In the comments thread attached to Part 1, some of you pointed out that Dana Goldstein aimed her criticism of homeschooling at liberal parents who choose it, arguing that it is against progressive values. Why? Three reasons:
1. She claims that a “growing body of research” shows that low-achieving students do better on tests when in class with high-achieving kids, while high-achieving kids don’t suffer a fall-off in test scores when they share the classroom with low achievers. Thus, in Goldstein’s reasoning, for parents to take their smart kids out of the classroom is to punish, however inadvertently, low-achieving kids.
2. “Diversity” is a plus, and you don’t get that with homeschooling.
3. “It is rooted in distrust of the public sphere, in class privilege, and in the dated presumption that children hail from two-parent families, in which at least one parent can afford (and wants) to take significant time away from paid work in order to manage a process—education—that most parents entrust to the community at-large.” In other words, if you choose to educate your child on your own, you are showing yourself to be a rich person exercising privilege (including the privilege of acting like you’re so special, you and your two-parent family), and breaking faith with your community.
Well, I’m not a progressive, but I was thinking about these points this afternoon when my wife and I attended an information session for a classical tutorial being organized this fall for homeschooled Christian kids. If we can pull this together — and it’s looking like enough families will be involved to make it financially viable — we will have a classically trained teacher offering six hours of instruction per week in arts and humanities to our kids. The teacher will be graduating with a master’s from the University of Dallas this semester, and spoke tonight about the coursework he intends to offer, and about his philosophy of education. It was breathtaking stuff. The reading list was amazing too. Listening to him lay out his vision for what it means to be educated, I thought that Dana Goldstein and I live in different worlds. More to the point, while this tutorial will be taught within a general Christian ethos, almost all of these humanities texts — including works of Aristotle, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, et alia — could be taught by a wholly secular tutor. If I were a militant atheist, I would still want my children learning all of this. They’re not going to get it, or nearly as much of it, in normal classrooms, public or private.
So, if you are fortunate enough to have the resources to give this kind of education to your child, do you deny it to your child because it is not available to everybody, equally? Do you deny your seventh grader the chance to learn about the Greco-Roman tradition, and the Renaissance, from a humanities scholar because it’s more important for them to go to school with a diverse group of people?
It all comes back to these questions: What is education for? What is school for? What is an educated person?
I am a conservative, and a religious believer, but I can easily imagine that a humanistically-oriented secular liberal and I could come up with surprisingly compatible answers to that question — answers that do not put us on the same side of the homeschooling issue as Dana Goldstein. I’m just not seeing the reason why progressive political commitments require one to deny their children this kind of education.
[Incidentally, if you live in the Baton Rouge area and are interested in this program for your kids, e-mail me at rod.dreher — at — gmail.com, and I’ll put you in touch with the organizers; we need to know by the end of the month if we’re going to have enough families to launch this thing starting with the fall semester. One of the organizers, it turns out, is a guy who lived in my dorm in college. It was great to meet up again after all these years. He’s now an engineer, and a veteran homeschooler. He told me that he knew from this blog that I’m a big fan of Ken Myers’s Mars Hill Audio Journal. He is too — and it turns out that the scholar who will be our children’s classical tutor if this program works out is also a subscriber to and admirer of the Journal. Said my friend, “I can’t think of a single thing that has done more for my spiritual growth over the past years than the Mars Hill Audio Journal.” I told him that I could just about say the same thing. We agreed that the best thing about the Journal is how it compels listeners to think on important questions that are enormously important to Christians trying to make sense of modernity, but that often do not occur to us, or exist liminally and inchoately in our minds. Ken Myers has a great gift of drawing them for his listeners, through his interviews. After listening to the tutor speak tonight, I was confident that he would be a terrific teacher for our older son. Hearing that he is also a Mars Hill Audio Journal enthusiast sealed the deal.]