Keeping Home: Home Schooling and the Practice of Conservative Protestant Identity
Liao, Monica Smatlak
White conservative Protestants (fundamentalists, evangelicals, charismatics, and Pentecostals) in the early twenty-first century United States construct for themselves a religio-cultural identity by which they hold themselves to be at once both identified with the American mainstream and removed to the cultural margins, at once both the keepers of a traditional Christian America and the ideological outcasts of modern plurality and secularity. Based upon in-depth interviews and in-home observations with fifteen home schooling families, I explore the creation of such an outside-yet-inside, white conservative Protestant cultural identity as accomplished by white conservative Protestant home schooling parents. Using the notions of practice and performativity, I argue that their religious identity emerges through the pragmatic organization of their practices of educating, parenting, and home-keeping. I analyze their diverse practices as the deployment of three, more general schemes of action: unification, privatization, and gendering. I explore the ways in which they practice: the unity of family, education, and their Christianity (chapter 2); the individualization and the domestication of religion, education, and female labor (chapter 3); and the distinction of gender as a differentiation of authority and of laboring activity (chapter 4). As they do their Christianity by such pragmatic means, they also do their racial, class, and gender selves. Specifically, I argue that the unity of faith, family and education practiced by these families, as well as their claim to privatized self-determination, makes and marks their whiteness in opposition to the racial and religious diversity of public education and to the more social identification of racial ‘others.’ I also read the privatization both of education and of female labor in home schooling families as the co-production of conservative Protestantism with middle-class identity. Lastly, I understand the domestic authority and domestic labor of home schooling mothers to produce not only the difference between two genders but also the difference between conservative Protestants and other Americans. Conservative Protestant home schooling families make for themselves a religious identity of distinction, even as they are embedded in the social structures of racial, class, and gender stratification.