Archive for April, 2011

A letter to The New Yorker (or, the other “s” word)

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

(Regarding the article “Letter From Yemen” by Dexter Filkins, April 11 issue.)

Dexter Filkins writes that men in Yemen were startled and (presumably) not pleased to see a woman grab the microphone at a recent demonstration. I had been waiting impatiently for him to discuss what life in Yemen is like for the half of its population that happens to be female. And what did he finally have to say on the subject? “Even at the gates of its premier university, Yemen is a deeply conservative society.”

“Conservative”? Really? Is that what we’re calling it now? Or was “sexist” just too hard to spell? If Filkins were writing about South Africa at the height of apartheid, would he describe racist whites as “conservative”?

Maybe this issue hits too close to home for The New Yorker. Certainly one would never know from reading the magazine that women make up the majority of the population of America. In the issue in question, only two out of twelve articles were written by women. Weeks can go by without a peep from us on the mail page. Perhaps some editor insisted on Filkins’ word choice for fear of attracting attention to the “S” word?

–Deborah Markus
Editor and Head Screamer, Secular Homeschooling Magazine

Oh, wait — no, he isn’t.

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

Yeah, yesterday was a hoax.

I was going to start this post off with “Don’t yell at me!” Then I realized that I’m 42 years old and just played a very public April Fool’s Joke. So go ahead and yell at me.

But when you’re done, please go and yell at PZ Myers, too. Not just because his irrational insistence that homeschooling is wrong wrong wrong carries on, on, on against all evidence. But because this prejudice of his is dividing up the homeschooling community.

The people who follow and post on Myers’ site can only do so comfortably by saying to themselves and Myers, “Yes, I’m a homeschooler — but I’m not that kind of homeschooler. Sure, there are people who homeschool for bad reasons — but I’m not one of them!”

And hey! Look! A nice fissure in the homeschooling community. As if we don’t have a hard enough time already.

Every time we separate ourselves out as the “good” homeschoolers, we’re giving strength to the opposition. And no, I’m not saying there aren’t shite homeschoolers out there. There are shite schools, teachers, parents, and neighborhoods, too. Raise your hand if you agree with a blanket condemnation of all those groups.

The point is that by being careful to distinguish ourselves from those “bad” homeschoolers, we’re tacitly agreeing with the idea that there’s some homeschooling that really shouldn’t be allowed — but we’re not doing that kind, so can we please just sit here quietly in the corner with the real people if we promise not to make any trouble?

Kelly Green is a blogger at Kelly Green and Gold ( and the author of A Matter of Conscience: Education as a Fundamental Freedom. I reviewed her book in the most recent issue of Secular Homeschooling, and said book is still bristling with Post-It notes because her writing is just that good and I want to be sure I can find my favorite quotes quickly. Here’s one of them:

“We [homeschoolers] aren’t weirdoes, or hippies, or religious fundamentalists, in any more significant proportions than is the population at large. Some of us are conscientious objectors to forced education who are permitting our children to learn in freedom. Pretty much all of us are simply people who believe that our children’s educational needs will be better met outside school.”

Myers as a scientific thinker, leftist, and feminist is a supporter of free speech, free thought, and choice.

Except when people decide to use their freedom in ways that make him uncomfortable.

Does Myers accept that “You’re free to do whatever I want” premise from those who are politically opposed to him?

Or is he perhaps buying into the argument from authority, provided that he’s the authority? “Look at all these people who say I’m smart! How can you disagree with my opinion?”

Again: that’s an acceptable premise? If it isn’t okay for everyone, it isn’t okay for anyone.

Robin West is a law professor who published the article “The Harms of Homeschooling” in the Summer/Fall 2009 issue of the University of Maryland’s Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly. Maybe you read it. Maybe you’ve even stopped vomiting. In Kelly Green’s essay “Home Education: The Image,” she says:

“May I point out here that seems to me that West is implying, when she urges the monitoring of home educators on the basis of their purported bias toward ‘fundamentalist’ Christianity and right-wing politics, that she is comfortable restricting the civil liberties of people with whom she disagrees politically and religiously? Does no one else find that a strange position for a law professor to take?”

Along those lines: does no one else find Myers’ insistence that homeschooling ought to be illegal a strange position for an alleged skeptic and freethinker?

Don’t tell me. Tell him.

PZ Myers: Best. Skeptic. EVER!

Friday, April 1st, 2011

What a gift. Got up cranky as usual — well, it’s morning. My usual response to that scary phenomenon is screaming (if I’m feeling energetic) or sobbing (more often) or just a grim determination to return to bed as soon as possible and NEVER GET UP AGAIN (current favorite).

Today, all the usual morning agony was forgotten in a wash of dizzying delight.

Okay, you know how whenever you admire someone’s work, there’s always something about the person themselves that makes you wish you didn’t know about their personal lives, because now you know something about them you don’t like and it’s hard not to like their work just a little less now? Maybe some artist or writer is a big fat sexist jerk, for instance. (I know. It’s a stretch.) And you feel betrayed, even if you’re not a member of the offended group but especially if you are. Because here you are, liking them, and they’re not returning the favor.

Well, that’s how every homeschooler has to feel about PZ Myers — he of Pharyngula fame. Myers is so ferociously feminist he makes me look almost tame in comparison some days. (Hey — I said “almost.”) He’s screamingly science-oriented. He’s witty. He’s sharp. He’s prolific. He’s evidence-based. He’s anti-dogmatism. He’s –

Wait. Stop there. He isn’t those last two. Because sadly, Myers is anti-homeschooling because he just plain doesn’t like the idea of it. And he’s not going to let any pesky evidence get in the way of granting his purely emotional response all the validity of Truth.

In this respect, he’s no different from the religious extremists who make him so angry so often. Myers is understandably unhappy (to say the least) at how these people treat evolution as something you can “believe” in or not, rather than quite literally a fact of life.

But you can only flare up against that kind of foolishness with a purely righteous fire when you’re 100% fact-based yourself. And unfortunately, up to this point, Myers hasn’t been. His prejudice against homeschooling is just that — a prejudice. Irrational. Non-fact-based. Just because he feels like it.

Or — I should say — “felt” like it.

Myers has seen the light!


What pushed him to the tipping point?

Maybe it was that article that’s been making the rounds — the one about how public high school teachers do a half-arsed job of teaching evolution when they bother to teach it at all:

Maybe that helped something I’ve been saying all along click in his head: homeschoolers are not the problem; anti-scientific dogmatists are the problem. And those people are everywhere.

Maybe he’s just been feeling the nagging mental restlessness that comes along with cognitive dissonance. After all, it’s got to be pretty uncomfortable to have so many homeschoolers admiring his work — which means that homeschoolers are people smart enough to admire Myers’ work — and still make sweeping statements about how homeschooling is just a bad idea.

The fact that Myers has admitted that some individual homeschoolers do an okay job can’t help that dissonance headache. After all, there’s no greater insult you can offer an individual than to tell them that they’re okay people in spite of their group. Myers’ feminist head would explode like a bar mirror under Carrie Nation’s hatchet if someone said “She’s really smart for a woman” in his range of hearing.

Maybe it suddenly struck him that homeschoolers aren’t hurting the public school system by making the decision not to avail ourselves of its services. We’re paying all the same taxes and letting the money go to children who really need it; and there’s nothing like a hint of competition to prompt an organization to get its act together.

Maybe all the stories about people who are homeschooling for the impeccable reason that the schools simply don’t meet the needs of their children reached some kind of critical mass. It’s tough to stick to party lines about how parents should work to improve the system rather than pulling their children out of it when that system is letting children down not only on the educational and social fronts but can’t even guarantee the basic physical safety of, for instance, severe allergy and asthma sufferers.

Maybe — going back to cognitive dissonance for a minute — Myers found it too difficult to support both the idea that every family should have to participate in the same educational system and that individualism and original thought are in crucially short supply and need to be encouraged.

Maybe Myers realized that being a genuine critical thinker means examining every premise and forcing yourself to look at all the facts, however emotionally repugnant you may find them — you know, the way Myers is always wishing that his enemies would — and that his “I just don’t like it and so that’s why I keep saying I think it should be illegal” attitude towards homeschooling doesn’t hold up under that kind of scrutiny, any more than a prejudice against female scientists or gay marriage does.

Frankly, I’m too thrilled to care. I’m just going to be happy that, on this beautiful first day of April, Myers admitted that homeschoolers kick ass and urged us to keep up the good work.