My oldest will be old enough for Kindergarten in the fall. The small talk question of the moment from our fellow parents is, “Where are you enrolling him?” In our school district, that’s more than a geography question. It’s a big district with more or less open enrollment, and they’ve done an admirable job of making sure there is an abundance of options. Gifted programs, foreign language immersion schools, charter schools with a patriotic focus, etc.
He won’t be going to any of those, however. As we’ve anticipated since before he was born, he’s going to be homeschooled.
“So, if you don’t mind me asking, why are you homeschooling? Is it for academic or moral reasons or what?”
No one asks these questions of parents who send their kids to the Japanese immersion school. Only homeschool inspires such curiosity. I don’t mind answering, though. The real answer to the “academics or morals” question is “both,” although I usually focus on the academic side when answering the question. That part is easy enough for people to understand. (I’ve found that my leftist acquaintances are still put off by the idea until they find out that my wife is a former teacher with a masters’ degree. Her teaching license allows them to retain their prior stereotype of homeschoolers as toothless morons, while allowing for a Big Brother-approved exception in our case. Which is why I’ve stopped telling them that part; our ability to educate our kids shouldn’t depend on a government license.)
By contrast, the “morals” explanation is tricky. Irreligious people just find it icky, and some religious people, including some Mormons, seem a bit put out by it, as if our decision to homeschool stands in implicit condemnation of their own decision not to (it doesn’t). Perhaps contrary to some stereotypes, Mormons are actually less likely to homeschool than the national average.
But the real difficulty in explaining our “moral” reasons for wanting to educate our kids ourselves is that the reasons don’t fit easily into any of their pre-existing ideas of why a Christian would reject the public schools. It isn’t precisely that we think our kids will be subject to diabolic government indoctrination, at least not in the early grades. Likewise, peer pressure is more of a concern for a few years from now, although I know it happens earlier and earlier.
And no, I’m not planning on starting a Mormon madrassah in our living room. We do not reject the teaching of evolution. We read scriptures in the evening, and we have no plan to spend all day reading the Bible.
No, if you want some idea of why we are homeschooling for moral reasons, try this quote from every right-winger’s favorite lesbian feminist college professor, Camille Paglia, when asked about study abroad programs:
PAGLIA: Right now, our primary school education is absolutely appalling in its lack of world history and world geography.
I know because I get everyone in my classroom. I’m lucky I teach at a kind of school where I’m getting students from a wide range of preparation. There might be a couple private school people, but people from the inner city, from good schools, from bad schools. I really have a very clear sense, after 40 years of teaching, what’s going on at the primary school level.
It is unbelievable how little they know. It is absolutely shocking how little they know. This is a recipe for a disaster. I say yes, send them abroad. Fantastic idea.
Also, the kind of teaching that goes on in the Ivy League where there’s a flattering. There’s these small seminar things.
COWEN: The A-minus seminar, right?
PAGLIA: There’s all this practice and learning how to talk in a slightly pretentious way about things and impressing each other. So what? They’re all packaging them for the bourgeoisie.
COWEN: Send them to Brazil, right?
PAGLIA: They’re so proud of themselves as they produce all these clones, these polished, bourgeois clones, witless, knowing nothing.
This is sort of painful to read, because I know exactly what she’s talking about. The school system I went through does not offer much in the way of substantive knowledge. What it imparts, to those blessed with an ambitious, compliant personality and the ability to score well on aptitude tests, is a strong sense of entitlement. I think back to my fellow law clerks in my clerkship days, highly intelligent people with the “best” education money can buy, but only a couple betrayed much intellectual curiosity beyond the trendy or the narrowly political. They made up for a lack of knowledge with a great deal of knowingness. And if it hadn’t been for my own slightly weird upbringing (a topic for another time), I can only assume I’d have been right with them.
“Wait, you said you were going to explain your ‘moral’ reasons for homeschooling, and here you are talking about a lack of knowledge.” Hang on, we’re almost there.
We have fallen into the bad and unquestioned habit of thinking that our educational system is broken, but it is working on all cylinders. What our educational system aims to produce is cultural amnesia, a wholesale lack of curiosity, historyless free agents, and educational goals composed of contentless processes and unexamined buzz-words like “critical thinking,” “diversity,” “ways of knowing,” “social justice,” and “cultural competence.” Our students are the achievement of a systemic commitment to producing individuals without a past for whom the future is a foreign country, cultureless ciphers who can live anywhere and perform any kind of work without inquiring about its purposes or ends, perfected tools for an economic system that prizes “flexibility” (geographic, interpersonal, ethical). In such a world, possessing a culture, a history, an inheritance, a commitment to a place and particular people, specific forms of gratitude and indebtedness (rather than a generalized and deracinated commitment to “social justice), a strong set of ethical and moral norms that assert definite limits to what one ought and ought not to do (aside from being “judgmental”) are hindrances and handicaps. Regardless of major or course of study, the main object of modern education is to sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments. Efforts first to foster appreciation for “multi-culturalism” signaled a dedication to eviscerate any particular cultural inheritance, while the current fad of “diversity” signals thoroughgoing commitment to de-cultured and relentless homogenization.
Thus, measly “facts” and “knowledge,” so often derided by educational theorists as academically insignificant, turn out to have a moral dimension as well. A man without knowledge is a man without a self. And so here is the true moral motivation for us to homeschool: Not precisely to protect our kids from evil, nor to monasticize them, but simply to say to the giant corporate/government assimilation machine, “No, thanks.” There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the K-12 curriculum.