There is exactly one authentically radical social movement of any real significance in the United States, and it is not Occupy, the Tea Party, or the Ron Paul faction. It is homeschoolers, who, by the simple act of instructing their children at home, pose an intellectual, moral, and political challenge to the government-monopoly schools, which are one of our most fundamental institutions and one of our most dysfunctional. Like all radical movements, homeschoolers drive the establishment bats.
In the public imagination, homeschooling has a distinctly conservative and Evangelical odor about it, but it was not always so. The modern homeschooling movement really has its roots in 1960s countercultural tendencies; along with A Love Supreme, it may represent the only worthwhile cultural product of that era. The movement’s urtext is Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing, by A. S. Neill, which sold millions of copies in the 1960s and 1970s. Neill was the headmaster of an English school organized (to the extent that it was organized) around neo-Freudian psychotherapeutic notions and Marxian ideas about the nature of power relationships in society. He looked forward to the day when conventional religion would wither away — “Most of our religious practices are a sham,” he declared — and in general had about as little in common with what most people regard as the typical homeschooler as it is possible to have.
“People forget that some of the first homeschoolers were hippies,” says Bob Wiesner, a counselor at the Seton Home Study School, a Catholic educational apostolate reporting to the bishop of Arlington, Va. In one of history’s little ironies, today most of homeschooling’s bitterest enemies are to be found on the left. “We don’t have much of a problem from conservatives,” Wiesner says. “It’s the teachers’ unions, educational bureaucrats, and liberal professors. College professors by and large don’t want students who can think for themselves. They want students they can indoctrinate, but that’s hard to do with homeschoolers — homeschoolers push back.” He relishes the story of a number of graduates of his program who attended a top-tier Catholic university and enrolled together in theology classes taught by the school’s most notorious liberals. They were of course more conversant with church orthodoxy than were many of their instructors. “The professors hated them. But the kids had fun. The president of that college at that time was trying to clean up the theology department, so when the professors would complain, he would call the students in and tell them to try to be polite — with a wink and a nod.”
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