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.


Aimee said...

This was a hard article to read. I have always been ideolgically committed to public schools as a fundamental obligation of a just society. Surely the state has a compelling interest in the education of it's children if it has any interest in them at all. Nonetheless, I feel like a hypocrite for even as I vote in favor of school levys I have sent my children ( off an on) to private schools. Since I have always lived in fairly decent school districts, this was more about their social needs than the quality oc the education- or so I said. This year for the first time in several years all three of my kids will be in public school, and I will be doing my best to augment their education both by participating in school (PTA and whatnot) and by giving them extracurricular lessons. Piano starts monday.
I for one am not ready to give up on public schools because doing so feels like giving up on participatory, communal society altogether. I strenuously believe that our children have a right to education, and I refuse to belive that the majority of Americans disagrees with that assertion.
Maybe I'm being naiive. I've already had to come to grips with the fact that many Americans prefer to expose their own children to archaic diseases than to pay for vaccinations for the children of undocumented immigrants, why, in the face of that knowledge, should I continue to think that Americans will come to their senses and pay for the improveny of impoverished public schools?
I support the right and respect the desicions of parents who homeschool. I Want to see more resources available to them. But I do not think it is time to give up the fight to save public schools. For every motivated prepared famlly who chooses to homeschool and does it well, there are several uotivated, unprepared families who would do it badly. Public schools must be maintained for those children. We the people owe it to them.

TH in SoC said...

Thank you for your continued readership. I must say that this post was a hard post to write.

I agree with you that a participatory, communal society is a valuable thing. I believe that public safety nets and mechanisms for the provision of the public good are vital. I'm starting to think, however, that the American institutions that have historically been charged with providing for and promoting the common good have become ruined by wealthy, selfish interests, and that any communal society that manages to survive over the next several years will largely depend on the efforts of enlightened grassroots contributions of ordinary people. I'd be thrilled to find that my projections were overly pessimistic.