The True Radicals in America

A recent article written by Kevin D. Williamson for National Review makes a very bold assertion. In his first sentence, Williamson states that there is only one “authentically radical social movement of any real significance in the United States,” and that this radical movement is homeschooling. Williamson well understands the cultural and social significance of homeschooling, and that it runs much deeper than simply being about education. He writes:

“Homeschoolers pose an intellectual, moral, and political challenge to the government-monopoly schools, which are one of our most fundamental institutions and one of our most dysfunctional. Like all radical movements, homeschoolers drive the establishment bats.”

Indeed they do. Williamson points out that homeschooling, as it is mostly done today, has its roots—strangely enough—in the countercultural rollercoaster that was the 1960s, when everything done and approved of by the “mainstream” culture was open to re-definition and re-interpretation. Today ironically, as Williamson points out, “most of homeschooling’s bitterest enemies are to be found on the left.” The baby boomer counterculture opened the door and legal precedent for homeschooling, but now their generation has become the culture. And their arguments against homeschooling are seldom more than poorly written screeds utilizing scare tactic upon scare tactic.

What is really important to point out, as Dr. Gary North does here, is that homeschooling has a much longer and richer history than even Williamson admits. The first 300 years of American social history is replete with “homeschooling;” this was the only option for the majority of early American colonists and pioneers. What we like to talk of today as a “right” was viewed as a “privilege” by the vast majority of Americans for more than three centuries. No one was “guaranteed” an education, anymore than they were “guaranteed” healthcare, shelter, or food on the table. Education was valued, certainly, but it was not valued above the bare necessities a family required to survive. Schooling, if there was any beyond “on the farm training,” was done in the home by the parents and grandparents. This wasn’t radical; this was normal.

While Williamson is correct in his analysis of the modern homeschooling movement as being “radical,” he errs by not pointing out that these modern “radicals” are really nothing more than long-forgotten traditionalists. Modern homeschoolers understand that giving your children over to strangers for 30 hours a week for twelve years to be “educated” is what is really “radical.” Homeschoolers know that parents have a responsibility far beyond teaching their child to use the bathroom and dress themselves. They understand that willingly strapping their children into obnoxious yellow boxes on big black wheels 5 days a week is downright weird, irresponsible, and, yes, “radical.” The fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans have come to accept this as “normal” in the short span of fifty years is nothing short of amazing.

The do-it-yourself mentality is deeply entrenched in American history and in its psyche. We don’t think it weird when a co-worker tells us that he is going to fix his own toilet over the weekend—Home Depot and Lowe’s have made doing your own home repairs quite respectable—yet we are mostly bewildered by those who want to do-it-themselves when it comes to their children’s education. In reality, we should be asking ourselves why we think “normal” means having next to no say in what our children are being taught and that we as parents play no real part in this process besides getting our kids to the government education building or the bus stop on time. Williamson is right, there is a radical movement when it comes to education, and the antidote to the real radical movement of state indoctrination is nothing “new,” it is as old as America itself.