Last week’s column relating to an appellate court ruling on home schooling generated more responses to the Mirror’s online edition than any other topic I’ve weighed in on in the last few years. Maybe I should say it was the most responses (to my column) so that readers will feel obligated to constantly beat the record and keep our website humming with feedback. Meanwhile, the Governor has come out swinging for home schooling and the debate on California home schooling was honored with a mention on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.
The replies to the Mirror were for the most part well reasoned and free of obfuscating emotion, and in a perfect world we’d publish them all and widen the dialogue. Unable to do that, I’m hopeful that the readers who took time to debate and discuss last week’s column will accept my attempt to address four of the key points that formed the majority of the responses, and to highlight some of the more striking statements from several of them.
Home School Advocates Are Diverse
My column cited quotes by home schooling parents who, by their statements, seemed to fit the stereotype of the Christian conservative attempting to “control” (word choice of one such parent) what went into the heads of their children. One reader responded to that default position in this way: “Just like there is a small but vocal minority of extreme Christians in the U.S. that are often seen as stereotypical Americans by outsiders, the home school community’s extremists are a very, very small minority too. Please don’t judge all of us by the few that make the sensational headlines.”
Fair enough. But my advice to home school advocates is that they work diligently to keep those outspoken Christians away from the microphones as the home schooling issue receives more attention. Just as the Christian right wing labored to change government and instead delivered the worst president in American history, so will they injure and possibly defeat the home school movement.
Home Schooling Produces Results
Many of the responses cited the “spelling bee” evidence on home schooling, specifically that finalists in the National Spelling Bee are more and more often home schooled. In 2002, a home-schooled 10-year-old was the winner of the National Geographic geography bee and the youngest competitor there. One website featuring articles on home schooling comes close to boasting that “some feel home schoolers have an unfair advantage over traditionally schooled students [in spelling bees] since they do not have to follow a public school schedule.” Another reader’s response to last week’s column states flatly: “We’re simply providing our kids with the best education possible.” With that kind of confidence and those spelling bee results, there should be no problem getting home schooling parents to obtain the teaching credentials the recent California court ruling mandates.
Home Schooling Provides an Alternative
I was saddened to find that several readers felt public schools were too often beleaguered by gangs, bullying, and in some cases teachers who molest their students. That headlines have calcified into general assumptions about school campuses is not only depressing but unfair to hard-working school teachers in public schools everywhere.
Perhaps representative of this breakdown was a reader who opined that if I thought at least some home schooling was slanted, say toward certain belief systems, then “all school should be abolished for all children, for don’t all forms of schooling favor one side or another? Do we teach American history out of a Russian schoolbook, from a Russian point of view? No.” Good news for everyone, except maybe that guy selling Russian history books at the Rose Bowl swap meet.
It’s About Freedom
There’s no question that the responses shared a deep respect for the liberty represented by home school alternatives. One reader explained that he and his wife are home schooling “because I want my children to have the FREEDOM [reader’s choice of caps] to choose (with some facilitating from me) what goes into their heads in the form of learning, not necessarily to control what they learn, although that is really a plus when it comes to home schooling.”
I gladly acknowledge that home school advocates don’t all share one viewpoint concerning Christian values or some perceived lack thereof in public education. There were responses from atheists and agnostics who home school, as well as one reader who appeared to home school as a means of avoiding the undue influence of men. Last week’s column wondered aloud about a link between home schooling and the possibility that parents too often view their children as owned property. This week I’m more concerned that, along with the wealthy pulling their children from public schools, others will turn their backs on a defining feature of America: public education. If future Russian history books write that American public education crumbled in the 21st century, let’s hope it’s not because we loved our “freedom” so much we just let it sink.