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Hippie or fundamentalist?

December 1st, 2003 · No Comments

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me this link to an article in the NYTimes on homeschooling. Unhappy in Class, More Are Learning at Home

What amused me most was the writer’s attitude:
“So Ms. Kjellberg, neither a hippie nor a fundamentalist, decided to educate them at home.”

Ms. Gross, the author, is attempting to emphasize that homeschooling is becoming more popular.

The Kjellbergs’ choice is being made by an increasing number of American families — at least 850,000 children nationwide are schooled at home, up from 360,000 a decade ago, according the Education Department. …

Newcomers to home schooling resist easy classification as part of the religious right or freewheeling left, who dominated the movement for decades, according to those who study the practice.

They come to home schooling fed up with the shortcomings of public education and the cost of private schools. Add to that the new nationwide standards — uniform curriculum and more testing — which some educators say penalize children with special needs, whether they are gifted, learning disabled or merely eccentric.

But to make her point, did she need to quip “neither a hippie nor a fundamentalist?” Seemed unnecessary to me to illustrate by extremes and stereotypes. I imagine that there have been plenty of other mothers – and fathers – prior to 2003 who chose to homeschool their children, parents who were not “part of the religious right or freewheeling left”. Certainly the movement is gathering momentum, but that doesn’t mean that every homeschooling parent prior to this recent trend has been an extremist. Or that families have always fit easily into such stereotyped terms, either left or right, one or the other. I imagine there are many families living with bits of both lifestyles.

“Hippie” conjures up long-hair, granola, free love and love beads, as well as free-range chicken and children running wild. “Fundamentalist” often means a big black Bible, religion, restrictions and self-righteousness. Such stereotypes seem strange and far outside society. Who would want that?! But what is mainstream, what is “normal”, what makes a good life, is in the eye of the beholder….

As Ms. Kjellberg says:
“I was always too afraid to take that giant step outside the mainstream,” she said. “But now that circumstances have forced us out, our experience here on the sidelines is so good that I find it harder and harder to imagine going back.”

Speaking of stepping outside the mainstream, recently I’ve discovered how hard it is to explain homeschooling without grades. Abigail is 5 and would be enrolled in kindergarten in the public school. However, I don’t use the word “kindergarten” with her. We are not using any specific curriculum this year. We read books from the library, do experiments and write in notebooks together. I don’t see the point of using the term “kindergarten” since I’m not trying to teach her at any specific level. Some skills she has probably are at a first or second grade level, and some at the moment may be more at a preschool level. I don’t see the point of pointing all that out to her either. She is who she is, with her own strengths and weaknesses, and the term “kindergarten” and what it encompasses, is something that school boards and legislators have determined, a definition created to fit a system. Why use a word that doesn’t have much meaning?

Except that it describes where a “normal” 5 year old would find herself in school. And it communicates something within our culture. Now when I take Abigail places, like to the dentist’s office, or grocery store, or any place she interacts with strangers, of course the first thing someone wants to know is what grade she is in school.
“Are you in Kindergarten?” But Abigail doesn’t know.
“I go to school at home,” she says. That’s what she knows. And that’s fine with me.

School at home. Where we read the Bible and make granola. 🙂

Tags: family