Last week’s post generated by far the most activity I’ve ever had on this blog. Most of the comments submitted showcase the remarkable zeal with which homeschoolers rush to defend themselves in the face of perceived attack. The outside observer might find such behavior a bit overdone and melodramatic. To me it helps explain why homeschoolers have been so successful in the political arena. If Dr. West’s relatively obscure article reviewed on my very obscure blog has produced such a reaction, you can imagine what happens when a state legislator, school superintendent, or government official says something that rankles homeschoolers!
Anyway, among the many comments submitted was one that questioned the degree to which I accurately portrayed West’s argument. There were two issues especially where the commentator felt I did not do West’s argument justice. I’d like here to briefly return to them, providing quotations from West’s article, so that readers might determine for themselves whether they think I gave a fair summary.
First, the commentator disagreed with me on a historical point. I said that West believed that legislators and courts caved to homeschooler demands in the 1980s and 90s because they accepted homeschoolers’ Constitutional arguments about a fundamental right to homeschool. I said that that wasn’t true, that the Constitutional claims were far less important than appeals to state statutory language and efforts to change that language when it was not sufficiently friendly to homeschooling. Let’s see what West actually says:
Why were the states so willing to turn the reins over to parents? They acted, at least in part, because of the belief, held by religious parents and proclaimed by their advocates, that a constitutional right required the states to do so. Specifically, the parents and their advocacy groups argued that religious parents had a free exercise right, grounded in the First Amendment, to educate their children as they see fit, in private, at home, in accordance with their religious beliefs, and with no oversight by or even interaction with state authorities. In the face of this adamantly asserted constitutional right, and strapped for cash in any event, the states ceded responsibility for what had previously been a core state function—the education of children—to whatever parents claimed that they preferred to educate their children themselves. (p.8)
And later, after correctly noting that courts have not generally recognized a Constitutional right to homeschool, West says,
It doesn’t follow, however, from judicial recalcitrance that the right does not exist: hundreds of thousands of parents believe it exists and have acted upon it, and most important, whatever the courts might say, state legislators in all fifty states decriminalized the practice in partial reliance upon it, often explicitly making reference to the “parent’s right to homeschool” in the amended legislation or regulations as they did so. (p.8)
I’ll let my readers decide if they think from these quotations that West did or did not say that state legislators changed their laws because of Constitutional arguments. I still think she did.
The second topic my commentator took issue with was a specific argument West makes about a teacher’s love vs. a parent’s. The commentator found this part of West’s essay clear and said it didn’t mean what I said it meant. I thought it was hard to follow and interpreted West to be saying (as I wrote), “kids who attend school are loved for who they are as individuals, not for who they are as offspring… the point seems to be that a teacher’s love is unconditional while the parent’s is contingent on the child being his or her offspring.” Since I found this argument odd I didn’t even bother addressing it when I critiqued her various harms in my original post. Anyway, here is the paragraph in its entirety so that readers can determine for themselves what they think West is saying:
Third, public and private schools provide for many children, I suspect, although I have yet to see studies of this, a safe haven in which they are both regarded and respected independently and individually. Family love is intense, and we need it to survive and thrive. It is also deeply contingent on the existence and nature of the family ties. Children are loved in a family because they are the children of the parents in the family. The “unconditional love” they receive is anything but unconditional: it is conditioned on the fact that they are their parents’ children. School—either public or private—ideally provides a welcome respite. A child is regarded and respected at school not because she is her parent’s child, but because she is a student: she is valued for traits and for a status, in other words, that are independent of her status as the parent’s genetic or adoptive offspring. The ideal teacher cares about the child as an individual, a learner, an actively curious person—she doesn’t care about the child because the child is hers. The child is regarded with respect equally to all the children in the class. In these ways, the school classroom, ideally, and the relations within it, is a model of some core aspects of citizenship. (p.9)
Again, I think my summary really is what she’s saying here.
The commentator also found some of my language used in the summary unnecessarily pejorative. I admit that I was perhaps a bit flippant in my summary of West’s article. This flippancy was due in no small measure to my genuine astonishment at the arguments West was making and the lack of evidence she had for her various claims. I was not impressed. Having said that, I was VERY impressed with the graciousness with which West herself responded in her own comment posted under my review. I’m sure we all know what it feels like to be attacked for something we have written or said, and West has been attacked quite a bit for this article. That she could respond with such generosity truly impresses me. If West continues to research and write about homeschooling I have no doubt that her subsequent work will be enriched by the spirited rejoinders posted here and elsewhere on the internet as well as communicated to her directly. Thanks to all who contributed to this fascinating episode of my humble blog!