Thursday, April 3, 2008

Homeschooling and Democratic Education

A California appeals court just agreed to revisit a decision rendered about a month ago that essentially said home schooling was illegal in the state unless the parent doing the schooling had a teaching credential.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, this sent some people through the roof.

Even less surprisingly, John Stossel (the mustachioed crusader behind the "Stupid in America" report) is unhappy. In an article published yesterday he rails against an overreaching court that's in the pocket of the teacher's union. He takes particular exception with one line from the court's ruling which read, "A primary purpose of the educational system is to train schoolchildren in good citizenship, patriotism, and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare."

Stossel hits the roof, but the fact is, the court is right.

Now, I don't really know if it truly makes sense to say that parents shouldn't be allowed to homeschool their kids. I would never homeschool my own children and I think that it's generally not a wise idea. But I also don't think I'm the boss of what everyone else does. So I don't think I'd have wanted the court to go as far as it did.

However, the unassailable point made in the court's ruling is that public education in this country is our means of socializing and democratizing our children. In addition to the three R's, school is where kids learn how to get along with other people, how to exist without being the constant center of attention, how to participate cooperatively with people for unlike backgrounds. In terms of living in the world, these skills are just as important as most of the academic skills that children can learn in school.

The reason I worry about charter schools, private school vouchers, and (to a lesser extent) home schooling is because I see those efforts as ways to fragment and detract from the public education system. In the interests of public welfare, we need to insure that all children are capable of living cooperatively in a democratic society. In terms of educating all children to live in a democratic society, nothing has yet been devised that can match free universal public schools. And without that education, America truly would be stupid.

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