Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Down With the Gardeners

David Mills on why the ideas behind homeschooling should (and used to) appeal to liberals in an article in the January edition of First Things:

Before someone remarks that some homeschooling parents are very odd or inept or (in a very few cases) dangerous: Yes, of course, it is not a perfect system. But that doesn’t answer the question of who should educate children.

And it’s not an argument for the public school monopoly. For one thing, these failures and problems describe the public schools as well, especially if you think some of the ideological commitments that animate a great deal of the educational establishment is dangerous in themselves. I was taught, for example, the Enlightenment mythology of the dark, anti-intellectual ages dominated by the Church and the growth of human knowledge and freedom brought by those who rejected religion and discovered science. Which is, simply as an historical matter, wrong, and inculcates a religious commitment that is far from neutral.

In any event, the widespread presumption against homeschooling that I have encountered among self-styled liberals is, to someone like me, a very strange reversal. Educating your own children is an act of the kind of freedom I was taught our country provided, a freedom of self-determination that is one of its great glories.

Even leaving out the idea I was also taught, that removing oneself from the system was a laudable act of counter-cultural liberation, with which I still have some sympathy, to teach one’s children oneself, being able to choose curricula and readings and customize the teaching to every child’s needs and gifts, is the kind of thing I was taught, by teachers of impeccable liberalism, to praise. It is an expression of liberalism and liberality in public affairs. It is one way of planting some of those thousand flowers.

What I learned then, I believe strongly now: that if mass production is bad in the creation of bread or cheese, it is much worse for the formation of vulnerable human beings. The work shuld be entrusted only to the craftsman who loves his materials and will have his name on the thing he creates.

As the twig is bent. I can’t help but think that homeschooling’s unctuous critics have betrayed the American vision of freedom with which I grew up, and rationalized the extension of social control in a way my peers and I learned to see and resist. It can only do our nation good to have parents so invested in their children’s education, and it certainly won’t hurt the cause of liberty to have the monopoly of the public schools so concretely challenged. Down with the gardeners. Let the flowers bloom.