As I read more about the latest back-to-the-land resurgence, I see certain features crop up repeatedly. Making rather than buying, producing your own food organically, keeping chickens and bees, bartering, community involvement, and homeschooling. All of these are positive developments except that last one. Opting out of the corporate economy for environmental and health reasons, for quality of life and better use of limited time, those are all necessary directions we need to move in to repair the earth, our health, and our sanity. But I draw the line at DIY and self-sufficiency when it comes to education.
I have two main objections to homeschooling. The first is because most (before the flames rise, I am aware that this does not apply to all) homeschoolers are religious and they are not trying to educate their children so much as prevent their education. They want them taught myth and superstition in place of fact in some areas, and they want them kept completely ignorant in others. I just watched the movie "Tangled" for the first time this week. The evil 'mother' keeps Rapunzel imprisoned in the tower by brainwashing her to believe that the outside world is too evil, selfish, and dangerous for Rapunzel to handle. She keeps assuring her that what she is doing is for her own good. When Rapunzel eventually escapes, she realizes she was being misled to serve the selfish ends of her kidnapper. Religious homeschoolers are aware that their children will learn that the superstitions they are being forcefed to control them are bullshit if they are ever exposed to any competing information. The brainwashing can only be effective if development of critical and analytical thinking skills is repressed, and if ignorance is maintained. It is much harder to control people who are educated. Think about it: A girl being taught that she must remain at home until her father chooses a husband for her, that she must go from obeying her father to obeying her spouse, that she must have no ambition beyond being a SAHM, and that higher education and working outside the home are both wrong for women, must be kept away from girls who are being taught that men and women are equal, that she can marry whomever she chooses, or not marry at all, that she can go to college and graduate school and have any career under the sun. If she is not kept isolated and ignorant, how can she be kept down?
We have all heard about the United States falling behind in math and science and no wonder when increasing numbers of kids are being taught that the earth is 6,000 years old. The purpose of education is to dispel ignorance, to replace superstition with factual knowledge. As a society, we require parents to keep their children in school until at least the age of 16. Parents have some rights but forcing or allowing their children to remain ignorant (and possibly become liabilities to society) is not one of them. There is a movement afoot to raise the age to 18 (or until a high school diploma is obtained) and about time, too. But as long as homeschooling parents meet minimal state requirements for attendance, there is virtually no oversight of what, if anything, they are teaching their children. This is appalling and completely unacceptable. We cannot stop parents from indoctrinating their offspring into their religion of choice (although we should be able to prevent them from performing permanent mutilation on them), but we should be able to prevent religious indoctrination from taking the place of education.
My second objection to homeschooling is how it denigrates the value of knowledge and the role of educated, trained, and skilled teachers in imparting that knowledge. No parent is qualified to teach every subject through the high school level. I will concede that, at the elementary level, there are certainly some parents who could teach their children the very basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, and even some other subjects. But no parent is equipped to teach all subjects at the high school or even middle school level. The Internet is making it easier for parents to get around this problem. If they do not speak a foreign language, they can sign the kid up for online classes, and the same for other subjects. But online courses are no substitute for a proper classroom environment with a flesh-and-blood teacher in front of you, and other learners beside you struggling to master the same material. By claiming that they can educate their children through high school at home, parents are showing disgusting arrogance, hubris, and ignorance of the importance of proper education.
Now, I am aware of the growing horror show that is our public education system. I know that some parents have good reason to fear that their children would not learn anything at school because the teachers are too busy breaking up knife fights in the hallways. Concerns about the quality of teachers, the unequal distribution of resources in wealthy and poor school districts, the length of the commute for some students to get to and from school, and the weakness of a curriculum that is increasingly dictated by sponsoring corporations and standardized tests are all legitimate. But the solution to these problems is not to opt out of the education system. Home schooling provides an escape valve that should not exist, so that parents can retreat from these problems instead of tackling them head on. We need secular parents fighting the introduction of creationism into the curriculum, not withdrawing their children to avoid it.
Notice that I did not make the argument that homeschooled students are under-socialized. On the contrary, since homeschooling has increased in popularity, there are many groups they can join, and local schools often let them participate in sports and extracurricular activities. They can volunteer, hold part-time jobs, and otherwise get plenty of socialization. My argument is with the curriculum itself, not extracurricular activities.
I don't believe that homeschooling will ever be outlawed. As public schools deteriorate, and the Internet offers more curricular options, more parents, both secular and religious, are embracing it. I am just recording here that I think this is a bad idea. It is taking DIY a bit too far. Fix the schools, don't abandon them.