People of a certain age will remember Dick Cavett, the Seventies talk-show host who, though a Nebraska native, became a minor icon of the Manhattan intellectual. It was his dry, urbane manner, his stylish chit-chat, and, well, his turtlenecks. He has been writing a blog for The New York Times for the past few years. Today, he cuts loose on homeschooling, in a Blimpish rant that manages to be so ill-informed and reactionary you can’t really be angry at it, only marvel at the insular, self-parodic parochialism on display here. Cavett is 75 years old, and judges the contemporary homeschooling movement by the standards of his Midwestern youth. Excerpts:
My soul similarly rolls over and groans whenever Santorum uses the phrase “home-schooling.” I first heard about it in the dim days when the John Birch Society was a going thing. (Young folks, I don’t blame you for not believing that this organization held that President Dwight Eisenhower was a “conscious, dedicated agent” of the Soviet Union.) Some benighted McCarthy-admiring parents decided to pluck their children from the clutches of “commies” teaching our kiddies their godless doctrine.
I have lost track of distant relatives of mine, parents who also snatched their young kids from school and, for their remaining school years, stuffed them mainly with the Bible. (I’d love to know how they did on their SATs.)
I feel sorry for the poor kids whose parents feel they’re qualified to teach them at home. Of course, some parents are smarter than some teachers, but in the main I see home-schooling as misguided foolishness.
To deny kids the adventure and socialization of going to school, thereby missing out on the activities, gossip, projects, dances, teams, friendships and social skills developed — to deny kids this is shortsighted and cruel. I think of the mournful home-school kid watching his friends board the school bus, laughing, gossiping and enjoying all that vital socialization we call schooldays.
Besides, aren’t you arguably a better person for having gone to school rather than having it funneled into you by dreary old Ma or Pa in their faded bathrobes at home?
And what is the argument for it? For some, is it to protect their innocent ones from hearing words like, oh, “sex” and “contraception”? From forced association with those less desirable ethnically? Maybe it’s to keep them safe from radical notions like the idea that fossils and carbon-dating aren’t put there by the Devil to fool the scientists, but prove the world has billions, not thousands, of years on it.
Who knows what sorts of fears haunt the minds of home-schooling parents? I guess it’s always possible, when Sally or Billy is walking to school, that a dark figure might leap out of the shrubbery, maniacally shrieking, “There’s climate change!”
Dick Cavett: The Miss Emily Litella of the New York Review of Books set.