Lies Over the Ocean

Everyone who follows homeschooling laws knows about the situation in Germany, where the police are known for taking children away if the parents don’t comply with the laws. In general, homeschooling is not allowed at all, on the principle that homeschooling creates a “separate society” that is in conflict with the main society:

In September 2006 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Germany was within its rights to follow this approach. Schools represented society, it judged, and it was in the children’s interest to become part of that society. The parents’ right to raise their offspring did not go as far as depriving their children of the social experience of school.

The Economist has published another silly opinion column on this topic, in an attempt to provoke discussion. Naturally, it ends with a non sequitur:

The Romeikes’ lawyer is Mike Donnelly, director of international relations for the Home School Legal Defence Association, a group based in Virginia. He cites research showing that home-schooled children tend to excel both academically and socially in later life. But that will not convince people who believe it is the state’s duty to ensure that children mix with others, and learn what everyone else learns about thorny topics such as evolution and sex.

The really inane “socialization” claim pops in here with a little British flair:  “it is the state’s duty to ensure that children mix with others.” I don’t have much patience for that opinion. Let us simply note that children have more opportunities to mix with the rest of society outside of public school.  More ironically, the express purpose of public school is to educate, not to host parties. The dimwitted journalists who repeat this claim don’t seem to realize that they are insulting every teacher who works in a public school.

Then the journalist plays to the prejudices of the British public:  “it is the state’s duty to ensure that children … learn what everyone else learns about thorny topics such as evolution and sex.” Here we offer a moment for all the secular homeschoolers to rise up in indignation. Typically, they say that one of their reasons for homeschooling is to ensure that their children receive a proper education in evolution and sex, rather than learning what everyone else learns, which is universally denounced as worthless.

When I say “universally denounced,” I don’t mean that both the Baptists and the Pentecostalists complain about it. I mean that people who like it and people who don’t like it both agree that the public school fails at it. Richard Dawkins and the NCSE, for example, have eviscerated US public schools for their inadequate presentation of evolutionary theory; but the Brits don’t want to hear about that. With regard to sex education in the US, every liberal and conservative commentator agrees that overall it has failed in its objectives; that’s why they’re still arguing about the best way to reform it.

So, with their ignorant remarks about “the state’s duty,” the Economist simply dismisses the claim that homeschoolers may “tend to excel both academically and socially in later life.” Interestingly enough, this is exactly the same approach in all the scholarly academic papers I have read on this topic. I was prepared to look over all the evidence against this claim in the educational and psychological research, since it is mostly supported by biased statistics; but for some reason none (like, absolutely not one) of the scholarly papers against homeschooling presents any factual claim. All of them make the same sorts of ethical claims and present no evidence in support of them.

However, it is actually more interesting to me to consider the general statements attributed to the ironically named European Court of Human Rights:  that [only public?] schools represent society and that parents may not deprive children of that social experience.

This set of claims, to me, is the most egregiously false and even immoral. They go farther than the “socialization” claim by blatantly lying. The only connection between public school and society occurs when a child escapes from public school or when an adult returns to it, as a teacher, a parent, or for some kind of public assembly.

Not only does public school not represent any part of the broader society other than a prison, it doesn’t even represent a fascimile of a post-secondary school such as a college or university. Most instructors at the post-secondary level loathe public schools for their failure to prepare students academically or socially for college. They may love the public schools in concept, but they have reached a consensus that the public schools do not prepare students for college.

Therefore, it is immoral to state that a parent may not deprive a child of that social experience. Please note that I am not saying here that it is immoral to send a child to public school. That may be true, but my point is that it is immoral to prevent a parent from teaching a child what most of society is really like:  it includes various kinds of work, recreation, and education, but it only resembles public school for teachers, school administrators, and convicts.

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