYS – make things more expensive. Education should be privatized.

#36 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 20, 2012 @ 12:43 pm

I don’t know Maria, the point of public schools is that there are certain minimum common standards that any child should have, in order to become a functional adult and a knowledgeable citizen who will have a right to exercise the elective franchise.

When the Supreme Court ruled that parents may send their children to religious schools, or military schools, and that local communities may decide to offer foreign languages, such as German, they never barred states from requiring that certain courses be taught, as a minimum, in such schools, or doing inspections to make sure they were being taught properly.

There should always be one (or more) public option available, as well as a number of more specialized private options.

#37 Comment By sal magundi On February 20, 2012 @ 8:08 pm

“The term is islamic but it can be transferred to other cultures and situations as well.”

but we have a western term, ‘responsum’.
so why did dreher choose to use ‘fatwa’?
i can guess the reason, but i would surely reveal myself as ungenerous if i were to spell it out.

#38 Comment By educator On February 24, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

It is said that our ideas become part of our ego, and we will defend them as if defending our own lives even if they are harmful. That is why some women are repeatedly drawn to abusive husbands. It is also why the U.S. keeps electing crazies into office.

#39 Comment By str On February 26, 2012 @ 8:07 am


“responsum” is not a commonly used term in western cultures.

#40 Comment By Judy B.K. On February 27, 2012 @ 12:51 am

I sent my 9 year old son to school so that he could get an education in reading, language arts, science, math, history, social studies and fine arts. If exposure to a diverse population had served, or at least, not impeded that goal, fantastic. However, in our new “diverse” school, his peers are responding to requests to go to the office by calling the teacher a “stupid fat ass” and scaling bookcases up the wall. Others are slamming books on the floor, hurling chairs and throwing wastebaskets at classmates. A 4th grader brought a knife to school and threatened to use it on a classmate. I am supposed to keep my child in a hellish environment like that so that he can learn “diversity”, develop emotional problems and ultimately fail his classes? For the good of society? He will be removed tomorrow and we will homeschool him. I am done praying to the great “diversity god”! All he is learning about “diversity” here, from his day to day experience, is racism. “People of color threaten others with knives, climb bookcases and throw things across the room at other people.” This sort of diversity only plants the seeds of racism while making it impossible for him to concentrate and succeed, thereby breeding academic failure. This is our sad experience. A parent’s number one priority must always be the well being of his or her child.