My friend Ryan Streeter, who once worked on public policy in the White House and who now hangs his shingle in his home state of Indiana at the Sagamore Institute, responds to the point in the “Homeschoolers as public school athletes” post — the point that people treating public school services in an “a la carte” way (i.e., taking only what they want) would be destructive to the ethos and smooth operating of the school. Ryan writes (and I quote him with his permission):

>A la carte, I think, is the way to go. Why? Because it helps keep the family as the central unit in education, a (healthy, I think) throwback to the good ol’ days. The education establishment, aided by the media, will be quick to find some backwater family who uses homeschooling as an excuse to reinforce unappealing ideologies and get nothing done all day…, for instance, many crappy public schools.

Here in Indiana, our education reforms are now the farthest reaching in the country, not just because of how we structured choice/vouchers, but because we dissolved district lines. The latter allows a suburban family to send their child to a charter school downtown Indianapolis, for instance. And districts are free to allow homeschoolers to play sports, or participate in other menu options. Our daughter, who’s homeschooled, joins up with a French class in our local school, for instance. The harm in that is……?

It’s hard to find the answer. If the argument is that it makes budgeting and planning by public school officials difficult, well, as a parent who also has budgeting and planning responsibilities, it’s hard to sympathize, especially since we’re helping pay their bills.

See the point? Arguments the establishment often makes about homeschooling can easily be turned back on them. As a parent of homeschooled children who’s also a PhD policy wonk who likes following these kinds of debates, I can’t help but to see that reality over and over again in the public noise on this issue.

Your thoughts? The thought did occur to me that people who criticize homeschooling on the grounds that homeschooled kids wouldn’t be properly socialized should logically want to do anything possible to bring these kids into the community.

I will say it again, because people tend not to listen whenever this education issue comes up: I am not taking a position on whether or not public schools ought to open their athletic programs and suchlike to homeschoolers. I intuitively sympathize with the view that if you opt out, you’ve opted out, and have no right to expect anything.  I certainly do not. But I would also be grateful if the local school offered such options, not only because we might use them, but because it would mean going beyond what they have to do.

I have a friend whose particular passion is monitoring education trends. She firmly believes that we’re starting out at the leading edge of a revolution in online education that will break apart the standard industrial model of the local school as a factory to produce educated children. She may be right, and if so, that would certainly benefit people like me, who make enough money to free one parent up to homeschool full time. The great majority of people are not and won’t be in that position, given the economic realities we face. Their children will be going to the public school. It is a real civic challenge to keep people who educate their children at home, or who send them to private schools, engaged enough with their communities to keep them supportive of the public schools.

Personally, I don’t mind paying taxes that support the public schools, because I see them as a public good, even though my family chooses not to use them. But ours is such a libertarian society that it’s becoming harder to think that way. In the 1990s, when I lived in south Florida, I recall that there were a lot of old folks who had retired to there, who couldn’t understand why their taxes should go up to support public schools that their grandkids, who lived back on Long Island, or wherever, would never use. On the other hand, it’s worth considering the extent to which a sense of common purpose and common values has broken down in certain places and among certain communities, as a result of the same atomistic libertarian individualism that has caused well-off people to think only in terms of self-interest. I’m thinking here of a secular liberal friend in Dallas who, after three years of teaching in a public school there, decided that he was going to do anything he could to keep his toddler out of the public system in Dallas because he didn’t want to throw her into a culture he believed, from daily experience, promoted corrupt, socially destructive values (e.g., middle-school kids having sex in classrooms, and that not being unusual). People aren’t wrong for wanting to escape from that sort of thing. In some parts of the country, this is a real problem.

But I digress. What do you think about Ryan’s point?