Friday, March 12, 2004

I HOPE PATRICK HENRY IS SPINNING IN HIS GRAVE: I wanted to comment about this story in the New York Times.

A lot of people home-school their children, and on the whole these are a nutty, xenophobic bunch, but, thankfully, a scattered and unorganized one. So I thought. Well, they’re getting organized. A fellow named Michael Farris has built a nationwide network of home schoolers, with proven lobbying punch on Capitol Hill and impeccable Republican connections. He has established Patrick Henry College, catering to home-school students, in Purcellville, VA --a real praise-Jesus-and-pass-the-ammunition kind of area, in my experience.

A couple of choice quotes:

Only about half a million families around the country home-school their children and only about two-thirds identify themselves as evangelical Christians, home-schooling advocates say.

Only? ONLY??? Reading on, you see the context: Given their numbers, these home-school products are securing plum GOP internships at an impressive rate. And these advocates are trying to downplay the Bible-thumping image of the home school movement, but the article shows that Mr. Farris and his organization definitely spring from the Bible-thumping segment.

"We are not home-schooling our kids just so they can read," Mr. Farris said. "The most common thing I hear is parents telling me they want their kids to be on the Supreme Court.”

Glory! Let a generation of men of Christian character reform that wicked Supreme Court – the very institution that wrecked the public schools, by throwing out the Bible and letting in the colored people.

Public schools – their quality, their fairness, the values imparted there -- are a legitimate subject for debate, but I like to keep sight of the fact that universal public education is one of the chief things that has made the U.S. a great nation. The experience of attending school with a diverse group of peers is vitally important, in my view. Not just for turning out well-educated, well-socialzed, robust people, but for inculcating citizenship. To function in an institutional framework, with respect and tolerance for people different from yourself – if we don’t learn that in school, where else are we going to learn it?

Obviously, in many places today, the public schools are stressed and beleaguered. I don’t condemn every parent who seeks a private education for his child; he only gets one shot at it. But even a private education should acknowledge the need for students to encounter the Other, to have their viewpoints challenged, and to integrate themselves into a collective whole. In other words, even private schools need to ensure a diverse student body and a climate of free debate and inquiry.

I am suspicious of people who home-school. I’m also suspicious of people who send their kids to lily-white Christian academies. It is essentially un-American to limit a child’s learning environment only to family members or some other hand-picked group.

I don’t have a link, but our local TV news reported the other day that a private school in Southern Pines, NC, a “Christian” school, has a shooting range on site. Think about that. Maybe the stories of Columbine and the other school shootings of the past few years didn’t get reported there. Or maybe this little school is confident that it is not part of the culture that produced school shootings – American culture. These kids may never master Socratic dialogue, but they’ll be hellacious in a firefight.

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