- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Elderly New York Liberal Parodies Self

[1]People of a certain age will remember Dick Cavett [2], 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 [3]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 [4]. 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 [5]of the New York Review of Books set.

36 Comments (Open | Close)

36 Comments To "Elderly New York Liberal Parodies Self"

#1 Comment By Another Matt On February 25, 2012 @ 12:24 pm



#2 Comment By Benjamin Nagle On February 25, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

Rod, have you read Desiring the Kingdom? I found it a couple weeks ago and thought it did a solid job introducing the classical notion of education as the formation of loves and desires while simultaneously broadening the aims of Christian instruction beyond information and the classroom. If you have the chance to check it out, I would be interested to find out how closely it lines up with your own thoughts on schooling. [7]

#3 Comment By nate On February 25, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

My goodness.
As is wont to happen, the comments underneath his screed are terrifically incongruous to everything outside of the world of the readership of this particular publication.

Talk about insular.

#4 Comment By MattSwartz On February 25, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

Other Matt,

The problem with that style of journalism is it’s sheer laziness. The author assumes that the religious right wants a certain thing, and sort of progresses (I wouldn’t say “reasons”) from there to a certainty that it’s a bad thing to want. Would the world we live in be a worse one if education were handled privately and through the family? Maybe. I doubt it, but maybe. I just wish Ms. Ingersoll had shown her work. Couldn’t she at least have cited a statistic or something? I guess rolling in Soros money means never having to say you’re sorry.

#5 Comment By MBrown On February 25, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

I’m mostly astonished by the rousing standing ovation he is getting in his comments. Of course he believes those things: everyone that he hears from applauds his ignorance!

The one thing that I’ve noticed about schooling debates (public/private/home) and even debates about parenting styles at-large is that no one seems to be willing to acknowledge that there are genuine concerns and shortcomings inherent to every style of parenting and education that need to be addressed and that, done properly and carefully and with attention to addressing those shortcomings, nearly any choice can be successful.

Homeschooling vs Public Schooling seems to be the most blatant example of this. I was public schooled and will almost certainly do the same with my children. But, I have genuine concerns about conventional schooling that I think homeschooling does a great job at addressing (teaching a child to memorize information rather than teaching them to learn and think critically, spending *way* too much time on simple instruction due to the classroom format and leaving very little time for exploration and discovery, the inevitable push toward normalizing a child’s character to culture’s assumptions, the lack of worldview formation, the lack of attention to developing the child’s inner person so that they grow to become a person of substance, etc). And, so, I try to talk to my wife about the advantages of homeschooling, in an attempt to consider how we might incorporate these strengths into the education of our children (which, again, will almost certainly be in a public school setting), but her instinctual response is to immediately shut-down any talk of homeschooling or its advantages, out of fear that I might think that we should homeshool our children. Her sister teaches at a public school, which I think causes her to be extremely defensive about the traditional public schooling model, as well, and resolute in her unwillingness to acknowledge any disadvantages or concerns that need to be addressed in the home, in an effort to supplement, correct, and expand the education that our children will receive at a public school.

I should note that she’s opening up to these things, but it has taken quite a while, because she has been awash in the kind of thinking that Mr. Cavett espouses for so long, and without considering the very real problems that the conventional schooling model presents.

Any schooling model is but a tool in the parents’ arsenal to educate and raise their children. The earlier that people acknowledge this in discussion of schooling formats, the more productive those discussions will be.

#6 Comment By scotch meg On February 25, 2012 @ 1:30 pm

“Any schooling model is but a tool in the parents’ arsenal to educate and raise their children.”

You hit the nail on the head there!

Homeschooling is not perfect, but allows children to learn at their own pace and allows more room for variation with the child’s strengths and weaknesses. Fortunately for homeschooling parents, those strengths and weaknesses often mirror the parents’ abilities as well… and when they don’t, parents who care enough either find resources or send the kids to school.

#7 Comment By Susan D. On February 25, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

Further evidence that New York liberalism is just large-scale parochialism.

#8 Comment By Charles Cosimano On February 25, 2012 @ 1:35 pm

It’s nice to know that Dick Cavett is still the overrated bore that he always was.

#9 Comment By Sheldon On February 25, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

The only legitimate, serious argument against homeschooling that I’ve read is this below, from Andrew Sullivan’s discussion over several days on the issue. Rod, any comment?:

The New Homeschoolers, Ctd
A reader writes:

Regarding your debate on homeschooling, one of your readers states, “Instead of acting as if they are watching homeschoolers from behind glass or through a microscope, why don’t writers try actually talking to us? We don’t bite. Most of us have had our shots.”

While I appreciate the desire to be represented fairly in the media, I take issue with the idea that “most of us have had our shots”. Where I live in Washington State, we have one of the easiest methods to refuse basic childhood vaccinations and one of the highest rates of non-vaccination in the country. (Here [pdf] are the vaccines required for K-12 entrance.) Since those vaccines are required to enter the public school system, those who are not vaccinated are generally home-schooled.

I live north of Seattle in Snohomish Country, where we currently have an epidemic of whooping cough. The health department is handing out vaccines for free. (You can read more on the issue at their website.) Most years we might have 20 or so cases, but in the first two months of 2012 we’re up to over 100. That puts children who are too young to receive the vaccine at risk, as well as individuals with compromised immune systems and adults whose own vaccinations have lapsed. So yeah, when I hear about home schoolers in my area, I wonder what the heck they’re carrying.

Some facts to back this up:

Some public health officials are concerned that the growing popularity of home schooling has created gaps in the vaccination safety net, leading to outbreaks of rare childhood diseases. In August [2008], the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported measles cases had spiked; 131 cases were reported nationwide for the first seven months of the year, compared with an average of 63 cases per year since 2000. Of the infected, 91% were unvaccinated, most because of “philosophical or religious beliefs,” the CDC said.

Home-schooled children accounted for 25 out of 30 cases in an outbreak of measles in suburban Chicago in May, according to the CDC. In Grant County in Washington, public health officials tied 11 of 19 measles cases to unvaccinated home-schooled children.

Lance Rodewald, director of the CDC’s Immunization Services Division, says the measles outbreaks show a problem with state policies allowing home-schooled children to escape vaccines. “One of the contributors we are seeing has to do with exemption laws,” he says. “Somebody who has taken an exemption from school laws, like a philosophical or religious exemption, is 35 times more likely to get measles … and 22 times more likely to get whooping cough.”

#10 Comment By dcs On February 25, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

I had not realized that gossip is such an important part of socialization! I guess it is if you’re the one doing the gossiping rather than the one who is the subject of the gossip.

#11 Comment By Rebecca Trotter On February 25, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

People like this always remind me of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes where Calvin opines that people who get nostalgic for childhood were obviously never children. After kindergarten, what child is actually happy and excited to get on the school bus day after day? I have had children cry in the morning begging me not to make them go to school, but when we were homeschooling I never had a child express sorrow at seeing other kids get on the bus without them.

#12 Comment By AnotherBeliever On February 25, 2012 @ 2:23 pm

I thought when I first read the comments on homeschooling that they were things he’d written in the 70s or 80s. The commentary really does seem dated.

I see the benefits homeschooling. It has some limitations if done in complete isolation – you’d be hard pressed to teach foreign languages or advanced science without reaching out to your community. But then, I don’t know of many homeschooling families that are doing it in isolation anyways! Sure, there’s a few who teach nothing but Bible and the universal evilness of the outside world, but I don’t think it’s the norm.

There’s distinctive benefits. Kids can progress at their own pace as they dispense with the busy work. When I was a kid in the 90s, my homeschooled friends were a grade or two ahead in most subjects, and were usually either enrolled in community college or an apprenticeship full time by the age of 17. Public schools have their own limitations. I don’t think they prepare graduates properly in writing or practical applications. Great, you can do quadratic equations. What are the benefits of a 401K versus a Roth IRA? Can you navigate without a GPS? Can you explain the difference between a Federal and a private student loan?

I hope that some of the innovations from homeschooling might rub off on public schools. The self paced concept might be workable in subjects like math and computer science, with computerized instruction modules.

#13 Comment By Joanna On February 25, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

I think the most neglected aspect of education in all spheres is “how to” think, really think. The actual arduous process of truly thinking.

I’m still holding out for a Khan academy lecture.

#14 Comment By Maxine On February 25, 2012 @ 3:40 pm

Oh, gawd.

I suppose Cavett’s head would explode if he knew how lefty and inclusive/secular our homeschooling group was. Here in the Midwest. Chortle.

Or how freaking excellently kids in that group have done when they transition to public school, and in college. And many of the religious ones are still committed to their churches, as teens and young adults, of their own free will. After hanging out with all those atheists. Imagine. (I guess that would be Santorum’s head exploding.)

Our homeschooling days are over now, but it was great for us, with the Christians and the non-Christians, and now the kids are doing great in public high school and college, and it’s sad that the Santorums of the homeschooling world are getting so much press and coloring everyone’s views of it now, and that the Cavetts take the bait and totally lose their sh** over they know not what, but I just have to laugh it off. They seem to deserve each other, but the kids are all right.

#15 Comment By Monterey On February 25, 2012 @ 4:21 pm

Many kids today should have had the benefits of homeschooling. After reading Tim Tebow’s book “Through My Eyes” and seeing his descriptions of what his homeschooling experience was like, I can see that his mother Pam did a bang-up job homeschooling her kids. What many don’t know is that he graduated from U of Florida with honors. Too many publicly schooled kids today sound like they barely attended high school. I beg to differ with Cabot.

#16 Comment By An Anachronistic Apostle On February 25, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

You know, I really don’t think fossils and carbon-dating “prove” that “the world has billions, not thousands, of years on it.”

What kind of science are they they teaching Manhattan “intellectuals” these days?

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… — Mr. Cavett

… In fact, I won’t blame you for not knowing that Dwight Eisenhower was once President of the United States. That blame, to be charitable, may rest elsewhere. Say, did you catch Letterman’s interview with Snookie?

#17 Comment By sal magundi On February 25, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

cavett’s from nebraska. sorry to burst everyone’s last-acceptable-prejudice bubble.

btw, will we see a blog about, say, a southern conservative parodying himself? you know, fair and balanced, like?

#18 Comment By Megan On February 25, 2012 @ 6:04 pm

Replace “homeschooling” with “race in America” in the following sentence from Rod’s post, and you’ve got a description of one of Pat Buchanan’s TV performances:

“… he cuts loose on [race in America], 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. “

I like Dick Cavett. I am perhaps not quite of “a certain age” to remember him from TV but I generally find his essays in the NYT to be mildly amusing and nostalgically reminiscent of the way some of my parents’ older colleagues spoke when I was young. He probably gets it wrong here on homeschooling, and revels in that wrong-ness in a funny but presumptive way, for a little too long–but it doesn’t mean he’s an awful terrible no good person.

(I’m not so sure about Pat Buchanan, but in any case you get my point…)

#19 Comment By John Haas On February 25, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

My wife and I taught our children at home for part of their educations. And, as a teacher myself, I’ve found home-schooled kids to be almost invariably excellent in college. BUt I know only what I see.

And i have to say, when I began attending some meetings of homeschooling parents in the late ’80s or early ’90s, it really was very much like a John Birch Society gathering. The politics was that paranoid and reactionary, and it was mixed with a lot of conspiracy talk about the UN and the New World Order and black helicopters, and there was a lot of the anti-vaccinationism, along with, believe it or not, concerns about why is the government putting fluoride in the water.

Worse, perhaps, was the history curriculum that was all the rage among these (Christian) folk: rank, neo-Confederate, all the slaves were happy till the abolitionists came in and stirred them up, states’ rights type stuff. So Cavett may be speaking from a place of uncharitable ignorance about a lot of home-schoolers, but he’s not all wrong.

#20 Comment By Joanna On February 25, 2012 @ 6:17 pm

You know, on second thought, it could be this man generation, my great aunties, and grand parents were all opposed to my parents choice to home school. And most of them were conservative.

#21 Comment By hallo! On February 25, 2012 @ 7:48 pm

Someone should alert Mr. Cavett to the fact that liberal education policies turned a lot of public schools into hellholes. Some of the parents keeping their children at home are doing so to protect them from dope, beatings rape and so forth.

#22 Comment By Loren On February 25, 2012 @ 8:09 pm

I do agree that you can lose an important amount of socialization through home schooling. I attended public school for 2nd and 5th through 12th grades. I believe that by missing some of those early years combined with growing up way out in the countryside I missed some important parts of getting to know people. While it’s made me a very independent person I’m also a lonely person for it. So while I ended up better educated than my peers I do feel that I lost something important. Parents homeschooling their children should certainly take these issues into account.

#23 Comment By Thomas Aquinas On February 25, 2012 @ 8:58 pm

Dick Cavett recorded his comments on a massive reel to reel tape machine while sitting on a couch next to Roman Polanski at Playboy After Dark, sipping a martini, and wearing a polyester vest over a light brown turtle-neck, discussing swinging, acid, Kafka, and those damned Trotskyites we used to argue with at the Cafe Wah in 1959. The early 1970s called, they want their shallow bigotries back.

#24 Comment By Megan On February 25, 2012 @ 9:39 pm

I think where he goes wrong is “And what is the argument for it?”
Maybe for Santorum it’s a way to keep his kids religiously or socially isolated, but in this day and age a great many kids are homeschooled in liberal households because it’s a natural outgrowth of attachment parenting philosophy, or because they live in large urban districts and simply got a bad assignment in the public school system.

#25 Comment By steve in ohio On February 25, 2012 @ 10:09 pm

“The Jew laughed at Lester Maddox and the audience laughed at Lester Maddox, too”. Wasn’t Cavett the inspiration for Randy Newman’s Rednecks?

#26 Comment By EngineerScotty On February 25, 2012 @ 10:57 pm

My first reaction to this article was “Dick Cavett’s still alive?”

My second was to shake my head. While I’m a proud progressive, I’ve never been fond of the smug arrogance of his ilk–in large part because it’s every bit as obnoxious as the theocratic broadsides of a Rick Santorum, just in the opposite direction. (And yes, it’s possible to be a progressive without being an asshole, just as it’s possible to be a devout Christian without being an offensive and narrow-minded busybody. Unfortunately, it’s the jerks in both camps who tend to dominate our politics).

Of course, the last word on Cavett probably belongs to the great Randy Newman. (Google it yourself if you don’t know what I’m talking about. If you’re not familiar with Newman’s work, you’re likely to be offended; and even if you are you might find it offensive nonetheless. Newman didn’t mince words…)

#27 Comment By EngineerScotty On February 25, 2012 @ 11:57 pm

The Jew laughed at Lester Maddox and the audience laughed at Lester Maddox, too”. Wasn’t Cavett the inspiration for Randy Newman’s Rednecks?

Steve pre-empted my comment with his own observation–the opening line of “Rednecks” is a reference to Lester Maddox’s appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. The one error, of course, is that Cavett is not Jewish.

#28 Comment By Dave D. On February 26, 2012 @ 10:35 am

Maybe some day, when we get actual homeschooling statistics that aren’t from the HSLDA, and we can see the long term effects not subject to selection bias, these stereotypes can be put to rest. But homeschoolers are just as guilty of using positive stereotypes when it suits their needs for acceptance.

In homeschooling land, every child is above average, well socialized and yet shielded from all the negative effects of it, and independently studying college wunderkinds. It’s as every bit as unrealistic as Cavett’s bad rant, and even more pernicious because it can hide damaged lives.

This doesn’t hide how idiotic the column was, but I notice stereotypes tend to be a one-way street for homeschoolers.

#29 Comment By Lulu On February 26, 2012 @ 11:41 am

Slow news day Rod?

#30 Comment By Mike Schilling On February 26, 2012 @ 1:17 pm

My favorite bit was this:

An apt name, roulette being the worst-odds sucker game in the casino: Let’s do it, dear. The odds are only 37 to 1 against us.

Maybe if Cavett has been home-schooled instead of going to Yale, he might have learned something about probability or statistics. (The house edge for a single-number bet on a double-0 roulette wheel is 5.3%. Blackjack and craps are better, but Keno and most slots are far worse.)

#31 Comment By Thomas Aquinas On February 26, 2012 @ 1:19 pm

“cavett’s from nebraska. sorry to burst everyone’s last-acceptable-prejudice bubble.”

That explains it. He’s one of those “I was raised by ignorant rubes and later became enlightened when I left to the big city” sort of a$$h*les. They’re the ex-smokers of public culture, always tougher on those from whence they came. Self-loathing is ugly.

#32 Comment By Catechist On February 26, 2012 @ 1:30 pm

Dave D.,
Of course homeschoolers paint the phenomenon in glowing colors, while talking about the actual difficulties and drawbacks – which bear little resemblance to the imagined drawbacks of homeschooling we see in Cavett’s ill-informed rant – quietly amongst ourselves. Homeschooling is too recently universally legal and (marginally) socially acceptable for genuine open discussion.

I long for the day when homeschoolers can talk openly about problems and be met with “what can the community do to help you?” rather than “See! That’s why it should be illegal.” When non-homeschoolers have a contribution to make besides vituperation and the promulgation of burdensome yet pointless regulations, then you can expect a little more transparency from homeschoolers.

#33 Comment By who knew On February 26, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

It seems lately every day something comes out of my nearly sixteen year old daughter’s mouth to prove how woefully uninformed she is with her public school education. The fault is, of course, mine because after a full day’s work, housework and often a trip to my second job, I believed her when she said “Yes, this is what I had for homework and it is done.” Oh, hindsight!

Ironically, the reason I worked was because my husband went back to college to become an elementary school teacher. He admitted last week that he made a huge mistake defending the public school system and I should have been homeschooling all these years. Then he gave up complaining about idiot public school policies and “Race to the Top”( or whatever they are calling it this week ) for the entire Lenten season.

#34 Comment By EngineerScotty On February 26, 2012 @ 2:28 pm

I’ve met plenty of, for lack of a better term, “self-loathing rednecks” in my time. For the most part, they are folks who were rejected by rural society (“didn’t fit in”), and found happiness in the city; NOT happy-go-lucky country folk that turn against their hometowns out of arrogance.

One of the good thing about cities is that pretty much everyone can find a place to fit in, including rural conservative Christians. The various subcultures may not mingle, and hostilities do occasionally arise, but there are plenty of devout folk living in the cities of America, minding their own business, and being left alone.

In certain parts of small-town America, however, there’s a stronger desire for conformity, which can be suffocating for those who choose not to conform. Not all rural areas enforce a conservative orthodoxy, of course–California wine country is infamous for having a staunchly liberal politic in a rural setting. But the smaller populations of rural areas tends to mean everyone knows everyone, and its not hard for social pressures to be magnified.

#35 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 26, 2012 @ 8:33 pm

I’m old enough to remember the John Birch Society and the influence it had on American life and culture. By the time I was paying attention, it was the butt of every other joke, and I went to public schools in a city that voted by a 10-8 margin for Barry Goldwater. (In 1968, eager young canvassers were told a few times “Who’s Gene McCarthy? I’ll vote for any relative of Joe.”)

But, the critique of the way Cavett deploys his nostalgia is, as you young folks say, “spot on.” Cavett apparently yearns for a simpler time, when demons were demons and angels were angels, and all right-thinking people knew our angels from the demons of the benighted… a time which never existed, like all other myths of the 1950s and 1960s. As Moms Mabley used to say “What good old days? I was there. There wasn’t any good old days.”

I support public schools on principal, and I think there should be some enforceable minimums to every child’s education. I have to support the notion of letting a hundred flowers bloom, in education as in many other fields. I believe that, without a teaching certificate or a degree in education, I could do a better job of teaching history to a bored class of underfed, under-raised inner-city middle school students than the public schools, by and large are doing now. So who am I to tell a couple of home-schooling parents that they could never, never, never accomplish that, or further, that they are brainwashing little subjects for a future John Bircher theocracy?

#36 Comment By Sean On February 27, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

I was homeschooled in the 80’s by the actual people at this link: [8]. For three years, in one of their homes. I see their spiel hasn’t changed much over the years.)

“Brainwashing little subjects for a future John Bircher theocracy” is PRECISELY what my schooling consisted of. (I was even sent to John Birch Society summer camp, and learned civic engagement by canvassing for Pat Robertson in ’88, when I was 13. One of the first book reports I wrote was on “The Life of John Birch,” followed closely by, “None Dare Call It Conspiracy.”) When I was sent back to the public school (for financial reasons more than any other) I was an SAT superstar with a pre-modern understanding of biology, a purely imaginary view of the American founding, and filled with suspicion at anything that didn’t conform to the way I had been raised.

Naturally, I felt utterly alone, and thanks to years of very tiny classrooms (three years of just me), I had never learned how to make or keep friends. Think about the importance of close friends in your life, and then imagine what it would be like to not really know what that is like. That’s my life, and I blame homeschooling, which deprived me of crucial socialization during the years when humans are supposed to be learning that.

Which is not to say that this is what happens to everyone, that my experience was uniformly horrible, or that I carry a grudge toward my parents for indoctrinating me instead of teaching me how to think. They did what they thought was right, at great financial cost, which I can only interpret as an act of love. But we all know where good intentions can lead.

Cavett’s last line applies directly to pretty much every teacher and parent I interacted with when I was homeschooled: “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!” Except back then, it was evolution, situational ethics, secular humanism, the gay agenda and communism. We didn’t know what we were supposed to think about climate change yet.