The case against Harvard that’s going through the court system right now is fascinating. Rejected candidates are suing Harvard for systematic discrimination, and in order to defend itself, Harvard had to reveal salacious details of its arcane system for ranking applicants.
The Harvard dean of admissions and financial aid grew up working-class and then went to Harvard, and he is the person showing up to court and arguing passionately for the educational virtues of economic diversity. It’s impressive to hear his analysis and his dedication to social mobility.
I’m not saying that Harvard is successful at meeting this goal, but Harvard has successfully proven in court that the more diverse your classmates are, the more you learn. Also, Harvard showed how US schools systematically keep rich kids segregated from poor kids, which means poor kids don’t have a chance at high performance.
This could be a great moment for homeschooling. Homeschoolers sidestep the abhorrent, persistent segregation of US schools. So theoretically homeschoolers can experience more diversity than schools could offer. But in practice, I’ve found that homeschoolers gravitate to families in their economic bracket just like everyone else.
Homeschool parents don’t live in economically diverse worlds
New parents look for other people who provide a sense of familiarity during a time in life that is full of unfamiliar experiences. And parents seeking people like them turn into parents introducing their kids to kids like them.
Homeschool kids become friends with kids who share their interests, and kids sort themselves into interest groups based on background. Lacrosse doesn’t draw the same kids as football. Gymnastics doesn’t draw the same kids as cross country. If we are being totally honest, the richer you are the more beneficial it is to have an interest that poor people can’t do—there’s less competition.
Also, homeschool kids become friends with kids who are preparing academically in similar ways to them. SAT prep, or AP chemistry, or a second language not spoken at home. These are courses that are expensive to undertake as a homeschooler. I have found that by the time kids are teenagers, homeschoolers are sorted by economic advantages in a similar way to kids who go to school.
Homeschool parents seek stability over diversity
The great thing about diversity is it gives you a new frame of reference by creating intellectual and emotional instability and disruption. But homeschool life is about family stability and low-conflict education. Of course, because kids need stability so they can discover who they are. And too much instability actually undermines the natural teenage need for self-examination.
I read in Inside Higher Ed that a student at NYU said it’s easier to have class discussions without black kids present. There was outrage, of course. It’s not OK to say that. But it’s true that it’s easier. We have data to show that diverse groups are innovative and creative. But working in homogenous groups is easier.
Adults naturally gravitate toward homogenous groups, so it makes sense that we’d push our kids that way as well. It’s like how we think of New York City as grand and inspiring—like the picture up top—but actually it’s hectic and difficult and full of conflict and compromise. Like this:
As homeschoolers, we should confront our fear of diversity
In order to teach kids to appreciate diversity in a workgroup, kids need to appreciate the difficulties of innovation. Innovation is disorienting, disheartening, and high risk. Parents don’t teach that stuff to kids because it’s too hard to watch your kid go through that. In fact, most adults don’t willingly put themselves in difficult situations, and most adults don’t need to problem solve in diverse groups.
Homeschooling solves a lot of problems with the education system. But we still need a way to help kids practice getting into really difficult situations and then persevering when they find the situation even more difficult because they have to work in a diverse group to come to a solution.