Saturday, March 11, 2006

Homeschooling, sweet homeschooling

The following article is by Nathanael Blake a senior in college who although he does not yet have children has decided to homeschool his children.

Homeschooling, sweet homeschooling
By Nathanael Blake
Mar 10, 2006

Last week a New York Times article profiled the ordeal of academic applications: essays, interviews, application consultants, tuition of $10,000 a year or more, and the stress of separating families.

The article was about private preschools in New York City. The following is representative of the tribulations chronicled among well-heeled parents. "When Ms. Malloy, a federal prosecutor, applied for her twins, a boy and a girl, she asked her husband to write the application essay. "I was so nervous," she said, "and I'm someone who took the LSAT, who's written for the federal judiciary and in law review."

The family applied to four schools. "There's not a week that goes by that I don't regret that I didn't apply to three or four more," Ms. Malloy said. And so the hamster-wheel rat-race is now beginning at the ripe old age of two.

For me, reading this story increased my determination that if probability wins out and I marry and have children (I'm archaic enough to believe that to be the proper order), they will be homeschooled.

But though over one million children are homeschooled in America, there's a surprising amount of resistance to the idea, even from many who support other alternatives to the state schools (i.e. charter and private schools).

When I tell people about my plans for my (hypothetical) children, I invariably hear the same infratentorial objection, which is that they won't "socialize" properly.
No one ever tells me that homeschooling will stifle my children's academic ability.

The stereotype is quite the opposite: homeschoolers are smart but socially inept. There are, to be sure, examples of failed homeschooling, but its general record is better than the government's schools.

There are occasional comments about the difficulty of homeschooling.

To be sure, it takes sacrifice, and there are some families that cannot undertake the task. Yet what are we to make of the wealthy New Yorkers who send their toddlers to pre-schools with tuition higher than my university's? They aren't driven by necessity, but by the desire to get their children out of the home and out of the way. This begs the query: why have children if you don't want them to interfere with your life?

I think that the least parents can do is to match the Spartans and allow the kids to be raised at home for the first seven years. Longer is better--even through high school.

But the cry goes up that they must be socialized. In response, most homeschoolers point out the many activities available to them, from sports to music to church.

They're right: as homeschooling usually teaches more in less time, it leaves more time for both play and social activities. And I can attest that most of the long-term homeschoolers I know posses fine social abilities.

Nevertheless, this view concedes too much. Why do we even assume that modern schools are a healthy way to socialize a child and set a standard homeschooling must match? The socialization of our school system is profoundly anti-social. Edmund Burke wrote of civilization as a partnership "between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born." In the schools, society doesn't even consist of the various generations of the living.

The standard (though rarely articulated) definition of successful socialization is to "fit in" with a lot of immature little savages raised by television, video games, and the internet. Spending at least 35 hours a week, nine months of the year, with 20-30 kids of one's own age (with a harried adult supervising) is the antithesis of what is needed in order to learn how to function in society.

Give me the shut-in homeschoolers any day; from their family and their books, they will at least have some notion of life beyond their cohort and how to interact with it.

Enough with socialization; let us look at a case for homeschooling.

The strongest argument for homeschooling is the education that takes place in the public schools, or rather, the lack thereof. Reports on the sorry state of America's schools come out regularly, and it's always interesting to see how many spots we've fallen and what tiny nations (like Luxembourg and the Czech Republic) outscored us academically.

The problem isn't a lack of funding.

Rather, much of it is due to a fondness for egalitarian gestures. As Christopher Lasch observed, "Given the underlying American commitment to the integral high school – the refusal to specialize college preparation and technical training in separate institutions – make-work programs, athletics, extracurricular activities, and the pervasive student emphasis on sociability corrupted not merely the vocational and life-adjustment programs but the college preparatory course as well." People have varying intellectual abilities, and however much it may offend liberals, half the population is below average.

Some people are ready for college work in their early teens and others will never be ready for it, but the school system is largely incapable of adjusting for this. Despite the burgeoning popularity of AP classes and the like, the brightest intellects are still stymied by years of waiting for their peers to catch up. Furthermore, the notion that schooling equates to an education has diluted the currency of a degree, as higher education has become a certification program.

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