Educating the unique child : gender, sexuality, and homeschooling
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Homeschooling in the United States has typically been portrayed as the province of fundamentalist Christians, who opt out of public schooling in order to protect their children from the influence of a secular, sexually permissive culture. Recently, however, homeschooling has also found its way into the discourse of those who argue the opposite: that American public schools, influenced by conservative Christian morality, are intolerant of, and inhospitable to, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming youth. Why is homeschooling a proposed “solution” to two seemingly opposing problems? In this dissertation, I seek to explain this paradox by examining shifting and contested understandings of childhood within the homeschooling community in Texas, which has some of the least restrictive laws regarding homeschooling in the United States. I use survey data from 676 homeschooling parents, in-depth interviews with 46 of these parents, and ethnographic observation at homeschooling conferences to ask: What are the dominant stereotypes and discourses of homeschooling, and where do these originate? How has homeschooling arisen as a solution to two seemingly very different problems? How accurately do these discourses represent the political and religious views of homeschoolers in Texas? And finally, what motivates individual parents to homeschool? How do parents’ motivations compare to the dominant homeschooling discourses? I focus specifically on three important areas: 1) homeschooling parents’ conceptions of childhood, especially childhood gender and sexuality, 2) how these parents understand the role of government in education, and 3) how dominant expectations for mothering in the United States influence these parents’ homeschooling experiences. I argue that a study of homeschooling reveals a great deal not only about contested understandings of childhood, but about the shifting roles of parents, schools, and government in American children’s lives today.