Our houseguest now is Andrew Pudewa, the classical schooling and homeschooling guru, who is in town to give a talk tonight (7pm, Christ Covenant Church, 1700 Lee Drive in Baton Rouge; free and open to the public). Last night, we hosted a dinner for him and teachers from Sequitur Classical Academy. He talked to the group about the importance of alternative education, and how in his travels around the world, he sees governments abroad (e.g., in Russia, and in the Philippines) actually embracing homeschooling and classical Christian schooling. Those government see these Christian initiatives as helping build up their societies, not tear them down.
Sequitur has been doing teacher training all day today. Headmaster Brian Daigle posted to social media something that teacher Thomas Achord said in his talk there this morning:
“The difference of classical Christian education can be boiled down to ideas, identity, and instruction.”
While my wife was at teacher training, I’ve been at home working. We had called a maid service to come clean the house. They sent over a woman this morning who has never been to our place. She and I got to talking as she was cleaning the kitchen. N. is a white working-class woman in her late 30s. When I told her that my wife is a teacher at a classical Christian school, she said, “God bless her for that.”
N. told me that she has four kids, the oldest of whom is 18. “I don’t envy any teacher these days,” N. said. “My God, it is so hard out there. It’s horrible.”
I asked her what she meant. She told me that she has girls, and they all go to public school (except for the oldest, who just graduated). She never once complained about the quality of instruction at the schools her kids attend. It was entirely about the social environment. She said her older girls are constantly being hit on for sex “even by other girls,” she said.
There is the problem of pornography, she added, and how social media and technology dominate their lives. I told her that a lot of kids in private and Christian schools are just as caught up in that as public school kids are.
“Kids are so cruel,” N. said. “And you can’t get them off of social media. My nine-year-old is on her tablet all the time, because she likes to look up DIY projects to do. You’d be shocked by what comes up in a search if only one wrong letter gets put in.”
“Did you ever think about taking the tablet away from her?” I asked.
N. looked confused, then said, “It wouldn’t do any good. I tried limiting my oldest’s access to a smartphone, but when all her friends have them, what’s the point? I figure all I can do is tell them right from wrong, and stay on my knees praying that God protects them.”
She added that the thing most unnerving to her is how much power kids have today relative to their parents and other authorities. “We didn’t grow up like that,” she said, indicating our generation.
I told her that one reason my wife and I were pleased to move back to the South is that there is generally speaking more respect for elders among the young. But we have found that things have changed a lot more than we anticipated.
“Oh, you aren’t kidding,” she said. “It is terrible today. These kids don’t have any respect for their parents, their teachers, or themselves. I don’t know how we got here. All I can do is pray.”
About half an hour later, I read this op-ed piece from today’s New York Times, in which Katherine Stewart says that people like us — parents who have chosen to withdraw their kids from public schooling, or not to send them there in the first place — are Jesus-crazed racists who hate democracy, or at best useful idiots of said villains. It is liberal crackpottery at its purest. Andrew T. Walker responds:
Most public school parents I know see public schools as as place for their child’s learning, to know one’s neighbor, and to celebrate milestones whether through football games or proms.
In a parallel universe where pluralism and diversity are actual liberal values, this author [Steward] would prize and herald the virtues of school choice as part and parcel of ordered liberty. But not if you see public schooling primarily as a vehicle for social change. The whole op-ed is a shocking revelation of the moral imagination of modern-day progressives — bring your child before the state to receive the requisite social values or else the whole system is being undermined.
Confession: My child attends a classical Christian school. More confession: We chose this for our child because we believe that what public schools value as true, good, and beautiful do not align with what we believe is true, good, and beautiful. It’s a conflict of visions, and in America, we’re blessed to have options.
We teach our child about diversity and seek to live it out. We also want our child to have an education foundation that prioritizes our Christian faith, while also seeing its relevance to modern society’s deepest, metaphysical questions. That’s our personal conviction arrived at by prayer, study, and conscience. Others are free to disagree.
But this is a conclusion that people like Stewart cannot handle, because she cannot cast alternative models of education in any affirmative vision. She can’t conceive of a Christian education model, for example, that is pro-culture, deliberately non-fundamentalist, and one that seeks to nurture and incubate the pillars that propped up a free society — among them human dignity.
Why do libertarians and Christians intentionally increasingly use the term “government schools” to describe public education? First, because it’s true. Public schools are government schools. Second, because it’s clarifying. Too many Americans are stuck in a time warp, believing that the local school is somehow “their” school. They don’t understand that public education is increasingly centralized — teaching a uniform curriculum, teaching a particular, secular set of values, and following priorities set in Washington, not by their local school board. The phrase is helpful for breaking through idealism and getting parents to analyze and understand the gritty reality of modern public education. The phrase works.
And so it must be squashed. And there’s no better way to discredit any modern idea than by tying it to a Confederate past. It’s certainly easier than addressing the core of the fundamental idea — that it’s better for America if more parents enjoy the educational choices that wealthy progressives take for granted.
Wealthy Americans have enormous educational advantages. They can afford private-school tuition (and many do just that). They can afford homes in the best school districts. They can employ private tutors and create the most lavish and interactive home-schooling experience. The rest of America? They’re typically reduced to no choice at all. There’s the mediocre public school in the moderately priced neighborhood or the dreadful school in the cheapest district. That’s it. There is nothing else.
French goes on to say that people like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are trying to help people like N., the maid, by creating a voucher system.
N. just left our house. Before she did, we talked about schooling a bit more. She told me that she worries all the time about her daughters at school. “Before the first bell, a lot of times she’s already seen three fights,” she said, about the one in high school.”
And then there are the drug problems. Heroin. LSD. Cocaine. And, of course, pot.
“It’s crazy out there,” she said. “There’s nobody in charge. These kids are doing whatever they want to, and nobody’s there to tell them no.”
I asked her if it’s possible to transfer your kids within the system, to safer schools. Yes, she said, but it’s a complicated matter, and hard to follow. Besides, it means getting used to school bus transfer schedules, and she has heard from other parents about bad things happening at some of those transfer points, where there are no adults watching over the kids.
I asked her if she would take advantage of education vouchers to put her kids in religious schools, or at least private schools that had stricter disciplinary standards.
“Yes indeed!” she said, emphatically. “I tried to get one of my girls into [a Christian school nearby], but the waiting list was years long. So she’s in public school now, and I’m just hoping for the best.”
My wife and I are fortunate. We had the money and the opportunity to homeschool, and then to put our kids into a homeschool/classroom hybrid. People like the maid are out of luck. The biggest problem with public schools is too often the public. If our democracy is threatened, it is not by the people who withdraw their kids from violent and degraded public schools, as ideologues like Stewart maintain, but by the broader moral and social collapse that drove them to it.
I talked at length to a woman who worries about her daughters in public school having to navigate sexually aggressive straight males and gay females, daily fights in the hallway between classes, ubiquitous porn, and drugs — all this, just to get an education. And this woman does not live in a poor part of town, either. If she had the means and the opportunity to get her kids out of those schools, she would. And I guess in the mind of Katherine Stewart and her tribe, this harried maid would be a Jesus-crazed Confederate fascist for doing so.