Homeschooling—once thought to be the province of diehard evangelicals, political radicals, and others with ideological reasons to steer clear of public education—is increasingly being embraced by the middle-class city-dwellers who are simply disappointed with the quality of urban schools and helped by the way new technologies are reducing the need for professional teachers. That’s the takeaway from a feature by Matthew Hennessey in the current issue of City Journal, a piece which argues that more and more of America’s 2 million homeschooled children are from urbanite families:
Like other homeschoolers these days, urbanites choose homeschooling for various reasons, though dissatisfaction with the quality and content of instruction at local public schools heads the list. “I got through public school, but it was never something I thought was an option for my children,” says Figueroa-Levin [a New York journalist]… She calls her local public school “awful,” but she’s not interested in moving to a more desirable school zone, as some New Yorkers with small children do. “We like where we live. We have a nice-size apartment. Sacrificing all that for a decent public school just doesn’t seem worth it,” she says. […]
The current crop of homeschoolers has one major advantage over the movement’s pioneers: modern technology has put all of history’s collected knowledge at their fingertips. No homeschooling parent need become an expert on differential equations or Newton’s Third Law of Motion. He or she can simply visit YouTube’s Khan Academy channel and find thousands of video lectures on these topics. Rosetta Stone, the well-known foreign-language software company, offers a specially tailored homeschool reading curriculum for just $99 per year. Wade’s children use a free website called Duolingo to practice Spanish. And many popular curriculum packages and distance-learning education programs provide Skype-based tutorials, online courses, and other learning supports.
As we’ve noted before, the rise of homeschooling is a portrait in miniature of the blue model’s collapse. Many of the parents Hennessey interviewed choose homeschooling because of the ongoing failure of a blue model institution: the bureaucratic, sclerotic public school system, dominated by teachers’ unions. Meanwhile, innovative, post-blue education-delivery models—online learning in particular—are providing a viable alternative for parents not content with simply tolerating the poor quality of a system desperately in need of reform. Similar trends are at work in other critical sectors of the economy, from healthcare to transportation to retirement benefits.The changing demographics of homeschoolers may spill over into education politics in interesting ways. As Hennessey notes, homeschooling was once a critical culture war flashpoint, pitting rural evangelicals against urban liberals. Now that key Democratic constituencies—not just the middle-class urbanites Hennessey interviewed, but also African-Americans and Silicon Valley engineers—are opting out of the public school system, the political valence of the issue is sure to shift. Perhaps—hopefully—it will lead to a bipartisan consensus that our public education system is in need of major reforms in order to stay competitive.