Sunday, September 12, 2010

Homeschooling As An Exit Strategy

In my posts, The Polyculture of Resilient Neighborhoods,” and “My (Somewhat) Walkable, (Somewhat) Russian Neighborhood,”I described people, families and communities whose choices have positioned them for maximum survivability in this present time of resource depletion and economic collapse. I described the cultural motivations for the choices these people have made. In today's post, I'd like to describe a segment of the native-born U.S. population, and how many of its members are finding a way of escape from a culture deliberately designed to destroy them.

Upon liberation from de facto slavery, the Black American population found that there was still a strong campaign throughout the broader society to keep us weak and subjugated. One of the tools of that campaign was the creation of “separate but equal” schooling. History abundantly shows how unequal that separate education actually was. (See “Brown versus Board of Education” from the Brown Foundation website and “Early Civil Rights Struggles: Brown v. Board of Education” from African American History.)

This unequal, sociopathically administered child education supposedly ended with the 1954 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Brown vs. Board of Education case. What really happened, however, is that where schools were forced to integrate, these schools were turned into a weapon against minority children. Jonathan Kozol, a well-known school teacher, activist and author, described how this process worked out in his 1967 book, Death At An Early Age. (You can read excerpts here and here.) I believe the process really kicked into high gear from the presidency of Ronald Reagan onward. Mr. Kozol documents this ongoing process in later books such as Savage Inequalities: Children In America's Schools and The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, which was published in 2005.

The transformation of the nation's public school system into a weapon of mass destruction against minorities (especially black boys) has led to an environment in which minority children are negatively labeled, treated to disproportionately harsh discipline, ignored by incompetent teachers and administrators who refuse to push their students or expect anything of them, and who instead tell their students that they will never amount to anything. Consider the following fact: Black American boys are far likelier to be targeted by teachers for special education classes, medication or expulsion than non-minority boys who display similar behavior. In the United States, special education was a $60 billion industry in 2009. (Additional sources: “Institutional Practices and the African American Boy,” Lorraine Forte: Suspensions in Chicago Schools Target Black Boys,” and “A national trend: Black and Latino boys predominate in emotional support classes.”) Entrance into college is becoming increasingly difficult for those Black youth who go through the public school system: more and more high school guidance counselors are deliberately trying to steer minority youth away from college, either by giving bogus advice or by withholding information about options for college entrance and tuition support. (Sources: “More Than Gatekeepers,” “Study finds segregation in universities.”)

The hostile degeneracy of the public school system is one factor that has helped to foster a dysfunctional culture in minority communities. But a growing segment of the Black American population is finding a way of escape – via homeschooling.

Homeschooling is a phenomenon that is sweeping up an increasing number of Americans of every cultural background. In 2009, there were about 2 million home-educated students in the United States, and the homeschool population is continuing to grow at an estimated rate of 5 to 12 percent per year, according to this study. Another source suggests that the actual rate of growth may be fifteen percent per year.

About fifteen percent of these homeschooled students are nonwhite. The fastest growing segment of home-schoolers are from the African-American population. These homeschooling families cite many reasons, both religious and secular, for their choice; yet a recurrent theme is the recognition that the public school system is a predator that is deliberately trying to destroy their children. Consider these stories:

Homeschooling is not nearly the exclusive province of the rich; according to a recent USA Today article, around 40 percent of homeschool families earned less than $50,000 per year in 2009. (But for a rather different take on the data behind the USA Today article, read this.) In 1996, the number was over 60 percent. According to blogger Valerie Delp, “The school system spends on average $5,700 per pupil while the average homeschooing family spends only around $600 per pupil. Despite the monetary gap...homeschooled students outperform their public school counterparts significantly.”The desire to homeschool among economically challenged and single parent heads of households is also leading to innovative solutions. In fact, the Black community is producing many centers of excellence and repositories of best practices for homeschooling. Thus a new, valuable, homegrown culture – of dignity, self-respect and, above all, competence – is emerging in at least one minority population.

The abandonment of the public education system by many members of the Black community has led to attempts by some in the school system to persuade us to “hang in there and try to reform the system” for which we all fought so hard to gain access. (I wonder if some of this attempted persuasion is motivated by the fact that school districts lose money when they lose students?) Also, many public school districts, threatened with a loss of funding due to the withdrawal of students, are now trying to woo these students back with “magnet” schools and virtual “charter schools” whose curriculum is provided and administered by private, for-profit corporations.

But attempts to woo or badger Black homeschoolers back into the public school fold are falling on increasingly deaf ears. Black American parents are increasingly unwilling to force their children to suffer the onslaught of a broken educational system while pleading with the system to reform itself. I am reminded of something I heard during a recent C-Realm Podcast interview of Dmitry Orlov, author of the book Reinventing Collapse. Among the things he said concerning the American criminal justice system was this:

I think that people who think there's something to be gained by writing more laws or changing laws or anything like that are basically helping legitimize a system that shouldn't have any legitimacy at this point. There are a lot of examples, but it's sort of like, if you rape a girl a few times and then ask for her hand in marriage, should you get it? Is that a good thing to do? So this is what you have to look at as the system slowly unwinds – should we really shore it up? Should we forgive it? Should we approach it with an outstretched hand, saying, 'Oh – you can be better...we can reform you' as opposed to 'Let's watch you die'?...If you look at what the criminal justice [system] in this country has done, it has committed a series of crimes for which no apology would be acceptable.”

That is how many Black Americans now feel about American public education: rather than saying, “Let's try to reform you,” we are saying, “Let's watch you die.”

On every hand there are signs that the system is indeed dying, due to the ongoing economic collapse of the United States, as the notional “wealth” of many sons and daughters of privilege evaporates and the best public schools suddenly discover that they are underfunded. (For examples, see School Budget Cuts: No End In Sight,” “Survey: School budget cuts even worse next year,” School budget cuts threaten gains,” and “ACLU suit: 6 OC school districts charge illegal fees” – an article describing the travails of some unfortunate formerly trendy schools in formerly affluent Orange County, California.) A deflationary depression can become a great equalizer.

The system is dying even as it has begun to destroy its own sons and daughters of privilege. How many uneducated, incompetent graduates of high school “advanced placement” and “honors” programs are there? (See Most High School Kids Cheat -- and Don't Think There's Anything Wrong With That,” Academic cheating, aided by cellphones or Web, shown to be common,” 75% of High School Students Cheat Their Way into College,” and “"Graduating" from Graduating From College.”)

Yes, the system is dying. As it dies and leaves a vacuum in its wake, that vacuum can be filled by a network of home educators, armed with adequate resources, sharing best practices. Homeschool networks can contribute to the rise of resilient neighborhoods, and the reversal of negative culture in neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, we must be on our guard against continued dysfunctional moves on the part of the system in its continued attempts to destroy those who are escaping from the system.

For More Information, Please See The Following:

P.S. The Portland Public School system had better get its act together, and fast! I just read a report in the 9 September 2010 issue of the Portland Tribune describing the appalling achievement/testing gap between Black students and others who go through Portland public schools. If this doesn't change quickly, I will start talking to as many Black parents as I can find about pulling their children out of your schools.

Monday, September 6, 2010

TH, Back From SoC

I just got back from a Labor Day weekend trip to Southern California to visit relatives. Due to time constraints, I actually thought about flying there...but at the last minute, I chickened out. (One factor that influenced my decision was finding out that the cost of a plane ticket plus a car rental in Southern California was about the same as the cost of just renting a car in Portland and driving down and back.)

Driving allowed me a chance to take in some thought-provoking (and frankly disturbing) scenery. I am thinking of the “Congress Created Dust Bowl” signs lining Interstate 5 from south of Stockton to just north of Bakersfield. These signs have undergone a transformation; their creators have changed the signs to read, “Stop the Congress Created Dust Bowl” and have added the names of members of the U.S. Congress who have been targeted by the American Right wing for removal. The connection between these signs and the rhetoric of the Tea-bagger/Glenn Beck/Fox News crowd is unmistakable, with their growth-at-any-cost message and their vehement opposition to any restrictions on the rights of wealthy agricultural landowners for the sake of the common good.

These signs have been designed to look like an expression of small-time, homemade grassroots activists from a distance. But there was one such sign on a wooden utility pole in an unfenced field near a gas station where I stopped, and upon closer examination I saw that its professionally produced message had been printed on a sheet of nearly indestructible Tyvek. As I said, there are dozens of these signs, as well as much larger billboard-sized signs with the same message in fenced fields within sight of the freeway. Making and installing these signs must have cost a lot of money.

The location of the signs tells us a few other disturbing things. Prior to 2008, the cost of farmland in the Central Valley averaged around $15,000 per acre, although by March of 2009 it had fallen to around $10,000 per acre. (Source: California's Central Valley Farmland and Prices Not Immune to Recession”.) However, a quick search of agricultural land for sale revealed that most parcels under 40 acres cost over a million dollars. There are not very many small parcels near Interstate 5 that cost under $500,000. I only found one, and it was being marketed as a “home with property” for people who like “country living.” But then again, I only did a quick search. Those who want to try searching for themselves can go to a site like Schuil and Associates.

My point is that it seems to me that the people behind the “Stop The Congress Created Dust Bowl” campaign are all wealthy holders of large agricultural properties, and who are major players in the industrial factory farming model of agribusiness. They are not poor small farmers. Their signs are not homemade. They are not a display of grassroots activism.

They are, however, a display of the lengths to which the wealthy in this country are willing to go to seize, enlarge and consolidate their political and economic power at the expense of the rest of us and of the environment. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that corporations have the same rights of “free speech” and paid political expression as individuals, the wealthiest and most powerful members of American society are pulling out all the stops. Farms are on my mind, so I'll mention the forest of “Chris Dudley for Governor” signs I saw on my way through Oregon on Interstate 5. I think it's probable that most of the farms sporting these signs are also large, expensive agribusinesses. But it's also interesting how many large buildings in the Portland Metro area have been covered with Chris Dudley banners, regardless of whether the tenants in those buildings like Dudley or not. And there's uber-wealthy Carly Fiorina's bid to become a U.S. Senator. (See also $200 Million GOP Campaign Avalanche Planned, Democrats Stunned”.)

The most disturbing sight I saw came when I arrived home again today shortly after midnight. I was on my computer checking my e-mail (and wasting time surfing a few sites) when I discovered that Thomas Nelson Publishers, who had released the "American Patriot's Bible" in 2009, was now agressively pushing this 'Bible' via Glenn Beck and Fox Television. Truly this would have been for me a “spew coffee all over keyboard” moment if I'd been drinking any coffee. According to several reviews, their “Patriot's Bible” is a compilation of stories of American patriots inserted into a New King James translation, along with commentary “illustrating” how Biblical principles “fit” into the founding of the United States. The aim of this “Bible” is to continue to promote the myth that the United States is an “exceptional” nation founded by God, and that the proof of this is unending material prosperity for America, as well as justifying all of this nation's wars of conquest.

You can read some objective reviews of this “Bible” below:

It's interesting that this “Bible”, which was basically unheard-of for several months, should be aggressively pushed right now, only a few months before the November election. It's as if American evangelicalism with all of its entertainment/content “industries” had become simply another arm of a wealthy right-wing corporatist/materialist enterprise.

I'll say right here that I am a Christian – a Bible-believing, fundamentalist Christian. (Hopefully, that won't make you spew your coffee all over your keyboard;) But when I read the Bible, I come to conclusions that are radically different from those of the nationalists and xenophobes of the American right. I think that much of American history is an abomination. (Millions of former slaves, exterminated Native Americans and dead Iraqis would agree with me.)

I think of the religious parts of America not as Christian, but as Christ-haunted (in the Flannery O'Connor sense): destructive, materialist, greedy people who say the name of Jesus quite loudly, yet persecute as “Socialist!!!” anyone who suggests that maybe we should act like Jesus. The editors and publishers of the “Patriot's Bible” spent a lot of time inserting nationalist, war-mongering propaganda into their “Bible,” yet they failed to take heed to this passage from the Good Book: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if anyone adds to them, may God add to him the plagues which are written in this book...”

The American Patriot's Bible is yet another expression of the longing of many Americans for a magical, something-for-nothing life in which one never has to face the negative consequences of one's own foolish choices. It is yet one more piece of propaganda pushed by the wealthiest members of a rapidly shrinking American “mainstream” who fear a multipolar world in which they must learn to live within their means. The shrinkage of our means and the rise of that multipolar world are coming, whether we like it or not. Meanwhile, beware of denialist propaganda. It can be found oozing out of surprising places.