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Kingdom of Children

Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement

Mitchell L. Stevens
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Kingdom of Children
    Book Description:

    More than one million American children are schooled by their parents. As their ranks grow, home schoolers are making headlines by winning national spelling bees and excelling at elite universities. The few studies conducted suggest that homeschooled children are academically successful and remarkably well socialized. Yet we still know little about this alternative to one of society's most fundamental institutions. Beyond a vague notion of children reading around the kitchen table, we don't know what home schooling looks like from the inside.

    Sociologist Mitchell Stevens goes behind the scenes of the homeschool movement and into the homes and meetings of home schoolers. What he finds are two very different kinds of home education--one rooted in the liberal alternative school movement of the 1960s and 1970s and one stemming from the Christian day school movement of the same era. Stevens explains how this dual history shapes the meaning and practice of home schooling today. In the process, he introduces us to an unlikely mix of parents (including fundamentalist Protestants, pagans, naturalists, and educational radicals) and notes the core values on which they agree: the sanctity of childhood and the primacy of family in the face of a highly competitive, bureaucratized society.

    Kingdom of Childrenaptly places home schoolers within longer traditions of American social activism. It reveals that home schooling is not a random collection of individuals but an elaborate social movement with its own celebrities, networks, and characteristic lifeways. Stevens shows how home schoolers have built their philosophical and religious convictions into the practical structure of the cause, and documents the political consequences of their success at doing so.

    Ultimately, the history of home schooling serves as a parable about the organizational strategies of the progressive left and the religious right since the 1960s.Kingdom of Childrenshows what happens when progressive ideals meet conventional politics, demonstrates the extraordinary political capacity of conservative Protestantism, and explains the subtle ways in which cultural sensibility shapes social movement outcomes more generally.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2480-9
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-9)

    On February 13, 1983, theSeattle Timesreported that some local citizens were taking the law into their own hands. Among them were Michael Farris, an Olympia attorney, former executive director of the state’s Moral Majority chapter, and his wife, Vicki, parents of three. In 1983, Washington law required that all children attend public or state-approved private schools. Mike, Vicki, and the parents of some five thousand Washington youngsters were risking twenty-five-dollar-a-day fines to teach their kids at home. “Firm Beliefs Foster Defiance of School Laws,” the headline read.

    Just what were people like the Farrises up to, and was...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Inside Home Education
    (pp. 10-29)

    One of the first things home schoolers taught me is how central school is to the structure of modern life. Few parts of our biographies are untouched by the institution of schooling. People often choose where to live on the basis of school quality, and they typically pay for relative advantage in longer commutes and higher home prices. In households with children, the rhythm of daily routines is set largely by school schedules. State laws require all children to attend. Things like “summer jobs” and “winter vacation” only make sense in the context of school calendars. Government agencies at every...

  6. CHAPTER TWO From Parents to Teachers
    (pp. 30-71)

    Miles from the office towers and leafy boulevards that postcards call Chicago, the modest buildings and simply landscaped yards on Tara Cook’s block recall a middle-class, white ethnic north side. From the back porch where we are sitting, Tara keeps a subtle eye on her sons, Jonah and Trevor, playing more and less amicably in the narrow backyard. Jonah, the oldest and nearing six, has not yet been in school. Tara and I spend the better part of an afternoon discussing why.

    “I have always been a little bit alternative,” Tara tells me straightaway. Before having children, she worked as...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Natural Mothers, Godly Women
    (pp. 72-106)

    The arguments that support home schooling concern children’s needs, but putting those arguments into practice has had significant consequences for grown-ups. In individual families, someone has to do the work of making home replace school. Beyond the household, many hands have been needed to build the durable support system that makes home schooling less frightening, less burdensome, and more fun.

    In households and in the broader movement, the great majority of this work has been done by women. While on the surface this division of labor might seem troubling in a postfeminist world, in fact it has some remarkable utilities...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Authority and Diversity
    (pp. 107-142)

    A single carved sign named the site of Clonlara School. Located on a side street in Ann Arbor, Michigan, its four modest buildings were all painted dark green and tucked beneath shade trees. Bits and pieces of childhood were evident on the grounds: climbing equipment, a tire swing, and a playhouse. To reach the office I walked through a little garden where narrow walks outlined beds of flowers. At the center of the garden was a monument, a wood pole bearing the message “May peace prevail on earth” in several different languages.

    Although the school was serving four thousand children...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Politics
    (pp. 143-177)

    In 1993, the following classified ads appeared in an issue ofHome Education Magazine:

    HOUSE FOR LEASE on organic wilderness. . . . We homeschool our children (6½ and 4) and would like to share farm activities/chores with another homeschooling family. You can even further develop one of the following cottage industries: market garden edible landscape nursery permaculture; goat dairy cheese; natural colored wool-fiber artist; timber thinning-milling; guest cottages. Please send SASE to . . .

    Enlightened, intelligent, alternative-minded young woman needed. Midwife and homeschooling mother of four daughters, ages 3½–11, and their father, are searching for the right...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Nurturing the Expanded Self
    (pp. 178-198)

    On the outside, the Home School Legal Defense Association looked much the same in 1999 as it had six years earlier. The office was situated at the edge of a residential subdivision in Purcellville, Virginia, on the front lines of Washington sprawl. Resembling a row of townhouses, the building has the colonial embellishments typical of D.C. suburbia: brick facades and clapboard siding, window shutters added to please the eye rather than filter the elements. Passersby might have mistaken it for a condominium.

    Inside, there had been some changes. In six years membership had climbed into the orbit of sixty thousand....

  11. Notes
    (pp. 199-224)
  12. Index
    (pp. 225-228)