The number of homeschooling families in the United States has been growing at a steady rate since the early 1990s. Attempts to make sense of homeschooling—including research—are inherently political. These attempts are, therefore, highly contested. It is impossible to provide an agreed-upon definition of homeschooling, much less a precise number of families that homeschool, why they homeschool, or what the learning outcomes of that homeschooling might entail. Instead, homeschooling is best understood as a set of educative practices that exists in and between institutional schooling and family life. As families and schools evolve and change, so will the meaning and significance of homeschooling.
Sarah M. Stitzlein
Public schools are intricately connected to the stability and vitality of our democracy in the United States. The important relationship between public schooling and democracy began as a foundational idea in our fledgling republic, and it grew slowly over the course of our country’s history. Along the way, the relationship has been tested and challenged, encountering significant problems and limitations over time, including some that continue today. Despite these struggles and the many ways in which we’ve failed to fully fulfill the relationship, it has become a key one for maintaining the strength of our society and our political system. Unlike a monarchy and other forms of government, it is difficult to maintain a democracy. Democracies take work; they rely upon the ongoing effort of elected officials and citizens, because they cannot run themselves or rely on just one person to lead. While democracy may be a highly desirable political system, its benefits are not always self-evident to children, and the pursuant skills and work it requires do not come naturally to most people. This is the rather precarious position of democracy; in order to maintain it, we have to educate children about its benefits and rationale while also equipping them with the skills and dispositions they need in order to for them to perpetuate it well. This is why we must link education and democracy. Democracy requires informed and active voters who seek information to make wise decisions on behalf of themselves and the common good. Such voters must understand their own rights and freedoms, as well as those of others, as they deliberate together to reach mutually agreeable policies and practices. They must be equipped to engage in free and critical inquiry about the world and the problems surrounding them. And, they need the imagination and creativity to construct, revise, add to, and share the story of democracy with others, including the next generation. The relationship between public schooling and democracy is best understood and fulfilled when it is not just a unidirectional one, where public schools support democracy, but rather when it moves in both directions, with the formal and cultural elements of democracy shaping the governance, content, and practices of schools. In this way, democracy is not just the end of public schooling, but also the means by which we achieve it.
The evolution of curriculum development in schools reflects the evolution of knowledge and civilization itself. What knowledge is of most worth? How shall it be codified, structured, and transformed into curriculum for the acculturation and growth of successive generations so that the future is better than the past? How can the school be designed and equipped as a productive and democratic learning environment? These are some of the questions that intersect with the fundamental factors of the education process, namely the learner, the curriculum, and the society. When these fundamental factors are set in opposition or isolation, the possibility for educational progress is impeded or set back. Embracing the idea of progress and the science of education, the experimentalist movement over the first half of the 20th century sought to dissolve the dualisms carried from ancient Greece (e.g., mind/body, intellect/emotion, abstract/concrete knowledge) in endeavoring to create new designs and structures for curriculum synthesis to meet the democratic prospect and the universal educational needs of the rising generation. In sum, the experimentalists reconstructed curriculum development into a process of problem solving for educational progress, holding to the paradigmatic principle that the structure and function of the school curriculum must be in congruence with the nature and needs of the learner for effective living in the democratic society. The paradigm holds the fundamental factors in the education process as necessarily interdependent and in harmony. The curriculum paradigm explains why so many reforms imposed on the schools predictively are destined for failure simply because they set the fundamental factors in conflict with each other. The march of democracy in global affairs will require a resurgence of the progressive vision for the curriculum of the democratic classroom and school in which students are engaged openly with each other and with the teacher in investigative cooperation, collaboration, and consultation.