Feminism and Homeschooling

OK, so not a very original title, but it does the job.

Tammy over at Just Enough and Nothing More had an interesting post titled Homeschooling is Anti-Feminist? In it, she responds to this post. Tammy has many good points with which I agree.

In the post, Amanda (after expressing her concerns about parents being allowed to teach creation science and then reassuring folks that she knows that liberals homeschool too) talks about her biggest concern about homeschooling:

Still, I’m suspicious of the use of homeschooling to subvert the system for the same reason Chris is suspicious of a certain strain of the politics of personal purity—why is it that the solutions to all these problems come back to asking women to provide more and more unpaid labor?

Amanda makes several interesting assumptions. One, that homeschoolers (at least liberal ones who do not homeschool for religious reasons) in general homeschool mostly because of problems with the schools and that given a choice, they would prefer to be in the work force. While this is the case for some, it is not the case for all. And two, that paid labor is the main measure of a person’s “worth”.

The elephant in the middle of the room during discussions about homeschooling is the fact that in order to make it work most of the time, women will have to abandon the hope of having paid employment for a couple of decades. It’s taking the “opt-out revolution” and extending women’s obligations to work for free for the family beyond the early years when kids are too small for school and sticking women at home throughout her kids’ adolescence.

Again this makes it sound as if homeschooling is being foisted on us and that we are being forced into doing something that we really do not want to do. I honestly do not hold out hope of having paid employment even after my kids are out of the house.

I am college educated (BS in Management Science from Virginia Tech). I worked as a professional for 8 years (the last 2 years being part time after Jason was born) at a large information technology consulting company where I was a systems consultant. I did a variety of things including systems requirements and design and client training and support. I enjoyed my work while I did it. But I have no desire to go back to it and I do not miss it. I also do not need it to define who I am. Because I am so much more then what I get paid for.

If I ever go back to paid work, I am not sure what I would do, but it would be something where I could keep more a balance between my personal life and professional life (yes, even without kids, I would not want a job to take over my life).

What I hope to do is to get more involved in volunteer work and figure out how I can make a difference in this world. Or find something that I am really passionate about. Passion would definitely be a priority.

And being a homeschooler is a lot more work than being a housewife; you have to provide the education that a whole passel of people at the high school provide, on top of your domestic duties, and you don’t get that paycheck at the end of it nor do you get the summer break.

This buys into the belief that homeschooling recreates “school at home” and is best done by experts (hence all homeschool parents must become experts). I won’t get into this too much here (but should remember to write a post on this topic soon!). I will say that I have found that it is very possible to teach my kids without having to be a “qualified teacher” for many reasons. I happen to love learning, am very curious and I have been willing to put some time into researching methods/learning styles. Rather then find this “work” I am thoroughly enjoying myself. I honestly love learning with my kids.

For all the hand-wringing concern in this article for the social lives of teenagers, the omission of even an ounce of concern for the right of a mother to have a life outside of child-rearing is suspiciously absent. The importance of having a variety of experiences and social occasions doesn’t end when people turn 18; hard as it may be for the mainstream media to remember, mothers are people, too, and as such, they benefit from having opportunities to get out of the house and to take breaks from non-stop child-rearing.

This sets up a very black and white dichotomy. You can either have a “outside life” or you can devote your total existence to your children. I would argue that my outside life is probably just as, if not more fulfilling then someone who devotes their life to their “paid work”.

My outside life includes being able to indulge in my hobbies…currently my biggest is photography. One of the things that I love about it is how easy it is to work into our homeschooling lives. I take my camera with me many places (and since we homeschool, we tend to visit pretty neat places that I might not take the time to visit if I was working). Yes, a lot of my pictures are of my kids (my favorite subjects) but many are not.

Another way that I have an “outside life” is through volunteering. When I quit my job when Jason was two, I started volunteering with a great group called The Naomi Project working with at-risk moms. Until I stopped working, I did not have time between working and raising my child. 8 years later, I have cut back on mentoring, but I still volunteer with them, writing a quarterly breastfeeding column for the newsletter and helping with training.

I am also on the Board of Directors of the The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. We do all sorts of “adult” things like lobby the state legislature (I have actually become more politically aware and active since becoming a homeschooler), manage a large and active website, produce a quality bi-monthly newsletter, hold an annual homeschool conference (no easy task believe me…we are still looking for folks who want to volunteer!) as well as many additional things too numerous to mention. Since joining VaHomeschoolers I have taught myself HTML and learned a lot about web design, given presentations to hundreds of homeschoolers (I am giving 3 sessions at this year’s conference and recently led a Beginning Homeschool Seminar in Charlottesville), and a host of other “professional development” types of things.

Oh and don’t forget my blogging! I have found that writing is a wonderful outlet for me…one that I enjoy immensely. Blogging has also helped me indulge in learning more about my interests…early american history and child’s lit.

But it’s frustrating to me that it goes without question so often that mothers are obligated to turn those brains and energy over to their children, keeping nothing for themselves, and not even getting that (meager) paycheck at the end of the day that professional teachers receive.

I may have turned my brain and energy over to my children with no paycheck to show for it, but what I have found since leaving my paying job is a passion for what I do. I enjoyed my job, but I LOVE my homeschooling. I get as much out of it as my children do. I not only have a passion for learning with my children, but I have also found that I have a passion for helping new homeschoolers get started. And I am good at it. I love empowering people, helping them get the resources and gain the confidence they need.

Now that I am “home with my children” I have more time to focus on my interests. Yes, it takes a bit of creativity sometimes, but it is doable. I have had more personal growth and learned more about who I am as a person in the last 8 years then I did in the 8 years I worked. What I love is that I am really good at what I am doing now and I do not need nor want a paycheck to tell me that.

Yes, I enjoyed getting the feedback from my employers that I was doing a good job (and the raises were nice as well!). But now I get personal satisfaction and am in control of my own schedule. I have a freedom and a passion that I did not have when I was working. I am doing what is important to me.

And isn’t that what feminism is all about? About being able to do anything that we set our minds to without being told that we can’t? My question is why does that “anything” have to be defined as paid work to be valuable? Why is nurturing our children seen as “less then” or a waste? Isn’t feminism supposed to be about having choices?
Please do not define me or my choices by some pre-determined yardstick. Avoiding arbitrary yardsticks that do not take into consideration the individual is one of the reasons I homeschool!

I know that we are very lucky to have the freedom to make the choice that we have. Jeff owns his own consulting company and is easily able to support us in this lifestyle. For that I am grateful. I have friends that are making much bigger sacrifices to stay home with their kids. If there is the desire, there is a way.

I don’t claim that my choice is right for every woman. I have many friends who work and very much enjoy their careers. I think that is wonderful if it works for them. Staying home with my kids works for me. I don’t see the need for the “mommy wars”. As long as what someone is choosing is working for them, I say more power to them.

And I don’t mean to say that all homeschoolers share my perspective on careers. I may be very unique about not really caring about a career and I do have friends who struggle with these types of questions. I do know that some homeschoolers don’t care about having a paid career. Where as some do want some kind of career in addition to homeschooling. And I have friends who juggle both homeschooling and a career. And that is fine! Because we all have the choice to work on finding the life that is right for us. There is no “right” or “wrong” choice.

But please do not assume that I pine to get paid for my work. Or in any way feel “less than” because I do not have a career. Or that I feel that I am giving up anything or “keeping nothing for myself” by staying home with my children. Or am doing this out of some sort of selfless obligation (believe me, I feel very selfish and sometimes can’t believe that I can get away with this kind of freedom!). This also does not mean that everything is always roses and that I never have any challenges. But challenges are not unique to homeschooling…they are just part of life!

Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t trade my homeschooling life with my children for anything. I love what I do and isn’t that what it is all about?

~Stephanie

About throwingmarshmallows

I am a homeschooling mom to two sweet, energetic boys although I am probably not exactly what you would expect (definitely NOT your stereotypical homeschooler, if there is really such a thing). I support progressive political causes (yes, liberals can and do homeschool!) and I have found a spiritual home in the Unitarian Universalist Church. I have no real idea of how I want to use this blog, but will probably focus on homeschooling, things that I am learning from my boys, personal thoughts and opinions and maybe some liberal politics thrown in, who knows!
This entry was posted in Random Homeschool Thoughts, Why I Homeschool. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Feminism and Homeschooling

  1. Hope says:

    Stephanie,
    You are so eloquent and rational! I tried to read the article that started all this and just couldn’t finish. It just made me angry. Then there was all the negativity in the comments towards homeschooling. OMG!

    At age 38, I willingly “gave up” a career as a Naval contractor to homeschool my kids. No one forced me to do it. The pay was great! But working 10 hour days, paying others to raise my kids so that I could “earn a living” was not so great. What am I “earning” now? A respect for and an understanding of my children and the ability to grow and learn with them.

    And I do frequently go and do things just for me. I am not a slave and though I love being a mom, that is only PART of the whole me.

    Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking post!

  2. Pingback: The Sinister Scribe » Maybe I am a Feminist

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  4. I’m with you, sister! I’d burn my bra in honor of this post, but at this age, I really need it!

  5. Becky says:

    Terrific post, Stephanie.

    I stopped working outside the home when I married a farmer and moved to Canada. I was much happier spending my days outdoors with animals than indoors with clients who wanted to see how fast I could jump through hoops, and the pressure of a 30-year mortgage. That paycheck I was working for was going straight to the bank…

    You can’t put a price a freedom, and I definitely hope part of what we’re teaching our kids through home education is that lesson.

  6. Owl says:

    Awesome words, Stephanie! Thank you.

  7. Lania says:

    Very well stated. I consider myself a feminist. And although I need to work part-time to try and supplement our family income, I have never resented the fact that I do not get paid for being able to homeschool our son. I know it’s a sacrifice to some, but I don’t really feel that way. I feel priviledged. I think it’s a question of how you choose to look at things. Thanks, Stephanie. Your blog is fantastic. :)

  8. Of all the misconceptions expressed in that post and numerous responses, the one that jumped out at me the most is “the right of a mother to have a life outside of child-rearing.” This comment is astounding in its simplistic assumption that 1) homeschool moms are somehow forced into this task and are therefore submissive and 2) that, by virtue of homeschooling our children, we are deprived of any sort of existence beyond the (apparently presumed drudgery) of child-rearing.

    Having been an at-home mom for 17 years and homeschooling my children for the past 12 of those, I assert that this lifestyle can bring about some of the most rewarding experiences of a person’s life.

    During the past dozen years, finding and making my place in the homeschool community–and in the world at large–has been a vital part of my growth as a human being. Expanding my exploration of the world through homeschooling my children has allowed me to rediscover who I really am, which is a person far more effective, dynamic, and joyful than the flat portrait drafted by documents created and maintained by the private and public schools I attended in my youth. Where institutional schooling sought to make me fairly uniform by downplaying my strengths and ignoring my areas most in need of improvement, being a homeschooling parent has given me the chance to re-educate myself as I learn with my children, taking me far beyond what I could have imagined.

    I forewent the second income, the twin SUVs in the circular driveway, designer clothes and Club Med vacations for two. Yes, my financial outlook was permanently affected by my choice to raise my children and enjoy the luxury of knowing them intimately. I will not likely ever make up for the lost wages, the missing social security contributions, or the disruption to my career track, but these are miniscule trade-offs in comparison to the rich, meaningful life I have shared with my children. Being an at-home and homeschool parent is not for everyone, but for me, no measure of material goods or social or professional status could ever make up for the great value in what I would have lost had I chosen to remain among the paid workforce and have my children educated in an institution. I can “go back to work,” at any time, but I can never go back to when my children were little, to when they needed lots of parental involvement, to when they were absorbing every example I made of how to create a handmade life, a life worth living.

    -Shay

  9. Very eloquent response!

    I worked much of my adult life as a research scientist and then as a teacher.

    I left it all in order to be at home with my son and homeschool him. I have grown to love our wonderful, zany days together. Intellectual stimulation and social contacts I have aplenty, and although we have changed our lifestyle–we sold a big expensive home in order to buy a smaller, comfy home outright–I do not miss the paycheck.

    There’ll always be time for work. But children grow so quickly. I was not able to be at home for my now grown daughter, but I do not want to miss a day with my son.

  10. Robin says:

    Stephanie ~ This is the kind of post that makes my heart race in a positive way. I think if I had read the post you based this one on, I would have gotten mad. Your post made me feel so happy and content with my choices. Especially knowing that others made those choices for similar reasons.
    Like you, I LOVE homeschooling. I don’t miss my job one single bit. And I wish I could go back in time and homeschool my older two children also.
    It’s good to have posts like this one to get some positive messages out into the blogoshere about homeschooling.
    Thank you for taking the time to so eloquently express what many of us feel, but could not possibly convey ourselves. :-)

  11. Jeanne-Marie says:

    A few things that Amanda said caught my attention. First, her comment about “mothers being obligated to turn those brains and energy over to their children” struck me. Since when does educating children not require brains and energy? The homeschooling moms I know spend a lot of time reading about homeschooling, learning about curriculum materials, confering with other homeschooling parents, and trying new things. Homeschooling moms continually tap into their intelligence and creativity as they educate their children. Amanda seems to be saying that educating one’s children is about as intellectually stimulating as folding laundry. I have to disagree!

    Secondly, Amanda’s frustration with homeschooling moms’ not receiving paychecks reminds me of one of the problems that I have with traditional schooling. In traditional schools children too often come to think that learning isn’t valuable in and of itself; learning is only worthwhile if earns you a good grade on a test. Amanda seems to be saying that HSing moms’ work can not be seen as valuable, as it is not paid. Can’t the joy of being with your children and educating them in the way that you think is best be valuable in and of itself, without any sort of external reward?

    One other comment of Amanda’s struck me. She says that, for all of the work of HSing, you don’t get breaks and you don’t get a paycheck at the end. No breaks and no paycheck… hmm, sounds to me like parenting!

  12. Cristina says:

    Who says this isn’t worth it? I’m raising my retirement fund! And if it weren’t for homeschooling, I would never have gotten a proper education. And I wouldn’t have a neat hobby drawing comics of our life.

    But please don’t tell anyone. They think I work really hard.

    Peace and Laughter

  13. Alison says:

    I really enjoyed this post, and it gives me some ideas about reaching a little further myself, something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. In fact, because of this post I spent a little longer than I might have listening to a potential homeschooler in order to give her a sounding board.

    I worry a little though that once my kids are out in the world I won’t know what to do with myself. But since my youngest is three, I have a while to figure that out!

  14. Helen says:

    Good perspective on the pros of homeschooling and that we are not all “slaves” to our homes and children. What issue needs to be addressed is the issue of “choice”. We all have choices to make when having children. If we are not “rearing the children” somebody has to do it, either a daycare provider, school personnel, or other family members. It is a job that needs to be done whether the biological Mother “chooses” to do it or not. When a woman “chooses” to have a baby and go back to work 6 weeks later, somebody has to feed the baby, change diapers, etc. and that person is usually a poorly paid person with no stake in the long term outcome of the child. A child is SOMEBODY’S full time job.

    Yes, homeschooling or a healthy parenting relationship does require the cooperation of at least two people because the fact is that resources must be brought into the home to live and the jobs of “maintenance” of home, children etc. will also not disappear.

    Another issue that needs to be addressed, especially by feminists is the inherent unfairness and harm to quality of life that women are “supposed to do it all” so Mom is trying to be Supermom, earn big bucks in the workforce,AND be that exciting marriage partner in order to keep that husband interested. I like the quote,”You can have it all, just not at the same time”.

    Helen