The Price of Protest

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.



12 comments on “The Price of Protest

  1. The reason more of us don’t speak out is that our words are twisted or omitted (Christine Yablonski and Joe Biglar’s TV interview)and we are made to look like fools raising happy, but silly, unprepared, uneducated children. I seem to remember that Christine and Joe’s kids talked for several hours with the producer about Greek Mythology, but were shown just playing in the front yard.

    Every news outlet seems to turn into the New York Post, painting homeschoolers as religious zealots who are scared of scientific facts. And they don’t know what to do with unschoolers besides hurl other UN stuff at us – accusing us of preparing our kids for un-jobs. There have a been a few articles lately that are much improved.

    I catch a lot of hear about UnCollege, too.

    I’m ready now, I guess. What the heck. My child is grown. I have braces for another year and can’t think and speak at the same time, though! :-)

    • Amy says:


      Yes, the twisting of words is another factor. Here in New York (and based solely on personal knowledge/experience, there is a reticence to be “seen” by the authorities, which I completely understand and which is the basis for my own periodic bouts of anxiety. Becoming vocal once your child is grown carries less risk, as you said. However, I do believe things are heading in the right direction, painful and slow as it may seem… At least, that’s what I keep telling myself! :-)


  2. Heat! It’s HEAT I “hear” about with UnCollege and unschooling.

  3. Steven Davis says:

    My vague recollection of history is that about 1/3 were pro Revolution, 1/3 against (off to Canada!), and 1/3 neutral (Mugwumps ?).

    It is always disheartening to see the Loyal Opposition criticized. It is harder to stay within an institution whose mission you believe in but whose strategies are not working and try to change them instead of leaving.

    It is good also to see that Ms. Nielsen’s managers seem to support her as well. There is hope.

    I’m not yet officially homeschooling, but that is because my daughter is 19 months old (so she is home-schooled by default).

    I’m also not sure I agree with everything that homeshooling advocates propound.

    What I do agree with 100 percent is that parents need to be deeply engaged in their children’s education and not let it just happen. Public school, private school, homeschool, unschool, whatever works best for you to ensure that your child has every advantage that you can give them.

    • Amy says:

      Hi Steven,

      Thanks for the comment. And I think that as long as people are willing to allow families to do what is best for them, we will keep moving in a positive direction. I also don’t agree with everything fellow homeschoolers/unschoolers do or say, but that’s the beauty of it; we can all make our own choices, which is the message we should promote.

      Yes, so far Lisa’s supervisors are supportive. I hope it continues; of course she does a ton of good work that the Post failed to mention.

      1/3 is interesting. How many of us would admit we might have wound up in the 2/3 part of the equation?


  4. Cindy says:

    I’ve often thought of similar historical comparisons, Amy. As you said, it’s easy to say sitting in our chairs that we would or wouldn’t do something for the right if in the past, but what about today, as you say? There’s plenty to stand for, and I’m afraid so many choose complacency, fear of change, or ignorance as the reason to stay sidelined.

    Another huge one that seems part of our society (a product of public education?) is the fear of standing out, being different, or looking outcast. I think that’s why media, as Priscilla pointed out, target “different thinking” ideas like unschooling by making those who agree to be involved look weird or outcast when they feature it. It plays on the fears of different that so many have. And I have to believe it’s the final culmination of standardized schooling through which we were all indoctrinated.

    • Amy says:


      Thanks for the comment. I completely agree with you that much of the current conformist or complacent mindset is a direct result of a century of compulsory schooling. Which contributes to the media going out of their way (not always, but often) to make the non-conformists look ridiculous. We have become a fear based society, which is sad, given our history.


  5. Wayne Johnson Ph.D. says:

    Amy, Albert Camus famously said that silence in the face of evil is the great crime of the 20th Century. I think that applies to our new century too. I am not nearly as optimistic as you about freedom prevailing. For me history has shown that evil repressive institutions usually prevail. Nevertheless from an individual and collective point of view silence is an abdication.

    • Amy says:

      Hi Wayne,

      I believe Camus was right. That said, when I look at what is going on in regards to education, I have hope that the governmental push for even more testing and increased hours spent in the classroom is going to create a backlash; one that will, with any luck, wake people out of their stupor and cause them to join those of us already pushing back. Perhaps I’m a hopeless optimist, but I see signs of progress, however faint they may be.

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. Laurie says:

    Is it a legacy of our impersonal, rigid, standardized, dumbed-down educational system that reporters demean those who question the system? How can the system ever be improved upon without questioning, and who better to pose those questions than those who are functioning in that environment? The Post would have us think that teachers and administrators should be as robotic as the students. What price is paid for speaking out? Perhaps it is the price of integrity and the empowering feeling of the truth. There are always naysayers for every new idea, which, in time, may be seen as common sense.

    • Amy says:

      Hi Laurie,

      Thank you so much for your comment. Yes, I think in fact the resistance to anyone who questions the status quo – especially from within the system itself – is a mark of the success of 100 years of coercive schooling and indoctrination. My feeling is that resistance to such coercion is growing, even if it sometimes feels like one step forward and two steps back. You’ve been a large part of spreading awareness regarding homeschooling in New York; I refer people to your site all the time, because it has links and resources for everything anyone needs to know when it comes to home education in the city. Thank you for that (and I haven’t forgotten about the webinar – it’s just been delayed)

  7. Cindy says:

    Actually, Amy, I’m also optimistic about a revolutionary change for schooling to become more about education. I really think the technology of the Internet is the most powerful ally and a way the far and few between voices can gather together to create more of a force to be reckoned with, and listened to. Everywhere I look, I find another revolutionist. I feel we’re getting closer and closer to the critical mass necessary for real change.

    I mean, when you see someone like Lisa standing up for it out loud, hope has to exist. Because it isn’t about radical; it’s about the right for children to be well-matched in their educational lives based on the 21st century capabilities. It’s time to rise up into new and better possibilities! It’s time. It’s time to dump testing and the standardization of education instead of tea. The 21st century offers so many free and meaningful learning opportunities just like America did for those carving out new frontiers. It’s time.

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