Reviews of Homeward Bound

“3.5 out of 4 stars” - People Magazine                                                               “The brilliance of Emily Matchar’s new book is that it exhaustively describes what disillusioned workers are opting into: a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle that’s focused on the home. Matchar synthesizes dozens of trend stories … into a single, compelling narrative about the resurgence of domesticity….Refreshing.” -The New Republic                                                       "[P]rovocatively explores what the movement says about the role of women in society today.” – The New Yorker                                                                       "I unreservedly loved it…It’s empathetic and funny and thoughtful and smart, and I encourage all of you to read it."– The Hairpin                                                         “Cogently argues that choosing a more hands-on, DIY lifestyle – family farming, canning, crafting, can, without sacrificing feminism’s hard-won gains, improve on an earlier time when ‘people lived more lightly on the earth and relied less on corporations, and family and community came first.’” - ELLE                                                               “[I]ntelligent and insightful...essential reading.” - Christianity Today                                                       “A lively and perceptive reporter… a valuable and astute assessment.”—Publishers Weekly                                                         “A well-researched look at the resurgence of home life…. Offers intriguing insight into the renaissance of old-fashioned home traditions.”— Kirkus Reviews

What is New Domesticity?

This blog is a look at the social movement I call ‘New Domesticity’ – the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex & the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?                                                                                     My book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which explores New Domesticity in greater depth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2013.

Follow me on Twitter!

Raw milk and unregulated home schools: should we allow them?

In the early 20th century, during what’s known as the Progressive Era, ordinary women were instrumental in fighting for greater government regulation of food and consumer products. After watching kids sicken and die from pus-contaminated “swill milk” and arsenic-laced penny candy, mothers of all social classes pretty much agreed that regulation was crucial. The Pure Food and Drug Act, passed in 1906, required federal inspection of meat-processing plants and mandated that medicines and packaged foods be correctly labeled. This act was followed by other legislation designed to promote public health and education – mandatory schooling for children, federally-funded maternal health clinics, compulsory vaccinations, etc. Infant and child mortality took a nosedive.

But lately, I’ve noticed that many people who self-identify as progressive are aligning themselves with Tea Partiers and other right-wing libertarians to fight against government health regulations. This week’s New Yorker has a great story on the raw milk movement (locked to non-subscribers, unfortunately). The raw milk advocates fall on either side of the political spectrum, from California hippies to ultra-conservative sheriffs. They claim raw milk has all kinds of health benefits, from curing allergies to alleviating ADHD. But government health agencies, which regulate or ban raw milk, say the risk of contamination with e. coli or listeria makes unpasteurized milk a public health threat. The pro-raw milk crew says the government needs to butt out. But, as writer Dana Goodyear points out, food freedom comes at a cost:

“A community that resists labeling and inspection as a government intrusion puts itself at the mercy of its suppliers.”

This question of “public regulation vs. personal freedom” is something we see over and over again with New Domesticity, and not just with food. Many of the people I’ve interviewed for this book have been fierce advocates for the freedom to have unregulated home schools, to choose to not vaccinate their children, etc. It’s all part of the DIY, parents-as-experts, smaller-is-better, home-based school of thought.

I feel really ambivalent about much of this (NOT about vaccines, I should note – I think those are pretty darn important). On the one hand, I think that, sure, adults should be able to eat whatever they want (and I love me some raw milk cheese!). On the other hand, I think food regulation is critical to keep everyone safe, including children and people who have neither time nor resources to wonder whether their food’s contaminated with e. coli.  Ditto for stuff like homeschooling. Most of the homeschooling parents I’ve talked to have been highly educated and clearly motivated to give their kids well-rounded educations. They want unregulated homeschooling so they don’t have to submit to what they see as arbitrary and invasive government standards. Fair enough. But the same lack of government regulation would also allow, for example, fundamentalist parents to raise children who can’t read. And, personally, I think being educated to a certain standard should be a universal right, a right which supersedes the parents’ right to choose whatever type of education or non-education they want for their kids.

Where do you fall on the personal freedom vs. public regulation stuff? Does any of this affect your day-to-day life?

9 comments to Raw milk and unregulated home schools: should we allow them?

  • tenya

    I was homeschooled K-12, and am currently living where there are many Amish families. The Amish fought, up to the Supreme Court, for the right to only educate their children to 8th grade and won. There is much discussion about how their children learn other subjects besides classic academic subjects (animal husbandry, German, running a business) and that should any of the children leave the community they can always study and get a GED. So, while I agree an education should be universal, how and how much is pretty established in the US as up to the parents.

    I find the focus on homeschoolers and homeschooling a little odd because the numbers of homeschoolers are so tiny, and the numbers of neglected homeschoolers smaller still, while ignoring the vastly larger numbers of public schooled students dropping out at 16 or 17 also functionally illiterate, or completely unable to do basic mathematics and without any knowledge of social studies or sciences. I got my GED and went to community college, and the foundational classes were hardly made up of homeschoolers, and these experiences only involved students who felt the need to get their GED and get some kind of higher education. Invariably there are more students who never felt this need, and I would imagine they make up a much higher population of educationally neglected children/adults than homeschoolers. So why the focus on homeschoolers? Hey, anyone can write about whatever they like, but it comes across a little like speck in their neighbors eye over the log in the (school system) of their own.

    And admittedly, I really liked homeschooling, and it makes me sad to see people who felt it did them a disservice. We got to learn about all kinds of different religions and evolution and history and make museums or go to museums all the time. Math could involve lots of M&Ms or computer games or be done every day or every third day. If you hated a book, you could skip it and read a different book. If you loved a subject, you didn’t have to stop working it into every single other subject. By the time high school rolled around, you could just enroll in community college. We lived in a low-regulation state, so we only did yearly math/English testing, rather than having to submit detailed portfolios of every scrap of work we did to show we complied with 5 hours of daily instruction (this is the requirement where I live now) – we had a lot more freedom in that regard.

    • Emily

      I love that kids would learn non-academic subjects (animal husbandry! That would have beat the hell out of my high school’s sewing class!) in addition to the basics. I just think it’s important that there’s some minimum standard of basics that’s universal for all kids. If public schools aren’t meeting these, that’s a huge problem that absolutely needs to be addressed, and I do think there’s plenty of public discussion about the state of public schooling. Homeschooling is getting a lot of attention lately because it’s growing so fast – in fact, it’s expected to be the fastest growing sector of K-12 education!

  • Tess Sharpe

    I was homeschooled by my very brilliant mother, and had major structure, ended up graduating with a 4.0 through a charter high-school, writing 6 novels and being trained by one of the top Shakespeare Festivals in the country. I can honestly say I probably wouldn’t have been able to do those things without being homeschooled. I wouldn’t be the writer I am without all that time I had as a child and teen to practice (and the encouragement I received from my mother and other people in charge of my education). And I am incredibly grateful that I had that freedom, because I wouldn’t have survived regular school.

    Having said that, I remember being friends with “unschoolers” aka parents who felt like their kids would pick up and book and learn if they wanted to and they shouldn’t “force” them to learn because then they wouldn’t like it. There was one family where the little boy my age (I was probably seven or eight at the time) still couldn’t read. I grew up in a very conservative area where most of the homeschoolers WERE fundamentalists, and these kids had no concept of science or real history whatsoever. I remember how horrified my mother was by these things, it left a huge impression on me as a child, so I studied my little butt off.

    Being qualified to educate your child is the most important thing as a homeschooling parent, IMO. And if you aren’t qualified in a certain area (my mom, no matter how brilliant, had math tutors and teachers for me and my sister, because she’s really bad at it), then you find someone who is so your child has the same advantage as a kid in actual school.
    Regulation IS important.

    • Emily

      Good God, if I tried to teach math to my kids (or any kids!), they would be in serious trouble.

      I barely survived regular school myself, though my public high school was supposed to be the best in North Carolina, and my parents had resources to send me to after-school art classes and summer writing workshops. So I left at 16 to get a degree by correspondence (damn, that makes me sound old. It was 2000!). My husband, on the other hand, did great in a mediocre public school with no additional enrichment except for Boy Scouts, so I guess my take-home is that all kids are different. I just figure, whatever the school setting, all kids should learn to read and write and do math and learn a bit about history and science (and not Creationism, either!), at a minimum.

  • Katy

    I guess for me it has to be about guaranteeing minimum standards, and ensuring those minimums are available to everyone – but not mandating them. So, I should be allowed to choose to drink raw milk, but there should be affordable and available ‘safe’ alternatives. Same with homeschooling, but that is complicated by who is doing the choosing. A child can’t make an informed (at least not legally speaking) decision to opt out of mainstream education, so as a parent if I want to opt my child out, I think I should be subject to oversight/reporting obligations and curriculum choices that ensure my child is receiving the quality of education they need to choose to opt back in to mainstream education (or, you know, to a job that needs math) later on. Of course, I am ignoring some gaping holes in the quality of ‘mainstream education’, and the fact that there is ridiculousness at play in the fact that I can’t buy rawmilk but I can buy cigarettes and junk food. But.. Meh, as a goal I think society should aim at ensuring people are best placed to be healthy and happy without nannystate-ing away freedom of choice. Too much to ask?

  • “But lately, I’ve noticed that many people who self-identify as progressive are aligning themselves with Tea Partiers and other right-wing libertarians to fight against government health regulations.”

    I don’t totally see who fits into that statement. I’m one of those people in favor of raw milk, and am extremely frustrated by how raw milk is regulated. HOWEVER – I am in favor of proper food/safety regulation! The problem has more to do with the fact that pasteurized milk came to popularity because CAFO produced milk is incredibly unsafe to drink raw. However, raw milk has this great enzyme that helps you digest lactose, and it disappears when you pasteurize milk. Because of that, many people (including myself) are sick 100% of the time when we consume pasteurized milk, and the government is depriving us of the great healthy food source
    that is raw milk products. To me, it seems like the governmental systems in place just don’t want to deal with such a small sector, and are always in favor of big ag (there are incredibly powerful milk lobbyists). I want my raw milk to be safe to consume, but I don’t want a blanket law saying that all raw milk products are illegal.

  • I feel like I’m writing negative comments, but I just wanted to clarify a point. I really like this blog, and generally it speaks to my soul!

  • Stephanie

    It would be less of a no-brainer if the FDA was staffed up enough to do their job properly. They bitch about the raw milk people, in fact go after them as if they are terrorists in some cases, but then let crooks like DeCoster rack up multiple offenses before they do anything (and then 62,000 people get sick). Subscribe to the FDA’s recall alerts and you will see what I mean – the same people get cited over and over. If they are that dangerous, why are they still in business? They don’t seem to have any regrets about running the raw milk cooperatives out of business and in some cases throwing the owners in jail. I agree we need food regulation, but I’d trust raw milk bottled by a little co-op years before I would a pork chop produced by an industrial CAFO. The sad thing is, there are hardly any medium-sized producers anymore. And a lot of the problems we’re talking about here are problems of scale, versus regulation or lack thereof.

  • Bette

    I find it funny how people are worried about raw milk, that if it is made in small quanities that IS regulated by the people who make it, its bad for us. Yet, they have no problem drinking what is that the grocery store, which is much worse.