Part 1 here. We are discussing this essay in the Register: Fear-based Schooling by the wise and much-admired but in this one case dead wrong Simcha Fisher, who is writing in response to this blog post by Matt Walsh.
Walsh contends that public schools are both damaging to children by design and not reformable, and thus are never a good choice for one’s kids. Simcha contends that Walsh is describing the problems with public education in such a way as to help create a unwarranted environment of fear, and that parents need to act prudently but not fearfully. The sticking point: Is state-run education like the transportation department or FDA, where ideology doesn’t enter into it (much) as long as roads get built and carrots get inspected, as Simcha suggests? Where going to school, in other words, is like driving on a road built by the transportation department or eating a carrot inspected by the FDA? Or is it something entirely different by nature, wherein the ideology IS the product, as Walsh and I contend?
Part 1 explained why Mr. Walsh’s concerns are completely warranted, that it is a completely reasonable and prudent to reject public schooling completely.
Now let’s talk about fear. As all homeschoolers know, as they have heard it a thousand times from family, friends and acquaintances, by taking the education of their children into their own hands they are somehow ruining or cheating them, and are ruining or cheating public schooling for all the other the kids. Homeschooling is where crazy parents indoctrinate their children into whatever crazy ideas – you know, like Catholicism – they obstinately cling to. Home schooled families and especially kids get inspected like someone everybody knows is crazy but is somehow passing as sane – the world is just waiting to see you slip up, act crazy and prove all their worries true. And God forbid your kid has any kind of personal quirks – that will be proof positive that homeschooling has RUINED him! And that you are Bad Parents.
Right? We never home schooled, but our school has been called a ‘Lord of the Flies’ school (by people incapable of appreciating what a piece of literature is trying to tell them) and we’ve had relatives pull our kids aside and lecture them on how we are destroying them, so I think I get the gist of what happens nearly daily to homeschoolers.
People in general are often crazy, of course, and there is plenty of room among homeschoolers and alternative schooling types for all kinds of fear and craziness. That said, there seems to me to be a clear pattern to the fear and anger: it is largely directed at those who dare deviate from conventional schooling. In a perfect world, one family might elect to homeschool, and another might elect something else, and there would be little if any emotion attached to the decisions in themselves.
However, this is far from a perfect world. Homeschoolers are not making their decision in a vacuum, but instead generally feel compelled to homeschool by a world that seems hellbent on damaging their kids. Of course, those who choose otherwise are put on the defensive, and push right back. If there is in fact something terribly wrong with graded classroom schooling, then, inexorably, there’s something wrong with those who choose it – they are that most dreaded of beings, the Bad Parent.
So, by far, it seems to me, the fear and anger is coming from those who feel threatened to their very core by the judgement that homeschooling passes on their school choice. So homeschoolers, at least, the nicer ones like Simcha, are sorely tempted to back down and sooth: no, no, there’s nothing wrong with YOUR particular school, at least, not anything a thoroughly-involved parent (like the <1% who read through the Common Core) can’t ameliorate with timely intervention and remedial home education.
Upon a moment’s reflection, that’s not very soothing: what we’re saying is that, given a better-than-average local school and way, way, better than average levels of parental involvement, our kids might be OK at a public school. At least, until the favorite teachers and sympathetic principal get driven out of Dodge.
Is there anything that elicits fear and anger in a parent faster that the possibility that they may be thought a bad parent? Yet, here are a couple million homeschoolers, many of whom are sending exactly that message to the parents of publicly-schooled kids. Now, my family has been involved with a small private school for almost 2 decades, and thus have met with dozens of parents at the point where they make educational decisions for their kids, and I’ll tell you one thing for certain: based on my experience, a large percentage of parents fear being thought a bad parent far more than they fear actually being a bad parent. That they alternately scream at and neglect their kids, and model destructive relationships with revolving-door boyfriends/girlfriends, and think nothing of warehousing their kid 10 or 12 hours a day – that’s OK, as long as nobody thinks they’re Bad Parents because they chose the wrong school.
There’s fear out there, sure. It’s largely the fear that my friends and neighbors will think I’m a bad parent if I don’t go along with the choices all of them are making to send their kids to public school.
As I mentioned in my comment to Simcha’s post, it’s not the bad schools that worry me so much as the good schools: that’s where our future lawyers, doctors and other community leaders come from. My own sample of recent graduates of fine, top-notch high schools (there are several very wealthy cities within a few miles of where we live, all with fabulous public schools) , I see kids who, after 13 years and zillion AP credits at the local top-notch public schools, followed by 6-10 years (nobody does just 4 around here) and hundreds of thousands of dollars of college, cannot think anything but what their betters want them to think (that’s a quote from Fichte, there, describing the goal of state education). They completely lack the intellectual chops to challenge anything at all, and reflexively emote with the herd and hold the caricatures of the herd’s opponents in utter contempt and as unworthy of argument, yet also believe in their hearts that they are the most intelligent, fair, open-minded people ever to grace the planet.
This section of a recent interview with Antonin Scalia is a near perfect illustration: the reporter is unable to even entertain the idea that someone smart would believe in the existence of the devil. HIS crowd doesn’t, and they are smart, so it must be stupid.
Aristotle says somewhere that a cultivated mind is able to entertain an idea without accepting it. That is precisely what graded classroom model education is meant to prevent: you either get it, and are among the enlightened, intelligent chosen, or you don’t, and thus are cast into the outer darkness with the other benighted, ignorant and stupid people. The well-schooled are rendered incapable of thinking anything our betters don’t want us to think.