Ramblings after a recent conversation following the 2006 mid-term elections in New York…a bit dated now, but I have to start with SOMETHING.

I guess I missed the memo, as usual. Apparently there is only one political issue these days. Maybe I should know better; after the “How could you possibly vote for John Kerry” reaction I received in 2004, the very idea that I might possibly consider voting for a New York Democrat named HILLARY CLINTON!!! was probably one I should keep to myself.

The only issue important enough to choose a candidate on is, apparently, “the family”. This also goes by terms of “family values” and “marriage” and of course includes the ubiquitous abortion issue. And it also apparently includes homeschooling and education in general. If you value the family, you don’t vote Democrat, and you sure as hell don’t vote for HILLARY CLINTON!!!, regardless of whether she’s running for US Senate, President, or the local cemetery manager.

I have reasons for voting for Senator Clinton and Democratically, but that’s another topic for another day. I also do not share the opinion that “the family” is the only issue to consider in 21st century elections, but I’m going to hold off on that too. First I need to deal with the one issue of “the family”, and especially homeschooling and where I fall on this, which will make at least one reason why I voted the way I did make at least a little sense.

First of all, whatever else I have observed about homeschool, it is by and large an conservative evangelical Protestant phenomenon. Homeschooling families are, in effect, a very distinct subculture that aligns itself with the Christian Right and, in terms of politics, the Republican Party. Homeschooling is by definition a conservative educational enterprise; modeled in large measure after ancient models of education (specifically the Greek and late Roman/Early Christian models), this style of education has since its origins served to support ideologies and power on the one hand or has existed as subversive culture with the specific purpose of undermining ideology and power when the minority group believes it is kept “out of the loop.” Both options rely heavily on emphasizing what has always been known as the truth and seeks either to defend this conservatism or reinstate it to its “proper” place.

To educators who support this viewpoint, modern “secular liberal” education appear to be threats to “conservative” education. By aligning itself, naturally enough, with the powerful rhetoric of the conservative Christian Right, which has historically been tucked into the hip pocket of powerful Republicans in government, these conservative educators are able to protect their interests by voting for (surprise) conservative candidates who, they believe, are more friendly to their interests of education and “the family” in general than are the anti-family, godless, and immoral liberals in the Democratic party castigated by such heroes as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson.

For my part, I do not fit in this conservative evangelical, Republican model. I am absolutely against the war in Iraq, and I am against the Republican agenda for free trade. I support existing government environmental and labor regulations and more of them. I do not believe that gender roles are mandated by God once and for all time; I am not in the least bothered by the fact that life on earth has evolved over millions and millions of years. And I certainly do not believe that “family values” are the most important voting issue. And yet, I am a homeschool dad and support the idea of homeschooling.

Clearly, if conservatism in Christianity and/or politics were the absolutely defining criteria for this, then I would not be in support. There are at least four main reasons why I support homeschooling, two that are more personal and directly related to my own nuclear family, and two ideological that I believe are both biblical and faithful to the spirit of education in general. The first two I can deal with quickly. One, it is a matter of convenience. As a second year doctoral student, the likelihood of moving around fairly regularly, starting perhaps as early as next year, is all too real. Practically speaking, it would be a real pain in the butt to be constantly, annually, evaluating public and private schools all the time for our kids and enrolling them and re-enrolling them all over the place. An inconvenience to us, and really, really unfair to the kids; in a life with that much instability, we owe our children at least the right to something constant, and education is one of the most important things we could stabilize when it is in our power to do so.

The second reason is simply the fact that one of the kids was rarin’ and ready to go to school a lot earlier than school systems would recognize. As professional educators ourselves, we could not in good conscience deny her the opportunity for school and thus stifle her apparent desire and love for learning on the one hand or, on the other hand, suggest to her we did not place a high value on her ability to learn. So we simply started it outright, realizing that in doing so we were potentially locking ourselves into it perhaps longer than we might envision.

Yet it is the third and fourth reasons that are, to me, more important. Homeschooling, pretty much by definition, means choosing to raise a family on only one income. (Or, in the case of some of the homeschooling families we know about, raising your family on no income or, at best – our own situation! — one half-time income.) Obviously, in an American labor economy where wages essentially stopped rising some thirty years ago, this is extremely difficult. Simply to stay in the middle class, most families need two incomes; for those who can live comfortably on one income, rather than putting their money into a real, material, and educational commitment to the home and to their children, choose instead to put additions on the house, buy more expensive cars, and take more expensive (and frequent) vacations. Homeschooling families like ours are willfully, deliberately choosing to live without the material perks of the commonly accepted, dominant ideological middle-class lifestyle (such as bigger cars to haul all the kids stuff or a place to live where each child has their own bedroom). In my opinion, rejecting this can and should lead to a more humane set of priorities, a healthier way of living, and much greater awareness that there is a world outside of us with far greater problems than we ourselves face, problems that, to some degree or another, we have the ability to confront and assist in.

Homeschooling families have little choice but to accept this, and in so doing, we recognize (or at least we should) that the most powerful and pervasive spiritual enemy we have is today’s commercial entertainment and the modern capitalist advertising culture. We make a commitment to raise our kids, to the degree we are able to do it, as free as possible from these influences. And in doing this, we learn that, well, gee, kids still like to read books, the still like to use their imaginations, they still like to play outdoors and still like to play sports and do all these things that typical middle-class, dual-income families tell us their kids won’t do.

Homeschooling is a way to try to live against the tide of corporate power and market ideology that not only is detrimental to individual and societal morality, but which is so destructive to the natural world, which contributes to the impoverishment of individual humans and nations, and which is the wellspring of so much else that fuels social injustice. This is the fourth reason, and it is consistent with the spirit of home-based education since antiquity, with biblical calls to justice, mercy, and compassion at the ethical level and with the biblical model of learning at the educational level, and even with the spirit of modern “secular liberal” education. The work of homeschooling provides an alternative and subversive curriculum to the agendas and ideologies of power that promote social and economic injustice, devalue human life, ignore and even mock environmental stewardship, and answer violence with violence.

The Republican agenda fails us here. Utterly fails. As a former Republican seduced by campaign promises of compassionate conservatism and faith-based initiatives in social and economic policy, it is clear how the current administration has failed in biblical calls to justice, compassion, stewardship, and the value of all life.