GENDER, RELIGION, AND HOMESCHOOLING: Michael Apple Weighs In

Record:

Michael W. Apple, “Gender, Religion, and the Work of Homeschooling” in Zehavit Gross, Lynn Davies, and Al-Khansaa Diab, eds., Gender, Religion and Education in a Chaotic Postmodern World (Springer, 2013). Abstract Here.

Summary:

Apple, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is one of the nation’s best-known education scholars and a long-time observer and critic of conservative educational efforts.  Readers of his 2006 book Educating the Right Way will find the contents of this new chapter very familiar.

Apple begins with a basic orientation to the homeschooling movement, noting its left-wing origins but stressing its dramatic growth among conservative Christians in the 1980s and 90s.  His preferred term for these conservative Christian movement activists is “authoritarian populists,” a phrase that acknowledges both the grass-roots nature of the movement and its long-term goal of restoring the vision of Godly and Patriarchal authority it embodies in the home to the broader American culture.

Homeschooling’s growth has been helped significantly by technological innovation, especially the internet, which has facilitated networking and provided curriculum, furthering the already substantial organizational structures conservative Christian homeschoolers built in earlier decades.  A growing Evangelical population means more recruits for the movement, which tends to radicalize its members the longer they stay in the movement.

Apple puts a lot of stress on the gendered nature of homeschooling; it is almost entirely a women’s movement.  Though these women officially believe wives should be subordinate to their husbands, in practice homeschooling gives them a lot of power in the home and a strong sense of identity.  Their counter-cultural practice allows them to think of themselves as both selfless and activist at the same time–empowered servants, free-thinking subjects of God.  Their “social housekeeping,” takes place in the home but will, they believe, have powerful impact on the world as their children leave the nest equipped to win the broader culture war.

Another theme Apple stresses is the market-based nature of homeschooling.  Conservative Christians have developed hundreds of products to facilitate and enhance homeschooling.  He discusses some of the most well-known curriculum providers and internet resources.  He notes that homeschooling parents often incorporate such materials creatively, using a “project method” style akin to that recommended by the progressive educators of the early 20th century.  The success of this pedagogy for training culture warriors is illustrated by a brief discussion of the success Patrick Henry College (a conservative school founded by HSLDA’s Michael Farris) had in securing intern positions in the Bush White House under Karl Rove.

Apple concludes by expressing admiration for the sacrifices and educational aspirations of these conservative homeschoolers, though he is equally troubled by their long-term agenda,

Godly technologies, godly schooling, and godly identities can be personally satisfying and make life personally meaningful in a world in which traditions are either destroyed or commodified.  But at what cost to those who don’t share the ideological vision that seems so certain in the minds of those who produce it? (p. 37)

Appraisal:

I was very much looking forward to a new piece by Michael Apple on homeschooling.  Unfortunately nothing here is new.  ALL of his references are from 2006 or earlier, making his text sound very dated.  Let me give a couple of examples to illustrate.  On p. 25 he describes the growth of the Evangelical population in America, citing as his authority Christian Smith’s 1998 book American Evangelicalism.  Smith was right for the late 1990s, but more recent polling data and scholarship have shown that since the late 1990s Evangelicals have actually declined numerically.  For an excellent summary of the more recent trends see Putnam and Campbell’s American Grace.

Similarly, Apple’s discussion of conservative homeschooling sounds very dated.  A lot has happened since 2006 in the world of online education, curriculum, social networking, HSLDA’s influence, and so forth.  Most of what Apple has to say about this stuff he gets from Mitchell Stevens’ excellent 2001 book Kingdom of Children.  Again, Stevens’ descriptions were spot on for his time, but a lot has happened since then.  Apple’s account would be much better had he read some of the more recent literature on the movement (like Kunzman’s Write These Laws on Your Children or Lois’ Home Is Where the School Is), on developments in cyberschooling (like, for example what’s been going on in Pennsylvania), and at Patrick Henry (whose public profile diminished dramatically once Farris ceded some of his authority to Gene Veith and Bush left the White House.  Patrick Henry may be on its way to becoming just another Christian liberal arts school).

These are just two examples.  This new chapter is just an expansion of what Apple said about homeschooling in his 2006 book.

Milton Gaither, Messiah College, author of Homeschool: An American History.

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