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Is Revolt Brewing All Over?

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By Emjaybee

So the other day I came across these Salon articles here, here, and here on homeschooling.

And what struck me about them is the parallels between what women pushing for homebirth/out of hospital birth or even just midwife-led birth are doing and what these parents are doing.

In both cases, there is a problematic institution dominating a family’s life. The difference being, there is probably more variety in schools than there is in hospitals.  But for a family living in a given state or neighborhood, unless they have serious amounts of cash to spend on private school, public schools are the only option. And as these articles point out, for some kids, maybe for a majority of them, extremely regimented and test-oriented schooling is counterproductive. And so some parents, if they can afford to, are taking their kids out of the regimented routine and reinventing what it means to get an education. They are abolishing desks, clocks, tedium, standardized testing, and classrooms and attempting a more direct form of teaching.

Just as women who choose non-hospital birth, or who fight to break down restrictions on hospital birth, are trying to reinvent what it means to give birth. They are rejecting hospital schedules, unnecessary procedures, and in some cases, the need to be in a hospital at all, in order to attempt a more direct, less disconnected form of giving birth.

In both cases of course, there are varying levels of success. In both cases income and class divides are coming into play.  In both cases, there are those motivated by liberal ideals and those motivated by strict religious views who are (sometimes) finding themselves allies.

I want to be clear; this is not about me advocating for either homebirth or homeschooling. For me, the hope is not abolishing hospitals and public schools; far from it. I want universal health care of all kinds and universal access to education of all kinds, too. But what would be interesting is if the pressure of those rejecting the standard path will inspire real change in either of these institutions.

Clearly, groups like ACOG think of homebirth as a worrisome trend, despite the miniscule number of women currently doing it. Schools, being more local and less monolithic, vary in their treatment of homeschoolers; some are more tolerant, some put strict restrictions on it but it is still legal in all 50 states, which is more than you can say for midwife-attended homebirth.

So share your thoughts; are there any other areas where a significant group is pushing against the mainstream in the way natural birth advocates* do?

*by the way, is that what you call us now? I have yet to hear a good label for “people fighting to reform birth practices.”


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Reader Comments (31)

As a queer parent, I do see connections between the homebirth and homeschooling movements with the ever-shrinking (so it seems) segment of queer activists who feel that radically interrogating the institution of marriage is a more important political question than marriage rights. Just like safe hospital births and quality public education, marriage is something we should all have access to. But it should not be a compulsory aspect of adulthood, citizenship, or intimate relationships. Assimilation has never been a personal goal of mine.

March 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

In that analogy, would freestanding birth centers = charter schools? A little more choice, but still tied in to a mainstream model of care? If so, it would be nice to see the government encourage and fund birth centers as much as they've encouraged charter schools in many disadvantaged areas.

March 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

Ooh, Lisa, yes, questioning the institution of marriage (instead of just expanding it) would be another example.

March 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteremjaybee

I see definite parallels. As a mother that's successfully homebirthed, and a person that was homeschooled from 2nd grade to high school graduation, there are definite parallels. I feel that my home school upbringing did in many ways lead me to feeling confident in my ability to home birth. Knowing from a young age that sometimes, doing things drastically different from the status quo is not only ok but better. (Please note I'm saying sometimes, in some situations etc. I don't think everyone should home birth/home school obviously!)

It seems like if you look around you can find alot of these grassroots revolts. I've read (not extensively) about people beating cancer without chemo and decrying it as nothing but poison, and seen posts on the similarities between the birth movement and frustration with psychological care in our system right now. Very interesting stuff out there!

March 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStassja

I've definitely considered the parallel between homebirthing and homeschooling. I also see parallels with choices regarding immunizations: on time full schedule, delayed schedule, none at all? also with conventional vs traditional (naturopathy, homeopathy, herbalism, chiropractic, etc) medicine for treating illness.

Its these parallels between upholding parents rights to opt out or chose alternatives on behalf of their children, that I support and promote the Parents Right's amendment. (www.parentalrights.org) There have been so many examples of cases where parents custody is taken away or they are compelled to cooperate with decisions made by government representatives because parents see what is "in the best interests of their children" differently than define by the state. See the website for examples, its a very compelling argument, especially if you add your knowledge of birth issues into the paradigm.

March 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjenne


I was going to mention vaccinations (delayed or none) and alternative medicine, but Sassia and Jenne beat me to it.

Another "revolt" although more mainstream than the rest is breastfeeding. Frankly, truth be told, breastfeeding (and my c/section) is what started me down this path. Our local bf'ing support group linked me with ICAN when I started looking to VBAC, and through both those groups I've had exposure to so many people doing so many different things and leading so many different lifestyles and I've been able to learn from all of them, and pick and choose what works for us in a non-judgmental environment (well, at least within the group...not saying that about other people in my life) :-) These communities tend to all be somewhat interconnected.

Also - co-sleeping/bed sharing is another revolt....as is organic/whole foods and survivalism.

I second what you said about very liberal and very conservative meeting on these issues too...I have noticed this myself. I actually have changed my paradigm from "right v. left" to "government control v. libertarian." I prefer to be left alone to make my own decisions, without gov't interference, which means I'm perfectly fine with people making other decisions that I may not agree with. If I take away someone else's liberty to choose, I've essentially taken away mine b/c all it takes is someone with the "other" view getting into power to use rules I imposed on them to take my liberties, y'know?

Great post!

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnne

This is an interesting comparison. I thought of the international upheaval in the Catholic Church because I read a bumper sticker yesterday that said "ORDAIN CATHOLIC WOMEN OR STOP BAPTIZING THEM." As admissions of child rape and molestation bubbled to the surface all over the world, I wonder if a significant number of people are being turned off by organized religion.

On the trojan horse post, a commenter named Devek prefaced one of his or her comments about refusing cesareans with "Every single right you have is balanced against interests of the state, and those rights are not guaranteed." I recognize the ethical dilemma but I personally have trouble with the take-one-for-the-team mindset when it comes to one's person.

March 16, 2010 | Registered CommenterJill

For years, I have likened nurses to teachers.
When the teachers finally rise up and say no to the way that institutions are forced to behave, then there might be some change. I don't mean for better pay, either. I mean that what we are doing to children many times in many institutions is unacceptable and in the name of 'protocols' rather than individual needs.

The same is very true about nurses. They outnumber both the patients and the OBs but have yet to really garner their own voice.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShannon Mitchell

Well, and Jill it's funny how often women are the ones taking it for the team (and even more so if they're of color/poor) while men, especially rich white dudes, not so often.

We need Courtroom Mama in here, though, if we're going to talk about rights of the state v. the individual.

It's funny, I don't think of myself as a libertarian at all, in that I can see the obvious benefits of state programs like mandatory education of some sort and vaccination (and police, firefighters, roads, yadda yadda). I don't really have trouble paying my taxes for any of that nearly as much as I do for pointless wars. And I don't see any way around taxation in order to have a functioning society of any kind.

But institutions do tend to concentrate and abuse their power, and it's discouraging to think we both have to have them and also have to police them constantly. I don't see any way around that, either. Though I do like the ideas in the Kim Stanley Robinson Mars books, about a democracy where every citizen gets picked at some point by lottery to serve in the legislature/other areas of government.

To get back to the original topic, though, one way of policing institutions is to question them and make them justify themselves. And while I am pro-vaccination, I think the way the vaccine/autism scare was handled by the medical community was incredibly poor. They were dismissive of what (at the time) seemed strong evidence and completely failed to understand why parents might be reluctant to expose their children to something they perceived as a factor causing autism, and why "it's safe just because we say so!" was the wrong answer.

Doctors in general are so used to being experts and unquestioned in our society that it makes them lash out at those who dare to ask questions, even though we have plenty of historical evidence of medical wisdom being wrong in the past.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteremjaybee

I was homeschooled during highschool, and it's interesting, the county I lived in practically catered to homeschooled families. I had some electives I needed/wanted to complete that really couldn't be done at home. Orchestra for example...basketball for another. These are group activities that I couldn't do alone, and that my area didn't really have a good outlet in. I found other Orchestra students...but I was either more or less advanced in an extreme way. The county allowed me to be able to take electives at a local pulbic highschool. This program is still en force for my home county. (I know longer live there.) The thinking behind it was that parents pay local taxes, even if their children don't go to public schools, they should still get the advantages of the public school, and the trade off is that we have fewer kids in the core classes.

I sent my daughter to a charter school (free, paid for by the public) that was very excellent. I even had the option at the time to place her in ANY county school I wanted, assuming there was A) Space for her; and B) The students living in that school's district got first choice. (So essentially, every student had the right to attend their local district school. If they chose not to, that left a space for a student from another district to attend.)

These, seem to me, to be a "middle" ground of homeschooling. We get the best of the public system, and the best of being in a home environment. The birthing practices in my area were NOTHING like this. It was "do it the doctor's way" or I got to drive 30 or 50 or a hundred miles out of the area to find a midwife. That's a lot of distance when you're in labor. Either for a midwife to come to you, or you to go to a birth center. And the rules involved in midwifery delivery were so very strict...I might as well have been deliverying unassisted for most of the "choices".

The gap between the analogies, though...is that if education takes a turn for the worst...a kid might repeat a year of school or need extra tutoring (maybe at the parent's expense). If a birth goes bad...People die. I wanted the option to VBAC in a hospital, b/c I was quite aware of the possible outcomes. I wanted to be seconds away from assistance, rather than minutes or hours. The doctors weren't willing to go the extra mile to help me (all that was required to do a VBAC in a hospital was to have the doctor at the hospital during labor...not even in the room, just IN THE HOSPITAL). The midwives WERE willing to help me...but could only do so much if a problem occured.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaegan
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