Monday, June 4, 2007

Individualist Communitarianism and Homeschooling

Darryl Cobranchi over at HE&OS (be forewarned about occasional profanity use at this blog) gave a heads-up to a very interesting article in Reason magazine about Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Mr. Wales homeschools his 5 yr old DD Kira out of a concern about the "factory nature" of traditional schools.

There is a very interesting part of the article about Mr. Wales that discusses "individualist communitarianism". At first glance, that sounds like an oxymoron. Individualism holds that the individual is the primary unit of reality. Self-reliance and opposition to external interference with individual choice are basic tenets of individualism. Communitarianism, on the other hand, stresses civil society, local networks, and the commitment to communities. Tradition, reciprocity, and solidarity are the basic tenets of communitarianism. Whereas the individualist gives primary importance to liberties, the communitarian gives primary importance to responsibilities towards others. How then can someone be an "individualist communitarian"?

Mr. Wales talks about how everyone in a Wiki community is there through his/her own choice and how each participant gets a chance to shape the community's rules and expectations.
"People naturally form communities with their own delicate etiquette and expectations, and they jealously guard their own protocols. Each one is different, making Wiki communities fertile ground where thousands of experimental social arrangements can be tried-some with millions of members and some with just two or three. Like the 'framework for utopia' described in the libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Wiki maximizes the chance that people can work together to get exactly what they want, while still being part of a meaningful community by maximizing freedom and opportunities for voluntary cooperation."

So an "individualist communitarian" is someone who believes in the individual's free choice to participate in a community and to accept that community's traditions, while helping to shape those traditions. Community therefore evolves from the ground-up rather than being imposed from the top-down. A belief IMHO that the Founding Fathers of this country held dear but which too often is violated by those in power today.

Mark Smith discusses the 10 basic themes that run through the communitarian agenda for education originally listed in James Arthur's Schools and Community: The communitarian agenda in education in an interesting article for "The Encyclopedia of Informal Education":
  • The family should be the primary moral educator of children
  • Character education includes the systematic teaching of virtues in schools
  • The ethos of the community has an educative function in school life
  • Schools should promote the rights and responsibilities inherent within citizenship
  • Community service is an important part of a child's education in school
  • A major purpose of the school curriculum is to teach social and political life-skills
  • Schools should provide an active understanding of the common good
  • Religious schools are able to operate a strong version of the communitarian perspective
  • Many existing community-based education practices reflect the features of the communitarian perspective
  • Schools should adopt a more democratic structure of operating
  • Many homeschoolers ascribe to all or most of these themes (though they of course vary on the hot-button issues of religion and also adult-directed vs. child-led learning). They could therefore be seen as communitarians in this sense. The very act of educating one's children at home rather than outsourcing it to a traditional school, however, makes them individualists. Homeschoolers as a group generally reject governmental interference in how they choose to educate their own children (individualism). At the same time, homeschoolers are significantly more likely than the average American to be active in politics, community service, civic organizations, and a church/synagogue/mosque/etc. (communitarianism).

    Therefore, it seems accurate to describe the typical homeschooler as an "individualist communitarian".

    1 comment:

    pjd said...

    Very interesting analysis! I like the term, too. I know a few people who have homeschooled or who are homeschooling now. I don't think it's for us even though my wife is a credentialed teacher currently working as a SAHM. (We are about 100 yards from our local elementary school, which is a "California Distinguished School").

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I am sorry to hear about the loss of someone you know in Iraq. I am very happy that a friend of ours (an Air Force doc) returned safely from his tour in Afghanistan recently.

    And a knowing nod to your New England roots. If I still followed baseball, I too would be a Red Sox fan. I've lived in the Bay Area 20 years and still can't call it home. New England just is in the blood, I guess.