Feminism and Homeschooling

OK, so not a very original title, but it does the job.

Tammy over at Just Enough and Nothing More had an interesting post titled Homeschooling is Anti-Feminist? In it, she responds to this post. Tammy has many good points with which I agree.

In the post, Amanda (after expressing her concerns about parents being allowed to teach creation science and then reassuring folks that she knows that liberals homeschool too) talks about her biggest concern about homeschooling:

Still, I'm suspicious of the use of homeschooling to subvert the system for the same reason Chris is suspicious of a certain strain of the politics of personal purity—why is it that the solutions to all these problems come back to asking women to provide more and more unpaid labor?

Amanda makes several interesting assumptions. One, that homeschoolers (at least liberal ones who do not homeschool for religious reasons) in general homeschool mostly because of problems with the schools and that given a choice, they would prefer to be in the work force. While this is the case for some, it is not the case for all. And two, that paid labor is the main measure of a person's "worth".

The elephant in the middle of the room during discussions about homeschooling is the fact that in order to make it work most of the time, women will have to abandon the hope of having paid employment for a couple of decades. It's taking the "opt-out revolution" and extending women's obligations to work for free for the family beyond the early years when kids are too small for school and sticking women at home throughout her kids' adolescence.

Again this makes it sound as if homeschooling is being foisted on us and that we are being forced into doing something that we really do not want to do. I honestly do not hold out hope of having paid employment even after my kids are out of the house.

I am college educated (BS in Management Science from Virginia Tech). I worked as a professional for 8 years (the last 2 years being part time after Jason was born) at a large information technology consulting company where I was a systems consultant. I did a variety of things including systems requirements and design and client training and support. I enjoyed my work while I did it. But I have no desire to go back to it and I do not miss it. I also do not need it to define who I am. Because I am so much more then what I get paid for.

If I ever go back to paid work, I am not sure what I would do, but it would be something where I could keep more a balance between my personal life and professional life (yes, even without kids, I would not want a job to take over my life).

What I hope to do is to get more involved in volunteer work and figure out how I can make a difference in this world. Or find something that I am really passionate about. Passion would definitely be a priority.

And being a homeschooler is a lot more work than being a housewife; you have to provide the education that a whole passel of people at the high school provide, on top of your domestic duties, and you don't get that paycheck at the end of it nor do you get the summer break.

This buys into the belief that homeschooling recreates "school at home" and is best done by experts (hence all homeschool parents must become experts). I won't get into this too much here (but should remember to write a post on this topic soon!). I will say that I have found that it is very possible to teach my kids without having to be a "qualified teacher" for many reasons. I happen to love learning, am very curious and I have been willing to put some time into researching methods/learning styles. Rather then find this "work" I am thoroughly enjoying myself. I honestly love learning with my kids.

For all the hand-wringing concern in this article for the social lives of teenagers, the omission of even an ounce of concern for the right of a mother to have a life outside of child-rearing is suspiciously absent. The importance of having a variety of experiences and social occasions doesn't end when people turn 18; hard as it may be for the mainstream media to remember, mothers are people, too, and as such, they benefit from having opportunities to get out of the house and to take breaks from non-stop child-rearing.

This sets up a very black and white dichotomy. You can either have a "outside life" or you can devote your total existence to your children. I would argue that my outside life is probably just as, if not more fulfilling then someone who devotes their life to their "paid work".

My outside life includes being able to indulge in my hobbies…currently my biggest is photography. One of the things that I love about it is how easy it is to work into our homeschooling lives. I take my camera with me many places (and since we homeschool, we tend to visit pretty neat places that I might not take the time to visit if I was working). Yes, a lot of my pictures are of my kids (my favorite subjects) but many are not.

Another way that I have an "outside life" is through volunteering. When I quit my job when Jason was two, I started volunteering with a great group called The Naomi Project working with at-risk moms. Until I stopped working, I did not have time between working and raising my child. 8 years later, I have cut back on mentoring, but I still volunteer with them, writing a quarterly breastfeeding column for the newsletter and helping with training.

I am also on the Board of Directors of the The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. We do all sorts of "adult" things like lobby the state legislature (I have actually become more politically aware and active since becoming a homeschooler), manage a large and active website, produce a quality bi-monthly newsletter, hold an annual homeschool conference (no easy task believe me…we are still looking for folks who want to volunteer!) as well as many additional things too numerous to mention. Since joining VaHomeschoolers I have taught myself HTML and learned a lot about web design, given presentations to hundreds of homeschoolers (I am giving 3 sessions at this year's conference and recently led a Beginning Homeschool Seminar in Charlottesville), and a host of other "professional development" types of things.

Oh and don't forget my blogging! I have found that writing is a wonderful outlet for me…one that I enjoy immensely. Blogging has also helped me indulge in learning more about my interests…early american history and child's lit.

But it's frustrating to me that it goes without question so often that mothers are obligated to turn those brains and energy over to their children, keeping nothing for themselves, and not even getting that (meager) paycheck at the end of the day that professional teachers receive.

I may have turned my brain and energy over to my children with no paycheck to show for it, but what I have found since leaving my paying job is a passion for what I do. I enjoyed my job, but I LOVE my homeschooling. I get as much out of it as my children do. I not only have a passion for learning with my children, but I have also found that I have a passion for helping new homeschoolers get started. And I am good at it. I love empowering people, helping them get the resources and gain the confidence they need.

Now that I am "home with my children" I have more time to focus on my interests. Yes, it takes a bit of creativity sometimes, but it is doable. I have had more personal growth and learned more about who I am as a person in the last 8 years then I did in the 8 years I worked. What I love is that I am really good at what I am doing now and I do not need nor want a paycheck to tell me that.

Yes, I enjoyed getting the feedback from my employers that I was doing a good job (and the raises were nice as well!). But now I get personal satisfaction and am in control of my own schedule. I have a freedom and a passion that I did not have when I was working. I am doing what is important to me.

And isn't that what feminism is all about? About being able to do anything that we set our minds to without being told that we can't? My question is why does that "anything" have to be defined as paid work to be valuable? Why is nurturing our children seen as "less then" or a waste? Isn't feminism supposed to be about having choices? Please do not define me or my choices by some pre-determined yardstick. Avoiding arbitrary yardsticks that do not take into consideration the individual is one of the reasons I homeschool!

I know that we are very lucky to have the freedom to make the choice that we have. Jeff owns his own consulting company and is easily able to support us in this lifestyle. For that I am grateful. I have friends that are making much bigger sacrifices to stay home with their kids. If there is the desire, there is a way.

I don't claim that my choice is right for every woman. I have many friends who work and very much enjoy their careers. I think that is wonderful if it works for them. Staying home with my kids works for me. I don't see the need for the "mommy wars". As long as what someone is choosing is working for them, I say more power to them.

And I don't mean to say that all homeschoolers share my perspective on careers. I may be very unique about not really caring about a career and I do have friends who struggle with these types of questions. I do know that some homeschoolers don't care about having a paid career. Where as some do want some kind of career in addition to homeschooling. And I have friends who juggle both homeschooling and a career. And that is fine! Because we all have the choice to work on finding the life that is right for us. There is no "right" or "wrong" choice.

But please do not assume that I pine to get paid for my work. Or in any way feel "less than" because I do not have a career. Or that I feel that I am giving up anything or "keeping nothing for myself" by staying home with my children. Or am doing this out of some sort of selfless obligation (believe me, I feel very selfish and sometimes can't believe that I can get away with this kind of freedom!). This also does not mean that everything is always roses and that I never have any challenges. But challenges are not unique to homeschooling…they are just part of life!

Speaking for myself, I wouldn't trade my homeschooling life with my children for anything. I love what I do and isn't that what it is all about?