If you are like I was before I started homeschooling, your view of homeschooling moms goes something like this:
- They are separatist Christians
- They homeschool because their husbands or churches tell them to
- They are probably not terribly well-educated themselves
- They use Bible-based curriculum that doesn’t teach children the whole truth about the world
- They are raising their children to be subservient girls and dominant boys
There are certainly some homeschooling moms who fit this description, though I’ve never met one who fits it to a T. However, those of you who know my homeschooling community know what kind of a shock I was in for when I became the world’s most reluctant homeschooler after my daughter didn’t take to kindergarten.
The homeschooling moms I’ve met (yes, they are mostly moms, but more on that in a moment) are as varied in background, theology, and political views as the general population. (Though of course, I will admit that where I live, conservative homeschoolers are just about as populous as conservative voters, which is to say I’ve met very few…)
How would I describe homeschooling moms?
- From deeply religious to lackadaisically atheist
- Committed to educating their children as best they can but from within their own definition of what education is (which varies greatly from family to family)
- Committed to raising children who are comfortable with themselves and have learned how to figure out what they want and how to get it (whether or not society defines what they want as “success”)
So I can say that the public perception of homeschoolers, at least where I live, is pretty far off. When a group of homeschoolers gets together to talk about how they educate their kids, you find out that in the generalities they may seem similar, but when you get down to specifics, each homeschool is as different as each child.
But there are some overwhelming similarities when you look through a gender-based lens:
- Almost all of the full-time homeschooling parents are women
- Most homeschoolers are growing up in two-parent, heterosexual households
- Most of the homeschooling moms left careers to homeschool
- Many of the moms still work part-time, but even those moms often seem to have changed careers so that their work is more compatible with homeschooling
So of course, seeing this as I started homeschooling, I wondered how to view this from a feminist perspective. Is this a throwback world where women are disregarding everything our mothers and grandmothers fought for? Or is this something new that only looks from the outside like a throwback?
I gave a talk on this topic at the HSC Conference a couple of years ago and recently at the DLC in Santa Cruz. The moms that came were the sorts of women that I have gotten to know during my homeschooling years: smart, committed to raising well-educated children, able to “think outside the box” as far as what education and success are. They are all the sort of homeschoolers that I respect and admire.
Yet many of us feel ambivalent about our choice to step back from a career to raise our children. Those of us who are still working while homeschooling know that clinging to our work (whether from financial or emotional necessity) can sometimes conflict with our success in homeschooling. We can feel uncomfortable being financially dependent on our husbands. We sometimes wonder whether our own education was wasted on us since we haven’t gone out and had fabulous careers to “justify” spending the money and time to educate us.
But all those fears and conflicts are more than canceled out by our real homeschooling experiences. Many women at my talks mentioned their own personal growth that has come from homeschooling, from needing to relearn things that were difficult the first time around to finding out new things about ourselves in the process of homeschooling.
Women also mention how important they feel that their influence is on their children. Their kids might not see a mom modeling the “independent woman” paradigm, but they do see their moms as strong leaders, caring community members, equal (though not “the same”) partners with their spouses, and lifelong learners willing to tackle pretty much anything. (How many of us thought that dissecting roadkill would be part of our adult lives?)
Homeschooling itself is conducive to raising feminist kids. Separated from oppressive school cultures that enforce clear gender roles, our kids develop in whatever direction feels right to them. So when you get together with a group of homeschoolers, you will often wonder at the genders of several of the children in the group – boys with long hair wearing capes, girls with short hair and not a shred of pink to be seen. And because they are homeschooling, their education will reflect their interests rather than some authority’s idea of what they should be interested in. This leads to young adults with a firm sense of identity.
Whether they call themselves feminists or not, many homeschoolers typify what a feminist is: someone who believes that all people should have the opportunity to express who they are without succumbing to society’s ideal for their gender.
And that gets back to the moms. Many of us made a choice to homeschool; some of us were forced due to circumstance. But once we start homeschooling, we realize that we have not taken a step back. We are just entering a period of reinvention in our lives. As one mom said, “When I left my job and started homeschooling, I had to reinvent myself. Once my children are grown, I will just reinvent myself again.”
That’s the spirit—the feminist homeschooler spirit!