Most Americans, should you ask them, would probably say that if they had lived in Colonial America they would have been firmly and undeniably on the side of the revolutionaries; the rebels. They would have opposed the oppressive tactics of British rule, helped dump the tea in Boston Harbor, and taken up arms against the redcoats.
And while in retrospect it is easy to put oneself on the team with the “good guys”, in reality protest is hard. Protest against government policy or the results thereof is perhaps the hardest of all, because it usually means going up against the status quo. Much as we love to complain about our government, most of us draw the line at actually taking action. We can talk a good game, but we’d never throw a punch.
Therefore it is my opinion that had we lived in colonial America; had we been living in New York or Boston or Philadelphia in the early 1770’s, many of us might have aligned ourselves more with the Benedict Arnolds of the time than the John Hancocks. We might have viewed the revolutionaries as rabble-rousers and traitors. Even if we secretly agreed with them, we might have stopped short of taking action, because who would risk their own security and that of their family by joining a group of ragtag fighters against the greatest military power on earth?
Of course, the people who lived in Colonial America were probably tougher than we are today; more independent and self-sustaining, perhaps they knew that nothing was more difficult than carving out a life from the wilderness and so they were more willing to oppose the King and his “civilized” European ways.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately amid attacks in the NY Post against my friend Lisa Nielsen, Department of Education employee and homeschooling advocate. Lisa has been lambasted by the Post and on line for criticizing standardized testing and for encouraging families to opt-out. The general line of attack has been that since she is employed by the DOE, she should not criticize them. If she wants to “rabble-rouse” she should do it on her own dime. Those of us who support Lisa in her work and point out all the good she does for kids, both in her work for the DOE and her advocacy against some of its policies are often singled out for attack as well.
As such, I began to examine my own part, my own position in the protest against current government policies on testing and education.
Am I endangering my kids’ freedom to learn as they so choose by speaking out?
This is where I begin to understand – much to my own chagrin – people who do not speak out against oppression in whatever form it may take. (And forced schooling is a type of oppression.) It is one thing for someone to risk their job, another completely to risk their family’s freedom, well-being and happiness. For all that unschooling is a type of homeschooling and therefore legal in all 50 states, it is not something most people understand, and very few families with young children (Dayna & Joe Martin being notable exceptions) go out of their way to publicize what unschooling entails or how it manifests in daily life. The reason for this reticence is, I believe, due in large part to the feeling that our actions are frowned upon and could even be seen as a threat to the powers that be and the status quo. Add to that the fact that New York State has some of the strictest homeschooling regulations in the country and you might ask why I don’t just shut up already?
It’s a question I’ve asked myself more than once.
The answer, honestly, is two-fold. First, I truly believe that unschooling is the best form of learning, not just for my kids but for all kids. I believe that if enough of us put our heads together and keep talking, we can find a way to make it available to everyone, no matter their race, religion, family configuration or socio-economic status. Second, I guess I still believe that freedom will win; that no matter how ‘soft’ we’ve become, there is still enough of that revolutionary spirit floating around to see us through.
I sure hope I’m right.