Friday, March 07, 2008

Homeschooling In The News

Homeschooling is in the news today, at least here in California. Through the courts, the State has re-asserted it’s right to control how children are educated and insisted only certified teachers are fit to do the job. Ouch.

I’m not worried about the outcome of this decision. Already our movie star “Governator” has jumped on the issue with both boots, calling it an ‘outrageous’ decision by the courts. The Christian homeschoolers, bless their cotton socks, are a powerful political force. Thankfully, this is one of those rare issues where the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ come together, making swift passage of more libertarian laws very likely.

But after reading a host of on-line articles today and the passionate comments following them, I’m reminded of how many misconceptions there are about education in the US and about homeschooling in particular.

Here are my two cents worth.

Our school system was primarily developed, and funded early on, by wealthy industrialists interested in social engineering. Their goals did not include ‘education’ as we think of it today. Rather, the system was set up to break the influence of the family on the child and replace it with the State (they were faced at that time with a great influx of Catholic immigrants from Europe). Through the use of short periods of study punctuated by bells and whistles, the dumbing down of textbooks and the fragmentation of subjects of study, they sought to diminish the child’s natural intellectual curiosity and ability to think critically.

This system was imported directly from the Prussians. They were after docile workers, obedient soldiers and obsequious civil servants, used to following orders--unable and uninterested in questioning authority.

Children were to be graded, like cuts of meat. Sorted out by their usefulness to the ‘captains of industry’.

“Socialization” in schools gradually pervaded civic life and set up generations to become empty-headed consumers of entertainment and goods and services, replacing earlier bedrock American values of independence, entrepreneurial spirit and community mindedness.

The plan worked. It worked beyond the wildest dreams of its founders. Our families are weak and broken. Parents have little influence on their own children. Siblings have little connection. Most children have few adult friends and little interest in the adult world. American students are, on the whole, dumb and getting dumber every year. Entrepreneurial spirit is all but unknown to most Americans now, who grew up with “stay in school and get a good job” mantra ringing in their ears. Those few who want to be their own boss can buy into a corporate franchise.

But the greatest triumph of the social engineers was to somehow convince ‘the left’ that public school was a good thing for the masses. I don’t know how they pulled it off, but people still treat public education as a sacred cow. No matter the overwhelming evidence to the contrary—public schools ‘just need more funding’.

Two of the greatest analysts of public education, John Holt and John Taylor Gatto, came to the same conclusion: that it was simply un-fixable. School reform is impossible. Forget more funding and forget higher standards. The system works as it was designed to work, whether or not your child has a great teacher (as most parents seem wont to believe) and that system is destructive. Period.

Personally, I’m not all that interested in reform. My kids don’t go and we don’t do “school at home”. We are not Christian and we aren’t trying to protect our kids from scary Darwinists and homosexuals. We simply remember how horrible school was for us, and we’ve read about ten thousand books on education. We want what’s best for our own kids and don’t trust the State to share our interest.

Now my kids are both on the shy, introverted side. Even so, they have much more ‘real world’ interaction than the poor school kids who are stuck in a room all day with one adult and a bunch of other children their own age.

That’s another thing—segregating people by age. How weird is that? In most schooling families, the siblings stop relating to each other as friends. It’s totally not cool to associate with someone younger. And after a while it’s not cool to associate with your parents.

Most of the homeschoolers I know are not only secular; they are people who really love their kids. A lot of them probably did natural childbirth , extended breastfeeding and family bed. They have a strong loving attachment to their kids and the thought of some muggle teacher taking over their job of raising their own kids is absurd and appalling.

I know this is very rude to say, but most of the teachers I’ve met (and I’ve met quite a few), are just not very inspiring folks (to put it politely). I mean, c’mon. These are people who liked school so much (or were just so afraid of the real world) that they wanted to stay in for life. John Holt once wrote that having a teaching credential automatically disqualified you from employment in the most prestigious private schools.

So how do kids learn if they aren’t in school? What a stupid question. I know, I know—people like to say, “there are no stupid questions”. But this one really takes the cake. I like to answer it with another question—how did you learn to talk? Or walk? Or dress yourself or use the toilet? Did you have a specialist with a curriculum? Did you take a test?

Children are very clever monkeys. They are learning machines. They are learning learning learning all the time. There is really only one way to stop them (or at least to slow them down). And that way is called public education.

Imagine those powerful clever monkey minds unhampered by dull textbooks and tests and ringing bells and antagonistic, moronic peers and the fear of being graded and judged and ridiculed. Imagine them aided by loving parents and public libraries, community centers, junior colleges and the Internet. Imagine them pursuing their own unique interests, diving in deep to whatever information attracts them, on their own schedule, at their own pace. Imagine them being loose in the community, forming relationships with adults and kids who might be older or younger than them. Imagine their creativity and ability to think outside the box.

These are the “unschoolers” and they are the last best hope for this country and the Earth itself.

So, California, leave ‘em alone.


Shawna said...

That is great!

You should submit it to my local California newspaper editor (Moorpark Acorn) as the anticipated budget cuts to come are all the schools are talking about and all that is being published. This completely opposite view could be very eye opening to the parents who have just about had enough... and to those wondering about this whole homeschooling legality thing.

And California Democrats (which I happen to be) are trying to tie up our legislature until taxes are raised to stop the 10% cuts that are being discussed! Do we not know what a budget is? If the money is not there, it's not there. As if it would really do anything to make education better in California.

urbanbutterfly said...

While we seem to be coming from different worldviews...I totally agree with your assessment of public education. You are spot on!

Your post is well written and I agree that it should be sent to the LA Times. I also agree that this is one area where many of us from many different backgrounds should stand united in our pursuit of the freedom to home educate. Glad I found your blog...and I hope you are feeling better...that cold/flu thing is so does just keep recycling! Chamomile tea brought us some comfort here.