An Apple Is Not an Orange: And Why You Should Care
Imagine yourself at a kitchen counter, on which sits a bowl of fruit. You pick up a Granny Smith apple. You understand that it is crunchy, tart, and green, and that you can eat the peel. If, instead, you pick up a Valencia orange, you understand that it is squeezable, sweet, and orange, and that the peel is inedible. A Granny Smith apple is not a Valencia orange, and a Valencia orange is not a Granny Smith apple; though each is a fruit, each is a different variety. Expecting the two to be the same is — in this case, literally — comparing apples to oranges.
Now imagine that our two fruit friends have personalities, like vegetables do in “VeggieTales.” Imagine that the Granny Smith apple sees itself as the Original Fruit, the Prototype, the Standard-Bearer; apples are the Gatekeepers who decide what it means to be a fruit. The Valencia orange and other fruits must submit to scrutiny by apples to prove themselves worthy, by apple standards, of being a fruit. The Not-Apples must defend themselves against charges of being inferior because they are not apples. Appleness drives the entire discussion of what it means to be a fruit.
This little story illustrates what has happened in education. Public education sees itself as the Original Educator, the Prototype, the Standard-Bearer; public education is the Gatekeeper who decides what it means to be educated. Homeschools and other non-public schools must submit to scrutiny by public education to prove themselves worthy, by public education standards, of being educators. The Not-Public Schools must defend themselves against charges of being inferior because they are not public schools. Public education drives the entire discussion of what it means to be an educator.
Sometimes, in the midst of this, the homeschooling movement appears to have a serious identity problem. At times, we speak proudly of homeschooling’s distinctives, those things that only a home-/family-based education can offer. At other times, it seems as if we are trying to prove our public education street cred by trumpeting the ways in which we can offer what public schools offer:
“You have sports? We have sports! You have science labs? We have science labs! You have a prom? We have a prom! You have a graduation ceremony? We have a graduation ceremony! You send students to the Ivy League? We send students to the Ivy League! Anything you can do, we can do better! We can do anything better than you!”
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with homeschoolers doing things that public schools do. Both are educators and share certain goals and methods. But homeschoolers should not hold themselves up to public schools in order to prove their legitimacy as educators, because comparing public education to homeschooling is comparing apples to oranges. In some ways, homeschoolers embrace that truth. In other ways, they react defensively and try to prove their equivalence — their “appleness,” so to speak.
Somewhere along the line, public schools declared themselves the gold standard of education — a very provincial mindset, when you think about it. To this day, they drive the debate and define the terms.
But homeschooling does not have to accept public education’s premises. Homeschooling is not public education, any more than a Valencia orange is a Granny Smith apple. It does not need to put on the trappings of public education (even good ones) in order to be a legitimate, effective form of education. Homeschooling has its own set of bona fides, and it needs to be viewed, discussed, and practiced on its own merits, not on how it stacks up to public education.
Just as an orange does not need to apologize for not being an apple, homeschooling does not need to apologize for not being public education. Homeschooling’s inherent differences are the very reason for its existence. They’re why families choose it in the first place.