Kriston,

Part of your and my difference in perspective on how people view homeschooling may be regional. I grew up in the Midwest (St. Louis) and came out to California precisely because of what I felt to be the suffocating pressures to conform in the Midwest. It’s not that I and most Californians were into the hippie thing or anything like that, but California does tend to have a very strong “mind your own business" mentality where ultra-green Naderites live next door to Jerry-Falwell fundamentalists and no one much thinks about it – out here, even hard-right conservatives support “medical marijuana” (they see it as a states-rights issue, which I suppose it is). I know that the Midwest has mellowed a great deal since I grew up there, but my wife and I (her family came from the Midwest to California when she was five or so) still have a bit of that suffocating feeling when we go back to visit. (And, yes, I know the Midwest does have its virtues – stability, a strong work ethic, etc.)

For example, our neighbors within a couple houses one way or the other include practicing Catholics, Shiite Muslims from Iran, Jewish immigrants from South Africa, and traditional Protestants. We’re atheists. None of us find this strange, and, in California, it’s not. In the Midwest, I think that level of diversity would still be a bit unusual. (Incidentally, we’re in the politically and culturally conservative part of California – you should see what the radical liberal areas of the state are like.)

Also, homeschooling in our area was started decades ago by ex-hippie types up in the Sierra foothills (such as Dave and Mickey Colfax, to name some early well-known homeschooling pioneers) and this may cause homeschooling to have a slightly different reputation out here.

You wrote of:
> The quiet that came in the conversation after my neighbors heard we were going to HS and the lack of phone calls for playdates from many of them. The different sort of questions you start getting at the doctor's office when you HS.

We just don’t get that at all – so, I think this really may be a regional difference.

You also wrote:
> However, I do think I am more sensitive to the problems I'm describing than you are, Dave, because you completely buy the whole HSing philosophy. I believe that you really don't care what others think about this matter. You've very comfortable. You think Hsing is the very best thing ever. You are an evangelist because you are a true believer.

Well… I do care a little about what others think! And I’m not sure there is, as you put it, a “whole HSing philosophy.” As I’ve mentioned, the dominant homeschooling philosophy among secular homeschoolers out here is a watered-down version of “unschooling,” and I disagree with that fairly strongly, as I think you do also. Most of the local homeschoolers are not really completely consistent “unschoolers,” but they seem to feel guilty about not being so. I don’t feel guilty in the slightest about not being an unschooler, since I think it is a remarkably silly approach (though I do fully respect their right to make that decision for their families). I do try to be sensitive to their defensivesness about their being unschoolers and try not to hurt their feelings.

Are you acquainted with Ivan Illich’s classic book “Deschooling Society”? It’s a critique of the whole turn to large, impersonal, centralized institutions in Western society during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries – it’s not just about schools, though he uses schools as a paradigmatic example.

I read Illich in college, and he convinced me, though I’m certainly not a dogmatic follower of his. So, I suppose I do not so much buy into one of the variety of homeschooling philosophies as I do buy into a larger anti-coercive-institutional philosophy as epitomized by Illich.

To me, the whole nationalism/socialism/imperialism thing that characterized the twentieth century is part and parcel of what Illich was talking about on the more personal level, and, I have to admit, I passionately hate the whole stupid thing.

Perhaps, the reason I am so cheerful and so non-defensive is that I really do think Illich’s and my side is winning. I think the nation-state, the public schools, American imperialism, state socialism, and all the rest of that stuff is in its death throes, and I really love seeing it happen. The old let's-all-think-the-same-thing mainstream media is dying, the kids take the unbelievable diversity of the Internet for granted, and a new world is dawning!

I realize that I may just sound like a starry-eyed optimist. I assure you that when I was a kid I thought the fascists were taking over (I remember Richard Nixon). But, I really do think the times are changing, quite radically, and that the old institutions that stifled human individuality and creativity, such as the public schools, are dying, and I am indeed inordinately cheerful about all this.

All the best,

Dave