A peaceful revolution is transforming North America at its roots, and women are in the forefront.
In quiet mutiny against the quality and content of government education, a growing number of women are choosing to stay at home to teach their children one-on-one. A recent federal survey (Parent-NHES:1999) estimates that 850,000 children were homeschooled in 1999: this constituted 1.7 percent of students between the ages of 5 to 17. Other studies put the figure as high as 1.5 million children.
The federal survey offers a portrait of a "typical" homeschooling family. It is a two-parent household with three or more children, in which the parents are highly educated and the father is the breadwinner. Educated women are forgoing the material advantages of the workplace and investing in their children instead.
And the trend slants upward. According to the Heartland Institute, for the last decade and a half, homeschooling has grown at a rate of 15 to 20 percent a year.
Yet the major voices within feminism are either silent or ambivalent about homeschooling. Why are they ignoring one of the most significant social phenomena for women in the last decade?
Part of the answer lies in the reasons parents gave for homeschooling in the 1999 survey. Previous studies indicated that homeschoolers were generally motivated by moral and religious concerns: that is, parents didn't like the secular values being taught in public schools.
This prompted some liberals to label homeschoolers as "Christian, right-wing extremists." But homeschooling has gone mainstream. The most commonly stated reason in the 1999 survey was to provide "better education" (48.9 percent) with "religious reasons" coming second (38.4 percent). The parents do not trust the public school system to impart basic skills and knowledge to their children.
And, yet, the perceived decline in educational standards is a question of values as well. More and more, people concerned with the deterioration of public education are pointing a finger of blame at political correctness. Championed by mainstream feminists, PC policies have become prevalent in the school system, from kindergarten to Ph.D. programs.
These policies are designed to change the social attitudes of students -- for example, their perspectives on gender and sex -- not to educate them in a conventional sense.
Parents who do not share these attitudes are upset, and understandably so. The inculcation of personal values in children is properly an aspect of parenting, not a line item in a government program. Moreover, the imposition of personal values detracts from the teaching of basic skills if only because the time and energy of teachers are limited. To focus on one thing is to divert attention from another.
Even worse is the manner in which the values are being imparted. There is mounting evidence that public education discriminates against boys. Last month, the novelist and feminist icon Doris Lessing used the Edinburgh Books Festival as a podium from which to decry the diminishment of boys in society.
Lessing declared, "I was in a class of nine-and 10-year-olds, girls and boys, and this young woman was telling these kids that the reason for wars was the innately violent nature of men. You could see the little girls, fat with complacency and conceit while the little boys sat there crumpled, apologizing for their existence..."
Lessing was reporting anecdotally what other dissident feminists have documented. Christina Hoff Sommers' book, "The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men," points an accusing finger at organizations such as the Ms. Foundation for harming boys by spreading myths about the nature of men and male power. She argues persuasively that "gender equity" programs in the public schools are undermining the education and self-respect of boys.
Judith Kleinfeld makes a similar point in her 1998 study, "The Myth That Schools Shortchange Girls: Social Science in the Service of Deception." Kleinfeld meticulously debunks the influential report "How Schools Shortchange Girls" (1992) that was used to sculpt educational policies. She concludes, "In the hectic, crowded world of the classroom, teachers....are concentrating on the problems of girls, but they are dismissing the problems of boys and neglecting the problem of how to educate the most gifted students."
Because the ongoing decline in public education is being linked to feminist views, it is not surprising that feminism is strangely silent about homeschooling moms who constitute a backlash against PC policies. The reverse is not true. Many homeschoolers are not silent about feminism.
In her article entitled "A Mother's Day of Home Schooling," Isabel Lyman wrote, "Welcome to my home school -- my private, little rebellion against the enemies of educational excellence and the forces of feminism who say a woman's place is in the paying workplace."
Lyman points to another reason feminists do not rush to credit homeschoolers: these moms choose to stay home instead of becoming "working women." They embrace much the same family situation that Betty Friedan described as "a concentration camp" in her book "The Feminine Mystique."
Friedan and her insights on the suburban housewife are credited with sparking the Second Wave of feminism in the '60s. But what if she was wrong? What if homeschooling is a choice of which self-respecting women should be proud?
If feminism wishes to enter the 21st century, it had better embrace the hardworking homeschooling mom. And it had better do it fast.
Last week's column incorrect identified Andrea Yates as the subject of Katie Couric's interview. It should have stated Andrea Yates Danner. My apologies.