Monday, July 29, 2013

The Dark Side of Homeschooling

A recent article in the Washington Post addresses Virginia's religious exemption law for homeschooling. Under the law, families claiming religious exemption may home-school their children with no input or oversight from the state.

Anything goes.

First let me make clear that I am not opposed to home schooling. My wife home schooled our children for a number of years and they received an excellent education. They hit the ground running when they returned to a traditional school environment. If done right, it can be an excellent option.

However, I think there is a dark side to home schooling, and I believe it most often occurs when the motivation is religious rather than academic. Many homeschooling association seminars sound more like a Glenn Beck radio program than a discussion of educational instruction.  Fear and paranoia are the main course.

Behind this is a fear of what public schools are teaching our children. You can hear the tone when Clarence Powell, father of the home schooling family featured in the Post story, sums up his reasoning for home schooling his children:

“I think it’s important that parents have a role in instilling in their children a world view that does not exclude God.  It’s a sacred honor to be able to home-educate your children and instill in them values in a way that’s consistent with your faith.”
There is an assumption that there is a "worldview" taught in public schools that is going to be harmful to their child's view of their god, so teaching at home becomes a safeguard to keeping children in the faith. Academics and education no longer sit in the driver's seat for schooling considerations - faith protection does.

I liken this to religious people I have known who rush into marriages, or consider faith compatibility sufficient for marriage - because they believe if you put off marriage too long you might slip up and have sex before marriage... and that would be the worst thing imaginable.  Better to live in a dysfunctional marriage than risk doing the deed before the vows.

In the same way, these types of home-shoolers live in fear of their children being corrupted by "secular humanism." It is not that they have no academic concerns, but those pale in comparison to their fear of folks outside their faith. Better the child get a substandard education than risk being subjected to ideas contrary to their religion.

I am entering my 23rd year of teaching. I spent most of those years as a man of faith. I lost track of how many times various Christians would corner me, wanting to hear the inside scoop from one of their own about what the "public schools were really up to!" These Christians always left the conversation with me feeling disappointed, because I had no exciting stories to tell of back-room meetings with secular humanist teachers plotting the overthrow of Christian America.  No, I only knew of all my teacher friends who came from varied walks of life united under a common goal of giving children a good education.

I now realize that I passed up a wonderful financial opportunity. If I had been more savvy, I would have winked back at those people, looked conspiratorially to my left and right, and said, "Shhhh.... don't tell anyone, but here is what is REALLY going on..." Oh, I would have speaking engagements and book deals being thrown at me by nearly every conservative Christian media market out there. I could have become an expert contributor on Fox News panel discussions!

Sigh... opportunities missed. :(
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