This post reviews Ruth Morton, “Home Education: Constructions of Choice” in International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education 3, no. 1 (October 2010) Available Here.
Morton, a doctoral student at the University of Warwick whose dissertation is a qualitative study of homeschooling motivations and practice in the United Kingdom, here gives us a taste of what the dissertation will contain, describing how there are three basic motivational types of homeschoolers.
In 2007 Morton interviewed 19 homeschooling families and one Local Authority official, went regularly to homeschooling meetings, and attended a week-long home educators’ camp. She says that her generalizations are based upon the experiences of “40 to 45” families. In all but two of these families the father was “peripheral or even completely absent” in terms of homeschooling decisions. (p. 46)
Her interviews and other experiences suggested to Morton that there are three basic categories of homeschoolers, though they sometimes overlap:
1. “Natural Choice”–Some parents (really mothers) choose homeschooling out of a desire to return to a pre-industrial lifestyle free from the artifice of mainstream society. These parents are often sharply critical of the capitalist structures and social conformity that they believe predominates in mainstream public schooling, and they possess romantic ideals about childhood and education.
2. “Social Choice”–Some parents do not object to formal education as such but to the negative socialization they believe their children will experience there. Many of these families are conservative Christians, many of whom would send their children to private religious schools if they could afford it. Basically, these parents didn’t want their kids mixing with other kids who might lead them morally or religiously astray.
Morton found that “social” motivation homeschoolers tended to follow a more structured curriculum (usually imported from the United States) than natural motivation homeschoolers.
3. “No Choice”–Some parents choose homeschooling only as a last resort, having exhausted other options. In Morton’s sample there were 8 families in this category. The presenting cause varied widely, from bullying to special education needs to a child’s emotional instability to personality conflicts with school officials. Most of these families had tried numerous times to “make school ‘work'” for their admittedly atypical child, and only after much frustration did they turn to homeschooling. They typically saw homeschooling as a temporary fix, but frequently after giving it a try they often stayed with it for many years.
Morton found that parents in this third category frequently transitioned over time to one of the first two categories in terms of their self-understanding.
She concludes by noting that all three of these motivational types share a basic orientation that privileges the individual child over the needs of the educational system. They all tend not to care too much about the broader social meaning of what they’re doing, nor do they spend a lot of time dwelling on how the educational system might be changed to make it more hospitable. They care mostly about their own children and think of their choice on this narrowly individual level, not about its broader social implications.
Do we learn anything new here? Not really. Morton’s terms “natural” and “social” take their place alongside other venerable dichotomies like Van Galen’s “pedagogues” and “idealogues,” Mitchell Stevens’ “inclusives” and “believers”, and my own “open communion” and “closed communion” to describe basically the same thing.
That she gives equal weight to her third category is the real contribution I think, for it takes a point that’s been made by other researchers (that special education is a significant and growing aspect of homeschooling) and turns it into a category that’s just as important as the historic categories stressing romantic naturalists and religious conservatives. For that reason if for no other I’m pleased to have this text. In this short article we aren’t told how she went about choosing her subjects so we can’t say whether her 8 “no choice” families (which is HUGE given an overall sample of 19) is typical of U.K. homeschooling or what. Hopefully her dissertation will deal with this sort of thing.
If I were to re-write my book today I think I’d spend more time on the history of special education and some of its satellite issues (bullying, children with severe introversion, etc.). The fact that large numbers of children are finding schools inhospitable places deserves its own historical explanation.