Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement

Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement

Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement

Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement

Synopsis

"More than one million American children are schooled by their parents. As their ranks grow, home schoolers are making headlines by winning national spelling bees and excelling at elite universities. The few studies conducted suggest that homeschooled children are academically successful and remarkably well socialized. Yet we still know little about this alternative to one of society's most fundamental institutions. Beyond a vague notion of children reading around the kitchen table, we don't know what home schooling looks like from the inside. Kingdom of Children aptly places home schoolers within longer traditions of American social activism. It reveals that home schooling is not a random collection of individuals but an elaborate social movement with its own celebrities, networks, and characteristic lifeways. Stevens shows how home schoolers have built their philosophical and religious convictions into the practical structure of the cause, and documents the political consequences of their success at doing so. Ultimately, the history of home schooling serves as a parable about the organizational strategies of the progressive left and the religious right since the 1960s. Kingdom of Children shows what happens when progressive ideals meet conventional politics, demonstrates the extraordinary political capacity of conservative Protestantism, and explains the subtle ways in which cultural sensibility shapes social movement outcomes more generally." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

On February 13, 1983, the Seattle Times reported that some local citizens were taking the law into their own hands. Among them were Michael Farris, an Olympia attorney, former executive director of the state's Moral Majority chapter, and his wife, Vicki, parents of three. In 1983, Washington law required that all children attend public or state-approved private schools. Mike, Vicki, and the parents of some five thousand Washington youngsters were risking twenty-five-dollar-a-day fines to teach their kids at home. “Firm Beliefs Foster Defiance of School Laws,” the headline read.

Just what were people like the Farrises up to, and was it good for their children? The article explained that most home schoolers in the state were “Christian fundamentalists.” Their incentive, apparently, was a mix of religious conviction and a suspicion that the public schools were not adequately doing their job. “My first and highest goal for our kids is to love our Lord,” Vicki Farris explained. The Farrises also had become convinced that conventional classrooms were bad places for their children academically. They cited the work of some educational researchers who claimed that early schooling is detrimental to young children's motor and cognitive development.

The article carried quotes of both Farrises, but it represented Vicki as the homeschool teacher. The lead photo featured a close-up of her, poring over a book with seven-year-old Christy at the kitchen table. Vicki described homeschool motherhood as rewarding but taxing, too. “In a way it's fulfilling some of my needs. Sometimes I felt all I was doing was cleaning up spills and washing clothes, so it's been stimulating, but sometimes I'm ready to pull out my hair,” Mrs. Farris confessed, “but I still think it's worthwhile.”

Meeting the journalist's imperative to paint a balanced picture, the Times duly reported some dissenting voices. Reporters used an interview with Joanna Nichols, principal of King's Elementary, a local Christian day school, for the contrary position. After some research Nichols had, according to the newspaper, “concluded that home-schooling is a phenomenon destined to burn out,” for a number of reasons. “While the one-to-one teaching ratio at home is great, she says, sometimes teaching needs to be 'carefully geared to meet individual learning needs, and a trained teacher is the best resource for that.'”

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