Diversity vs. Dichotomy
Homeschoolers are a diverse bunch. People from various cultural, religious, and philosophical backgrounds can and do choose to educate their children outside of schools. Why is it, then, that the image of a politically conservative, fundamentalist Christian family is the one that comes so quickly to many people's minds when they hear the word "homeschooling"?
Author Mitchell Stevens' 2001 book Kingdom of Children says about homeschooling that "one would be hard-pressed to find a social movement peopled by a wider spectrum of faiths and philosophies." But alas, Stevens still chooses to divide homeschoolers into two camps: The conservative Christian group he terms the "believers," and the rest he calls "inclusives." Thus he lumps Muslims, Jews, pagans, atheists, agnostics, many Christians, individuals across the political spectrum - in short, all the widely varied types of people who homeschool who are not evangelical Christians - into one single group.
Despite the inconclusive information about the distribution of religious practices among homeschoolers, there are some things we can know for sure. The "believers" have received much media coverage, coloring the perception of homeschooling for people who don't personally know any homeschoolers. Thus the media may have contributed to a public perception that most homeschoolers are conservative Christians - despite the lack of accurate data to support that. The idea that most homeschoolers are right-wing conservatives willing to use homeschooling to further their political viewpoints is the unfortunate misperception that results. The tendency of the media and authors to portray "believers" as the major faction of the homeschooling movement can even lead to the false notion that all Christian homeschoolers share the same agenda, and that no diversity of opinion exists among Christian homeschoolers.
In his book, Stevens argues that the "inclusives" find it difficult to organize politically because of their ideas about autonomy and grassroots democracy. It is these very ideas, and the fact that they prefer not to mix causes, that keep most homeschoolers from letting their political views overlap with their homeschooling activism. Most homeschoolers who are working to maintain or advance homeschooling rights are doing so on a state level, simply because homeschooling is a matter for each individual state. The nitty-gritty work being done by state homeschooling groups to preserve homeschooling freedoms and address homeschooling issues is significant, but not very attractive to the media. As a rule, homeschoolers organize politically when the need arises to protect homeschooling freedoms. In that capacity, the "inclusives" are very effective.
Homeschoolers are more than just "believers" and "inclusives." Parents who choose to home educate are a tremendously diverse group of people with one commonality: they are all exercising their individual rights to educate their own children. Homeschooling students, enjoying the ultimate in individualized education, pursue their own unique paths to becoming educated, responsible, and contributing citizens. Out in the world, there are hundreds of thousands of homeschooled students participating in activities too numerous to list. These students are engaged in enriching lives and making contributions to society. They are involved in civic activities in their own communities through jobs and volunteerism that cut a wide swath across political, religious, social, and academic spectrums. Such actions may not be sensationalistic, but here, in the voices of homeschooled young people, inspiring and fascinating stories could be found were the media to look.
The media's generalizing, a practice sometimes necessary for discussion but always to be undertaken with care, cannot productively address deeper issues of homeschooling or present a true picture of the reality of homeschoolers in America. Media representatives are more likely to accurately represent the political, religious, philosophical, and social diversity of homeschoolers if, when looking for information on homeschooling or interviewing subjects, they seek out inclusive state and local homeschooling organizations and support groups. When reporters become more aware of the range of homeschoolers out there, they will be more likely to understand that accurate portrayals of homeschoolers necessitate moving beyond stereotype to show homeschooling as a valid educational choice made by people across the religious, political, and social spectrum.